A stylish day out

Organising a group shopping trip couldn’t be easier with the UK’s vast range of malls, mills, outlet centres and markets catering for every taste, says Carrie Drage.

Whether it’s hunting out a bargain at a mill shop, giving the credit card a pounding at a huge shopping mall or sampling some of the local produce on offer at a market, the UK has many options for groups seeking a bit of retail therapy. In the following feature, we focus on a selection of mills, outlet centres, shopping malls and markets that understand the needs of group travellers and offer a number of incentives to help them get the most out of their day. We also present a few options for GTOs planning a festive break taking in some of Europe’s biggest and most impressive Christmas markets.

GETTING MORE FOR YOUR MONEY

If you like designer shopping without the hefty price tag, then the current boom in outlet shopping could be just up your street. With generous discounts on seconds, last season’s collections and discontinued lines, you can kit yourself out in top-name brands without the guilt.

Situated at The Quays, Salford’s magnificent waterfront, the Lowry Outlet Mall has over 80 stores including Marks & Spencer, Nike and Pavers outlets. There is every opportunity to bag a bargain here with discounts of up to 60% on high street prices, as well as an additional 10% off for groups who receive discount voucher booklets on arrival. GTOs are presented with a £10 gift voucher too. If your group tires of shopping, there are plenty of other attractions within walking distance including the Lowry Theatre and Imperial War Museum, or perhaps your members might enjoy one of the Special Group Days that include lunch, a classic film at the on-site Vue cinema and an afternoon tea dance. Upcoming films include The King’s Speech on 14th September, A Christmas Carol on 14th December and High Society on 11th January 2012.

Shoppers leaving the Lowry Outley Mall.

Shoppers leaving the Lowry Outley Mall.

If Salford is too far to travel, why not take a coach group to some of the other outlets that can be found around the country. With seven stores in the UK, including Ashford, Swindon and York, McArthurGlen offers savings of up to 60% on some of your favourite brands including Ted Baker, Nike, Clarks and Le Creuset. As an added incentive, groups receive an extra 10% off their shopping.

More fashion and home bargains are up for grabs at De Bradelei Stores, which offers savings of up to 70% on brands such as Planet, Hush Puppies, Esprit and Pretty Polly. There are currently three sites in the UK; De Bradelei Wharf at Dover, De Bradelei in Belper and Courtaulds Factory Shop in Nottingham.

Meanwhile, Stoke-on-Trent, in Staffordshire, is the home of the pottery industry and is one of the best places to shop for cut-price ceramics. Famous brands such as Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Moorcroft, Royal Stafford and Portmeirion all have factory shops here offering generous discounts on seconds and discontinued lines.

Further north, in County Durham, Dalton Park has more than 60 outlets selling over 200 brands at up to 50% off normal high street prices. Major names include Marks & Spencer Outlet and Next Clearance plus there’s also the biggest Gap Outlet in the region. A free welcome service is provided for pre-booked coaches, together with complimentary tea and coffee, and exclusive offers and discounts at selected retailers for all passengers.

NOT RUN OF THE MILL

Many original mill buildings have been transformed into high-quality retail experiences, particularly those in the former industrial strongholds of Yorkshire and Lancashire, presenting shoppers with an Aladdin’s Cave of bargain goods.

Outside Oswaldtwistle Mills.

Outside Oswaldtwistle Mills.

One of the most popular with groups is Oswaldtwistle Mills in Lancashire, which has over 80 concessions offering fabrics, crafts, unusual gifts, pottery, glass, furniture, silk flowers, cards, clothing and local food produce. However, there’s more to do here than just shopping, as the site also has a variety of attractions including a heritage centre and Victorian sweet shop, as well as craft workshops and events. Oswaldtwistle Mills is renowned for its group visitor programme, presenting coach parties with a variety of options to help them make the most of their time in the area. These include its popular Shop and Tour packages that combine shopping at the mill with a visit to a nearby attraction like Salmesbury Hall or the East Lancashire Steam Railway. New for 2011 are Lancashire Experience Days that combine free time for shopping with a two course hotpot lunch and entertainment from ‘The Phil Knight Experience’. There is also a new Fun Day Fortunes Package with a meal, entertainment, bingo and game show favourites like Play Your Cards Right and Take Your Pick. On arrival at Oswaldtwistle Mills, every individual gets personally greeted by a member of staff and is provided with gratuity vouchers to use in store. There is also a dedicated group bookings team to assist with itinerary planning and organising coach travel.

The UK is also home to a number of other mills that offer a warm welcome to groups. Simply the Best forms part of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill brand and comprises 31 UK shopping outlets including the Brontë Weaving Shed in Yorkshire, Windermere Quays in the Lake District and New Lanark Mills in Scotland. Each outlet makes a good coach stop with products ranging from speciality food and drink to fashion, toys, books and gifts, as well as added attractions such as weaving demonstrations and whisky tastings.

The entrance to The Mill, Batley.

The entrance to The Mill, Batley.

Offering branded goods with discounts of up to 75% on normal high street prices, Boundary Mill Stores has four sites at Walsall in the West Midlands, Grantham in Lincolnshire, Colne in Lancashire and Shiremoor near Newcastle. Its flagship store at Colne is situated at the end of the M65 and stocks more than 200 brands, including an M&S Outlet. As an incentive, GTOs receive a £10 gift voucher when bringing a group of 20 or more.

Forming part of the Yorkshire Mill Mile, The Mill, Batley has more than 40 stores set over four floors, with brands including Radley & Co, Antler and Yankee Candle. There is a meet and greet service for pre-booked coaches and group members receive a 10% discount at many stores throughout the centre. Once you’re done here, your group can continue spending at Alexandra Mill, Redbrick Mill and Dewsbury Market, also part of the Yorkshire Mill Mile.

A ONE STOP SHOP

Nowhere else can match the sheer variety of shops on offer in the UK’s malls. Plus with everything in one place and a roof to protect you from the elements, it’s a convenient option for groups seeking a bit of retail therapy. Another great thing about shopping centres is that many offer entertainment complexes, with activities ranging from ten pin bowling to skiing and indoor skydiving, so if you tire of shopping, there is always something else to do to pass the time until the return ride home. The UK is home to a great selection of shopping centres, with both out of town and city centre locations. Nearly all welcome groups but the number who offer specific deals for this market seems to have fallen.

Inside Cabot Circus, Bristol.

Inside Cabot Circus, Bristol.

One centre that does have a good group offer is thecentre:mk in Milton Keynes, which provides a meet and greet service especially for groups as well as refreshment vouchers for GTOs. There is a wide mix of stores including Bhs, Hollister and River Island, and a range of events are held here throughout the year, from gardening events and food and drink festivals to the highly-anticipated Christmas shows.

The Great Hall at The Trafford Centre.

The Great Hall at The Trafford Centre.

Moving to the west country, Cabot Circus in Bristol city centre has over 120 shops including 15 major flagship stores. Among these are some of the finest shops in the country including Harvey Nichols, LK Bennett and the only Foyles bookshop outside London. While there are no specific group incentives, the city’s tourism team can help with trip planning.

Just five miles from Manchester’s city centre, The Trafford Centre gives shoppers the choice of more than 230 stores along three miles of granite and marble boulevards. There is everything here from high street fashion to designer labels, including the first Selfridges outside London. Pre-booked coaches receive a meet and greet and there are also special discounts for passengers.

INSIDER TRADING

Markets have been around for hundreds of years and many that exist today have their origins in the Middle Ages, some even earlier! People used to travel from miles around to buy and sell at markets and thriving communities owe their existence to the markets in their midst. Over time, most have grown in size and many now present themselves as tourist attractions in their own right.

Market shopping isn’t for everyone, but if the opportunity to bag a bargain is too hard to resist, there are a number of outlets that welcome groups and many offer free coach parking too.

A trader at Bury Market.

A trader at Bury Market.

Bury Market, in Lancashire, is a popular destination for groups, attracting around 1,000 coach visits annually. There are over 370 stalls, mostly undercover, selling all manner of items, from sporting goods and clothing to CDs and gardening equipment. Bury Market also offers the finest in local and regional produce (including award-winning black pudding!) and was voted one of the UK’s top 10 food markets by the Independent. Its busiest shopping days are Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Also in Lancashire, Fleetwood Market is a traditional market with around 200 indoor stalls spread across three halls and 50 outdoor stalls. The original Victorian market building was extended in 1990 and now offers a range of produce from confectionery to pet supplies.

Moving to Yorkshire, Barnsley Market has over 300 stalls both indoor and out, laden with the latest fashions, house plants, home furnishings and more. Groups can expect a friendly welcome from the market traders and each member leaves with a goody bag as a memento of their day.

Meanwhile, with over 600 stalls, Kirkgate Market, in Leeds, claims to be the largest undercover market in the country and is where Marks & Spencer famously started life as Marks Penny Bazaar in 1884. Housed in impressive Edwardian buildings that are as much a draw as the produce, take time to look up and admire the ornate cast iron features of the domed roof. A meet and greet service can be pre-booked for groups.

EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS MARKETS

For a far flung shopping experience, why not treat your group to a European Christmas market break this festive season. Often a staple on a GTO’s programme of trips, the stalls present an array of unusual gifts that you won’t be able to find on the high street and, with plenty of local specialities for you to sample while you browse, you certainly won’t go hungry.

Reims Christmas market at night

Reims Christmas market at night

Easily accessible from the UK, France is a popular destination for coach parties and with its traditionally festive markets, stocked with seasonal gifts, French delicacies and handmade crafts, is the perfect festive getaway.

New for 2011, Travelsphere, in Leicestershire, is operating a four-day ‘Paris Christmas Shopping’ break with time to explore the traditional Christmas market at La Défense. There is also a four-day ‘Lille & Bruges’ festive break with a visit to the Christmas market on the Place Rihour in Lille, one of the largest markets in northern France.

Also operating two tours to the Lille Christmas market, as well as three-day itineraries to Amiens and Reims in northern France, is Jag Travel in Surrey. Amiens has over 110 festive chalets set up in the city centre, stocked with mouth-watering delicacies like Beauvais chocolate tuiles and Amiens macaroons. Reims holds its Christmas market on the Place d’Erlon and along Condorcet and Theodore Dubois streets, and keeps the atmosphere buzzing with street artists, magicians, jugglers, singers and barrel organ grinders.

Germany also knows how to put on a good Christmas market. Held in towns, cities and
villages throughout the country, the stalls offer an alternative to the usual massproduced
merchandise with quality, handcrafted gifts to take back to your loved ones.

Festively-lit stands at one of the Cologne Christmas markets

Festively-lit stands at one of the Cologne Christmas markets

Travelsphere operates a good selection of four-day breaks to various markets in Germany including Cologne. Here, there are eight markets, although the most impressive is located at Cologne Cathedral, where there are over 160 festively decorated wooden pavilions set around one of the largest Christmas trees in Rhineland. Groups can also enjoy market shopping in Germany’s oldest town on a festive break in Trier. Held on the medieval Main Market, there are nearly 100 festive booths at this Christmas fair, selling everything from wooden toys and candles to hand-blown glassware and ceramics. If you want to sample more than one market, why not consider a ‘Christmas Market Cruise’ onboard ‘MV Serenade I’, which features excursions to Mainz, Koblenz and Cologne. Held on the historic market square, the Mainz festive offering is best known for its 11-metre high Christmas pyramid, with handcrafted wooden figurines, while Koblenz’s Christmas market, held in the historic old town, gets visitors into the Christmas spirit with music concerts and nostalgic carriage rides.

Jag Travel also provides a range of tours to Germany’s Christmas markets including four-day breaks to Berlin, home to a whopping 50 markets throughout the city. The most beloved by tourists and locals alike is the one around Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche. Alternatively, there is a new four-day tour to Frankfurt Christmas market, one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets. The elaborate decorations, scenic surroundings of the Römerberg market place and St Paul’s church, and the gigantic Christmas tree also make it one of the most beautiful. There is also a four-day ‘Christmas Markets Rhine Cruise’ to experience the enchanting Rhineland region at this most magical time of year. The cruise visits three cities – Cologne, Koblenz and Bonn, where the impressive illuminated facades on Münsterplatz and its neighbouring streets are the festive backdrop for the city’s market.

Brussels Christmas market has the added attraction of a ferris whee

Brussels Christmas market has the added attraction of a ferris whee

An equally good destination for a seasonal break is Belgium, whose markets offer delicious food, a festive atmosphere and countless gift ideas.

Jag Travel runs Christmas market tours to most major cities including a three-day break to Bruges. The markets are held in three different locations and there is also an ice rink in the Grote Markt. Another option is the three-day tour to Brussels Christmas market, which boasts more than 220 wooden stalls, as well as a large ice skating rink at the end of Marche aux Poissons and a ferris wheel.