Whether you’re a cricket connoisseur, a film buff or just one of the millions who loved to watch ‘All Creatures Great And Small’ on the telly in the 70s, Thirsk is the kind of place you should visit.
I was just there for the coffee and tea, of course, but as always I’m on the look-out for quirky bits of history that tell a good story about the towns we visit on the Fancy a Cuppa? tours.
So, let’s do the cricket first. Thirsk’s Town Museum is now housed in what was once the home of Thomas Lord. And he, of course, is the chap who went down to London and planted the first piece of turf to make cricket’s London Headquarters. I wonder how many people attending test matches at Lord’s realise there’s a North Yorkshire link to the place.
Can’t help thinking more could be made of this cricketing connection – starting, maybe, with a little mention of Thirsk on the Lord’s website?
Just across the road from the museum is The World of James Herriot. There’s been a much bigger marketing job done on this place, and although they’ve gone overboard with the Herriot memorabilia and giftshop, there’s actually a certain charm to the house too. The original vet’s practice plates are on the wall by the front door (Alfred Wight, of course, not James Herriot), and he really did get married in the church just up the road.
I don’t suppose Herriot (Alf Wight) had much time to sit around Thirsk’s coffee shops and tea rooms. It’s hard to tell how many there were dotted around the Market Place in his day anyway – the pubs got more of a mention in those books.
These days, though, there are a lot of places for a cuppa in Thirsk.
I’d been to a few on previous visits and always been slightly underwhelmed. So this time I was starting out at a place recommended to me recently by a local…
The Courthouse Café is a lovely little place for coffee. It’s in Thirsk’s old court house, now converted into an arts centre, with charity status.
Manager Bex was just setting up for the day when I stuck my head round the door, but she was happy to put on a brew and chat before the mid-morning rush.
The coffee’s good here, the tray bakes, scones and brownies are made by Bex herself, and they’ve even started doing a rather popular line in cream teas lately.
There’s a fresh, positive feel to the place, helped by all the arty things on display (and for sale). It’s only been open in Bex’s hands since February, so it’s good that the locals I met are already making it their top recommendation for coffee…
As you walk back into the centre of town from the Courthouse, you pass by the Ritz Cinema. Such a shame the doors are firmly shut in the mornings, so I didn’t get a chance to look inside. But I read that this place first showed films back in 1912 and it’s still going strong today.
How many cinemas in England can make a claim like that?
Tea is always tough to choose. It’s really rare to find loose-leaf these days (though our tour of cathedral towns and cities last year showed that there is a bit of a return to loose-leaf); and in Yorkshire, there’s an unsurprising tendency to go for Yorkshire Tea.
Now, I’ve nothing against a good strong pot of Yorkshire (it’s what kick starts our day at home), but it’s nice to find something a bit special or different for the Fancy a Cuppa? reviews. If I can’t find that special tea, then I go looking for the best atmosphere or building – a tea room with a story to tell.
In Thirsk that took me to the charming Upstairs, Downstairs in the Market Place.
This has three sections to it: the deli and the take-away area downstairs; and the tea rooms upstairs.
I’m being drawn more and more often to delis these days, just because they so often have the best quality, locally-supplied, food, and their tea and coffee can be a touch better than the average tea room.
The added bonus in Upstairs, Downstairs is that owners Thierry and Bridget used to work in 5-star hotels down in London, so they know what good service is, but they have none of the airs and graces you get at the Ritz or Savoy.
I happen to be a big fan of the French town of Besancon, from where Thierry originally comes, so it’s great to see my favourite part of France (l’Est) connecting up to my favourite bit of England (Yorkshire) – and it’s the second time that has happened, after the meeting with Lydie at Rasmus in Harrogate!
Good service, a French Connection, and quality scones combine with a remarkable display of old Thirsk postcards to make Upstairs, Downstairs the choice for tea in Thirsk.
It was quiet today in Thirsk. Monday and Saturday are market days, when the town is heaving. And on about a dozen days in the year, it’s Thirsk races. Which reminds me, I’d always planned to make one of the Fancy a Cuppa? series a tour of UK racecourses. Fancy a Cuppa Before the Off?
Thirsk, I think I’ll be back!