First impressions of Peterborough are not good. Horrible 1970s shopping malls dominate the landscape, coffee appears to be served only by the big chains and the tea room we were looking for had closed down.
We’ll always persevere, though. After all, our book is supposed to bring you at least one coffee shop and one tea room from every cathedral town and city in the UK. And we found two great venues, one hidden away down a side street in the centre of town, and the other in a park a mile away from the shopping area.
It’s hard not to feel empty and lifeless wandering around modern shopping malls. You could be anywhere in the UK: same shops, same feel, same lack of character. And that’s why it felt right to make the first port of call Central Park in Peterborough.
It’s hardly central (15 minute walk from town), but it’s a real antidote to the concrete blandness of the town centre. And The Butter Cross, right in the middle of the park, is a great place for a cup of coffee. How often do you walk into a coffee shop and receive a warm handshake from the staff? Well, the Italian family who run this place know how to make their customers feel welcome, and they know a thing or two about making a good coffee.
Lovely atmosphere with lots of local regulars enjoying their morning cuppa; and if the weather had been a bit better, I’d have been tempted to run out onto the grass courts next door for a spot of tennis (my God, I haven’t played on a grass court for about 25 years!).
The Cathedral in Peterborough is a fascinating place, untouched by the 1970s developers (although I did learn from the wonderfully-named Mansell Duckett, who took me round, that Starbucks now occupy the building where ancient relics from Canterbury once lay, raising a farthing a head from passers-by to pay for the rebuilding of the Cathedral – not sure whether to say hats-off to Starbucks for getting another prime location; or bad marks to the council for letting the building go…).
And I love the way I find out something new on every stage of this Cathedral tour. Yesterday in Peterborough, for example, I learnt how good I am at ‘trivia’ …It seems that grammar, logic and rhetoric were considered in mediaeval times to be the lesser arts, and since there were three of them, they became ‘tri-via’. The higher arts? Well, maths, music, geometry and astronomy, of course. I never was any good at science…And all this because of the fantastic 13th century paintings on the ceiling of the Cathedral.
It was time for tea after the Cathedral tour. And Peterborough has a gem of a place: Margaret’s Tea Room in Wentworth Street. Only open a few months, but these guys will do you a top notch cuppa and cake.
Michael bakes a mean cake (not to mention leading on all the cooking that goes on in this place), and Keith blends the tea. I stuck to Margaret’s House Blend for my first pot (good strong mix of African leaves), but couldn’t resist switching to the Royal Blend later on, as Keith explained that this was based on the tea loved by Edward VIII a few years back.
More on this when our review goes live to our website. In the meantime, good luck to them at Margaret’s. Peterborough needed a good independent coffee/tea place after the closure of a couple of others in recent months, and I have a hunch that Margaret’s will do rather well…
And what else is there in Peterborough? Well, it’s a real plus that the city museum has reopened in the last few weeks. A lesson to the likes of Nottingham and Derby, which have closed their city museums recently, it is the only place where you can find out about the history of the city and what took it from being the UK’s biggest manufacturer of bricks to the the 1970s ‘new town’ it is today.
Other than that, if I lived there I think I’d spend my time in Central Park or sipping tea in Margaret’s. Apart from visiting the Cathedral, that is. Oh, and that reminds me: that date with Catherine of Aragon? Well, the date was 1536: that was when she died and was buried in Peterborough Cathedral. If any Spaniards have dropped by recently, you may even find a pomegranate on her tomb…