I didn’t think Guisborough had much going for it at first.
The high street (called Westgate) has a few cafés, but none of them got my pulse racing. That was only managed by the coffee I tried in one those cafés: it was the bitter, over-caffeinated style that I thought had largely gone out of fashion in modern independent coffee shops.
But that’s part of the problem I had with my first impressions of Guisborough’s high street: it just felt a bit out-of-date and in need of something, though I’m no Mary Portas and don’t really know what it is that’s missing.
Things get a little better if you turn down Chaloner Street. There are some nice independent shops down here and after poking my head through the door of a few others, I plumped for Virgo’s Coffee Shop to have my ‘coffee in Guisborough’.
Partly, I liked the place because it had a light, fresh feel to it. The coffee was good: roasted over the border in Lancashire, but I don’t have a problem with that, and they have a blend made just for Virgo’s, which shows some pride in their product.
But above all, I actually liked this place for its cakes. It’s not often you get offered a home-baked orange and poppy seed cake – and I can tell you, it was delicious! Highly recommended!
Up at the top end of Westgate and into Church Street are the best bits of Guisborough.
First you have the rather intriguing market cross. It’s unusual in that it has both a weather vane and a sun dial at the top rather than the cross you see in most market towns. But something else caught my eye, too: it has no steps leading up to the platform on which the ‘cross’ stands.
Apparently, they were ‘sold off’ to raise money for public funds back in 1817. Blimey, Guisborough must have had a budgetary crisis almost as bad as our national one but 200 years earlier (I hope other market towns don’t get any ideas to sell off their steps to meet 2013-14 shortfalls… – but who would buy them, and why?).
Just beyond that Market ‘Cross’ is Church Street. And you have to keep walking about 50 yards after the bend in the road to get to an absolute gem of a place for tea in Guisborough.
Now, I have to confess that I completely missed Sky Blue Red Studio on my first visit to Guisborough (but was told about it by a very friendly Council official in Redcar, of all places).
What a great place on so many levels: fantastic loose-leaf tea; cakes baked in-house; a really friendly atmosphere; and above all, a wonderful ethos. Yes, this place is a not-for-profit venue, running lots of arts and craft workshops – they even have their own kiln out the back. And don’t miss the amazing photo montage of the transformation of this building from a derelict old shop into a rather wonderful tea room.
The tea is served on lovely vintage china, and was one of the best cuppas we’ve had on this tour of North Yorkshire. In case you are reading this before Christmas, they have some rather interesting special teas for the season, too – we stuck our nose in their jar of marzipan tea and were actually quite tempted…but in the end went for a light and airy, but tasty loose-leaf Earl Grey.
You can’t leave Guisborough without at least taking a peek at the Priory. You have to pay to have a proper look round, but poke your head round the arched entrance and let yourself be tempted in. It’s a beautiful spot and one of those rare ruins that are right by the High Street even today (bit like Bury St Edmunds, I guess).
But it is hidden away behind a high wall and it’s quite possible to walk up and down Guisborough’s high street without knowing it’s there.
You see, everything we ended up liking about Guisborough was invisible to us on that first reccie we did up and down the main part of the high street. Just shows, you need to scratch the surface and sniff out some of the hidden gems before you condemn a place out-of-hand…or just read the Fancy a Cuppa? blog, at least for North Yorkshire!