The Fancy a Cuppa? project for 2013 kicked off yesterday with a wonderful day out in Easingwold.
This picturesque North Yorkshire town made a great place to start our tour of the county’s market towns in search of the best places for tea, coffee and cake.
Easingwold has no Victorian spa, no mediaeval ruins, no moody moorland, so it probably isn’t on the radar of most visitors to Yorkshire. But it’s a little gem, with its Georgian houses and wide grassy verges.
It was once the first stopping point for the York to Newcastle stagecoaches, and is well worth a visit if you’re anywhere near the A19 or the Howardian Hills.
My first port of call was the visitor centre. It’s been totally volunteer-run since the council withdrew funding some time ago. These guys not only run a fantastic website ( www.visit-easingwold.com ) but they can steer you in the direction you want, whether you’re a walker, a cyclist, a day-tripper or a tea-drinker…
Of course they’re not in the business of recommending any particular tea room or coffee shop in town, but I’d already spotted the first venue I wanted to try right in the middle of Easingwold’s Market Place.
Tea-Hee is a top quality place for a cuppa. It calls itself a cheesemonger and espresso bar, though actually its name suggests tea rather than coffee (and I can vouch for its excellent loose-leaf teas as well as its cappuccino).
The cheeses did look good, but of course the Fancy a Cuppa? focus is on cake. And, wow, these are good cakes. Tea-Hee’s head chef Dan adds a personal touch to the recipes. There was an intriguing spice to the Tunisian orange sponge, and the cranberry and treacle tart was so good that I was sad to see I had the last slice…
There’s a great atmosphere inside, too. You’re in Yorkshire now, so you’ll almost certainly engage in conversation with the people on the neighbouring table. Most customers are locals, but newcomers like me are not left out (and the chap on the next table had some good tips for my trip to Knaresborough later this month)…
Easingwold has a few good stories to tell, too, as I found out by dropping into an extraordinary little music and DVD shop in Doreen’s back garden behind the Post Office. Doreen is a former church warden round here, and her family connections to Easingwold go back generations.
She’s the one who steered me towards the parish church, where they hold England’s only intact ‘poor coffin’ (used for those who couldn’t afford a coffin of their own), and there’s the little local legend of Nana Ran Dan (just don’t run round her gravestone at night…).
Back at the Market Place, I was ready for a pot of tea. And I’d heard that The Sugar Mouse was worth a try.
What a great little place. Former journalist Angela set up her sweet shop a couple of years ago but began to serve tea, coffee and cakes when she moved to these new premises just two doors along from Tea-Hee.
If you can drag your gaze away from the Dolly Mixture, Humbugs and Rhubard & Custard sweets, you’ll see they do a nice little line in loose-leaf teas from Newby’s in London, and Angela’s daughter bakes a mean scone or traybake to have with your cuppa.
This is a great place to come with the kids (they have 95 milkshake flavours and a whole load of lovely ice creams out the back, too), but it’s also a nice place for a quiet cuppa on your own to finish off a day’s sight-seeing.
I loved Angela’s story of career change and her go-for-it attitude, so typical of people who start their own coffee shop or tea room business. But isn’t it amazing how many former journalists get into this kind of thing (I might have to start a new network to hook up the hacks and see if there are any lessons to be learnt).
But I can’t leave Easingwold without a final reference to the message over the door of their former school (now library): Learn or Leave, it says. A Victoria take on ‘Live and Learn’? A gruff, Yorkshire imperative?
In any case, I was about to leave, but I’d learnt what a lovely place Easingwold is, and not only for coffee, tea and cake…
Video to follow soon.