From Morecambe Bay to the North Sea: ten ‘must visit’ tea shops in Lancashire and Yorkshire
Apart from being well to the left of the current Coalition Government, the creator of this blog shares another trait of Tony Benn.
A love of Britain’s favourite beverage which, alas, among younger persons, eschewed in favour of coffee. I like the odd cup of real coffee from overpriced outlets owned by former breweries, but there is nothing in the world which beats a strong mug of Yorkshire Tea. Or failing that, The Cooperative’s enduring 99 Tea brand (ideally in leaf form).
East of the M60 has chosen ten different shrines to our favourite caffeinated beverage, all of varying nature from earthy to elegant. However, there is one difference: each of these outlets are accessible by bus and rail; this round even offers reference to bus and train routes, providing you are adventurous enough to adhere to the itinerary on either mode! I have had first hand experience in visiting these places, though not in a single day or week.
- The Brief Encounter Tea Room, Carnforth Station, Carnforth;
- Rachels Pantry, Cleveleys;
- Brucciani’s, Preston;
- Nexus Art Café, Manchester;
- Topaz Café, Ashton-under-Lyne;
- Merrie England Tea Room, Huddersfield (Indoor Market);
- The In Plaice, Bradford;
- Betty’s Tea Room, Harrogate;
- Castle Tea Rooms, York;
- The Tea Pot, Scarborough.
1. The Brief Encounter Tea Room, Carnforth Railway Station:
We begin our coast-to-coast jaunt at the restored Carnforth station. In the last decade, it has been restored with a visitor centre, shop and The Brief Encounter tea room. The buffet bar is a replica of one seen in the David Lean film, right down to the positioning of the scones and hot water geysers. Don’t tell them that the indoor lot of the buffet bar was actually Shepperton Studios!
We then continue to our next one in Cleveleys. By train, this involves boarding First Transpennine Express’ Barrow-in-Furness to Manchester Airport train, alighting at Preston, changing there for Blackpool North. Alternatively, we can board the same train to Lancaster (allow 10 – 15 minutes to transfer from rail to bus on foot) or board the 556 to Lancaster and catch the hourly 42 bus to Blackpool. From Blackpool, we walk from the railway station or the 42’s terminus to Talbot Square for a tram.
2. Rachael’s Pantry, Cleveleys:
Cleveleys is a small local shopping centre with good sands and a recently refurbished promenade. The end of Victoria Road West sees a modest playground and a couple of amusement arcades. The Olympia on Rough Lea Road includes Rachael’s Pantry, a café which for several years has held the reputation for selling The UK’s Cheapest Cuppa. On my visit in 1998 (!) it was a staggering 10p for a brew. Today, inflation jacked the price up fivefold in the last 13 years to 50p. Which of course is still remarkably cheap today.
We then return to our tram stop at Cleveleys, alighting at Talbot Square, and make the short walk to Blackpool North station. We go forth to our next tea room in Preston, where trains are around every 15 minutes. At a journey time of 20 minutes, what is there not to like?
If you prefer the slower way to Preston, the 68 via St. Anne’s on the Sea and Lytham is a good option. Though it takes 1 hour 42 minutes, it has a good 15 minute frequency (30 minutes on Sundays and Bank Holidays). Again, change from tram to bus at Talbot Road. Pacerphobes with time to kill may consider this as a viable alternative!
3. Brucciani’s, Preston:
Whilst there’s the matter of a trifling sports event in our capital city some 194 miles away from Chez Vallantine, 2012 is a significant year for Lancastrians. Firstly, The Open Golf Championship shall be taking place in Royal Lytham. Secondly, it is a Preston Guild year. Where better to celebrate this in Brucciani’s? Whereas The Brief Encounter is a replica of a late 1940s station buffet, Brucciani’s is the real deal: it is a part of Preston forever stuck in 1930, offering cheese toasties, tea, Horlicks and hot Vimto. On my visit last August, their ham and cheese panini was faultless, and the chocolate milk shake was the best I’ve had since the late lamented Nadim’s left us on the 27 May 2004 (the Ashton-under-Lyne market hall fire). Interestingly it is next door to the UK’s first ever Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, which opened in 1965.
Thankfully, Brucciani’s is a short walk back to Preston railway station, where we join any train out of Preston towards Manchester (Piccadilly or Victoria). If you prefer the bus, the walk to Preston Bus Station takes about 20 minutes. From there, board the 125 to Bolton, then whilst at Bolton Moor Lane Bus Station, change there for the 8 to Shudehill Interchange. There is also the X60/X61, but the end of this month will see the former Blackpool to Manchester express bus withdrawn.
4. Nexus Art Café, Manchester:
Luckily for us, our next café is a short walk from Victoria and Piccadilly railway stations, and Shudehill Interchange (or a tram ride to Piccadilly Gardens away). Instead of 1930s art deco glamour, we have the Bohemian Nexus Art Café, where it is possible to get a good brew and locally sourced cakes for less than a fiver. As well as affordably scrumptious cakes, there are changing exhibitions, occasional night time opening (so you could do an all-nighter on Earl Grey) and comfy sofas. You can borrow or donate your unwanted books and play board games. There’s also a jukebox featuring albums by local musicians (a worthy alternative to the usual cack posing as popular music). I’ve called in several times and found Nexus a real oasis in the centre of Manchester amid a sea of franchised coffee outlets. And it’s cheap. The only downside for some visitors is that access is by means of stairs leading to a basement unit.
Our next café is only a few miles away in Ashton-under-Lyne, warranting the joys of a Pacer unit from Manchester Victoria (well, it’s only for 10 minutes though) or 30 – 40 minutes on the 216 0r 219 bus. If the walk to Victoria station doesn’t grab you, go for the bus at Piccadilly Gardens.
5. Topaz Café, Ashton-under-Lyne:
Part of Tameside Oldham and Glossop Mind, the Topaz Café on Katherine Street offers high quality vegetarian food at affordable prices with meals up to a fiver. As well as helping the local branch of Mind, it puts nutritional meat-free dishes at a price within reach of most Tamesiders (i.e. underpaid, on the lowest wages in Greater Manchester). I’ve been a few times when I’ve tired of animal based delicacies and made use of the free wifi and internet. Fairtrade teas and coffees are also available. Its food compares well with trendier restaurants and my other favourite place in Chorlton-on-Medlock (On the Eighth Day).
Whereas our previous journey from Manchester has been a picnic, this one is a cinch by rail, but a real bitch by bus. From Katherine Street we return to Ashton-under-Lyne railway station for the hourly all stations service to Huddersfield. By bus, take the 350, 353 or 354 to Uppermill and change at The Commercial stop for the 184 service to Huddersfield. Or, board a 409 to Oldham and catch your Huddersfield bound 184 from there.
6. Merrie England Coffee Bar, Huddersfield:
From the eclectic, we move swiftly on to the prosaic. For a time in the 1970s and 1980s, most self-respecting northern town centres had one café decked in wooden beams in a mock-Tudor style. In Oldham, there was the late great Country Larder. Huddersfield is home to five similar establishments in the form of the Merrie England Coffee Bar. In the pre-Starbucks era, Merrie England and its derivatives introduced most people to the joys of a posh coffee. And, in its mock Arthurian surroundings, they still do. As well as a fifth drive thru one in the outskirts of Huddersfield, Merrie England have a further two branches in Halifax and Brighouse. In 2012, you could be forgiven for thinking that Gene Hunt would pop in and shout ‘excalibur’ on releasing his fork from a lemon meringue at Queensgate Market.
Thankfully, the trip to our next joint in Bradford means a more straightforward journey. We can either return to Huddersfield railway station (our veritable cathedral of rail travel) and take the slow train to Bradford Interchange, via Brighouse. Or we can walk to the bus station and board the marginally slower X6 or 363 buses to the same place.
7. The In Plaice, Bradford:
At the end of a good day’s travelling, or at the beginning of a journey, we may require something more substantial to line our stomach. What is there not to like about a good plate of fish and chips? The In Plaice in the centre of Bradford does just that, and does it very well. On my visit in November 2008, my fish and chips were freshly done and served straight away. The tea was good and came in a proper mug. Owing to its small size, it is de rigeur to share tables with perfect strangers.
Once more, the divine beings have granted us a pig of a journey for our next stop in Harrogate; travelling by train or bus for our next leg requires a change at Leeds. Returning to Bradford Interchange, we could get a train to Leeds (with good bus style frequencies) then change over to the Harrogate one, often on the first westbound bay platform at Leeds New. Or, we could slum it on the 72, 670 or X6 up to Vicar Lane (Leeds City Bus Station) before wiping our feet for the 36 to Ripon for Harrogate (leather seats and posh buses).
8. Betty’s Tea Rooms, Harrogate:
At Leeds, our trip to Harrogate gave us the enjoyable quandary of choosing red moquette upon a nodding donkey or leather aboard a sleek double decker. Besides its sulphurous waters, The Stray and a Sainsburys store which constantly clogs the A59, Harrogate is the home of Yorkshire Tea. For many, the best place to enjoy it is at Betty’s Tea Room on Parliament Street. Its delectable cakes seduce visitors with the option of taking afternoon tea in the titular tea room or the Montpellier Café Bar. If you’re pressed for time, their cakes can be taken out for eating off the premises. Alas, there is a price to pay for its opulence: don’t expect change from a fiver.
We return to Harrogate railway station where we have the joys of continuing our train journey to York, or the bus. Happily, its quaint wrought iron bus station is by the York platform should we opt for the six wheeled alternative. Though the train’s an amenable half hourly frequency, bus users fair less well. ConnexionsBuses’ X70 offers four return express journeys via Wetherby. More services continue to Wetherby where passengers can change for York for the 412 service operated by Eddie Brown. Either way, it is a fair walk from the railway station to our next joint on Castlegate (though we could have hopped on one of them City Sightseeing Tour buses if we were new to York and have money to burn).
9. The Castle Tea Room, Castlegate, York:
I first stumbled upon this café in August 2003 and have called there on previous visits. Small but perfectly formed, it is a down to earth café with keenly priced teas and cakes in a central location. It is well placed for the shopping centre, Clifford’s Tower, Fairfax House, the Castle Museum and Jorvik Centre. What’s more, they offer Yorkshire Tea in stainless steel tea pots and friendly service. The price of a brew with a scone still leaves change from a fiver, so what is there not to like?
Our reward for x amount of person hours aboard buses and/or trains, we end our tea tray-il [sic] in a resort synonymous with the late great Sir Jimmy Saville, Max Jaffa, and (before The Corner made way for flats) The Chuckle Brothers. Luckily, our walk back to York railway station sees the choice of a Yorkshire Coastliner bus, or the First Transpennine Express service from Liverpool Lime Street and Stalybridge (which is better?).
10. The Tea Pot, East Pier, Scarborough:
There’s Pacittos, Jaconelli’s and The Harbour Bar, three locations etched in the psyche of ice cream and espresso lovers of a certain age. The latter is known for its coffee in glass cups, but does it serve Yorkshire Tea in a 330ml (or thereabouts) mug? Probably not, but there is one place close to the Luna Park funfair which serves a mug of Yorkshire Tea in the best way possible. Not in chintzy china cups and saucers, not at prices akin to Balotelli’s home and contents insurance: in a real mug. A sturdy one at that.
It can only be The Tea Pot on East Pier. During the summer season, it is a popular haunt among holidaymakers near Luna Park. After coming off a boat trip in bracing weather, nothing else will do. The tea is strong, it doesn’t have too much milk in either, just how I like it. It well and truly fits the criteria of George Orwell’s views on brewing up, eulogised in a 1946 edition of the Evening Standard. One holiday in 2000 confirmed that treatise.
Don’t leave Scarborough without calling in The Tea Pot. Ever.
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Bus and Rail Fares
Here’s the part of the post where I go all Judith Chalmers on you and quote the prices in an Ayn Randian way devoid of emotion.
- Carnforth to Scarborough (avoiding Harrogate): £52.50 (Off-Peak Return fare);
- Preston to Blackpool North: £7.80 (Anytime Return fare);
- York to Harrogate: £7.70 (Off-Peak Return fare);
Please note that standard walk-on return fares are quoted as breaks of journey are permitted on outward route where change of train(s) is/are needed. As they are walk on fares, they can be purchased on the day. Most fares below are off-peak and suited to travel after 1000 hours on weekdays and all day weekends and Bank Holidays. 34% discounts are available for Young Persons’, Family, HM Forces and Senior Citizens railcards subject to terms and conditions on the permit.
Free travel concessions apply to aged and disabled persons after peak hours, all day weekends and Bank Holidays. Peak hour restrictions vary according to local council, Transport for Greater Manchester and Metro West Yorkshire policies.
- Lancashire Day Rover (all Stagecoach North West buses in Lancashire as per pre-1974 boundary): £6.50;
- FirstDay (all FirstGroup buses in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire): £4.50;
- 36: Leeds – Harrogate (single fare): £5.20 (or £6.20 day return);
- X70/412: Harrogate – Wetherby – York (single fare, covers both routes): £5.00;
- York – Scarborough (Yorkshire Coastliner single fare): £9.30.
S.V., 04 January 2011.