From Morecambe Bay to the North Sea: ten ‘must visit’ tea shops in Lancashire and Yorkshire

Perfect Partners: a bacon and sausage oven bottom muffin and a tea: the ideal sustenance post ascent to Platform 1 of Stalybridge railway station. Photographed in 2009 from a bench at the nearby bus station. Ticket: my own creation from 2012.

Apart from being well to the left of the current Coalition Government, the creator of this blog shares another trait of Tony Benn.

Tea drinking.

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.

  1. The Brief Encounter Tea Room, Carnforth Station, Carnforth;
  2. Rachels Pantry, Cleveleys;
  3. Brucciani’s, Preston;
  4. Nexus Art Café, Manchester;
  5. Topaz Café, Ashton-under-Lyne;
  6. Merrie England Tea Room, Huddersfield (Indoor Market);
  7. The In Plaice, Bradford;
  8. Betty’s Tea Room, Harrogate;
  9. Castle Tea Rooms, York;
  10. 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.

*                                                  *                                                  *

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.

By Train:

  • 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);

Total: £67.50.

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.

By Bus:

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.

Total: £30.50.

S.V., 04 January 2011.

10 thoughts on “Silence, Tea and Sky: The Not So Perfect Ten

  1. use to go in Merrire Englands coffee shops when use to go on buses over there

    another good one in Uppermill is the sweet shop cafe below lovely rag puddings there

    tryed the new fish and chip shop in Uppermill but was not keen on it and it cost more then the chinese in the Square

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    1. I’ve only been to one Merrie England café: the one at Queensgate Market, Huddersfield. If you’re minutes away from a 184, it is a good pre-bus brew joint (quick walk upstairs to shelter).

      It’s been a while since I did Uppermill. If I ever want chips, the Chinese chippy on High Street is an absolute must. Chips and curry first rate every time. Wilberrys a few doors up does good tea, though their piece de resistance are their bacon, sausage and egg mega muffins. They are about the same diameter of a bar stool at the adjacent Commercial pub!

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  2. I LOVE this post! We have shared our love of Yorkshire Tea before (just tweeted to the Grumpy Mule team who also have their eye on top tea as well as being coffee conniseurs) but also to Taylor of Harrogate team.

    For those of you who have not discovered the joys of the (SEVERAL) Merrie Englands in the Huddersfield/ West Yorkshire area – it is DEF worth a visit. At first my other half REFUSED to go in (‘looks too dodgy – what’s all that faux Tudor look about? Eek!’ but much, much worse was the hideous smoke fog…) But now the smoking ban is over and we are allowed to go in. It is very appealing if you are after a certain experience….ie. 1970s big stodgy cakes, good honest lunch and grand cup of tea at a great price. Plus more more of a ‘local people’ feel – and friendly!

    I once had a last minute meeting with an actress up from London – she was performing in the area and I needed to talk to her about some aspect of our work. We needed to find somewhere quick – near the old Parishs Church in the centre of Hudds. She was aghast that all cafes shut at 5pm. This is NOT LONDON I had to say. The only place open until 6 was dear old Merrie England (there is another one Stuart – next to the Parish CHurch). She ordered a coffee. I had to explain that it was ‘coffee unlike anything you will ever have experienced….this is Northern Sunday-School Type Milky Coffee’. (You know the sort Stuart – where Bertha in the church kitchen commences the boiling of the milk the minute that the Minister starts the sermon…only the Minister usually adds another 20 min on. This end product – this phenomenon is known as The Sunday School Coffee and it really is something else…… (if you can get over ‘the skin’ – it really is a pleasure!))

    Anyway. She was very nice about it all and said that the coffee was indeed, tasty but not like the coffee in London!

    But I shall not apologise for dear old Merrie England. Perhaps they should buy up the deserted Little Chefs about the country? People would soon start flocking….

    (PS – some great tips for places to visit there. Thanks)
    (PPS – next time you are in Hudds try The Keys restaurant – and cafe – in the crypt below the parish church. It is a beautiful place and has a pianist on Saturday. It is a place to treat your mother or your nice old auntie. If you have small children – they DO give them lollipops but they dont appreciate your fussy 3 yr old sayng that their kids menu is ‘just POOEY!’ and insisting on eating his cheesy wotsits and lobbing them at the other customers…)

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  3. Hi Tina,

    I too remember my experience of pre-Starbucks era milky coffee complete with skin. When I had one once at school (in 1985, from a blue plastic cup), I hated it for the smell and the taste. Reassuringly, the Real Milky Coffee in a Traditional Sense is still alive and well in the North. In that most august of establishments known as Gorton Indoor Market, Sivori’s Café does a good line in milky coffee along with its more famous product, ice cream. In 2006, I passed a café in Southport (on the promenade) which brazenly advertised ‘milky coffee’ instead of latte. My first proper latte was in 2001 (early adopter?) at the King William café in Scarborough, close to The Golden Ball pub.

    I find the Merrie England cafés a loveable reminder of the cafés I loved in the 1980s which were the Starbucks and the Costas of that decade. In Oldham, my late grandma used to swear by the Country Larder café at Town Square Shopping Centre, next to Presto and opposite Argos. It is interesting to note that 6pm is the typical closing time for Manchester cafés, but some close before 5pm, such as the Koffee Pot.

    Little Chefs used to be a good place for orange lollies. On the way back from Macclesfield (1987 with Ewing School), we called at one in Adlington, had a brew and one of their famed orange lollies. Perhaps if they brought them back and ditched the birdsong in the toilets (not least charged less for their Olympic Breakfast), they probably wouldn’t be laying off so many staff. Even so, I wouldn’t mind seeing a Merrie England along the Great North Road. There’s one near Northallerton which would look good as one!

    I’ve yet to try The Keys. My favourite church café is The Salt Cellar in Oldham, which is always worth a visit.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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  4. Great reading, I had a great day in Huddersfield a year or so ago and noticed all the Merrie Englands and was amazed and thrilled there are so many for an (admittedly large) town to have survived! Didn’t go in though as went in another very cool, formica-tastic, mirrorgasm cafe on the main shopping street, complete time-warp, got a milky coffee with skin there! Madness, hadn’t had that in years! All very interesting.

    I remember The Larder and El Greco in Blackburn (where I was brought up), 2 old school cafes – The Larder was a chain I think and may have been mock-tudor (can’t quite remember though!).

    I am definitely going to visit Huddersfield and other West Yorks places more now you’ve informed me my FirstDay would be valid in W Yorks too, wow, can’t believe I didn’t know that, thought I was an offer expert!!! Thanks so much for that! It would make it much better value as I’m now living in Walkden and find £4.50 a total rip-off especially when it’s that price for a single journey to Manc too! I mainly get the train to go most places in GMPTE for this reason. I am still going to call it GMPTE as enjoy shouting “gumptee” out loud hehehe! TfM doesn’t have the same ring!

    I used to frequent Little Chefs a lot with my parents and yes would be cool to see them as Merrie Englands, it thrills me that looking on their website they have a drive-thru in Hudds! xx

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  5. Hi Dave,

    I love Huddersfield, but I would go more often if the train wasn’t twice as expensive as a FirstDay ticket, or if the bus was faster than the train. It also has the closest (I think) Wimpy Bar to the centre of Manchester! The last time I called in to Huddersfield’s Wimpy, I went for a Bender Meal in December 2009. I have called in there a few times before, plumping for their cheap tea or coffee with a toasted tea cake offer.

    You cannot fault Huddersfield for Old School chippies either. Near the railway station you’ve got Tribells on John William Street; at the opposite end on New Street (near the magnificent and sadly vacant 1930s Co-op extension) you’ve got the Four Cousins and Olde England Fisheries. I’ve visited and enjoyed the former, expecting to see Gene Hunt, Sam Tyler, Regan or Carter veering towards Queensgate Market.

    The Country Larder was part of a chain. I remember seeing one in Bury, the Manchester Arndale Centre, and Stockport as well as Oldham’s. After being a Country Larder, the Arndale Centre branch became Rowntree’s Café and occupied a unit at the northern end of the centre prior to redevelopment (after that it moved to a unit facing High Street).

    TfGM doesn’t have the same ring as GMPTE, and I don’t blame you for catching the train from Walkden to Manchester Victoria. Though the trains are older than First’s vehicles they are cheaper. The same journey would be £2.80 if Stagecoach Manchester operated Salford’s buses (top whack on Stagecoach Manchester is £2.80 by the way)!

    For the drive thru Merrie England on Salendine Nook, you will need to catch a K Line bus from Huddersfield to Quarmby. Your best bet for this is your FirstDay ticket from Walkden to Huddersfield (changing at Piccadilly Gardens for your 184) and single fares on the K Line route (unless they do a cheaper return or day ticket). Even so, it’ll still be cheaper than paying up to £15 from Walkden for a off-peak return to Huddersfield.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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  6. when it snowed just before xmas I got the 184 to Marsden used one of Huddersfield B7s great bus

    better trains on the northern rail service now there is a light green one been on it a few times Mossley stn been in Tameside paper tonight complaining about people in wheel chairs not been able to get of on the Yorkshire bound side because of the steps

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    1. The light green trains are among the handful of Class 150/1 Sprinter units from the West Midlands. They bear part of a previous franchise’s livery [Central Trains].

      The Mossley station issue’s hardly a new story; it has rumbled for quite a bit, but the deadline for introducing wider disabled access on public transport is drawing nearer (hence is reappearance in the Advertiser and Reporter newspapers).

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  7. Hi there again! Thanks for your great response, I’d noticed the Wimpy there myself and been really excited, but in fact I must correct you on that one, there is one in Salford Shopping Centre (newly rebranded from City, both odd and a bit crazy when EVERYONE calls it “t’precinct”!), I do hope they keep the huge lettering on the tower block as it is though, it’s so iconic! I digress! I have been in that branch once a few years back and had a toasted teacake and tea!

    Quite spooky you mention chippies as last night I said to my partner that Hudd’s chippies always looked amazing but I haven’t sample them so I must next time, thanks for the advice! I also love Queesgate mkt and the co-op building, did an excellent tour of the town with Huddersfield GEM who are a kind of modernist enthusiast society for Hudds, like the Manchester Modernists but perhaps on a lesser scale.

    The cafe in BBurn was just called The Larder, not the Country Larder, I remember seeing those everywhere but nowhere else seemed to just have The Larder! It was in an open air ace 60s precinct areas with giant fountains like hosepipes and thousands of pigeons! I miss the old BBurn, that area’s now roofed in and all the fountains have gone almost all traces of the 1960s have gone and I’m worried the old market hall will be demolished any minute 😦 A shame it hasn’t been listed like Huddersfield’s.

    Thanks for the info on the drive-thru. And Stagecoach’s top fare, I used to think they could sometimes be deer but compared to First they’re bargainous! I really wish we had an integrated system just like London’s, off there again tomorrow!

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  8. Hi Dave,

    Thank you for filling me in on the Wimpy bar at Pendleton Precinct. In my old bus timetables from the 1970s, Salford Shopping City is referred to as Pendleton Precinct. I’m firmly in the Salford Shopping City camp.

    My first and only visit to Blackburn was in December 1999. I had my dinner at Blakey’s Café and revelled in the 1960s – 1970s Arndale-ness of it all. Prior to considering a future visit, I was upset to find that its indoor market was closed. I liked, though only saw it in photographs, the overall roof which its railway station had.

    Stagecoach in Manchester have had the cheapest single fares in Greater Manchester of the big bus owning groups over the last decade with First Manchester at the other end. Even so, it is still cheaper to buy a day saver ticket instead of two singles on a straight return journey (no returns available on Greater Manchester’s buses). The problem with Greater Manchester’s bus fares is that the free market determines the fare rates on most services instead of TfGM (or TfL in London). Companies may continue to charge their own fares or adopt TfGM’s minimum rates on tendered services, which are lower than most fares charged.

    Love the Huddersfield GEM website, being a fan of Queensgate Market Hall and the 1930s Co-op building.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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