Northallerton

12 03 2011

After driving roundabouts for well over an hour, from this junction to that and back on the motorway again, we finally located our hotel at Skeeby Scotch Corner.  It wasn’t anything worth writing about, but comfortable and pleasant at least.  The front desk clerk was very helpful, correcting my pronunciation on the Puh-nines and Farn-bro.  She told us the best place nearby for a bite and verified that we shouldn’t be tipping servers except perhaps in classy big city restaurants – certainly not a service road Little Chef.

We set out early the next morning, about 6:30 in the morning with plans to make our way to the ancestral homes of my family, the Parvins.  We first stopped at a bridge at Morton-On-Swale, which crosses the Swale River, one of the swiftest, if not the most swift, in all of Britain.  The tax records from the 1600s call this bridge that of a John Parvin, Parvin Bridge.  Just beyond it to the left of the roadway is his manor home, still intact, though now utilized as a garage.  We pulled in for a few quick snapshots before continuing down the A684 to the local church.  John’s son Francis, another ancestor, was baptised here, married here, and buried here and I was hopeful to locate a grave.

The church, St. Helen’s at Ainderby, was built in the 1200s and completed in the 1300s.  It is one of the oldest still active churches in the area.  We pulled off and dashed across the A road to enter the church gardens.  Unfortunately, most of the graves were more current, the earliest I saw was from late 1700s.  The doors to the chapel were closed, so we decided to leave and head on into Northallerton.

When my initial planning was beginning for this trip, Jennifer Smith, an archaeologist directing the Boltby Scar excavations had suggested we not miss a stop at Betty’s Tearoom in Northallerton and further research showed it was a world renowned chain, started pre-war days by a poor immigrant.  The business now also owns Taylor’s of Harrogate teas.

Northallerton was like a step back in time, albeit with modern vehicles.  Street vendors had taken up the sidewalks as far as the eye could see with tents and stands selling every imaginable ware.  From fresh produce to meats to breads to canned goods and stationary, clothing and other knick-knacks as well.  We made our way into Betty’s, likewise a step into the past.  All I could compare it to was a scene in Titanic where the Victorian ladies sat having their afternoon tea in a sunny garden room, enclosed in glass with pristine white walls and elegance.  Betty’s was this and more.

In the front was a shoppe with baked goods to one side and teas and coffees to the other.  The tea rooms were to the rear and up a magnificent grand staircase was the toilet.

We gave our headcount to a server who was dressed in an ankle length black pencil skirt with a tucked white crisp blouse, Oxford collars.  All of the servers were similarily dressed, though some also had black blazers on.  Everyone of the staff had their hair tightly pulled back or in a cropped bob.  Our server, Abigail, had a short bob and was not very suggestive of anything to try for our first English tea.  However, my friend back home, Marcille, had spoken of cream tea services, so we decided to go for that option.  The other guests seemed put out a bit by our presence, or perhaps our continual need to take pictures of everything – or most likely a combination of the two.

We were given fine bone china and silver spoons (not sterling either!) with silver tea services and china platters laden with scones.  Two small bowls on each server held a red preserve, looking to be strawberry or raspberry, and a buttery spread called clotted cream.  We each decided to get tea, instead of coffee, which had a flowery taste but was rather mild nonetheless.

I really felt like some Victorian lady of yore sitting in this sunny room with windows all about and greenery, having my tea and clinking of china ringing in my ears.  It was a wonderfully relaxing experience and I could only imagine being part of this lifestyle where this would have been considered the “norm”.

While the others finished up, I went to the storefront to begin shopping as I needed to get Yorkshire Gold for Marcille and Alannah wanted some sort of tea blend to bring home with her as well.  The shop ladies were very chatty and helpful, explaining the difference between all of the tea blends they had and what we were served in the tea room.  I finally settled on a loose afternoon specialty blend for Alannah and then Marcille’s bagged box of tea.

I had to give their toilet a go before leaving and it was complete with a sitting room where ladies were sitting on the couches having a chat.  I thought perhaps they were waiting their turn, but no – they were just catching up on the local gossip.  How quaint.

The bathroom had old Betty’s advertisements framed on the walls and I awkwardly snapped a few shots of them before dashing in the bathroom stall.  It was already pretty obvious I was a tourist, so what the hell, I’ll photograph the loo too.

We went out to the street vendors and learned with dismay of the tragedy in Japan.  We’d been so removed from the ongoings of the world, no internet or newspapers or such for four days – it was sobering to hear this news.  (And this was before the nuclear incident compounded it all.)

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