Having failed to do any research on the town before arriving I resorted to the Tourist Information office on the edge of a park called ‘Sun Beck’ a couple of streets away from the High Street.
Inside there were three ladies having a good old chat about the stock of second hand books they had for sale in a corner. Always interested in books I went over to the display looking for something on the town. Instead there were books by Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins, Dick Francis and J K Rowling but nothing factual. I asked at the desk if there was anything ‘cultural’ such as a museum or art gallery to visit in the town.
‘No, we don’t have anything like that here, York is not very far and they have lots of museums and galleries if you are looking for that sort of thing’.
This reminded me of when I asked someone the same question when I was in Glasgow and was told the most cultural activity there was the train into Edinburgh. I refrained from telling the Northallerton lady that I had just come from York about an hour ago.
‘We do have a sports centre……you could go for a swim’ another lady suggested.
They gave me a street map, I thanked them and left to wander the streets of the town.
The High Street is very wide and is lined on both sides by the usual national chains of banks, building societies, betting shops and retail outlets. However, what I did not notice was that despite the presence of these ‘national’ names on the High Street there appeared to be just as many independent retailers, if not more. There were two independent butcher’s shops both with window displays of produce dressed and presented in a way that I have not seen in our home town, Ringwood. Quite a few fast food outlets but no MacDonalds.
There was one very special place called ‘Bettys’ Tea Rooms’ which I have written about separately.
Historically Northallerton has always been a transport hub by being situated on the Great North Road from York to Darlington and beyond to Northumberland and Scotland. It was the centre for livestock that came down from Scotland to be traded and drovers have brought their flocks of sheep into the High Street until as recently as just before the outbreak of World War I. This is probably why the main High Street is so wide to allow space for these transient flocks and herds to be penned into ready for sale.
What I did notice, similarly with Tewkesbury, is that leading off of the High Street there are countless narrow alleyways just wide enough for two people to pass by one another. In Tewkesbury the alleyways were built as a way of accessing development to house burgeoning populations behind the main street. It looks to me as if the alleys in Northallerton may have been built for the same reasons but all traces of the squalid living conditions that were built either side of them have long gone.
The Great North Road was a coaching route from the days of the stage coaches carrying goods and people up and down Britain. This passing trade supported four coaching inns all of which are still in business as hostelries even though there are no stage coaches passing through anymore
The rain continued to increase in its intensity and I had less reason to be outside exploring the town. My jeans began to feel wet I had done as much exploring as I could if not all that I could so it was back to the Golden Lion Hotel for a hot coffee in the room and a continuing read of John Steinbeck’s ‘Russian Journal’ to end my day in Northallerton.