After twelve hours of driving we have arrived. I can see the big hill, under which the village lies, in the distance. This is where we are going to live for the next few months: right on the North York Moors and half an hour from the sea.
The village has a small, far too expensive supermarket: a CO-OP. Fortunately, there is an ALDI in the village further on. There is also a lunchroom with a nice atmosphere and lots of fresh cakes, named The Velveteen Rabbit. We drink coffee and eat lunch there to celebrate finally being here.
Food and drink are important to Brits. No matter how small a village is, nine times out of ten you will find a pub that serves good food: pub food or pub grub they call it. Usually, there are some classic pub meals on the menu, and fish and chips will not be missing. Next to the battered and fried fish, you will find big chunks of chips, on which you pour vinegar. With a bit of luck, you’ll get mushy peas, my favourite. Other common dishes are toad-in-the-hole (sausages baked in a big Yorkshire pudding), bangers and mash (sausages on a pile of mashed potatoes with gravy), pies (not to be confused with a sweet pie, this one has a savoury filling) and often an Indian curry, because Brits love curries.
The first time I wanted to eat in a pub, I waited at my table for half an hour, but nobody came. Beginner’s mistake: you order your drinks and food at the bar. You usually pay for them immediately. So convenient!
In my temporary home in North Yorkshire, too, the pub is the heart of the community. Every night there are people in one of the three pubs in the small village. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are jam-packed with locals, and on Sunday afternoons you will find families coming in for a Sunday roast. That is usually a large Yorkshire pudding, a piece of meat or vegetarian alternative, various vegetables, roast potatoes and gravy.
Middlesbrough, Staithes and Stokesley
Since we have both taken this week off, we are going to explore the area. Middlesbrough is a town nearby, but I find it quite disappointing. It has little atmosphere, although there are plenty of good places to have lunch or a coffee. At least they have a Waterstones (a chain of bookshops in Britain), so that is a plus.
About half an hour away is Staithes, an old harbour town. The seagulls fly to and fro, screaming their lungs out. It is a beautiful village, with many tourists on that weekday. I quickly sketch the cliff and a bit of beach, after which we treat ourselves to an Americano for Bram and tea for one for me. Well, ‘tea for one’… I get a huge pot from which about twelve cups of tea can be made. After four cups of tea with milk and sugar, I throw in the towel.
In a book about this region, I read about the famous ‘farmers markets’ in North Yorkshire, where local businesses sell their goods, especially food. On Saturdays, the most famous is in Stokesley, which is only a ten-minute drive from our cottage.
Green doors and window frames in England
I’m instantly in love! When we walk into Stokesley, I notice tears welling up. When I find something really beautiful, I get emotional. It is beautiful, with typical English cottages of brown stone and doors and window frames in a soft mint green, a colour you see a lot in England. It started with Winston Churchill and his wife, who painted the garden furniture of their Chartwell house in Kent in this colour. It became so popular that a major paint manufacturer gave it its own name, named after Churchill’s house. Since then, it has been a classic paint colour for Britons to use on their doors and window frames, and you will find at least one house painted in this colour in every village.
What I miss in the Netherlands is atmosphere: here, everything is functional, whereas in England they are more focused on things looking beautiful and atmospheric. Just compare a Dutch post box with an English one, a world of difference. I never see tourists taking pictures of the orange mailboxes, but here in England you regularly see people taking pictures of the red Victorian mailboxes.
When we walk towards the village square of Stokesley, we see that it is busy. People from the surrounding villages have come to buy their bread, vegetables, freshly-picked flowers and, most importantly, lots of cake. Now, I knew that British people love cake, but for some reason, it strikes me even more now. In every café, they sell freshly baked Victoria sponge, carrot cake, coffee cake (possibly with walnut) and brownies. The village has some very good coffee shops, including Pistachio and Milk & Grind. At the latter we had an iced coffee. You can also find many Caffe Nero’s and Costa’s in Great Britain. Both are very big coffee chains, and have good coffee, according to coffee-snob Bram 😉 But I prefer the independent places.
I have made it my mission to visit as many beautiful independent bookstores in Great Britain as possible, so-called indie bookshops. Again, this is different from the Netherlands: here, these shops often have beautiful façades, with beautiful lettering. The selection of books differs per shop. The owner decides what they sell in the shop, so it can take some time to find a shop that sells the kind of books you like. In Harrogate, I find a selection that fits like a glove: Imagined Things Bookshop. The owner is a young woman, and sells mainly books by female authors. I didn’t even notice it in the first five minutes, until Bram noticed it. The book world is also dominated by men, so it is so surprising to find so many female authors here. I buy a book by Julia Chapman, Date with Death. Signed and all!
There is so much to tell about our first two weeks here, I could write a whole book. But I am here mainly to rest, so this is it for now. I will tell more about our adventures here soon!
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All text and images © Marloes De Vries