What the locals really think of Clitheroe

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 July 2016

Clitheroe centre and library

Clitheroe centre and library


Mairead Mahon spends a day shopping in this Ribble Valley town and finds romance, music, the arts and gourmet food.

Owner, Giles Shaw, and manager, Scott McTear at Wellgate FisheriesOwner, Giles Shaw, and manager, Scott McTear at Wellgate Fisheries

‘A flask of wine, a book of verse and thou,’ said the poet, listing the ingredients for a perfect day. Well, Clitheroe, a hotspot for gourmets and culture vultures, can provide him with the wine and the book. As for the ‘thou’, as Clitheroe is in the Ribble Valley – the ‘official’ UK Capital of Love in a marketing initiative by the council – maybe it can help with that, too!

It is certainly a pretty place to get wed, overlooked by Pendle Hill and a Norman castle. Bright bunting decorates the streets all summer as there are so many festivals, including jazz, beer and food, that it just isn’t worth taking it down.

One such event is the Food Festival which takes place in August but there are gourmet food shops to be found all year round. Cowman’s Sausages and Byrnes’s Wine Shop have won more awards than you could pack in a picnic hamper. They’re not on their own though, Wellgate Fisheries has picked up a fair few too.

Sadly, these days it’s unusual to find a dedicated fish shop on the great British High Street but this one has been run by the Shaw family for over 50 years. Giles Shaw, the current owner, knows a thing or two about fish and so he should – he’s been selling it since he was eight and in all that time, he’s never been nipped by a lobster! He sources locally where he can and even has his own smokehouse. If you want to know anything about the fish you’re buying, Giles is the man to ask but don’t quiz him about how to land one of the beauties that grace his counter: Giles is a fishmonger who never goes fishing.

Bryony and Holly Boutell at Vanilla CakesBryony and Holly Boutell at Vanilla Cakes

Down the road at one of the UK’s few shops solely dedicated to cheese is Cheesie Tchaikovsky owned by Jan Curtis. Just as Giles doesn’t fish, she can’t drink milk but luckily, she can eat cheese and she does: lots of it. The shop is a treasure trove of local and European cheeses. In fact, Jan regularly visits French markets. ‘It’s the only way to make sure that I get the cheese that the French normally keep for themselves and the people of Clitheroe are pretty hot on making sure that they get the best.

‘I’ve not done a survey but I think Clitheroe folk give more dinner parties than anywhere else and they know what they want on that cheeseboard, such as the trendy black truffle,’ says Jan.

She has also been asked to make cheese wedding cakes, several tiers high. However, if you prefer a more traditional cake, then sisters Holly and Bryony Boutell, who own and run Vanilla, might be more up your street. They make bespoke cakes on the premises and for most of the time, sisterly love prevails although neither of them will admit to being the one who once switched on the grill instead of the oven, leading to cake chaos. People travel far and wide to have their wedding cake made here and the girls will literally risk life and limb to deliver them.

‘We were asked to deliver a wedding cake to Cumbria. Unfortunately, it was at the height of the floods and our car was swept away. It was written off but we spent the night in it, guarding the cake and in the morning, we flagged down a tractor and the driver took us and the cake to the wedding,’ laughs Holly.

Owner, Jan Curtis, and assistant, Milly Wardle at Cheesie TchaikovskyOwner, Jan Curtis, and assistant, Milly Wardle at Cheesie Tchaikovsky

The buzz at the moment is for naked wedding cakes: cakes with no icing. Holly and Bryony though like to decorate these naked creations with flowers and often pop next door to Voila, owned by Janet Lightbown to choose them.

So is Clitheroe the Capital of Romance – who better to ask than a florist? ‘Put it this way, there are several flower shops in the town and I don’t think any of us ever have any flowers left over, so I think it must be,’ says Janet.

Clitheroe has been identified as having one of the most well educated populations in England, so when Jo Harding visited it one Bank Holiday, he was surprised to see that it didn’t have a bookshop. The very next day, he gave up his career as a barrister and opened a second hand book shop.

But put the image of a dusty old books out of your mind – Jo’s shop is a haven of peace with soft music, comfortable chairs and gorgeous books that attract people from all over the UK. He also runs poetry workshops, which are so good that they’re an outpost of the National Poetry Society.

Clitheroe also has a brush with art and is home to three galleries, including the renowned Platform Gallery, beside the railway station. Run by Helen Cresswell, it is one of the UK’s top venues for exhibiting contemporary craft and has a dynamic, ever changing programme. This summer it will host a Clay Collection by top craftsmen and women and already people are going potty about it.

For those who like to participate, Keith Parkinson and Beverley Chapelhow of Ribble Valley Art Studios run classes for individuals and groups such as schools. They are firm believers in art as therapy and as Keith points out, there aren’t many prettier market towns to do it in. The studio is also home to eight artists who work and display their work here.

Clitheroe is a fantastic home to the arts. Many townspeople support them and I sometimes think that we could be the St Ives of the North West but without the scandal, although we do life drawing. I’m not the model though,’ laughs Keith.

There’s music too, in the shape of The Grand, which was created as a state of the arts performance complex. It also has a brilliant recording studio that can easily rival the world’s best. It is run by Simon Stride and Tom Peters, who are used to TV crews pitching up to film this hidden wonder. It’s attracted groups such as Big Country, Velocity Trio and even recently produced an album for Child Action North West.

Culture and food come together in the Callooh! Callay! tea shop. Literary types will recognise the Lewis Carroll allusion and anyway, even, if you didn’t, there are plenty of clues in the Alice in Wonderland décor.

‘No matter what surveys say, tea will never go out of fashion and we have dozens of varieties. As for Mad Hatter’s Tea party, this is Clitheroe you know and tea is a genteel affair here. We’re proud to be in the town and if you want proof, look down – the floor covering is a specially commissioned map of it,’ explains cook Nuala Lamont-Shiels.

Just down the hill is The Emporium, an imposing coffee shop and interior store owned by James Warburton. James has just got permission to develop Holmes Mill and this July the first phase, The Beer Hall, will be complete. Ultimately, it will include restaurants, a hotel, bakery, leisure facilities as well as the famous Bowland Brewery. But for now it is enough to keep Christine Lee busy. She is the lady who not only chooses the stylish items for sale in The Emporium but also provides the interior designs for all of James’ Places.

‘I like to place traditional alongside modern but I will also be mixing in some industrial heritage pieces for Holmes Mill.’

There was trouble at this particular mill, with planning problems delaying its restoration, but an online petition attracted so much support that it is now a reality and will bring a sympathetic new lease of life to the town’s industrial heritage.

Clitheroe is the market town that takes gourmet food, heritage and culture and delivers them all in one stylish package.

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