Lancaster’s a beautiful hole. It’s one of the prettiest cities there is. The first time I went there, I slipped into a charmed stupor as I drove into the centre. Sun-dappled trees lined squares of grand Georgian buildings, churches and a castle, no less. Then two car loads of boy racers pulled up behind my car, music heaving, honking and hurling abuse. Laughing, they drove me off the road and onto the pavement then left me to my angry crying.
On subsequent trips, having got a better grasp on the place, I’ve learned how to play to its strengths and have a top time there. Don’t drive – it’s got a well-connected train station. Don’t smile directly at anyone, especially not in shops, they think you’re insane. If you’ve got a southern accent, avoid talking out loud. They would rather you point than discover that you are their enemy.
In the midst of all this there are two beautiful gift shops, randomly full of lovely baby clothes. Don’t take too long browsing; they’ll come and stand next to you and glower as if you’ve been stealing. Choose your purchase from outside so they don’t need to bear your company for too long.
I’d now add to that list, buy yourself breakfast from Morrisons, Nero or McDonald’s.
I need to point out there’s an exception to all these rules in an amazing place called The Borough where there’s a lovely gig. I’ve had two incredible dinners there and the staff are happy and kind. It was brunch I was in the market for this time, though.
My train wasn’t until 11.30am, the sun was out and I had two hours which I didn’t intend to spend eroding my soul in my Travelodge.
In the T-shaped shopping area there are two Greggs, two local versions of Greggs called Biggles and a burger van. Before I learned the above rules I’d had a terrible time in or near all of these. I just wanted to sit down somewhere that wasn’t going to make me sad. Eventually, down a small back alley, I stumbled across AMY’ TFA SHOP. Yes!
Much like with humans, I believe a defaced frontage adds character. To all appearances, it’s the archetypal quaint little tea shop. There were two ladies running it and two older people sat alone with their papers. I tried to make as quiet an entrance as possible, especially seeing as I wasn’t in the correct uniform. I was the only person in there not in a beige fleece gilet. Within the 20 seconds it had taken me to enter and sit down, a lady asked what I wanted.
There were lovely local things for sale on a stand, homemade jams and pies and even Morecombe potted shrimp. Slightly odder, they also sold dusty second-hand wine glasses and bags of ‘charms.’
The small laminated menu had a few surprises. Honeyed milk with nutmeg sounded gorgeous. £2.20? You’re alright, thanks. I was taken aback by the prices: it was a fiver plus for a toastie and more like seven for one of their panini. I was happily distracted by the lady’s chatting. “I had a spare peeled potato so I quartered it and battered it and took it to him and he said, ‘Why’ve you never done this for me before?’” Wonderful.
Then my phone rang and it was a call I had to take. Everyone else went quiet to listen and watch me very intently indeed, but not with their whole heads, just with their eyes.
On the next asking I plumped for a bacon and mushroom sandwich with a pot of tea. It arrived all tatty and steaming. No sauces were offered and I was too wary to ask. One woman shouted from the counter “THEM MUSHROOMS ARE NICE.” She wasn’t wrong. To look at the bacon was plentiful, chunky and lovely too. To eat it was horrible, grizzled and knotty with terrifying grey bits. It came with plastic white bread covered in spread, a guilty pleasure. And the mushrooms were nice, inky and juicy. I ate them and the bread but I was more scared of the bacon than I was of the women.
In summary, fittingly considering its place of origin: it looked great but was awful. I loved the whole debacle regardless, because it left me tickled for the rest of that day.
Here’s a link for The Borough: http://www.theboroughlancaster.co.uk Amy’s Tea Shop, thankfully, hasn’t got a website.
Amy’s Tea Shop
Address: 7 Mary Street, Lancaster, LA1 1UW
Tel: 01524 845510
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 9.00-15.00 (closed Sundays)
Accessible: Yes, step-free throughout. Though front door is very narrow and the toilet is tiny and not adapted in any way.