We’ve been proud Crook residents for nearly a month now. I’ve lived in County Durham for over three years, and thought I had a good feel for the place, but West Durham is full of surprises.
Crook is a market town. The market is every Tuesday. Get there quick – by early afternoon most of the stallholders have packed up and gone home. If you ignore the modern traffic and the ubiquitous betting shops (we have two) there is a real feeling that the modern age has not reached Crook yet. For chain shops we have two banks, two Coops, a Boots and a Greggs. Almost all the other shops are utilitarian independents. We have two grocers, two hardware shops, two butchers, a saddlers… all shops that are hard to find on most high streets these days.
Crook isn’t a place to do your Xmas shopping, so I thought I’d check out Bishop Auckland. Bishop is full of history, but I’d always felt it was a bit run down. In the past, the only reason I had to go to Bishop was to get a connecting bus to or from Weardale or Teesdale. Today I had my ‘local’ eyes on, and was expecting to find at least some Xmas-shoppable shops.
Wrong. Bishop Auckland is bigger than Durham city, but like Crook, utilitarian is the theme. There are more of your typical high street shops here – there’s an M&S and a Dorothy Perkins, and a big Asda and Morrisons – but otherwise the shops are either independent utilitarian outfits or pound shops. Great if you need to buy wool or get your TV repaired, not so good for Xmas presents.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s a real charm about these traditional shops that is completely lacking in the modern high street. I popped into Bondgate Books, an independent bookshop, and it was like walking into a scene from Black Books. The books were piled everywhere, mostly on the floor. Unlike Black Books, the proprietor couldn’t be more friendly. He was especially keen to show all his customers the front page of the Sun – his daughter is a member of the Military Wives Choir, and there she was on yesterday’s front page getting a kiss from a celebrity.
Tomorrow I’m going to make a final attempt at Xmas shopping in Durham city. There are plenty of dependable chain shops in Durham, but I’ll be looking with fresh eyes and wondering where all those traditional independents have gone.