Alnwick - a market town which represents the very best of British.

PUBLISHED: 13:02 05 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:18 20 February 2013

Alnwick - a market town which represents the very best of British.

Alnwick - a market town which represents the very best of British.

Chris Titley tries not to be dazzled by the silverware accrued by a market town which represents the very best of British.

Alnwick wins more awards than other towns have potholes. The title everyone remembers is that of best place to live in Britain, bestowed by those guardians of rural living at Country Life magazine.


But that was ten years ago now, and Alnwick is not a place to rely on former glories. Much more recently, Bondgate Within was voted best shopping street in Britain in the Google Street View awards.

This is a richly-deserved title. From the sturdy medieval gate Hotspur Tower at one end to the moment it merges with Narrowgate, Bondgate Within is lined with every type of shop. Behind their implacable stone facades they are buzzing with bargain hunters who cross the cobbles in their thousands at the height of the summer season.


Yes, there are plenty of chain stores. But these are squashed up against shops which, as their names confirm, you wont find anywhere else. Like Jobsons Of Alnwick, a family-run outfit which sells saddles and country wear.

Or Scotts Of Alnwick, which for ten years has been the place for lady golfers to get kitted out for a few rounds at Alnwick Castle Golf Club, with its stunning views across the countryside to the sea.

Or Bell And Sons, a menswear shop run by the same family since 1897, and is now in the hands of the fourth generation Stephen Bell. He has established its online presence called, inevitably, bellsofalnwick.co.uk. (Oh, and dont forget to pop in to relative Bondgate Within newcomers, Trotters Family Bakers, established in 1969, for a border tart.)

Alnwick claimed its best shopping street honour in June last year, only for it to be crowned the best market town in the country weeks later. This time it was the BBCs Countryfile magazine that conferred the accolade.

And to top it all, Alnwick has not just any castle, but the one where Harry Potter learned to fly on his broomstick.


The message is clear: anyone looking for the finest in country living should halt their search here. If Alnwick were a cyclist it would be Bradley Wiggins, sweeping all before it with a modest nod and an it was nothing shrug.

Because Alnwick folk are not ones for boasting. Except perhaps John Stevens. But then, it is his job. John travels the country informing people of the wonderful charms of Alnwick. He does not so much talk up the town, as shout it up, hollering about the towns virtues after a hearty Oyez!

John is the town crier, or to give him his full title, Bellman to the Common Council of the Burgess of Alnwick. It is his second stint at the job, just as this is his second period of living in the town.

Originally from Newcastle his work with the Civil Aviation Authority brought him to Alnwick in 1976 when he was posted to nearby RAF Boulmer. It took him away again at the start of the Nineties, when he got a job at London Heathrow. Then he and his wife returned for good in 2002.

The second time was because we liked the first time so much we decided wed better come back here to retire, said John.


Its a town thats full of genuine people, for the most part. We have quite a big influx now of what we would term dormitory residents, inasmuch as they work in Newcastle and we dont see as much of them as wed possibly like to. But that will change because Alnwick has that effect on people.

He pauses when asked to name Alnwicks best points, unsure quite where to start. The countrysides beautiful, you can be out of the town in two minutes, walking. I walk along the beach or in the Alnwick garden. And the night life is actually pretty good. We are quite spoilt up here. There are a couple of fantastic Italian restaurants.

We have Indian, we have a steakhouse, we have excellent pub grub in the local hostelries, we have two hotels and of course, we have the Alnwick Castle banqueting suite.

He ended up town crier by a circuitous route, via the pond. Every year when the now extinct Alnwick Fair opened he would dress as a shepherd, go into the town square and heckle the bellman. For which I used to get chucked in the pond.

In fact I had three shepherds outfits and just prayed that one of them was dried before the next one got wet.

In 1983, after six years of dunkings, he was asked to enter a competition to be the new bellman. And he won. What was the secret of his success? I know Im noisy. I also know I have a strong speaking voice because I did a lot of amateur dramatics. I think that swung it.


John took up the role again when he retired to Alnwick, this time becoming a fellow of the Loyal Company of Town Criers in 2003. Since then I have travelled the country along with my wife, whos my beautiful escort, to promote the town.

This August he came third at the British Town Crying Competition in Hebden Bridge. Its a bit like Strictly, only with bells, he explains.

There are two rounds, the first a cry about your own town. John composed a poem entreating people to stay away. In reality of course, its the perfect advert for a modest, multi-awarding winning town.


Please dont come to Alnwick.
The place is oerrun with cars and bikes and charabancs
Now the season has begun.
Please dont come to Alnwick.
Our pubs and inns are full to burst.
Go somewhere else. Anywhere.
If you want to quench your thirst.
Please dont come to Alnwick.
Theres nowt here for you to see
Just the castle, garden and the toon,
The countryside and the sea.
Please dont come to Alnwick.
Harsh words, aye, and quite unjust.
We can mebbe squeeze one or two more in.
So howay then. If you must.

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