Yarm - the town with the personal touch
PUBLISHED: 00:16 07 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:24 20 February 2013
Yarm is a town where ladies do lunch and pampering comes naturally. Andrew Smith gatecrashes this somewhat alien preserve to check it out for size
As a bloke, I dont often connect with my feminine side. In fact, Im not at all sure I have one. But the sign above a quaint-looking shop on Yarm High Street caught my attention. The Little Bra Shop somehow just drew me towards it. Ill resist suggesting that my cup seemed to floweth over with excitement.
Not much wider than a decent support garment itself, the shop was staffed by two pleasant-looking women standing just inside the door. They had seen me peering in and smiled sympathetically. Either I was an embarrassed husband on a mission to buy lingerie for my loved one or I had another more questionable mission.
Does The Little Bra Shop just sell little bras or do you sell bigger ones as well? I inquired, inexplicably. Oh, we do all sizes, said the nearest assistant, with an increasingly worried look on her face.
I quickly introduced myself as the man from North East Life and explained that my inquiry was entirely motivated by journalistic curiosity.
Im not sure they believed me but my confidence was rising and I strode into the narrow emporium trying not to focus too closely on the racks stacked high with underwear.
It transpired that the assistant who took the lead in dealing with this unlikely client was the shop owner, Tracy Campbell. Shes been in business for four years in Yarm and was recently nominated for an award by Underlines Magazine for the quality of her personal touch.
We specialise in measuring and fitting to ensure that our customers get exactly the right sized bra for their figure, she said. Now thats just what I would be looking for, if I was a woman.
Yarm attracts ladies who lunch. They come to the town and spend the whole day here because its full of little boutiques that offer the kind of personal service you dont get in the big stores.
Tracy had won me over. I began to wonder if she offered a loyalty card.
The people are lovely too, she went on. We were getting on famously, I felt, and I could have stayed to chat much longer but proper customers were coming in for the personal attention for which she is noted and I needed to move further along the High Street.
I could sense her initial suspicions welling up again when I asked to take her photograph next to her merchandise but thankfully she agreed and I was rapidly on my way.
Yarm is a charming market town with a broad High Street on which you can still park free of charge for two hours providing you display a disc on your dashboard.
And while its a honeypot for women, there are plenty of shops for men, including good outfitters, traditional barbers shops where haircuts dont come with the almost obligatory blow-dry, a well-stocked DIY shop, betting shops, pubs and David Riggs family butchers. Now theres a bloke.
I met David on a previous visit to Yarm for North East Life and am pleased to say the magnificent moustache is as abundant as ever.
But this compact and picture postcard town is most definitely a place for the ladies like close friends Sarah Harrington and Clare McBride. They were passing the time of day on the High Street, as countless people do.
Yarm is without doubt the best town in Tees Valley, said Sarah, who has lived here all her life. It has a really nice choice of specialist shops selling things you cant find elsewhere.
Clare, who has lived in the town for five years, added: I love it here and wouldnt want to live anywhere else. People come to Yarm for the day to enjoy the kind of shopping you dont get in the big town centres. Its also got a great nightlife, with good pubs, cafes and restaurants.
Just across the road I met three friends waiting for the bus home. Aileen Richardson and Jean Sewell visit Yarm regularly from nearby Thornaby and Agnes Kerr lives just up the road at Eaglescliffe.
Its a lovely place to visit, said Aileen. We come through fairly often. We enjoy looking around all the shops and having a coffee and something to eat.
Jean added: Theres a really good atmosphere and the people are very friendly. Agnes said: I live close by and I always come to Yarm to do my shopping. I wouldnt think of going anywhere else.
And neither would I. Unlike many towns across the North East with traditional high streets of smaller retail units, there are no empty or vacant shops in Yarm. The choice of goods on sale is vast and there are ample high quality places to take a break and enjoy good, often home-made food and snacks.
And if youre looking for something intimate, snugly fitting and supportive for the woman in your life, chaps, I know just the place to go
Pioneers of the railway
The backdrop of the magnificent 43-arch viaduct that encircles the town to the west bears testimony to the importance of Yarm in forming the Darlington and Stockton railway and trains continue to trundle across the 700-metre long span.
History flows through the buildings and wynds of Yarm. In the early 13th century the town was the second largest port in the North of England, with ships of 60 tons and more carrying corn, cheese, butter, salt, wool and hides to London and Europe.
The George and Dragon pub was the venue for the meetings where the plans for the first passenger railway in the world were laid.
The old town hall, with its iconic clock steeple, bears a plaque to the memory of five pioneers of that railway, all of them Yarm men.
There are also two marks registering the height of floodwaters in 1771 and 1881, and as a further illustration of the vulnerability of the town to the unpredictable River Tees, tucked away down one of the old wynds, or alleyways, is a charming little house called Flood Cottage.
The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of North East Life
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