Pickering - there are two sides to this North Yorkshire market town

PUBLISHED: 14:28 17 April 2013 | UPDATED: 15:52 09 February 2018

Pic Joan Rusell
Town feature on Pickering

Pic Joan Rusell Town feature on Pickering

Joan Russell Photography

There are two sides to this North Yorkshire market town, as Chris Titley discovers Photographs by Joan Russell

If you are a country mouse and your partner’s a townie you may have struggled to find a suitable place to set up home. You want meanders in the countryside, he wants mochas in a café-bar. You want fresh air and birdsong, he wants fast wi-fi and live bands. Well you’re search for the perfect location is at an end. Welcome to Pickering.

Pickering is a dual-purpose town. It has a lively, bustling centre bursting with independent shops and places to eat and drink. And yet you are only a five minute walk away from rural tranquility.

Mayor of Pickering William Oxley runs a B&B, 17 Burgate. He says visitors are often surprised by all the town has to offer. ‘Absolutely. The number of people who come to go on the train and say, “Gosh, we didn’t know about the castle, we didn’t realise what a lovely market town Pickering is”,’ he said.

‘I think Pickering is by far North Yorkshire’s pleasantest proper market town – we have a proper market on a Monday, we have a farmers’ market once a month. People don’t understand how much there is.’

It’s a great spot for exploring the wider area too: there’s the North Yorkshire Moors Railway steaming folk to Whitby and back, plus Scarborough and York within easy reach.

‘And Pickering itself, with its independent shops, with its pleasant little market place, with a choice of restaurants and eateries, makes it a fantastic base for people,’ added William.

Pickering has always prided itself on its strong retail sector, with independent shops prospering in spite of the competition from the chains. But this resilience has been weakened by the economic downturn.

‘We do have retail businesses that close but generally speaking they are immediately replaced by somebody else. We’ve had very few empty shops on the High Street,’ said William.

‘Having said that now for the first time in my time here we have shops that are standing empty for months before they’re being reopened, rather than weeks. Because Pickering has been such a consistently good place to do business this is a bit of a shock to the system.’

A number of initiatives are underway as part of the fight back. The town launched Exclusively Pickering, a guide to the many local businesses in the area. This highlights places like Yorkshire Quality Paperbacks, ‘the most organised bookshop in Yorkshire’, with a railway section among its bargain second-hand books – appropriate as it’s found opposite the station. Or the Organic Farm Shop, which began life on a farm on the outskirts of Pickering and now sells locally made bread, organic salmon and Aberdeen Angus beef on Eastgate in the town centre.

Then there are the companies which have a longer pedigree, like family-run Flintoft Ironmongers, started in 1959, which still offers antique lock repairs.

Building on that campaign, the relaunched Pickering Business Group is examing ways to boost the town. ‘For me the key has always been about changing Pickering from being somewhere where you stopped for a cup of coffee on your way to Scarborough to somewhere where you stopped for the day,’ said William.

‘It’s this sense of Pickering being a great base for the North Yorkshire Moors, its independent shops, the castle, the attractions it’s got here – all linked to an amazing sense of community spirit.’

So there’s plenty going on in town. But what about Pickering’s rural side? Step forward Pauline Hukin, chair of Pickering Walkers are Welcome, and one of the organisers of Pickering Walking Festival which takes place between April 19th and 21st.

‘My grandfather was one of the first people in the country to start a walking group in about 1890, so it’s in the blood,’ said Pauline, who moved here from Lancashire about 40 years ago.

‘It’s a very beautiful area and the walking is second to none. We’ve got the moors, we’ve got the Dalby Forest area, we’ve got the Wolds. The Yorkshire Dales National Park isn’t far away, the Lake District isn’t far away – it’s a very central spot for walking.’

The festival, however, focuses on routes closer to home. There are 85 miles of footpaths in Pickering parish. ‘In five minutes you can be out in the country,’ said Pauline.

‘If you go behind the castle, you go into woods which were part of the hunting grounds of the kings of England from the time of William the Conqueror.’

Pauline is leading a walk around those historic grounds during the festival. Other walks include a wilderness trek, and an amble along the old railways of Pickering – the town had three, running south, west and east of the town. You don’t have to be super fit to take part in the festival, said Pauline; anyone can manage the gentler walks. And it’s a wonderful thing to do.

‘It gets you into the countryside, you get the feel of nature, it’s healthy, good exercise,’ she said. ‘You meet a lot of nice people. Walkers are always very friendly and helpful.

‘You see lots of wildlife. In our walking groups and on the walking festival we have people who are very familiar with birds, flowers, trees – they can talk about those subjects.’

If walking’s not your thing, don’t worry Pauline added. ‘They do say there’s a club or society for everything you want to do. We have the Memorial Hall which is a large hall beautifully refurbished. It’s a good central area to live.’

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