Visit... No 60, ARC Stockton*
Arriving into Stockton train station, the snow began to fall. At first, tiny specks dancing in the air; then, a flurry coating the pavement in a layer of white. A perfect scene, perhaps, for the festivities that I was about to embark upon. Not quite so perfect for me, though: I had forgotten my umbrella.
I was in Stockton to try out the Christmas Afternoon Tea* at No 60, which is a wonderful little cafe bar on the ground floor of the town's resident arts centre, ARC Stockton. The thing I love the most about ARC is the sense that they are part of the community. Despite its shiny exterior and demanding size, I really do feel as though the centre is for everyone. At No 60, for example, there is a dedicated training area in the kitchen to support local young people into culinary careers.
I was feeling pretty sodden and miserable by the time I arrived at ARC, but couldn't help but smile when I was shown to my table. Set with traditional tartan linen, and complete with sparkly Christmas crackers, it certainly lifted my festive spirits.
I was joined by a few other blogger and media-types, and it wasn't long before our food arrived. Spread over three slate-grey tiers, and adorned with the cutest tartan bow, were a selection of finger sandwiches, cream-filled scones and sweet treats.
I am no stranger to an Afternoon Tea, however, I must say that No 60's offering was beyond what I was expecting. Little details, such as the dusting of snow (read: icing sugar) and the inclusion of sweet mince pies, plus boozy truffles, were duly noted.
My fellow guests were equally pleased. Kathryn, who edits LUXE Magazine, professed her love of ARC - with reasons that were much the same as mine. Becky, of Milk Bubble Tea, spent a good few minutes taking photos of the beautifully presented cake stand before indulging, and proclaiming her desire to re-visit. I, for one, was left feeling so damn wonderful that I completely forgot about the whole weather situation. Until, of course, I got up to leave; looked out of the window, and let out an audible sigh.
Back on the train home, I couldn't help but wonder why (some of) those pesky Southerners believed it to be so "grim" up North. Yes, our cities and towns might not be as pretty as some, but they're abuzz with community-driven centres such as ARC; purse-friendly cafes, and even super-friendly strangers who aren't afraid to offer a soaking passerby their umbrella. Grim? I don't think so...
*Christmas Afternoon Tea courtesy of No 60, ARC Stockton. For more information, please refer to my disclaimer.