Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Cream Tea Award: Booths Supermarket, Ulverston

on September 8, 2012

It’s been a bit of a “dry” year, cream-tea-wise, possibly because we haven’t visited many National Trust properties, where there’s always the prospect of something yummy, but as I’m now attempting to lose a stone in weight, I’m thinking this might be a good thing overall, as there could easily have been more weight-loss required if I’d had more chance to indulge over the summer!  Nonetheless, I had two cream tea opportunities on our Lake District holiday (was going to be three, and one day I’d still very much like to visit the Lakeside Hotel, which was just up the road from our cottage, but it didn’t work out this year in the end).

The first of the week was on the Wednesday.  After a nice Sunday (on which we took a beautiful walk up to a dam near our cottage) , an extremely wet Monday (on which we stayed in our cottage all day – apart from me, who went for a jog before it started raining and then ventured out to a local shop for provisions at lunchtime) and a glorious Tuesday (on which we went to Ambleside and did another very successful huntfun town hunt), Wednesday dawned looking rather threatening.  I had succumbed to a virus which the Bookworm had had the previous day – not serious, just a sore throat and headache type thing, but enough to deter you from going out unnecessarily if the weather isn’t going to be kind – so we took the morning easy.  Around noon the weather was looking much more promising and we decided to visit Ulverston, the nearest town, to buy stamps, post postcards and visit the supermarket in preparation for Peacock and family who were due to arrive in time for tea and stay for a couple of days.

The dam we walked to

We enjoyed the drive over to Ulverston – the views over the Levens Estuary and the surrounding area are different from the conventional Cumbrian sights but no less beautiful – and the weather was beautiful.  Until just after we’d paid for 2 hours in the car park, that is, whereupon a dark cloud descended and it began to drizzle in a rather miserable way.

We made our way gingerly to the Post Office and completed our errands there, then spotted the Laurel and Hardy statue just outside (Stan Laurel was born in Ulverston).  As we took a photo of the girls with Stan and Olly, the rain suddenly began to bucket down with much more force than before.  We took refuge with several other unfortunates in the Tourist Information centre, where an optimistic man was remarking that the rain was falling so hard, it couldn’t last for long (I used to believe that was a useful maxim too, before I lived in Durham).  He was right, and before long it had slowed to a much more steady, sustainable intensity which drenched us as we headed back to the car, gave up on our two hours’ parking charge, and headed out of town.  The thing is, there really isn’t anything to do in Ulverston.  Well, there’s the Laurel and Hardy museum, which was actually just around the corner from where we were getting drenched, but I’m not sure it would have been very interesting for the girls, who’d never heard of them, and we didn’t actually know it had moved there (on my only previous visit to Ulverston, in the late ’80s, I visited the museum in its previous premises, because we spotted Roy Castle – who used to do impressions of Stan Laurel – going in and took the opportunity to go and say hello to him).  But apart from that, in my experience, Ulverston is a quaint little market town with a lot of charity shops, a very good fish and chip shop, and not much else.

Just outside Ulverston, however, is a branch of Booths.  Booths is a supermarket chain which is virtually unheard of outside of the North West of England, but I would recommend it to anyone who gets the chance to shop in one of their branches, because it’s a much nicer shopping experience than your average supermarket.  The shops feel quieter and less crowded than other supermarkets and the goods on offer tend to be of a higher quality.  They offer specialist foods, such as unusual breads and delicatessen items, that you don’t see in other places.  We just love to shop at Booths when we’re in Lancashire or the Lakes.

After we’d finished our shop we were hungry, so we decided to have a picnic lunch out of some of the groceries we’d bought, and then return to Booths for a drink in the café.  As you might have guessed from my praise, the standard of the café is a lot higher than would be expected in a supermarket, and amongst the fare on offer were cream and jam scones, so I decided to have one with my cup of tea.

The staff behind the counter were very friendly and welcoming (1/1) and the atmosphere wasn’t really too bad, given that it was a supermarket café (1/2).  The chairs weren’t that comfortable but the area was divided from the main supermarket by a wall and a staircase, giving a certain amount of seclusion for café customers.  On the wall was a display showing the route of the Olympic torch with the host cities named, and on a pillar by the serving counter another display had been set up in preparation to celebrate the Paralympic medals won by Team GB (obviously empty at that time as the opening ceremony was being held that evening).

Although we had to order and pay at the counter, there was no waiting around as we were given a number to take to our table and the food and drink was brought over to us. We didn’t have to wait too long.  The tea was brought in a large pot with two cups and an extra pot of hot water and was plentiful enough to provide at least three cups each (2/2).  Unfortunately, as is often the case in more modern eating places, the tea had been made from the same high-pressure water jet used for the various coffees on offer, which is only hot and not boiling, resulting in rather flavourless tea (0.5/2).  The milk was fresh, however, and served in quite a large jug (1/1).

Although there had been various types of scone available on the counter (fruit, cherry and I think cheese), no choice was given when I ordered the advertised “cream and jam scone” and I was served a fruit scone.  It’s possible I could have asked to exchange it for a different one but I didn’t enquire as I was happy with fruit (1/2).  It was room temperature, kept on a cake stand under a cloche (1/1), but didn’t taste completely fresh and could have been made the previous day (1/2).  It was served with a small jar of Tiptree jam (tasty but very set and difficult to spread – 0/1), from a choice of four flavours (2/2), and an individual container of clotted cream (2/2).

All four of us shared the scone and enjoyed it as a fitting end to our picnic.  As a cream tea combination it definitely scores 2/2 for value, as the price was really very low.  According to our receipt, the cream scone cost £2.25 and the large tea (2 person tea) £2.40, which would make it £3.45 for one person.  However, for some unknown reason, a £1.00 discount had been applied underneath the tea, bringing the overall cost of a one person cream tea to £2.95!  So, at 14.5/20 it might not be the highest scoring tea, but it certainly deserves an honourable mention for the lowest price!

As we went out, we noticed a banner on another building on the other side of the car park, inviting passers-by to visit the Cumbria Crystal* glass factory.  When I was young, we often used to take visitors who came to stay with us on a day out to the Caithness Crystal Visitor Centre at Kings Lynn, so I have seen glass-making and -blowing many times before, and am always fascinated by it.  Southern Daddy agreed that the girls would probably enjoy seeing it so we went in to enquire about admission fees.  It turned out that visiting the factory is free (it’s not a tour, just a short walkway separated from the factory by a barrier, with information cards displayed detailing the various processes involved).

The girls were very interested in the whole thing, and spent a while watching as the glass was extracted from the furnace and blown into the initial shape, then twisted and shaped into a more recognisable drinking glass bowl before a stem and foot were added and the shaped glass put into another furnace where it would cool over a long period, to avoid cracking.  On the other side, the cooled pieces were being polished and finished.  The Butterfly in particular was enthralled and opted to stay and watch some more whilst the rest of us went to visit the shop.

A glass-blower at work

Ah, yes, the Factory Shop.  Always a lure.  A place where one can buy slightly imperfect (although often perfect-looking) pieces at a reduced cost, which obviously varies enormously, depending on the original price of the item!  Now, you might remember my saying, back in January, that this year marked our 15th wedding anniversary.  I also mentioned that the 15th anniversary is traditionally associated with crystal, and that, not having a particular fondness for crystal-ware, it was unlikely we’d be giving and receiving gifts in keeping with that tradition this year (despite the fact that, as predicted by whoever made up the list of anniversaries – apparently based on which wedding gifts would have worn out after so many years – we had started to notice how many of our glasses had been chipped and broken).  And so it was – Southern Daddy bought me some chocolate from Hotel Chocolat and I bought him theatre tickets (for Alan Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking – we went this week and it comes highly recommended if you get the chance to see it.  This production included Felicity Kendal and Kara Tointon in the cast).

Only, when we arrived at the factory shop, it turned out there is actually crystal-ware that we do like.  I’d always thought of crystal as those cut glasses and many-faceted decanters favoured by old ladies (and which were readily available throughout the ’80s and early ’90s at Esso petrol stations, in exchange for Tiger Tokens).  Possibly the beautiful, but not very useful, paperweights I’d seen in the Caithness factory as a child.  In the Cumbria Crystal shop they had all those things in abundance, but in addition, some amazing vases and elegant, timeless-looking drinking glasses.  Maybe we did want to celebrate our anniversary in a more traditional way after all.

The trouble was, despite being (imperceptibly) second quality goods, and despite being vastly reduced on the “discontinued” shelf in addition to costing less than their first quality counterparts had, the glasses we fell in love with were still very expensive.

Coniston glasses

“Coniston” glasses

Being discontinued, they had to be bought now, or not at all.  We couldn’t justify buying them as a gift to each other, especially as we’d already given (and, in some cases, consumed) our gifts, but we couldn’t wait for Christmas or a birthday to come around.

In the end we decided to buy a more modestly-priced vase for ourselves – it’s a lovely, flowing design with swirls of smoky mauve and little bubbles inside the glass.

Our new vase

But we have got the glasses too, having, happily, remembered that they could be an early Christmas present from relatives who always send us money.  (Now we just have to remember not to use the money to treat ourselves to something else when it arrives in December!)

So that’s the story of this year’s cheapest cream tea, and how it turned into a more expensive (and more fun) day out than we could possibly have imagined!


*Website under construction at the time of posting, although a small gallery of photos is available to view and a film can be seen, showing the creation of a recent collection.


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