It’s been two years since the New Economic Foundation dubbed Cambridge the ‘worst clone town’ in Britain. Although the city centre is still packed with chain stores, there's been a happy upsurge of independents not far away, in Petersfield. Supporting local artisans and entrepreneurs is a great antidote to Christmas shopping fatigue. So, defy the weather and check out the neighbourhood's offerings.
Along Norfolk and Gwydir Streets, two of Peterfield's main thoroughfares, skips bulge with the detritus of home renovation. The area's increasing popularity among young families has brought new businesses, which is good news for all of Cambridge.
Starting at the East Road end of this vaguely L-shaped corridor, begin with the Norfolk Street Deli for an eclectic assortment of foodie treats, from South African biltong and koeksisters to freshly made Italian pastries, plus delicious sandwiches.
If you haven't already visited the recently reopened Norfolk Street Bakery your next stop must be number 89. In addition to bread made daily and a tantalising array of pastries, baker Adilia Frazao is taking orders for four special desserts: Christmas Pudding, Bolo Rei (King’s Cake), Escangelhado (Crushed King’s Cake)—all spiked with Port—and a chocolate lover’s Tronco de Natal (Christmas Yule Log).
Turning right onto Gwydir Street, you’ll spot The Alexandra Arms ahead. Reopened in November, the pub is now under the excellent care of Craig and Jenna Bickley, who’ve proved their talents splendidly with The Free Press, which remains under their care. They’ve brought along their extra-large pint glasses (ensuring a full measure of ale), added two small snugs, and installed a wood-burning stove. Although the menu will be limited to start with, it features locally-sourced meat and produce. Click here for interesting information on the pub here.
Suitably refreshed, proceed across Gwydir Street to The Frontroom in the gatehouse of the Gwydir Enterprise Centre. Usually a tiny gallery, it's morphed into a pop-up shop for the month. Open week days (10 to 5) until 21 December, it sells cards, prints, bags and more. It's all handmade, by local illustrators and artists, who seem to share an interest in quirky, hand-drawn styles.
Returning to Gwydir Street and heading uphill, you pass the home and workshop of Katie Beeke, maker of vintage-inspired children’s toys and clothing. Instead of holding her annual sale there this year, Beeke's lovely wares can be found online and also in the Market Square on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The last stop is Hot Numbers. The café roasts its own beans and offers coffees made with the latest in brewing technologies as well as grilled panini and locally-made cakes. Best of all, Hot Numbers hosts live music. Noshing and listening became even nicer when the café reopened an old interior arch and connected to Williams Art, the airy gallery next door. Together the two spaces have the best sort of synergy, with more space for musicians to play and patrons to enjoy both art and tunes.
Even if you only make it to one or two of these terrific independent shops this month, you will still be striking a blow - for local talent and gumption - in the clone wars.