One of Lavenham's medieval timber-frame buildings

Local is the new Black

Forget Black Friday and panic internet shopping, instead find an unusual, creative gift from an independent boutique on a traditional high street

Contrary to popular belief, some small towns and local shops are thriving and are a joy to visit – so make a weekend of your festive shopping with a stay at one of these indie towns

Frome, Somerset

This small, Somerset town is home to a creative crowd – as reflected by the incredible collection of independent shops clustered around Catherine Hill and the area known as St Catherine’s, a cobbled hill or narrow lanes and quaint small stone buildings.

Shop at: Home bodies will love Elizabeth Lee Interiors for stylish new and vintage gifts; Owl is an arty mix of soft furnishings, prints, art and ceramics; and Sister’s Guild has gorgeous homeware, toys and clothes for children. Pilgrimage sells worldly lanterns, blankets and upcycled or Fairtrade gifts with an interiors-spin. Crafty types would appreciate anything from Marmalade Yarns or Millie Moon, a haberdashery and sewing school with lovely fabric, ribbons and buttons that’s a real trove to rummage through. You’ll find beauty products, handmade soaps and candles at Herbs on the Hill; while vintage and antiques fans are well served by Donna May, The Dandy Lion and The Life of Riley.

Re-fuel at: Once you’ve made it to the top of St Catherine’s, you’ll be rewarded by Paccamama, a small café with an Italian vibe, and Crockers, a coffee house-meets-art gallery; at the bottom of the hill Garden Café combines a deli (good for foodie gifts), with a café and wine bar. The Archangel pub is a cosy place for a longer lunch.

Stay at: The Talbot Inn ( in nearby Mells is a cosy gastropub with rustic-yet-stylish rooms from £95 B&B. What’s more, they’re hosting their own Christmas market on Saturday 13 December.


Helmsley, North Yorkshire

This pretty market town in the heart of the North York Moors and a mecca for foodies and walkers alike, with an abundance of cafes and proper pubs – but the shops are a fantastic draw, too.

Shop at: Get into the country vibe at Carter’s Countrywear, which has everything from Dubarry wellies and Yorkshire tweeds to cheeky country animal cufflinks, leather hip flasks, and homeware too. Find walking and country books and gifts at Claridges. Duncombe Park shop sells pretty gardening accessories and objects alongside home gifts and jewellery.

Castle stores will cater for the knit-wit in your life with wools and needles, patterns and books; magpies will love something sparkly from Libby Butler Jeweller’s or from Nice Things and Sienna, which are both Aladdin’s caves or jewellery, candles, toys and gifts.

Gastronomes can be kept happy with a treat from Helmsley Wines, Hunters of Helmsley where more then 70% of the produce is sourced from Yorkshire, Helmsley Traditional Sweet Shop (fab for stocking fillers), Auntie Anne’s Bakery – famous for its Yorkshire Curd Tart – or the town’s newest shop, Helmsley Brewing Company.

Lastly, creatives will love Look Gallery and Saltbox Gallery, which has gorgeous local prints, ceramics, jewellery and art that support’s the area’s artists.

Refuel at: Scott’s of Helmsley does really good, old-fashioned fish and chips at their stylish restaurant on Bridge Street; run by local farmers George and Ann Hawkins, The Beck Tearoom is a great place to warm up with a toasted tea cake or a steak and ale pie.

Stay at: The Black Swan hotel (doubles from £135 B&B, in the heart of the town, has its own outdoor ice rink for Christmas this year, and roaring fires inside to warm you up.


Lavenham, Suffolk

This stunning medieval village in Suffolk – all half-timbered buildings, crooked cottages and a gaggle of lanes centred around a market square – has an almost Dickensian feel about it, and is the perfect setting for a Christmas shopping trip.

Shop at: As a former wool town, it’s no surprise to discover the Wool Room, which sells knitted clothes and accessories, jewellery and vintage bags, but today you’ll find many more artists that wool merchants here. And it shows – there are a handful of great galleries selling paintings and prints, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery, that would all make unique gifts, from the Lionhouse and Wildlife galleries, to Lavenham Contemporary and Kate Denton Sculpture.

Merchants Row is a home to a collection of independent shops and studios including a gift and toyshop, specialising in Steiff bears, and a few antiques, interiors and furniture shops.

For more interior inspiration, try Flutterby’s, who upcycle and repaint furniture and home accessories, the Cuckoo Flower and Water Street Glass. Lastly the shop inside the Tourist information office stocks an array of locally crafted gifts including lovely prints by local artists and Christmassy hand-crafted cushions.

Refuel at: Combine your shopping, your hobby and your coffee at Café Knit or grab a tea at the National Trust-owned Guild Hall. For something more substantial, Lavenham has a clutch of great pubs including the newly re-opened Angel and the Greyhound, which opened last month. Ten Lavenham is a stylish restaurant and bar for evenings.

Stay at: A night at the romantic and historic Great House (doubles from £99, with its award-winning restaurant and just five boutique rooms.



West Kilbride, Ayrshire

Scotland’s only designated craft town, this handsome village on Scotland’s west coast, overlooking the Isle of Arran, is promoting artists and rural craft, with a series of open studios spread among the independent shops that line the high street.

Shop at: Once, more than half of this small town’s shops were boarded up. Now, thanks to a local creative enterprise, several shops have been converted into studios for artists and crafters, while a church has been turned into the Barony Centre, an exhibition space to showcase the regions skills and where you can try out your own at various workshops. Now every shop in West Kilbride is filled, from independent book shops, sweet shops and haberdasheries, to the arty spaces dotted around Main Street.

You’ll find contemporary silverware from award-winning Marion Kane, whose customers include Ewan McGregor, hand-dyed yarns at Old Aunt Maiden, bespoke knits from McHattie and painted glass by designer Debbie Halliday, who also works for major British brands

Pick up decorative accessories, gifts and cards from Chookiebirdie and bespoke cards and stationery from Michele Crouch of Tallulahbelle Cards. Further down Main Street, Berry Boxter has lots of homely gifts, too.

Refuel at: The Barony Bites café makes a cosy pitstop for a cake and coffee, while The Waterside, just outside of town and on the beach, is the hot destination for lunch. Nearby Braidwoods is worth a visit for a Michelin-starred supper.

Stay at: Seamill Hydro (doubles from £120 B&B, has beach views, a spa, and the restaurant is a local favourite.

xmas shops


This feature appeared in Metro newspaper on 8 December, to see the print version click here:

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