I'VE often wondered what it is that normal people do of a crisp winter's Saturday. Since my very early teens, I've spent almost every Saturday from mid-September to the beginning of April traipsing around all corners of Yorkshire playing hockey for Northallerton.

Being the second-most northerly team in the Yorkshire League (that accolade goes to Richmond), for away matches we usually have a drive of between one and two hours, followed by a creaky warm-up, a feisty match in which we range from abject to brilliant (we don't do mediocre), post-match refreshments of anything from cold chips and questionable fried chicken to piping hot meat and potato pie, then drive home. For home matches, played in Thirsk due a lack of a proper astro-turf in Northallerton, it's a shorter day, and we are very well catered for at Sowerby's Crown and Anchor, with proper fat chips and hot butties.

One frosty Saturday in January, our match was cancelled (for anyone interested in such things, astro-turf is not an all-weather surface at all), so I set out to have a normal Saturday. Starting with a trip to Northallerton to do some grocery shopping, I soon had the car loaded with a random combination of items including pork pies, a bucket, some bread, and a good, stiff sweeping brush. Deciding that was enough domesticity, I ducked into the Joe Cornish Gallery for a slab of lovely, moist carrot cake and mug of tea.

Given that the original plan had been for my sister and I to dash home from hockey to treat our mam and dad to the award-winning afternoon tea at The Joiner's Shop in Ingleby Cross, at 3pm, a run in the hills was then called for so I could pretend to have earned our feast.

I was at the Flavours of Herriot Awards final last year to see The Joiner's Shop take home the afternoon tea of the year title, so given it's my nearest cafe, it seemed rude not to try it out.

Afternoon tea must be booked in advance, and we were there on the dot of 3pm, to be shown to our table straight away in the bright, but still cosy downstairs. Our drinks order was taken (four teas, including one decaf) and quickly delivered, complete with tiny egg timers so we could be sure of getting the optimum brew.

Then the main – and only – course arrived in all its splendour. Two, three-tiered stands stacked with treats that put my previous, comparatively limp, afternoon tea experiences to shame. It was as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach.

The finger sandwiches filled with ham and mustard, beef, brie and cranberry and smoked salmon were light, fresh and not too filling given the challenges ahead.

There were two scones apiece, so I started with the cheese, followed by the fruit, complete with butter, jam and clotted cream (in for a penny, in for a pound). If I'm being harsh, the cheese was a touch on the dry side, but it was flavoursome enough that another slather of butter did the trick.

My mam and sister tactically saved their cheese scones for later, while the excellent, attentive staff noticed we were all struggling to open our jam pots, and stepped in to save the day.

The dessert selection was immense, and given that I usually rotate between a lemon cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding and chocolate brownie, it was only thanks to hours watching the Great British Bake-Off that I was able to identify them all.

My favourite was probably the Eton mess-in-a-jar, which was light, crisp, and tangy in all the right places, closely followed by my second carrot cake portion of the day.

Admitting defeat, I had to save my chocolate cake and tiny eclair for later – anything we couldn't manage was happily parcelled up for us to take home.

The verdict from the whole table was that the afternoon tea was one of best any of us had tasted, with huge care and attention going into presentation, flavour and experience.

The bill came to £60 (£15 each for afternoon tea, or £20 with unlimited tea and coffee).

We decided The Joiners Shop well deserved its Flavours of Herriot Award and retired home for a snooze, no doubt brought on by our indulgent meal.

I'm not sure this would be classed as a 'normal' Saturday – hockey or no hockey – but as a luxury in the depths of winter, it was a wonderful treat.


The Joiner’s Shop, Cross Lane, Ingleby Cross, North Yorkshire, DL6 3ND

Tel: 01609 882762

Web: http://rountoncoffee.co.uk

Open: 9.30am (10am Sunday) to 4pm.

Ratings (out of ten) Food quality 9 Service 9 Surroundings 8 Value 9