From super soft cashmere to exquisite handmade toys, these shops sell the very best Britain has to offer

By Nicholas Foulkes

A nation of shopkeepers’: perhaps they meant it as an insult, but trade is what we, in our damp little island off the northern coast of Europe, do best. It was why we built our empire to find people to sell things to. Simply put, we keep shop like no other nation and, even in our age of globalised megabrands, London’s West End is crowded with shops that keep a direct link to the crafts- men and women who supply their stock. The tailor shops of Savile Row are not really shops at all, but artisanal ateliers with cash registers.

The two great British gunmakers, James Purdey & Sons and Holland & Holland, still keep factories a mere taxi ride from their West End shops. And, if you stroll down the Royal Arcade in Mayfair and into two of my favourite shops E. B. Meyrowitz, optician, and Ormonde Jayne, perfumier you may well find yourself being served by the owners, who design and craft the products they sell.

I know that my tastes are somewhat classic, but the British tradition of shopkeeping continues to reinvent itself with intriguing operations, such as Dover Street Market, a pot-pourri of idiosyncrasy that pulls off the brilliant balancing act between eccentricity and desirability and has seen outposts open around the world. We might have got out of the imperial habit, but Britannia still rules in retail.

 

Cumbria

John Norris of Penrith

Penrith, Cumbria

Perfect pit stop on the way north the countryman’s cavern where even the most notorious retail-phobic visitors have been known to pull out their wallets.

*Stock up on fishing flies they’re the best on the market (01768 864211; www.johnnorris.co.uk)

Invernessshire

Campbell & Co, The Highland Tweed House

Beauly, Invernessshire

Recently taken over by husband-and-wife team John and Nicola Sugden, this is a must-visit for all things woollen north of the border.

*Don’t just concentrate on the woolies and tailoring  the shop also stocks magnificent masks and headdresses made of pheasant feathers and rabbit fur (01463 782239; campbellsofbeauly. com)

Gloucestershire

The Toy Shop,

Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire

The exterior disguises its labyrinthine interior. Every toy you could ever dream of will be here, with expert advice to match.

*The Jeffrey family has presided over the shop for 50 years what they can’t tell you about toys really isn’t worth knowing (www.thetoyshopmoreton.co.uk; 01608 650756)

Cumbria

The Toffee Shop,

Penrith, Cumbria

Handmade on the premises in brass pans, the fudge and toffee has been made to the same recipe since 1910. And there’s definitely no need to change it.

*If you’re buying a box for your host, buy one for your- self, too, and secrete it in your luggage—you wouldn’t want to be caught sneaking around the kitchen at 1am (www.thetoffeeshop.co.uk; 01768 862008)

Perthshire

House of Bruar

Blair Atholl, Perthshire

The Harrods of the North: Scottish food, tweed, tartan and cashmere all in one gracious location it’s all very well done.

*Even dogs are catered for in a ‘crêche’ walk them afterwards up to the Bruar Falls (www.houseofbruar.com; 01796 483236)

Cumbria

Croglin Designs

Lazonby, Penrith, Cumbria

Exquisite woodwork and the most beautiful toys ever made.

* The Land Rover and trailer are a must-have for every little boy’s farm (www.croglindesigns.co.uk; 01768 870100)

Isles of Scilly

Richard Pearce

Bryher, Isles of Scilly

This studio/gallery overlook- ing Hell Bay on the island of Bryher is essential for any- one who loves the islands. Richard’s work encapsulates the atmosphere as nothing else can.

*If you’re not in the market for a new canvas, invest in a print it’ll take you back every time you walk past it. A good investment for £5 (www.lovescilly.co.uk)

Moray

Johnstons of Elgin Cashmere,

New Mill, Elgin, Moray

The mill, on the banks of the River Lossie, is best known for all things cashmere. Here, the wool is dyed, teased, carded, spun and hand-finished by the Elgin craftsmen.

* Don’t forget the interiors shop it’s an absolute treasure trove (www.johnstonscashmere.com; 01343 554099)

Norfolk

Made in Cley,

Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk

Made in Cley is an establish- ment very much of its place, with muted tones, an atmos- phere of calm serenity and beautiful works of art.

* Do not bring children breakages will be expensive (www.madeincley.co.uk; 01263 740134)

Gloucestershire

Vanessa Arbuthnott,

Cirencester, Gloucestershire

New this year, although Vanessa has been designing fabric from her home in nearby Calmsden for nearly 30 years.

* Book onto one of the design workshops at Vanessa’s home, The Tallet, for a day of fabric-filled fun (www.vanessaarbuthnott.co.uk; 01285 831437)

London

Cordings,

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Yes, the store best known for colourful winter cords and its rubberised Macintosh and covert coat, which is ‘an iconic part of London’s landscape’ and part owned by Eric Clapton, has now opened a second shop after 176 years.

* In 1871, Stanley was kitted out at Cordings in preparation for his journey to Africa to find Livingstone.

(020–77584122; www.cordings.co.uk)

Oxfordshire

Upton Smokery Burford,

Oxfordshire

Just off the A40 outside Bur-ford, this is a deli with a difference all the essentials plus much, much more. Particular favourites are the fresh bread and smoked salmon pâté.

* In summer, pizza is made in the outdoor oven ring ahead to avoid disappointment (www.uptonsmokery.co.uk; 01993 823699)