St Catherine’s Hill, Frome, Somerset
In 2010 a little known metal detector hobbyist was pottering about a well-furrowed field on the outskirts of a small rural Somerset/Wiltshire border town. Stopping to investigate an unusually large signal he then proceeded to dig up one of the largest historic Roman coin hoards discovered in the UK, a pot containing 50,000 bronze and 5 rare solid silver coins that became known as the ‘Frome Hoard’. It was certainly a surprise for the town of its namesake, though not completely unfamiliar with notoriety, still able to throw to catch you off guard.
Many pass through completely unaware of its 17th century cobbled streets, suburbs packed with musicians, artists, the odd celebrity, a thriving music scene, popular festival, and nationally famous artisan market culture. Driving from the very top and through the center, you could easily dismiss the town, one high street chain store after another, a quiet ubiquitous wave that is sweeping the nation as many independents struggle on. Yet take a short stroll over to St Catherine’s Hill and behold a wholly independent string of boutique stores lining the stone cobbles, each more interesting than the last as they stretch up the slope to where the perspective converges.
The hill could easily be mistaken for a swank London borough, as though Notting Hill itself was airlifted into place, together with all the coffee-drinking socialites that hang around those parts of West London. In spite of what they say about the condition of the British high street, this modern miracle has created a wonderful piece of culture that shouldn’t be missed.
Stopping mid-way at the rockabilly styled café ‘Crocker and Woods’ the community spirit is clear, everyone knows everybody here. Café owner Chris Woodage greets every customer like an old friend, frequented throughout the day by his neighbor store owners, stopping for a chat and leaving, coffee in hand, with a friendly nod on Twitter too.
For them the personal service is a reward, Chris notes:
“I’m not friendly because I want people to come back, I’m friendly because I want to be, when people return it’s because they appreciate the effort I give on each and every one of them”
It works too, I went in for a quick flat white, ending with a second one, some friendly banter, and a few laughs to go with it.