I found myself back in the North Yorkshire market town of Malton recently. It was pre-planned obviously, I didn’t just wake up there.
Last time I arrived, in the early days of Cricket Yorkshire, I left the railway station and walked around a hardware store which had a fine selection of flat caps and also a gregarious parrot in a cage.
Nestled in the YO17 postcode, Malton has ‘come on’ in recent years, according to a friend of mine. I know what he means.
I’m not sure if the parrot is still chatting away to customers as they buy their cotton twill shirts but I like to think so.
Now marketed as Yorkshire’s Food Capital, the first thing that struck me as we wandered around its streets is the elegance of its buildings.
It was recently my birthday, like Jimmy Anderson I am the GOAT (although my claim to fame is the celestial tattoo of Capricorn rather than 675 Test wickets).
I don’t know if I’ve reached the age where I talk about brickwork or I am just more aware of it. But Malton is jammed full of glorious and old buildings.
A gigantic mural of the original Yorkshire pudding recipe catches the eye, as does a fireplace in an empty shop with an alabaster gentleman straddling it.
We take lunch at Patisserie Malton on Saville Street where the hum of lunchtime conversation while surrounded by sweet treats is a pleasant hour spent.
Inevitably, I had no plan to involve cricket in this scoot to Malton but I just can’t help myself.
First, we found ourselves at Kemps General Store. Their shop is a delight of gifts, crafts, jewellery and toys on Market Place. The portion of the premises dedicated to books is hard to miss being that there’s a striking arch made of them.
I almost didn’t but as an afterthought, I wondered if they might have Last of the Summer Wickets about the Scarborough Cricket Festival in their cricket section.
Topics are marked out with scrabble letters which is a nice touch. As it happens, the blue cover and fluffy clouds of All Wickets Great and Small was hard to miss a shelf down.
I offered to sign their copy and we end up chatting about a summer event that incorporates both an author Q&A and a cricket tea for Father’s Day. More of that another time but if you fancy a trip to Malton in mid-summer then you’d be very welcome.
On a whim, I decide to show Mrs Cricket Yorkshire the bat cave (more of a barn really) of Nixon Cricket on Spital Street.
At The Old Smithy workshop, Nick Nixon has been skilfully shaping clefts of willow with his drawknife and hand-making cricket bats for decades. He began after doing a few repairs for team-mates at Nawton Grange Cricket Club before taking the plunge and starting his own business.
I interviewed Nick many years ago, visiting him in the depths of winter to watch him making a cricket bat from start to finish. It was extraordinary. Craftsmanship that will stay with me.
Amongst many others, his cricket bats were used by Collis King who played for the West Indies and latterly biffed 50 centuries in the York Senior League. There are plenty of tales of Collis King’s six-hitting exploits doing the rounds.
Perhaps a few Cricket Yorkshire readers will share some?
Timing is everything with batting. And watching batting. I remember trekking out to the village of Dunnington to watch Collis but he was out early. A rare zero amongst the haymaking. The wild celebrations from the fielding side was a sign of having escaped an afternoon of chasing leather on a very hot day.
From the moment you enter Nixon Cricket, there is no question that this is a place of working with wood. There is no shop and in a strange way, I like that. You get handed your own cricket bat by the man who selected the raw material and made it, surrounded by sawdust.
Clefts of willow are lined up against the wall everywhere you look. Dotted amongst them are blank bats, immaculate, pristine and ready for customers.
Nick suggests I pick up one of them and test it with a few bounces of a ball. We talk about ‘ping’ a lot in cricket, namely the way a ball springs off a bat. With a few light taps, it was evident that even I could score a few with this beauty.
A wood burner has got the barn toasty, despite the chill outside. Apparently it’s a design used in Africa where a combination of wood chips and suction draws the fire and heats the fuel.
Today, it might be the ghost of cricket bats past keeping the temperature up in Malton with what looks like a cleft. Wood, I imagine, is not in short supply around here.
Nick’s office is a recessed area behind two hinged doors that are packed with hand-written messages. I see horizontal lines in marker pen are drawn along the edge, presumably to check the differing heights of cricketers and what bat they need.
A junior and his parents arrive to take delivery of a new cricket bat so we wave our farewells and step out into the cold.
There are a few cricket bat makers in Yorkshire that I know of from Chris Kippax to James Dollive (Jedi) and Ian Sampson (Warrior). It’s a skill many probably take for granted.
But next time you buy a cricket bat, or perhaps just pick up your own, think about the decades it took to grow that willow then the way it’s been shaped to an exact weight and where that balance is centred.
After all that cricket-related excitement, it’s time for a brew and by accident, we stumble across Lutt & Turner on Market Street. It was the top-ranked cafe in the town on Tripadvisor last time I checked and so they warrant a closer look.
There is a barrier outside for keeping the hordes at bay and in an orderly queue – but this is mid-January and we can walk straight in.
The staff have headsets and cyborg baristas come to mind, but it’s doubtless handy with a packed cafe and orders flying in left, right and centre.
It’s altogether more tranquil out of season and a moist orange cake washed down with silky chai latte more than do the job.
I don’t know what I was expecting from Malton but it exceeded everything. With the feel of a mini-York, layered with a friendliness that stood out.
If you’re ever looking for cricket books or cricket bats, I recommend a visit.
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