Andy Clarke tells us why it's worth venturing out of the city to explore this South Gloucestershire market town...

It’s easy to come to a city and only venture to places you find on foot, never venturing far from your hotel or the train station. And let’s face it, Bristol is a treasure chest of a city, with so much going on within it’s colourful city limits.

But over the hills and not very far away are some beautifully different and diverse places worth a visit. Thornbury is one such place.

Thornbury High Street - Andy Clarke
Thornbury High Street (Credit: Andy Clarke)

A beautiful market town, Thornbury has it’s own distinct character and an ever-expanding food scene. I was born there and know every corner.

Growing up there, I don’t think I ever appreciated being surrounded by the joys of an archetypal British town where food, farming and seasonal produce were its heart. Sure, it’s changed a little since the 1980s, but having lived in London for 20 years, I think I’ve grown to appreciate it more. And I urge you to spend some time there and check out some of Thornbury’s age-old legends and their newer counterparts.

Thornbury doesn’t have a working train station but is easily reachable by car, and regular buses come to Thornbury from Bristol Bus Station and The Mall at Cribbs Causeway. It’s also a relatively easy and flat cycle ride from the city too.

So, however you get there, just make sure you leave enough time (and space in your belly) to appreciate everything this town has to offer. Oh, and if you do cycle, you can eat that little bit more!

L E Riddeford

One place that hasn’t changed in decades is L E Riddeford, a shop that was once open all hours. It’s a traditional shop where you can buy fresh fruit and veg, dried goods, meats and cheeses as well as ingredients weighed out on scales. It’s a proper blast from the past.

Whenever I’m home-baking or making my piccalilli (my dad’s legendary recipe, I have to mention) I go to Riddefords because they always have the produce you can’t get anywhere else. But perhaps the most amazing thing about Riddefords is that it was the inspiration of the comedy series “Open All Hours” starring Ronnie Barker as shop owner Arkwright, David Jason as Arkwright’s nephew Granville and Lynda Baron as nurse Gladys Emanuelle.

The writer of the series Roy Clarke apparently discovered this fantastic shop while travelling around the West Country in the 1970s and saw it’s comic potential. But this aside, it is a great shop where you can buy everything from a snack to store cupboard essentials and fantastic locally sourced produce, oh and a bird table for the garden if you’re lucky too.

Riddefords in Thornbury - Andy Clarke
Riddeford's (Credit: Andy Clarke)

Thornbury Castle 

While we ‘re on the subject of places with a Ronnie Barker connection, a short stroll away from the town centre, past the stunning St Mary’s Church (which dates back to the 1340s) is Thornbury Castle.

This architectural amazement is a gorgeous hotel that boasts a top-notch afternoon tea and evening meal – and if you’re thinking of getting married, well, that’s the location, right there, that you always dreamed of. Work began on the castle in 1511 and over time it has had some famous visitors, including Henry VIII who stayed for 10 days with his then wife Anne Boleyn.

The Castle is stunning and now boasts it’s own vineyard run by local winemakers Martin Leathwood and Rex Sackett. The Castle was the setting for a comedy called “The Worm that Turned”, which was a comedy strand on The Two Ronnies show in the early 1980’s.

>>> Find out more about afternoon tea at Thornbury Castle

Thornbury Castle - Andy Clarke
Thornbury Castle (Credit: Andy Clarke)

Restaurants galore

Speaking of Ronnies… Ronnie’s of Thornbury on St Marys Street is totally worth a visit for a good lunch or dinner. Ronnie Faulkner has created a fine dining restaurant in the heart of the town with a warm atmosphere in an elegant cottage-like environment. The restaurant opened in 2007 and has consistently been awarded 2 AA rosettes. They're aiming for a third.

But Ronnie’s isn’t the only restaurant worth visiting on a trip to Thornbury because in recent years, Thornbury has had an injection of character via the opening of Romy’s Kitchen on Castle Street in 2013. I can only describe Romy’s as the restaurant Thornbury didn’t knew it needed. Charismatic Romy Gill grew up in West Bengal, India, and learned to cook from her mother. Her cookery incorporates spices and flavours from her youth along with seasonal British ingredients.

Andy Clarke and Romy Gill
Andy Clarke & Romy Gill (Credit: Andy Clarke)

Romy wants you to not only leave happy, but wants you to have experienced exciting flavour combinations. (Don’t get me started on the wine list, as we may be here for some time.) Great lunch deals and a fab evening menu make this a must on your Thornbury tour.

One of my favourite places to eat in Thornbury has to be Thai Basil on High Street. Since 2011, Thai Basil has shone as an authentic Thai and Far Eastern restaurant with a fantastic atmosphere. Eat in or take away, this restaurant run by a group of people with good food and service in their hearts. A smile from Jason and the team makes you as happy as tasting the food. And there’s even Thai wine on the menu too.

Romy's Kitchen
Romy's Kitchen (Credit: Kirstie Young Photography)

Pubs

And I couldn’t tell you about Thornbury without mentioning its rather large amount of pubs! 

If you’re a foodie, it’s worth making a note of the place that Thornbury residents of my age will remember as The Barrel (now called Hawkes House). A family-friendly food pub that turns out a great breakfast. Their lunchtime and evening sittings serve takes on traditional pub grub, which makes Hawkes House worth slotting into your itinerary.

There are also country pubs aplenty around Thornbury: The White Hart at Littleton-Upon Severn and The Anchor at Oldbury to name only two. So do cycle or drive a couple of miles from the town limits to see everything South Gloucestershire has to offer.

Oh and I can't leave out a mention of our local gin! I don't just drink 6 O'Clock Gin because we were both born in Thornbury - I drink it because it's a really good gin!

>>> Take a tour of the 6 O'clock Gin distillery

Hawkes House Thornbury - Andy Clarke
Hawkes House (Credit: Andy Clarke)

Farms shops

And while you’re out and about, a visit to The Farmer’s Table at Tortworth Estate for one of their epic breakfasts complete with thick-sliced fried bread (oh yes) is well worth it. Or after a stroll around Tortworth Lake, try a slice of one of their homemade cakes or even a Sunday roast before a look at the shop with all the fabulous produce.

Another nearby favourite of mine is Easter Compton Farm Shop. An inviting artisanal butchery and farm shop just minutes away from Cribbs Causeway, this place has a well-stocked butchers counter as its beating heart. Local bacon, homemade burgers and more meat than even I could eat in a year are sold here, along with local eggs and produce in a friendly environment.

They’ve even got a selection of ciders by the barrel that you can buy, as long as you bring something to take it home in. So wash out that petrol can and get over there! You won’t be disappointed. 

>>> Read more about South Gloucestershire

Thornbury allotments

About the author:

Andy Clarke is a food and drink writer and TV Food Series Producer. He has been involved in television cookery for 12 years. Some of his most popular credits include "James Martin's American Adventure" currently on ITV, "James Martin's French Adventure" and "Saturday Kitchen Live".

Keen cook and wine enthusiast, Andy has also produced and directed live cooking demonstrations at BBC Good Food Shows and trains chefs who are not used to cooking on TV by helping them make the transition from kitchen to camera. Andy is in the Guild of Food Writers and writes about food and drink for "Crumbs" magazine and Bristol24/7. He also has a drive time slot on Laura Rawling's BBC Radio Bristol show and hosts wine events all over Bristol.

In the summer, Andy is taking part in the "Too Many Critics" event at Bambalan, where he will be designing the cocktails and attempting to make a mezze dish in the kitchen for paying customers along with some other big names in the Bristol food scene! Andy also writes on his food & drink website one4thetable.com.

If you'd like to see more of Andy and hear tales from his TV Food career, you can! On Friday 27th April Andy will be hosting "An Evening with Andy Clarke" at Armstrong Hall in Thornbury, as part of the Thornbury Arts Festival 2018. Tickets are £8-£10. For more information, and to book tickets, go to: thornburyartsfestival.com

Andy Clarke

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