THE HIGH street. It’s not what it used to be. The days of butcher, baker and candlestick maker are long gone.

Of course we still have butchers and bakers on our high streets, along with greengrocers and chemists but they are sharing space with a host of chain stores, coffee shops, take-aways and other outlets that are repeated on virtually every high street across the country

When I was a child our local high street in the North Yorkshire town of Stokesley was awash with little shops, all offering different services, from fruit and veg to toys and clothing. We would trail around after my mum as she strolled up and down, a large wicker basket in her hand.

To gather the week’s supplies we must have visited around ten shops on the high street, my mum chatting at length to the owners of each.

In the run-up to Christmas, we would visit nearby towns like Whitby and Helmsley, where, once again, shops were a healthy mix of independents.

It’s all a far cry from today’s shopping experience. You can still get everything you need on the high street, but it is swamped with chains. The bakers’ is probably a branch of Greggs, the newsagent WH Smith and the chemist more likely to be Boots than an independent.

For families, the weekly shop is more often than not a fast and furious dash around a supermarket .

As Christmas shopping gains momentum, many of us will make a beeline for bland out-of-town retail parks, offering effortless free parking until late at night. Nowadays, it is perfectly possible to buy all you need for the festive period in just one or two vast stores.

But, deep down, those of us who were brought up in the days of the traditional high street still hanker after it. I am nowhere near alone in my hatred of out-of-town shopping centres and high streets that offer the same experience no matter where you are.

A high street which prides itself on having just one chain store has been crowned the best in Britain. Crickhowell, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons in Wales, has won the Great British High Street Awards, wowing judges with the bustling street full of family-run, independent shops.

Determined to stop national chains taking over, local people even bought a pub due to close down, turning it into three shops.

The town’s website promotes the high street as ‘one of the few shopping streets left in Wales where local businesses selling local produce recall a long-lost era when all high streets reflected the character of their town.’

Crickhowell’s only chain store is a Premier convenience outlet.

I can’t pretend that I don’t use out-of-town shopping centres, but on days out I love coming across high streets with a wonderful mix of interesting independent shops. It is an experience to be savoured rather than - in a retail park - endured.

And if you are Christmas shopping, it is on such high streets that you find quirky, unusual gifts.

We will never bring back the high streets of old but I would love to think that the tide will, to some extent, turn. Last year more independent shops opened than closed, while the number of chain stores declined. We are beginning to appreciate independent shops and and all they have to offer.

Thankfully, despite a handful of chains, Stokesley, where my parents still retains its charm, as do towns like Ilkley, which is always a pleasure to shop in. Next month my husband and I will spend a couple of days Christmas shopping in places like this, browsing in any shop that looks a little bit different.

The high street used to be so much more fun - let’s hope that’s coming back.