Are we now a cafe society? Some of my favourites ….

DSCF1122There was a disaster at the running club this Saturday, when we found that the café in Trent Park, where we train, was not open. Since we started having organised sessions in the park on a Saturday it has become the club’s focus, with the café the unofficial clubhouse. Now the contract has changed hands and there will be a short closure while the incomers get sorted. Fortunately, there is a plethora of alternatives locally, but none are nearly so convenient.

Just outside the park, and within a very short distance, are three alternatives: Miracles (want customers to eat, as well as drink); Moonlight (a little nondescript); and House Café (part of Christ Church, Cockfosters). In the past we have also frequented Panini’s (by Hadley Wood station), because it has a bit of space and a pavement seating area for a sunny day. On this occasion we had some cake to share for Raj’s birthday, and because there was a temporary ‘burger bar’ serving drinks we decided to stay put, using the outdoor seating. It was IMHO a big mistake. The (instant) coffee was dreadfull, and if this is a measure of what to expect from the new cafe, then a poor start.

It got me to thinking how much I like cafes, and how much time I seem to spend in them, and also what I like about particular ones. When I was researching my book ‘It’s a hill, get over it’ I happened to do several interviews in different cafes around the country, and even commented that maybe I should compile a good cafe guide (p227!). I interviewed Jim Mann in Moonlight (above), Boff Whalley in Leeds Playhouse  cafe, and Jeff Norman in a Tesco cafe in Altrincham. There were also two other interviews (that didn’t make the book in the end) in Costas in Kendal, and Zeffirellis in Ambleside. Whilst I didn’t do any interviews there, I certainly spent some time on various research visits in Wilfs cafe in Staveley. Wilfs exemplifies pretty much all that I love in a good cafe – great coffee, interesting homemade food, a variety of rooms, some comfy armchairs, papers to read and a bookshelf you can loan from (oh, and you can get a beer from the Hawkshead brewery – next door, with a convenient connecting door!) – and has orienteering maps wallpapering the entrance to the loos.

IMG_5445What is even better, is that Wilfs is a hub for the local community. They display event notices, sell useful products (like local mountain bike route maps), and have artwork by locals on display, and for sale, on the walls. They have also been very good to me, having me to speak at one of their slide/supper evenings this spring. Following that, they agreed to display a copy of my book and went to the trouble of making up a notice to go with it to share the local bookshops you can buy it in (see photo).

DSCF1233So, while I am on the subject, here are some other favourite cafes, randomly selected as they popped into my mind when writing this. In the Lake District there are two that are just great to come across (planned or not) on a ramble. First, there is Maggs Howe in Green Quarter (Kentmere), which is fairly well hidden but worth a visit. Sitting outside with tea and cakes after a wander round Kentmere fells or valley is a real pleasure – and it is a good destination for a cycle ride, with a stiff last hill to get you really thirsty. Secondly, there is Cote Howe at the eastern end of Loughrigg Terrace, a little before you reach the car park and Under Loughrigg/Pelter Bridge. Both these two have limited and not always predictable opening hours. If Cote Howe is closed there is good coffee to be had at the nearby Badger Bar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther afield (for me anyway!) are three memorable Scottish cafe experiences that I remember well. On a grand tour of the islands we were heading up the Road to the Isles one fine day. After a look around (and from) the Glenfinnan Monument – overlooking Loch Shiel in one direction and the ‘Harry Potter Viaduct’ in the other – we had been recommended to stop by the Glenfinnan Museum Dining Car, which is at the old station and housed in an amazing old railway carriage. Later on the same trip we stumbled upon the Skoon Art Cafe on the Isle of Harris, which has a brilliant view and great art on show and for sale. Going way back (although still there when needed) the cafe in Nevisport in Fort William may not seem an obvious choice, but it once provided the best ever full breakfast for 4 starving climbers who were on a serious high after doing the Cuillin Ridge the day beforehand (and were travelling back south and had run out of food).

Finally, and perhaps proving it runs in the family, there is Gertie’s (in South Road, Walkley, Sheffield), which again ticks most of the good cafe boxes – good coffee, range of teas, interesting menu, books, and friendly – and just by chance where son Liam works! Proprieter Julie had a surprise visit from a large Chilton contingent recently when we were up there. Why don’t you give it a try, if in the area.



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