Saving the day

I’ve always admired great sportspeople, but it’s my partner Phil who is the true fan.  He played rugby for years, sails and runs whenever he gets chance.

A number of years ago (maybe 5?), he’d taken our dog Hector for a run through the fields near Appletreewick and when he returned he told me he’d just seen the Brownlee brothers out cycling.  He’d held Hector back to make sure he didn’t run out and skittle the group, who’d nodded an acknowledgement and carried on.

Wind the clock forward a few years and I find myself in Burnsall, manning my little kitchen and doing my level best to build my new little Riverbank business.  It was tough in year one, with no inside space and just a chiminea (thanks Tracey) outside for warmth – so I got blankets (thanks mum), and hot water bottles and did the best I could.  It was amazing that anyone came – but a few have even recalled those bonkers early days with a nostalgic affection!

I listened then, as I do now, to all ideas generously shared by friends, family and customers – people were, and continue to be, kind and incredibly helpful and I took lots of it on board in my quest to appeal to as many groups as possible:

Locals – I love it when they come to Riverbank.  Something feels wrong when my regular locals are missing for whatever reason – and the farmers and builders living and working nearby basically got me through the first winter!  So I still have hot roast pork on sourdough ciabatta with home made stuffing available every Friday.

Walkers – when they arrive in the car park or on the green, I often butter a couple of fresh scones and take out samples to tempt them back to Riverbank at the end of their walks.  Sometimes this even works.

I try to consider them all:  campers and holiday-makers, day trippers, Dales-Wayers, fell-runners, even canoeists – and the list goes on – but a key group that started to swing by early on was the cycling community.  They were especially helpful with ideas – and I quickly put a bike stand up, bought a track pump, got hold of some gels and a stash of inner tubes (thanks Martin).  And when we finally secured planning permission to build Riverbank as it is now, we were sure to include a water tap in the dining room so that water bottles could be topped up…

Knowing that Jonny and Alastair Brownlee cycled in the area a lot, a few people (including Phil), thought it would be great if they became Riverbank customers.  “Would you know them if they did come?” asked Phil…  I replied that I thought I would – but it turns out I was wrong.  I’d served Jonny and his companions, chatted away and was proudly showing off the indoor area and water tap – introducing myself as I do to everyone who’ll listen, when it dawned on me who he was – just as he confirmed it in reply to my introduction.

Since then we’ve got to know them a little – and a few other triathletes who are an absolute pleasure to have around.

So when the worst weather of the winter closed in on Sunday, and Jennie, Michelle and I had all but closed up and let the log burner die out and Jonny, Alastair, Linda and Harry pulled in looking chilled to the bone – there was only one thing for it…

Well three things actually; the giant tea pot (Alastair’s suggestion from months ago), came down off the shelf – Michelle delivered four Fat Boys that had been swiftly warmed in the oven and the Parsnip and Spiced Orange cake that I’d regretted icing earlier that day, found a good home.

Alastair stoked up the fire and gradually, four freezing souls warmed up.

Jonny thanked Riverbank for saving the day – but the truth was Jonny, Alastair, Linda and Harry saved our miserable, freezing cold, write-off of a March day.

Next time I’ll remember the hot water bottles!

And breathe…

Three years ago today I flew away, with my friend Gilly, for some winter sun. This is something we’ve done almost every year of our adult lives. It’s a massive treat – we relax, chat, eat, drink and sleep a lot.

In 2016 we chose Dubai. It ticked the priority box for our holiday (good weather) and as a bonus we met up with some friends I’d studied for a master’s with in London.

We drank cocktails at a bar that was ‘most of the way’ up the world’s tallest building and did lots of eating out, a bit of running and some swimming – but mostly we just lay around in the sun and in my case daydreamed and hatched plans – and at some point during that week I had an epiphany.

At the end of the holiday, en route home from the airport, I stopped off in Burnsall to chat the then owner of the kiosk – and the Riverbank journey began. Three years on and I can hardly believe what’s happened.

Riverbank now

The original kiosk

With an incredible amount of help and talent in my corner, we’ve transformed the kiosk on the green. There have, of course, been tough times (very tough times) along the way and not all of the riverbank vision has been delivered yet (see below!), but it will be.

Still to come - wood fired food

For me, life is very different. I love, love, love creating things that people enjoy. I love working with the riverbank team, chatting to customers and learning new things every day. I have put my heart and soul into it but I must confess, I am exhausted! My annual chill with Gilly has taken a back seat while the focus switched to establishing the new little business which, (apart from the building phase) has been open every Thursday to Sunday since August 2016. Until this week…

Just after Christmas I made a decision to close for a week and head off to the sun with my pal. I pinned notices up everywhere, told all of our regular customers (several times), updated Google, Instagram, Facebook and riverbankburnsall.com.

As a bonus I arranged for some snagging work to be done inside the building while I’m away and I’m sure the builders will tell me whether anyone turned up looking for lunch!

Like everything else, this is a test. Maybe closing (with plenty of notice), will work and maybe it won’t. Only one way to find out I guess – but as beautiful as Burnsall is, it’s lovely to have another view – and time to write a blog post…

Today’s view

All new Riverbank

In May we completed the building work at Riverbank, giving us some indoor space for customers – and then the UK basked in an exceptional heatwave for the rest of the summer.  So instead of looking for shelter, people came inside for cool and shade.  Not what we imagined but great to be able to help in any event.   

It felt epic at the time, but in fact the build was pretty quick – especially given the hard winter that preceded the crazy hot summer.  And now it’s a challenge to even recall the old Riverbank.  The new space is simple but beautiful and it does exactly what it’s supposed to.  These lovely images of the completed Riverbank were captured by artisansand.co

The way we work hasn’t changed – still home made food, no menu, served from the kitchen window, Thursday to Sunday.  We’re certainly not a traditional cafe and we’re about to become even less of a traditional cafe…

There’s still a lot to do before the wood fired artisan pizza is fully deployed but the good news is that the oven works well, the ideas, passion and energy are all flowing and with the change of season allowing a little more time for planning, the wood fired food offer is getting closer…

Another riverbank

Forbes in New South Wales is on the banks of the River Lachlan and that’s where I spent the rest of January.  It’s a real country town and my friend Annie, who moved there a number of years ago, knows just about everybody!

We spent time catching up with old friends, chatting, experimenting in the kitchen with new dishes and bakes, drinking wine and chatting some more.  We effortlessly picked up where we’d left off and by the end of January I was relaxed, warm (it was 40 degrees plus most days) and full of ideas and energy because this trip to Forbes was different to my previous ones.  This time I had my own Riverbank to return to…

So the learning that started in the kitchen at Kepos Street, Sydney, continued as I made my way inland.  Annie herself is a great cook and an avid collector of recipes.  In fact she’s even compiled a family cookbook of tried and tested favourites – with recipes admitted by general consensus after successful dinner parties and events.

Outside the kitchen I met Wendy from Girra Girra, a driving force behind Grazing Down the Lachlan, a fundraising initiative that is gradually installing some stunning sculptures on the riverbank near Forbes.  We went to visit the first sculpture one afternoon and it truly was amazing!

Lachlan riverbank - Forbes

The first in a planned sculpture trail

Then I had some more tuition courtesy of our friend Brian, who has a commercial-sized wood-fired oven in his garden.  We made traditional pizza and a peach one for dessert, with peaches we’d picked from the garden.

I spent most of a day with Toni too.  Toni used to have a very successful and much missed cafe in Forbes, and she was generous enough to share her most popular recipes, even helping me convert the Australian cup measurements into grams (I’m such a nerd when it comes to baking!).

There was even an afternoon of coffee training with Scotty, our friend Al’s husband who has his own catering business and gave me loads of insights and ideas.

And the cherry on the cake was my first prize in the Damper competition*, run by the CWA (Country Women’s Association) on Australia Day!  Under the watchful eye of Annie, I made three types of Damper in the searing heat of the afternoon on January 26, a national holiday over there.  It was very worth the effort though, I was thrilled to bits with my certificate and even got a mention in the Forbes Advocate!

* Damper is a yeast-free bread, traditionally baked in campfires by drovers and bushmen and no, Jon Wingfield, my victory didn’t mean that I’d wet myself a little bit more than everyone else…

Kepos Street, Sydney

In May 2016 when my friend Annie flew over from Australia to visit for a few weeks,  she brought with her two lovely cook books.  Falafel for Breakfast was my favourite, I cooked from it and kept it with me at all times in the Riverbank kitchen!

So when I booked flights to Sydney for January this year, I took a deep breath and sent a random, cheeky email to Kepos Street.  My request found its way to Kristy, half of the married couple who own the two Kepos restaurants and write the beautiful books.

A few exchanges later and not only had I fixed myself up with a couple of days of work experience, but I also had a long list of personal recommendations of places to eat and visit.

This was great news for my friend Jennie and me.  Jennie had flown over from Auckland and was there to meet me when I arrived in Sydney.  We spent four nights together in the city, exploring the list of cool coffee shops, eateries, ice cream parlours and even gin distilleries around my two days at Kepos Street.  Yes, we crammed it in!

On the morning of 11 January I was apprehensive, but I needn’t have been. Kristy Frawley could not have been lovelier.  As we ate breakfast together, she shared stories of how they found Kepos Street and the massive hand fate played in them taking it on. She told me about how hard they’d worked and how tough it had been to open, but then how they’d never looked back.  And Michael, her husband, on hearing that I have no formal training in a kitchen told me that passion is the most important thing anyway.  I loved that.

Next stop was the kitchen itself and the team in there were amazing.  They explained things, gave me some easy jobs and taught me to make some delicious Kepos salads.  I loved the opportunity to learn and just soak up the magic –  the dishes were skilfully created, delicious and beautiful to look at and I was completely delighted when Michael offered me the opportunity to do an evening service too.

Honestly, had I not booked my travel on to the country, I’m not sure they would have ever shaken me off.  I loved every minute.

Thank you team Kepos. x

Why Australia?

I first travelled to Australia as a fresh faced graduate, nearly three decades ago!  My friend Rich, who was at Warwick with me, suggested the trip.

He thought it would be a great idea to go in opposite directions around the world and meet half way.  So that’s what we did.  Rich went to South America and I went to Asia – the Philippines in fact, where I’d arranged to do some voluntary work at a university in Mindanao.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but what I encountered was fascinating, beautiful, heart warming and at times pretty nerve wracking.  In fact current travel advice for the Philippines shows half of the area I went to coded orange (advise against all but essential travel) and half red.  Nothing much has changed.

The remains of a bus that had been ambushed and set alight, still smouldering on the roadside as I journeyed from the airport to the place I was staying, rang the first alarm bell…

I stayed a month.  I’d planned to stay three but decided instead to go for it, take some risks, have some adventures and make some memories but then push on.  I don’t regret a minute of this first stop on my west-to-east around the world trip, but by the new year I was ready for the next leg, Australia.

New Year’s Eve on the Rocks in Sydney was quite something.  I loved it and soaked up the city and its sights on my traveller’s budget while I looked for some casual work to help fund my year away.  Competition for work was tough though and I guess back then, as now, I was a country girl at heart, so it didn’t take long for me to head inland and my first stop, Orange, sealed my love affair with country New South Wales from the (almost) moment I arrived.

I say almost because my first night in Orange was a bit grim.  My quest for budget accommodation took me to the Occidental Hotel.  I didn’t mind the lack of frills and I was resigned to the shared bathrooms, but I was a bit creeped out by the old bloke who slept on top of his bed, starkers, with his bedroom door wide open.

Keen to find some more suitable accommodation for a single female traveller, I packed up my rucksack and said goodbye to the Occidental the next morning.  The Youth Hostel was surely more likely to be a perv-free zone…

My luck was in.  I called them and not only did they have space, the wardens had plans to go away for a few days and I could stay for free if I kept an eye on the place.  They assured me that they could quickly show me the ropes, all I need to do was get myself there, which was not quite as simple as it sounded because the Orange Youth Hostel, a bit like a Ryanair airport, was in fact 10km outside of Orange at Mount Canobolas.

But that was fine.  The thing I loved most about my first year of travel was the sense of opportunity.  I had no plans, only a rough idea of where I was heading and a flexible airline ticket.  I’d survived the Philippines, surely I could get to Orange Youth Hostel?

Keen to get cracking, I called into the Tourist Information Centre where the woman behind the counter expressed reservations about “sending you out there, after the murder*…”.

*The most notorious death on Mount Canobolas was that of Dearne Nonnenmacher who was brutally murdered on Christmas Day 1990. (news.com.au – full story)

Apparently, having issued this caution she (Annie), saw the despair in my eyes and took pity.  She offered me a coffee and within an hour I was meeting her friends at Toad Cottage, 354 Summer Street East.  Within a couple of weeks Rich, who had arrived in Australia from the other direction, had moved in too.

Twenty seven years later Rich and I went back to celebrate Annie’s birthday with her.  She is godmother to his children and a lifelong friend to us both.  Over the years she’s generously shared her family and friends with us and quite frankly, some of the happiest times of my life are down to Annie.

That’s why Australia.

And on to chapter four…

One thing life has not been since August 2016, is dull. Today, 8 January 2018, exactly 17 months after opening Riverbank, I’m on my way to Sydney and while I’m away work will begin on site in Burnsall. In fact according to my building programme chart, subject to no flooding or other acts of god, we should have foundations and drains by the time I return.

I’m quite sure I should be at home as the work begins, but this trip has been planned for a long time and certainly way before the build was nailed on. This won’t stop me feeling guilty, but I’m going to try and minimise the feeling so I don’t ruin my precious time or anyone else’s! This is my sixth trip to Australia (my last one being six years ago). I love it there, but most of all I love the friends I’ll be seeing again, two of whom are flying over from New Zealand – starting with Jennie, who should be there when I land on Tuesday evening.

Back home and Christmas at Riverbank was mixed if I’m honest. The weather, on the whole, wasn’t kind to a little business with no indoor space. We seemed to swing from hideous heavy rain to snow, sleet and ice. Even the chiminea struggled to stay with us. At least the challenging weather validated my bold decision to close for three days on Friday 22 December and have the first of the two ‘normal’ (very precious) weekends I’ve had off since then.

The first weekend kicked off with a beautiful day in Masham, where we embarked on a family walk. Ten miles later, three very happy dogs and four very tired people had a cosy pint in the White Bear at the Theakston’s brewery before heading home to get on with the serious business of Christmas proper.

From that point on it was a village affair. We ate well, drank well, went to two lovely parties and took Hector on plenty of bracing walks.

The Christmas morning walk to Burnsall, gave me chance to quickly get ready to reopen on Boxing Day, and then every day from 26 December to 1 January.

These eight days were tough because the weather was grim. I lost count of the number of people who walked over to discover there was nowhere warm to sit inside, and walked off again. Some hardy souls were prepared to cuddle hot water bottles and sit by the fire but not many.

I had plenty to do though despite the lack of custom, because before I could pack for Australia, I had to pack up the Riverbank kitchen. By New Year’s Day the shelves were bare and all of the ‘stuff’ I’d managed to accumulate since March (where does it all come from?), had been re-distributed.

Good job really because New Year’s Eve turned out to be more lively than I’d expected, resulting in me being, quite rightly, banned from operating heavy machinery on my last day!

Since then I’ve been packing, planning and having a second, very normal and absolutely lovely weekend off. From now on I’m not expecting a normal weekend for a very long time. I’m excited and terrified about what’s coming next… but mostly very, very excited.

Big Riverbank news.

On Friday 20 October I watched my laptop all day.  I was waiting for an email or an update on a webpage.  Not known for my patience, this was a struggle.  When it got to 4.45pm and I could stand it no longer, I made a phone call, but I reached a voicemail, so reluctantly I accepted that I’d have to wait until the following week for my news.

That night I met my friend Gilly for dinner at our favourite winter venue, The Blue Lion at East Witton.  She had good news – since we last met (just a couple of weeks earlier), she and her husband Marcus had sold their house and that very day, they’d had an offer accepted on a stunning new home.  So we had lots to chat about over dinner – and then my phone rang… It was Phil, telling me to ‘get a glass…’  It seems some time after I’d given up looking, the Yorkshire Dales National Park website had been updated to confirm that the Riverbank planning application had been approved and planning permission granted.

I will always remember that supper with Gilly.

Image of a screenshot from the Yorkshire Dales National Park planning portal, showing planning permission granted for Riverbank

The final decision on the Riverbank planning application

Since then I’ve been bursting to share the news and say a massive thank you for all of the support (and we received a lot of support – 48 letters in fact, versus 5 objections).  The only reason I’ve held back is that I’ve been waiting to be able to answer the next question…  When will the build happen?

I still can’t quite answer this – but I’m much closer than I was a month ago and aiming for January.  2018.

Serendipity

It rained the other Saturday.  Steady, relentless, miserable rain and although riverbank customers were few and far between, the fishermen on the river Wharfe were undeterred (I guess fish don’t care whether it’s raining or not).

Anticipating an extremely slow day, I’d turned my attention to ‘other jobs’ (there are always plenty of those!),  when Jennie appeared at the window.  I first met Jennie a year earlier when she accompanied her husband on his annual fishing trip to Burnsall – only this year she faced the prospect of a day in her car keeping dry.

Perhaps rashly, she offered to wash up to kill the time – and perhaps cheekily – I accepted!  What a lovely day followed, we chatted like old mates, found things in common and ended up developing a new product line for Riverbank.

You see I have a range of potential products bobbing about in my conscious and subconscious mind and something Jennie said triggered me to scoop one of them out and explain it to her.  As I did this she set to work, researching away and sharing her results, until gradually we’d pulled the idea together.

Now all I need to do is test it.  It’ll take a few weeks, then I’ll preview it on my blog and let others decide whether it should go any further…

IMG_1793

After the rain…

Riverbank – the next chapter

If basic human needs are food, warmth and shelter, we are only really serving one of those needs at the moment.  The chiminea does a sterling job of giving off a decent heat for those lucky enough to be parked right in front of it – but it doesn’t work well when it’s windy and the rain tends to put it out altogether… The garden umbrellas provide a tiny bit of shelter and the blankets help too, but the upshot is, that no matter how good we are at meeting need number one; food, if we can’t address the other needs as we head into winter two, prospects are look bleak for Riverbank.

IMG_1691

 

So, my wonderful and talented partner, who is an architect and who has listened to endless ‘tales of the riverbank’ (sorry Phil), and really understands the challenge, set to work and drew up some lovely plans.  In fact he drew up several lots of lovely plans and by the time we finally submitted a set for planning permission, we were up to version nine!

We’ve been talking to and meeting with the National Park planners for almost a year now and as a result, the plans submitted provide shelter for 20 people, dry storage (we are in flood zone two), some landscaping, some extra flood protection and my favourite bit, a wood fired oven.

The intention is not to change the type of food, or the way it is is served, but simply to provide a space where people can sit and eat when the weather is anything less than bob-on.  The space would have an ‘indoor/outdoor’ feel, with the acid test being that a wet dog could go in there and and have a shake after a swim in the river, and nobody would get upset about it!