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…

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

Twelve months in flats

As I broke in my new boots on a walk with Hector the other day, I realised that I haven’t put on pair of high heels for over a year.  In actual fact, since I broke my little toe, crashing into the ironing board in my kitchen a couple of weeks ago, I’m not sure I’ll ever wear heels again!

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Working on my feet for the last twelve months has been very different.  On the bright side, the ‘Riverbank workout’ saves me a fortune in gym fees!  I just need to stop crashing into things and I’ll have a great result.

One today

Three hundred and sixty five days ago, the Riverbank Coffee Hut journey began.  In a whirlwind of emotion (fear, confusion, excitement), but with an uncanny and very compelling thread of ‘fate’ running through everything, I took over the reins at midday on Monday the eighth of August 2016.

The support I’ve had since then has been incredible and heart-warming.  Family (which includes Phil and Hector of course), friends (old and new), suppliers, neighbours, customers and complete strangers have offered help and advice.  Somehow the little hut has captured a lot of hearts and I believe that people really do share my vision for the place.  I’ve worked hard – but I’ve also been very lucky.

What’s on the menu?

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I took on the hut.  Each phase since then has been quite distinct, which has certainly kept things interesting.

Phase One – August 2016-February 2017 was ‘research’…  and the menu didn’t change too much while we worked out what people wanted – but the ingredients started to change straight away.  The thinking was – if we’re going to offer bacon sandwiches, (and who doesn’t love a bacon sandwich?), then they are going to be the best bacon sandwiches possible!

So the job of finding the very best bread (@lovinglyartisan) and bacon (@mackenziessmokehouse) was underway.  It wasn’t hard either… I just went to my favourite places (like @homegroundcafe) and asked them who supplied their delicious ingredients.  And people were so generous that the recommendations didn’t stop at the basic ingredients.  In fact a whole debate kicked off about which sauce works best with a perfect bacon sandwich.  Hot contenders are @MrVikkis Chilli Jam, or @cartmellfarmfoods Damson Ketchup – so both are now staples at the hut.

Phase one – top right…

Phase Two – March 2017 – was ‘re-fit’…  and any notion that I might have free time to even think about our menu while the guts were ripped out of the hut and it was transformed into a lovely kitchen, were fanciful!

Phase Three – April 2017 to date – has been all about working in the new space – and planning phase four of course!  First we had to get used to everything being new.  In fact the only piece of kit we kept from ‘pre-refit’ was a water boiler, so there was a steep learning curve to climb from the day we re-opened.  Ironically then, the very first thing we did with all the fancy new kit, was trim back the menu to the basics again.

Since then the range of things on the menu has gradually evolved, with the common thread of ‘handmade treats’.  To assure the quality of everything, we make it ourselves = handmade.  So all of the the baking is home-baking (or hut-baking to be more precise – you’ll often find the lights burning into the night on the riverbank Thursday/Friday and Saturday as the baking is done for the next day).  And we hope that what we turn out is a treat – because our customers deserve treats!

The current menu has things for breakfast – and mid morning scones,  Fatboys of course – and Frittata, afternoon cakes and ice cream.

The big question now is… do we need a ‘thing’?  A riverbank equivalent of Betty’s Fat Rascals or Grasmere Gingerbread.  Something that you can only get on the riverbank, and something that reflects everything we’re about.

So as planning for phase four gets underway, so does the hunt is on for our ‘thing’. Suggestions welcome!

No two weeks…

Are remotely similar really.

This week the weather was crazy.  For several days it was hotter than the hottest summer days.  We had topless sunbathers on the riverbank (male and female), children and dogs in the river, barbecues smelling gorgeous and a massive queue for ice cream. Then the temperature dropped ten degrees overnight and the rain came but with May being a double bank holiday month, people came out on Monday despite the grotty conditions.

I started the week in the Lakes with Phil and Hector where I made giant quantities of test salads from a really lovely book, Falafel for Breakfast.  The chickpea salad was our favourite so that’s the one that made it onto the menu – briefly – and that’s been a big learning from this week.  If I want to put a lovely fresh salad on every day (and I do), I have to get up slightly earlier and get ahead of myself before anyone arrives on the riverbank.  The salads aren’t simple, but that’s what makes them special.  They involve toasting nuts and cumin seeds and chopping fresh herbs like Chervil (couldn’t even find dried Chervil in Booths so I eventually bought a plant from RHS Harlow Carr and it’s been installed now – in amongst the bedding plants on the way into the car park!).  And so I’m continuing to inch towards my vision…  Fresh delicious salads are part of that vision but an earlier start is essential!

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The lengths one has to go to for fresh ingredients!

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The lovely book these new salads come from

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Chickpea, nut and dried fruit

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Cauliflower and cranberry

Then, it being May and all (the month of madness), the Morris Dancers arrived.  These two were happy to pose for a picture.  I think (hope) the one on the right is a chimney sweep.

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Riverbank Walks – No. 1 – Mini Dales Way

Most people who visit Burnsall go for a walk.  Some only make it to the riverbank, or the pub, many more do at least a couple of miles.

The Dales Way is an 78 mile route from Ilkley in Yorkshire, to Bowness in Cumbria, passing through Burnsall.  After the usual 5 or 6 days it takes to complete it, you can expect to feel pretty pleased with yourself – but sore and tired too.

So why not benefit from the ‘feeling good’ bit & clear your head, see some lovely things & burn off some energy without needing a week & a first aid kit, by doing just part of the Dales way?  If you set off from Burnsall & walk to Grassington along the River Wharfe, there are no hills to climb & you’ll give yourself options.  Pub stop?  Bus back?  We have developed a series of walks from Burnsall (well, we plan to, this is the first & we’ll see how it goes before we do the next one).

Go on – WALK ONE, print it off & do something lovely with your day.

 

Tiny inspiration

While the hut was closed Phil and I took the opportunity to escape for a day.  We set off early for the North East coast with Hector, where Phil had an appointment to view a new boat (he sails) and I was on a mission, to finally visit Riley’s Fish Shack.

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My friend, and restaurateur, had suggested some time ago that I should go.  He said “you need to see this place – in fact go today!”.  Sadly it took me a few weeks but we did get there before it featured on Michel Roux’s Hidden Restaurants, just.

It was raining lightly as we waited for our food to arrive but somehow this only added to the experience.  We sat on deckchairs, me with a glass of wine and Phil with a pint of Guinness, while Hector went bananas on the beach.  Our lovely Labrador has a blessed life, split between two national parks (Dales and Lakes), but he rarely gets to the beach and when he does it sends him doolally!

The food was amazing.  The experience was somehow nostalgic, strange as this was our first visit, and the inspiration I took from this tiny but amazing business, in a beautiful location, was huge.

By the time we left the queue was massive.  Says it all really.