Just what is it about tearooms and cafes that makes them so intrinsic to walking and cycling?
Well, the guilt-free consumption of calorific cakes and fry-ups, smug in the belief that your energy expenditure more than offsets that cup cake, or sausage sandwich, is a good start. And, the expectation of finding some wisteria-bordered, gingham-clothed tearoom nestling in the village progressively more visible as you descend, is one of the best stimuli in coaxing you to the top of the climb to begin with.
But it’s not just about cute little pavement tables and slabs of chocolate cake. In truth, there’s no such thing as a “typical” tearoom for booters and bikers: many cyclists, in particular, gravitate to “greasy spoons”, enjoying a fry up before, during, or after their ride; a village shop in the right location with a few tables outside, as long as it serves sufficient hot and cold drinks, can often be a busy stop; many supermarket cafes can combine a refuelling and toilet stop, with the opportunity to buy some on-the-go sustenance as well.
Indeed, the variety of buildings now transformed into tearooms and coffee shops adds to the experience: converted churches, watermills, warehouses and other former industrial units, as well as the spare room in a private house and, of course, the van in the lay-by; the range is wide.
The lure of the tearoom, or cafe, includes elements of comfort, reward, self-indulgence even, but at heart, it’s just an ideal way to begin, refuel, or end a delightful and/or exhilarating day out, enjoy some foodie treats and the opportunity to linger and chat that’s not always available on a normal working day. And, of course, you can access many popular villages unsuited to large volumes of traffic far easier on foot or by pedal – this works well in city centres too.
But, although some of the reasons for our love affair with the tearoom might be rather abstract, the positive influence of walkers and cyclists in sustaining cafes and tearooms is much more tangible.
At a time of increasing concern about the decline of rural services, it’s probably safe to claim that booters and bikers contribute considerably to the trade of cafes and tearooms throughout the country. Their survival is important because, despite the proliferation of high street coffee outlets in the last couple of decades, Britain still doesn’t “do” cafe society, at least not in the same way our continental neighbours do. (Some would say the ubiquitous tepid, frothy milk masquerading as coffee is perfect testament to this.) Despite some excellent exceptions around the country, cafe culture is still not widespread in Britain.
Look across the channel to France and the rest of Europe and the cafe, present in every community, large and small, has a far greater status. OK, overall they might have better weather for their pavement tables, but cafes selling decent coffee and food are as fundamental to Scandinavia, the Low Countries, the Alps and Dolomites, as they are in Mediterranean areas.
Indeed, so ingrained is cafe society in European culture, that coffee houses and tea shops themselves are ideal centrepieces for walking and cycling tours of major cities, see our TOURS of Vienna and Budapest.
But, maybe things are changing for the better in Britain. Although some high street outlets may serve questionable coffee, at least they have attracted people back into coffee bars. The current flavour of the age, the cupcake, is perfectly at home in a chintzy tearoom and increasing concern about food miles and encouragement of local suppliers mean that cafes often provide an ideal market for local home baking.
A cafe opened in my local village this summer, creating a much-needed focal point in the main street. Its clientele ranges from elderly shoppers, hungry sixth formers and building workers, to lonely home-based workers and writers looking for some JK Rowlingesque inspiration. But among its most regular customers are the pelotons of hungry and thirsty cyclists who swoop through the village en route to, or on return from, a day’s cycling in the Peaks : a happy story of the positive effects of mutual benefit.
CAFES AND TEAROOMS WE LIKE; a personal, slightly idiosyncratic and certainly not definitive, list loosely based on the locations of some of our tours . Please add your own recommendations below:
Skinny Kitten, 23 Main Street, Barton under Needwood, Staffordshire DE13 8AA 01283 711217
The Lavender Patch, Hall Croft Farm, Uttoxeter Road, Hilton, Derbyshire DE65 5FZ
The Strand Cafe, 16 The Strand, Derby DE1 2QS http://www.strandcoffee.co.uk/
Tapa Bakehouse, 21 Whitehill Street, Dennistoun G31 2LH and 721 Pollokshaws Road, Strathbungo, Glasgow G41 2AA
Atrium Coffee House, 58 Cresswell Street, Glasgow
Inversnaid Bunkhouse, Inversnaid, Stirlingshire FK8 3TU
The Pier Tearoom, Stronachlachar, by Loch Katrine, The Trossachs, Stirlingshire
Pestle and Mortar, 41 Glasgow Road, Blanefield, Glasgow G63 9JD
Oak Tree Inn and shop, Balmaha, Loch Lomond, G63 0JQ
Harbour View Coffee Shop, Harbour View, Dunure, Ayrshire KA47 4LN
The Watermill, Mill Street, Aberfeldy, Perthshire PH15 2BG