What’s on offer in the Lambourn Valley
PUBLISHED: 15:22 16 May 2016 | UPDATED: 15:22 16 May 2016
With a village sitting 426 ft above sea level, and beautiful countryside in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Claire Pitcher hit the high road
High praise indeed
“What an amazing honour! We were absolutely chuffed to bits,” chirps The Café Lambourn owner Anna Field on winning Best Tea/Coffee Shop at the 2015 Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Life Food Awards. “It meant a huge amount to the team at the café – to be recognised for doing a really good job. We really do try to provide good food, good coffee, and excellent customer service at all times. The trophy has pride of place in direct sight behind the till.”
Little did Anna and her husband Elliott realise when they moved from Bristol to Lambourn nine years ago, that they would be admiring such a trophy. So what made them open an independent eatery in the village? “Well, we didn’t really engage much with village life as we worked outside. I wanted to become more involved, so this, coupled with a desire to produce good café food and excellent coffee (our nearest coffee shop was about a 20-minute drive away), we decided to throw caution to the wind and open a café.”
You could say it was leap of faith in every way. Anna’s background isn’t in catering, so she had to learn everything from scratch – from making a cappuccino, sourcing stock, to running a business. Having a café, Anna has been able to take advantage of the plethora of producers in the area: “They enable us to buy local and support fellow independent businesses. Our customers appreciate the quality and the fact we can actually point to where some of our menu items have been sourced.”
After moving from a city, it’s been a total change of life for Anna and Elliott: “But now I wouldn’t live anywhere else. The best things are the people, the community spirit, and the beautiful countryside we have on our doorstep. I have three boisterous dogs that need a lot of tiring out…”
Bob McGarva and Phil Wright decided to leave the rat race and become brewers last June. Bob had been working in the automotive industry for 25 years and Phil was in the oil, fuel and lubricants business. The two friends had chatted about opening a brewery for years: “So we went away on a course at Brewlab in Sunderland to get a better understanding of the industry.
Obviously, the plant and equipment is the highest investment, but we managed to raise the cash through the governments EIS programme.”
Their Eastbury business isn’t the only microbrewery in the vicinity: “There are Ramsbury, Indigenous and Butts in Great Shefford. It’s a great industry for sharing ideas and best practice. We’re also starting to bottle beers for nearly 20 other microbreweries in the south of England.”
Bob and Phil already support the Wantage Beer Festival and The Newbury Racecourse Beer Festival. Plus this year they will also be at Glastonbury.
One beer to look out for at the festivals is ‘Many Clouds’, which came about after last year’s Grand National: “We wanted to celebrate the Lambourn Valley’s success with Oliver and Tanya Sherwood. They have been very supportive to us, so it was nice to name a beer after him..”
Many Clouds ale was on sale again this year at Aintree during the Grand National festival: “What an honour,” says Bob, proudly. Many Clouds ran again but could not repeat his success under top weight.
Bob and Phil are very much involved in Eastbury’s thriving community and were in the team that worked on the village’s flood alleviation project: “Phil and I have enjoyed being part of that, and getting involved in a practical way at weekends.”
But where can we buy a pint of their beer? “The village pub, The Plough, has our beer on sale, as well as many other local pubs on a rotation as guest ales.”
Find out more at www.eastburybrewingcompany.co.uk
Reaching new heights with local produce
Set up by two entrepreneurial ladies, Caroline Potter and Nina Howe-Davies, Old Forge Larder in Eastbury is certainly becoming well-stocked. Caroline has been married to James, a retired airline pilot for 34 years. They have two grown up children, three large dogs and two ponies. Nina, however, had always considered herself more of ‘townie’ until she moved to the village four years ago. Her former Royal Marine husband grew up in the country and it was a chance call from a family member who’s involved in the racing industry that bought them back to West Berkshire. “I wasn’t sure if country life was for me,” admits Nina.
Both Caroline and Nina are passionate about local produce and after a chance meeting with the local farm manager at the village Harvest Supper last autumn an opportunity came about for them to sample the farm’s own rapeseed oil. Nina recalls: “We tasted the oils and made a proposition to the estate that we would love to work with them in collaboration to bring RG17 Rapeseed Oils to the market on a local level to begin with, and Old Forge Larder (OFL) was formed within a week!”
Since starting OFL in late October, they have been delighted with the response within the Valley of The Racehorse and the wider Berkshire area. “We take part in local food markets and fairs, have a limited amount of stockists in the area and sell online. It’s great to see that ‘buying local’ is very important in many peoples’ lives around here and the community really does get behind and support local businesses and new products.”
Considering the growth of the RG17 range and the wonderful welcome Nina’s had into the valley, how is country life now suiting her? “Well, how wrong I was! We married here in the village church and to be surrounded by beautiful countryside, a wonderful community that harps back to the ‘good old days’ has changed me completely – yes, sometimes I miss the city, but then to walk out the front door to be greeted with a wave from the local farmer, watch the strings of racehorses clip clop by and hear the birds singing. It soon reminds me this is now my home.”
It was May 2004 when he was about to leave the Royal Air Force after 21 years’ service that Chris Williams realised there were so many adventurous things he still hadn’t done that are available to all Armed Forces personnel. “Including paragliding,” he says. “There was a course available in Wales and a course in the German Alps… no-brainer really!
“So in fields of dewy-eyed cows and lush green meadows, with the mountains as a backdrop, I sweated in the late-spring heat of Bavaria trying to tame my unwieldy 26 square metres of ripstop nylon and turn it from a ‘bag of washing’ into a wing above my head. It’s probably the most difficult and frustrating part of paragliding, a bit like learn-ing to ride a bicycle.”
Regular visitors to the White Horse at Uffington will have no doubt seen the paragliders and thought it could be something to try. Chris is a member of the Thames Valley Hang Gliding Club (TVHGC): “Once you have graduated from your paragliding school with your Club Pilot (CP) qualification, which allows you to fly solo unsupervised, the best thing to do is to join a local club such as TVHGC which covers West Berkshire.
“I wouldn’t say that Uffington is necessar-ily the best place to experience paragliding or hang gliding, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful. The White Horse is one of the oldest and most iconic of the many chalk horses that look out from the Ridgeway hills. It’s very hard to see it as a horse from the ground, but take to the air on a paraglider and it is at its best. It’s almost as if the people who carved the horse intended it to be viewed from above… maybe they did.”
Once you’ve tried Uffington, how about taking in another West Berkshire landmark? “One of the best places to experience parag-liding, and maybe hang gliding, is at Combe Gibbet, the hill south of Hungerford near the village of Inkpen, with its gruesome gibbet still in place.” Chris says on a good day you can see upwards of 50 paragliders and maybe a handful of hang gliders flying anywhere from ridge height all the way up to the clouds. “From there they tend to fly downwind and can get all the way to the coast; it is not uncom-mon for the best pilots to fly to Brighton for an ice-cream on the beach!”