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Just Down The River

Just around the River Bend

It’s been a long time since I sat down to write anything creative. In fact, I think the last time I wrote anything that wasn’t a recipe, a risk assessment or a science paper was during my A-levels so bear with my whilst I shake off the creative cobwebs!

I love getting to know the people behind businesses and so I thought it only fair to give you a little insight into our world and tell you how we came to be lucky enough to host you in our beautiful cottages. I would recommend grabbing yourself a cup of tea and curling up on the sofa as this story starts off in the 1960’s!

Many moons ago, my Grandparents and Great Aunt ran a boathouse on The River Ouse in Wallingford. From here you could hire boats to explore the Ouse at a leisurely pace as well as enjoy delicious homemade food from their restaurant. My Mum would help with the business- it was a real family affair. It is only now that I can truly appreciate just how much work and time my grandparents put into the business, and the sacrifices that they made along the way.

My Father is a keen canoeist; you could argue that he is happiest when paddling in Scotland and disconnected from the hustle and bustle of modern life. I have such fond memories of family holidays where time was spent exploring the waterways of different countries (we shan’t dwell on the time that we were stuck in a lightning storm whilst I was holding a metal paddle…).  His affinity with open water is something that he has passed on to my brother and I; my brother now earns a living by traveling the globe to find beautiful (and exciting) rivers to paddle and play in whilst I prefer a slightly more sedate (and arguably safer) time on the water.

My Mother is nothing short of exceptional; she is strong willed, kind-hearted and one of the most proactive people I know. Mum has an amazing ability to make people feel at home the moment you walk in the door and her ability to create amazing tasting dishes out of simple ingredients is nothing short of magical. My friend’s mum still tells the story where at school pick up, Mum invited her to the house for tea and cake and in the time that it took for the friends to arrive (approximately fifteen minutes), Mum had managed to get home and whip up the most delicious cake known to man.

Mum and Dad have always welcomed people into their home and made them feel welcome instantaneously. They have a real gift for hosting and their passion for this has been passed on to me. There’s nothing I love more than creating a welcoming environment with good food and great drinks (homemade gins line our shelves and are best served ice cold with prosecco or tonic). For a long time, I had dreamed of owning a tearoom where I could put my passion for all of these things to good use and create a ‘home from home’ for people.

In 2017 my Nanny passed away; she was such an incredible woman and losing her left such a gaping hole in our family that is still felt today.  I was working in a school at the time and remember having a very frank conversation with the headmaster about how opening a tearoom was my dream, but that I was a good twenty years away from being able to make it a reality. Until then, I would enjoy running the cake making business that I had set up and continue with my ‘day job’. The very evening that I had this conversation, I was told by a friend “the Tearoom in the village is up for sale and I think that you should run it’. Now, I’m not one for reading into things too much, but the opportunity to run a family business on the water, just like my Grandparents seemed like the perfect way to honour my Nanny. She was such a firecracker and I just know that she would have loved it.

And so began an incredibly busy few weeks for Ben and me; we stayed up into the early hours creating a business plan and having some very frank (yet exciting) conversations. We had visited the Tearooms a couple of times, but at that point, most of it was closed off for ‘private hire only’ and so it wasn’t until we went for a look around when we got the keys (yes, we really hadn’t seen everything until then) that we realised just how incredible it was and what a monumental task we had on our hands

When we first walked into the holiday lets, we seriously considered renting our house out and moving in; the building has so much character, it’s right on the water and it had everything we could possibly want… apart from a garage which was a deal breaker for my Land Rover fanatic husband!

When we took the tearooms and cottages on, they had sadly been pretty neglected by the previous owners and so it was a real labour of love to bring them up to their current glory. Luckily most of our friends will do anything for tea, cake and bacon sandwiches so we had a cracking team to hand straight away. It wasn’t quite as quick as ’60-minute makeover’ but in just over a week, we had managed to get most of the tearoom done and within three weeks of getting the keys, we were ready to open.

The holiday cottages took us a little more time; they were in quite a sad state, and we also wanted to make sure that we got them right rather than rushing them. Ben has an amazing eye for detail and a real creative streak so he loved being able to design the cottages; he took charge of all the cool and quirky components (as well as all things DIY and the tiresome yet essential paperwork) whilst I looked at would make it feel warm, welcoming and cosy.  We had plenty of willing volunteers who were more than happy to come and test out the accommodation in return for honest feedback so that we could fix teething issues before we opened to the public. It’s a hard life, but someone had to do it!

In February 2019, we finally set up the holiday cottages. Initially we used an agent, however we didn’t like how impersonal this felt and at times we wouldn’t have any communication with the guests which felt incredibly strange. Now don’t get me wrong, we love to leave our guests to their own devices, but we also like to let you know that we are here and happy to answer any questions you may have.

We now use Airbnb to manage our bookings and much prefer being able to speak to you lovely lot before you arrive so that you can pick our brains on what to do in the area. We love being able to share our space with such a fantastic array of people and we feel really humbled when people choose to come back. Our record so far is a guest booking to return just over a week later on the first night they arrived!

This piece has ended up being rather longer than I had originally planned, although writing it is oddly cathartic. It’s not too often that we have the opportunity to sit and reflect on where we started, and it’s nice to be able to sit back and remember the people and events that have led us to where we are today. If there is one thing, I would love you to take away from this, it is the knowledge that we have put her heart and souls into creating a lovely holiday space for you to come and enjoy. We want you to feel at home the minute you walk in the door, and for you to be able to enjoy a relaxing break. So what are you waiting for? Click on the ‘book now’ button and set a date to come and enjoy everything that our little corner of the world has to offer.

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