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The View from The Tea Rooms 2010

This is an historical article about Judy Williams' first year as the L&B's Catering Manager.

February 2010 we had snow on the ground and I was struggling to get to work for my first week in a new job. I had accepted the offer from the L&B and was looking forward to becoming part of the Lynton and Barnstaple Catering Team. Previously, I had done a lot of volunteering with the Dean Forest Railway, helping in their buffet, providing food for parties and functions, strimming the brambles on the track and carriage and DMU roof painting. I also help on the Talyllyn Railway Outdoor Weeks. But a new challenge arose and I found the existing team at Woody Bay very helpful - their advice and support proved invaluable. So, many thanks to all of them.

Well, we had a great year from the Easter Tree, originally covered with eggs, chickens and ribbons that lasted all year, getting re-decorated to suit the seasons.

Queen Victoria deigned to have tea and cucumber sandwiches with us in early Spring and caused quite a stir, bringing an unexpected, and beautifully costumed, entourage that seemed to have a taste for toasted tea cakes. Sadly she didn’t attend our Beer Festival and we had to put up with ‘Some Old Bloke and his Son’. This fantastic two-man band rocked up and then rocked the joint, entertaining us all as we swigged an assortment of real ales expertly poured by Pete and Jules. The sun managed to shine, the food looked great laid out in ‘self service style’ and some folk even managed a Jive dance on the gravel in their sandals!

Of course the most exciting event of the year was the Autumn Gala. I have to say it caused your Catering Manager to have several sleepless nights, never going to bed without pen and paper to add to the ‘to do’ list. But in the Tea Rooms everything went so smoothly, mainly thanks to brilliant help and support from numerous volunteers, including the amazing Heather and Sandra, without whom it would have never been so successful. It was a very busy time and from the Tea Rooms it looked absolutely incredible, so many people, so many smiling faces and everything looking very professional. I even got a ride on the Footplate, just goes to show that you can butter up the train crew by feeding them Paninis!

Armistice Day was a very moving event and watching small children stand in the pouring rain with their wooden crosses in their hands, waiting to plant them in the Memorial Garden, was very poignant. They kept smiling, didn’t complain and behaved brilliantly. We had to move the carriages back into the platform in the end so they could all use them to keep dry until 11 o’clock. I think the teachers appreciated a warm cuppa, a piece of cake and a quick warm up in front of the fire in the tea rooms while the kids snuggled and giggled in the carriages.

Then Santa arrived, and my goodness doesn’t he create a lot of work! A marquee had to be erected, the Fairy Grotto builders had to be called in and mulled wine had to be made. Everyone battled with snow - the loco acting as snow plough to clear the tracks, the digger called in to clear safe pathways on the icy platforms, small fires blazing in the snow to free up frozen points and hundreds of mince pies in the kitchen requiring lots of people to eat them! Several staff and visitors couldn’t get to the Railway due to this weather, and sickness saw off a lot of others, but Santa managed to get through ( this sort of weather means nothing to a man with a sleigh and several reindeer) and all the children were thrilled with their gifts, their parents quaffing plenty of mulled wine, the entertainment and the snow just adding to the atmosphere. Everyone with smiles on their faces.

New Year arrived and so did the Diabetics Club, throwing the kitchen staff into a frenzy of bacon sandwich making while they had a relaxing ride on the train. There was a small moment of panic when someone mentioned that a coach had arrived. The Catering Manager thought they were joking, but oh no, in came a lot of cold people looking for hot drinks! Luckily the staff started serving mugs of hot chocolate, tea and coffee and although the visitors were all standing round the fire they were very appreciative of the warmth and friendliness.

Volunteer Working Weekends mean lots of hungry folk turning up in the Mess Hut looking for hot food after a busy morning fencing and burning. Sausage and bean stew, veg curry, cheesy pasta and leek and potato soup managed to sustain them enough to get an afternoon’s work out of them. Plenty of tea, cakes and chocolate almost made them feel like a siesta but GM Martyn Budd had them back to work before relaxation set in!

We opened on the first Sunday in February and when I put a coffee and a toasted tea cake on the counter for Dave T, I felt as if I had never been away - business as usual.

About the Tea Rooms

These two cosy rooms were once part of the stationmasters accomodation and a kitchen which is railway days was on outside yard.  Orders are taken from seated customers and made up in the kitchen to be served as freshly and quickly as possible. The food is simple but tasty and well-presented, we pride ourselves on our portions and a lot of our food is home-made or locally sourced.

We offer soup, sandwiches, toasted paninis, salads, cakes and various drinks. Some days are quiet and there is time to chat to our customers, and at other times - such as when a coach turns up - its all hands to the teapot!

The Visitors Book in the Tea Room tells everything you need to know about our railway. Everyone is impressed by what has been achieved, they love the train ride, the food is excellent and the toilets are really clean. Brilliant! Who could ask for more.

If you would like to join our team, whether its one day a month, a regular day a week, or at the weekends, then please get in touch or come along for a chat or a look round.

If you want to help us ensure the Tea Rooms are open everyday that the trains are running, we would make you most welcome and happy to show you how the Tea Rooms function. Call me on 07511 704 766 for an informal chat and more information or email me or drop in when we are open for further information or to arrange a visit.

Judy Williams L&BR Catering Manager

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