Picture the scene: you’re driving up the M6 with a car full of screaming kids and the holiday feels like a nightmare already. Well here’s two options for you if you’re anywhere near the Lake District: 1) You stop at Tebay Services with their fantastic famers’ shops and independent cafés; or 2) you take a two mile detour to the little village of Shap.
Shap is officially a market town, rather than a village, though these days there’s no market and it has a distinctly villagey feel. But there’s enough to draw us in with its open air swimming pool and a rather nice café for a cuppa and cake.
Shap open air pool is not large at just 16.5m long and only 1.5m at the deep end, but it’s a great community space, and if you look at the wall by the entrance, you can see how so many local people rolled up their sleeves to get in on the action when the pool was built in the 1980s.
We actually dropped by for a dip on a very very wet day in August last year (must have been a Monday, because that’s the day the local café is closed, which explains why we didn’t blog at the time), but when the water is warm, and the air temperature isn’t that low, our philosophy is: we’re going to get wet anyway, so let’s go for it…
Actually swimming in the pouring rain is a joy, and it’s a great shame that many pools would close their doors on days like that, so hats off to Shap Pool for welcoming us in that day (and we ended up not being the only ones in the water, too).
That day in August last year was almost a wash-out, with the café being closed, too, so if you fancy a cuppa after your swim, don’t go on a Monday (or a Sunday for that matter).
I returned to Shap this week to give the Abbey Coffee Shop a go, and I’m very glad I did.
I always think it’s promising when you get a hearty hello as soon as you walk through the door, and that’s what owner Derek did, even though the café was buzzingly busy with a lunchtime crowd of locals, cyclists and workers on their break.
It’s Derek’s daughter Rowan who’s the whizz kid on the espresso machine, though. She rustled up a good cappuccino using Farrers Coffee, roasted just up the road towards Kendal – always nice to see a local roaster being used, especially when they’re a quality product.
If tea is your tipple, they also serve up Lakeland Tea from Farrers, but it was my coffee time of day still and I was looking at the cakes to go with it.
There’s quite a choice here, actually. All baked in-house, you can have the cheese or fruit scones; one of the daily sponge cakes; the Eccles cakes; or – my choice – the paradise slice or almond slice. Mind you, Derek tells me the vanilla slices are a local favourite; I just couldn’t justify that having NOT just had my swim this time.
I liked this place. It had that hub-of-the-community feel I go for. I particularly liked the map of Westmorland, marking the county this would have been before the 1974 boundary changes; and was pleased to see the Westmorland Gazette hanging over the back of someone’s chair. Yes, these people know which county they want to be part of, and I’m guessing it’s not Cumbria!
As befits a café called the Abbey Coffee Shop, there was a 6 foot high photo of an abbey on the wall by the entrance. But there had been no sign of an abbey in the village itself as I drove through.
Ah, but those monks knew a thing about finding the best spot to build, and of course Shap Abbey is no exception, being a mile and a half out of the village down an extraordinarily narrow and winding road to the banks of the River Lowther.
It’s a really pretty spot; not, I’m guessing again, a massive tourist draw, but a worthwhile pause for coast to coast walkers or cyclists, and enough ruins to give those restless kids a five minute run around, if you really are on that nightmare ride north on the M6.
Yes, I liked Shap and I’d certainly come back. Though I might make it only in the summer when I can also have a dip in the pool. Unless, of course, I’m having one of those nightmare rides up the M6…