The twinkling fairy lights in the bay window, are such a welcome sight on this frosty Cotswolds morning. As I walk in my eye is drawn to the floor: a crazy mash-up-mosaic of different coloured tiles, it contrasts with the calm white walls and the occasional framed picture or photograph. Hanging in the eves of one corner, is a massive papier-mâché bird. Its unexpected quirkiness makes me smile. There are old wooden tables with mismatched chairs, and a big squishy sofa beside a well-stocked wood-burning stove that blazes away. Indie folk music plays from an impressively discreet sound system. I just know this place has free wi-fi.
The smell of fresh coffee is incredible. I seem to be the first customer as the papers sit unopened on a little table next to a hand-written ‘help yourself’ sign. I opt for a window seat where I can see the fire.
From the kitchen, behind a counter chock-full with pastries, cakes, bowls of salad and a massive coffee machine, a woman emerges. She smiles as she walks over to hand me a menu. Her long curly red hair tied up; she is dressed simply in a fitted white t-shirt and short flowery apron over her jeans. She looks healthy and relaxed. Happy.
‘Coffee?’ she asks expectantly.
As the familiar hiss and grind commences, I realise that this must be the owner I have heard about. She’s the kiwi woman who left London behind to pursue her dreams. This cafe used to be the community library and I think she managed to save it from development. My eye traces the length of the room, there is an old rusty sign: ‘adventures this way’, and another book-lined room is partially visible behind the sofa.
A minute or so later she sets my double-shot long black onto the table and offers to take my breakfast order. The door opens and an impossibly handsome man strolls out of the Toast catalogue and walks in armed with a crate of veges. ‘Mornin’ Sas, here’s today’s lot!’ he says with a grin, ‘there’s fresh butternuts in there, so I’ll be back for my free soup later’. She rolls her eyes and thanks him, bizarrely calling him Mr Photobird.
More people arrive: most greet her by name and she takes the time to visit each table and ask after ill family members, school plays, the controversy over the parish church flowers. A young woman of about 18 races in, and shouts ‘Sorry Sas!’ ties up her hair and immediately starts serving.
The coffee is strong and hot and the crema silky. I order another after my poached eggs. By now the place is full of locals and tourists. Children with cafe-branded book bags slung over their chairs are given crayons and paper to scribble on; apparently The Storyman will be in the library room in the afternoon, this news causes much excitement. A group of pension-age ramblers offer up thermoses to be filled with the butternut squash soup and take a loaf of fresh sourdough between them. They promise to be back in a few hours when the scones for afternoon tea will still be warm.
I look around me at this place and realise I don’t want to leave. I stare at the red-headed woman as she jokes with a middle-aged couple and hands them a box of cake. This is her place, and its magical.
She catches my glance and her eyes are sparkling.