‘Customers!’ The simple, heartfelt greeting from one very excited bar man, as the first of our friends to check in to the Trout Hotel for our Big Day, strode into his bar. His first of the day. In fact, the first two guests to check in to the hotel at all since 6 December 2015. Now here they both were, first glass of wine quaffed, first turkey and cranberry butties eaten. (‘Boxing Day butties’, said Steve. More than once. Strangely ironic, given that the last time the chef prepared and garnished a butty of any description for a customer here was during the pre-Christmas countdown.)
It was pretty much a day of firsts. So many firsts, we lost count. Right down to those same first friends to check in, also being the first guests to travel all the way home to Oxfordshire before discovering their room’s substantial, newly-cut trout-shaped key fob still safely tucked inside Kym’s handbag. So. The first Trout Hotel room key, post-floods, to find itself winging its way back to Cockermouth, first class, in a Jiffy bag. I suspect it won’t be the last!
The afternoon before, popping by to drop off the music CD for the ceremony – Ski Sunday theme tune, (er… what else?), Thunderstruck (Two Cellos version) and You Belong to Me (Bryan Adams) – I had to negotiate my way through any number of worker bees, painting, laying carpet, snagging wallpaper, ticking boxes. How on earth could they possibly be ready? But ready they were. And with such palpable joy at finally being back in the game: welcoming guests, serving drinks, waiting on, making things happen when, and how, and where they should.
Sure, every now and then, we’d catch a glimpse, through an open door, of a room yet to be finished, but where we had free run? Beautifully done. Deep pile carpets, plush deep burgundy and grey velour seating, freshly hung curtains, shiny new light fittings and sparkling glassware. So spacious and well-appointed were the newly refurbished bedrooms, so sleek and unsullied the marble-tiled bathrooms, several guests threatened to ‘move in’ with immediate effect. Hard to believe that where we stood had once been several feet under water.
‘Tell us if anything’s not right,’ said James, the assistant manager. ‘Anything’.
And I feel sure, this being a major refurbishment, that James and Sue, the hotel’s managing director, will have a snagging list as long as their arms. But for us, the day was perfect – in no small part thanks to them. And, of course, Jo (the restaurant manager), Andy (the bar manager), and all the other girls and boys, beavering away in black. And, Alex the chef! And all the reception girls! Thank you.
I understand that there are another two or three functions booked before the hotel is fully open – hopefully in early August. Doubtless they will be equally as good, equally as efficient, equally as memorable for those who’ve booked, but there’s one thing they’ll never be able to claim. Because we got there before them. We were ‘the first’.
Thanks for the memories
I really do have to mention one or two other people locally – and from further afield – who made the day. The following, I should add, are shameless and completely unsolicited plugs on their behalf. And all the more deserved, therefore. So, in no particular order…
First, Elizabeth at Floral Boutique, in Market Place, who managed to source a spray rose which exactly matched my dress (best described as ‘highlighter pen pink’, so not an easy task!) Even the room and hotel entrance sported ‘our colours’ – a thoughtful attention to detail over and above our actual order.
Second, Louise at the Quince and Medlar vegetarian restaurant, on Castlegate, who gamely took on the challenge of making our wedding cake, which was every bit as scrummy as we’d hoped! I’d been so impressed by her (much smaller) vegan Christmas cake, bought from their stall at Taste Cumbria, immediately following the floods, I asked Louise if she ‘took commissions’. This too, it seems, was a first. We’re not ‘veggies’ ourselves – although we love eating at Q&M – but that fruit cake is the best I’ve ever tasted. And our guests thought so too!
And what I hadn’t realised was that Louise and her husband Colin trained at the Sharrow Bay on Ullswater. Which was where one of my Cockermouth pals took me for a hen afternoon tea! Don’t you love it when it all joins up?
Speaking of which, third, our wedding photographer, Martin, who doubles as our ski instructor in the winter – from his base in Meribel, where he works for the Ecole de Ski Francais. (There was something of a ‘ski’ theme to proceedings). We’re still waiting to see the official snaps of the day but if the ‘Get to know you’ shoot in January was anything to go by, they’ll be stunning.
Number four, the extended ‘mountain rescue’ family I appear to have married into. Having kidnapped the future groom, fixed a ball and chain to his ankle and filled him full of beer, then somehow managed to get themselves and him back home in one piece last weekend, they didn’t let us down on the day either. Told to hold back in the bar while Martin organised the guests for a photo outside, we emerged into sunshine through an arch of ice axes. A tradition in mountain rescue circles. Thanks guys.
Fifth, Sam at Pure Touch, who was herself flooded out of her previous premises on Main Street but hardly missed a beat. Temporarily housed in Market Place, she’s now back on Main Street, on the other side of the road, above the barber shop. And I would heartily recommend her to anyone in need of a pamper. Pre-wedding or otherwise.
And, finally, needless to say, our guests. Our deliberately low key day (despite having an entire hotel and all its staff completely to ourselves), wouldn’t have been the same without you. Thank you for sharing it with us.
Meanwhile on Thursday, lest anyone think this has dropped at all from my radar… over at another Cockermouth hotel, representatives of Story Homes were hoping to impress locals and potential buyers with their sales pitch. The price list I saw details homes between £349,950 and £439,950, considerably higher than the majority for sale in the town’s estate agents.
I do hope potential buyers were made fully aware of the volume of water on the site, something which appears to have overly pre-occupied the water utility company and contractors alike this last week. Or does their brochure disclaimer, printed alongside the pretty site plan, that buyers should ‘take appropriate advice to verify any information’ on which they ‘wish to rely’, cover things?
One observer noted that one of the larger homes – already sold, it would seem – is located bang on the corner of the entry road to the estate, immediately above the underground stream. Another sits alongside the sewage pumping station, the existence of which, locals – and potential buyers – had been unaware of till that moment. Nice.
‘I did not witness any water discharging from the site into the Tom Rudd Beck,’ ran the email response to my formal letter of complaint (about a number of issues), from the planning compliance officer for Allerdale, early last week. Although she agreed that there ‘was a constant run off of water into an existing drain adjacent to the footpath running alongside the beck’. Days before, I’d photographed clay-polluted water running from the site into the beck during work activity. The contrast between the clear water of the beck and the opaque discharge into it was plain to see.
I do understand that time is tight, working days are short, and everyone involved has other tasks to do, but frustrating that these visits are always so impeccably timed, whatever it is they’re hoping not to see (birds’ nests, otters, bats, clay in the water, flooded footpaths, dirt on the road, wheel washing facilities).
Yet, during this week’s thunderstorm, the site itself was awash with clay-brown water which gushed, very obviously, through a number of gaps in the lower edge of the field, across the path (and along its length for one section, effectively turning the footpath into a flowing stream), before tumbling at speed into the beck, now a fast-flowing torrent on its way to the river. And town. By the time I popped down with my camera, the sun was out and the storm had passed through, but the water still gushed, largely because a good deal of it comes from far higher up the hill than that field. From up above the rugby club, it runs downhill under (and through) our own development and the school and housing to our left, to emerge at Strawberry How Road (regularly flooded) and on via the field to the beck. And this is in summer!
As we and our guests sat in the very recently re-turfed gardens at the Trout Hotel, sipping Prosecco in the sunshine, it was hard to imagine the devastation back in December. To which that allegedly ‘harmless trickle’ of a beck undoubtedly contributed. I know Sue and her staff have everything crossed that it never happens again because, if it does, this key focal point for Cockermouth may never return. Not a third time.
Despite the admitted absence of hydrometric data for Tom Rudd Beck, the Environment Agency and Allerdale planners allowed Story Homes to write their own flood risk assessment. Judging by the worried mutterings overheard and frenzied pipe laying seen across the way this last couple of weeks, could it be that the men on the ground are beginning to wonder whether they got it wrong? Now they’ve seen the beck raging along (as it does), and witnessed just how quickly it can swell. Maybe, just maybe, the penny is dropping that controlling water on the development itself – let alone protecting Main Street – might be much more challenging than they’d anticipated?
Speaking for all of us who campaigned to halt the development of Strawberry How on the grounds of increased flood risk from Tom Rudd Beck and the surrounding fields, I hope we’re never in the position of saying to the Environment Agency and Mr Story’s people (and whoever happens to be Secretary of State at the time), ‘we told you so!’ Because if we are, by then, the Trout Hotel along with the community of Cockermouth, will be picking up the pieces once again. And trust me, every step along the watery way will have been recorded here.