by Angela Cunningham
WITH its well-worn stone flagged floors, mullioned windows and log grate we can imagine the ancient stone walls of The Tea Cottage at Bolton Abbey gently whispering ‘join us for tea’ as we push open its fine door. We are not the first today to have responded to that welcome. A friendly buzz of conversation bounces around the tables, full of happy souls enjoying a relaxing break in their day.
Intrigued about the history of the building Dizzy Goddaughter (DG) makes some enquiries. Apparently it dates back from the 18th century and was originally a barn, then, in the 1880s, it was converted into two cottages for estate workers.
“Crikey,” giggles DG, “it’s to be hoped they didn’t have large families as the cottages must have been very small.”
But it’s the perfect size for the tea room it became 35 years ago, split into four compact rooms with a good sized gallery in the eves for private bookings. And it remains true to its origins with no ugly extensions or picture windows. The chocolate box effect is completed with a delightful cottage garden to the front, overflowing with colourful plants. Tables spill out onto an extensive, rear terrace with fabulous views of the Abbey and across the river Wharfe that flows down in the valley below. Those monks knew when they’d found a good spot to live!
Our window seat gives us a perfect view of the garden, where chaffinches, tits and tree pipits are also enjoying a Tea Cottage lunch from the seed filled bird feeders hanging outside in the sunshine. They too know a good spot to live!
Studying the menu takes time – it’s so imaginative. We juggle the options. Hot sandwiches include mushroom, onion and melted cheese whilst the main meals include smoked haddock, leek and cheddar omelette and a scrummy sounding grilled goat’s cheese salad with marinated tomatoes, red onion and olives. I overhear somebody remarking how much she is enjoying her marinated char grilled chicken with ratatouille.
We eventually settle for egg and cress and tuna and cucumber sandwiches in the hopes that will leave room to tackle one of the tempting home-made cakes and scones we can see nestling under glass domes on the dresser. The sandwiches are nicely packed rolls, and come garnished with a good serving of salad and potato crisps. It’s quite a plateful.
DG’s hot chocolate is a masterpiece!
“It looks like a volcano, about to erupt,” she laughs with the waitress as the mountain of marsh mallows on top threaten to topple over. My filter coffee is as full bodied as any fancy barista style Americano (though that is also offered) and I’m encouraged to order a second cup.
There’s no doubt about it Stephen and Helen Harper who were only handed the keys to their new venture a little over a year ago, have a winning formula. Stephen’s a talented chef and his experience includes award-winning Michelin starred restaurants, and Helen’s cheerful disposition makes her perfectly placed covering front-of-house.
It’s time for us to amble down to the riverside. We did succumb to the cakes, by the way, and they were, as we expected, as delicious as they looked!
The Tea Cottage Bolton Abbey
Summer - Every day 10.00am to 4.30pm
Winter – Every Day 10.00am to 4.00pm