Britain is now home to a society showing all the symptoms of the classic degeneracy that preceded the fall of the Roman Empire. I don’t need to go into details and proofs – I ask you simply to recognise the symptoms all around you. It’s rather like growing older – “It can’t happen to me, at least not yet.” Oh yes it can, and it’s happening now! Likewise, this Never-never-never-Enslaved, Sceptred Throne of Hope can become degenerate. It happened to them, it’s happening to us.
So, we seem set to continue our long-delayed but inevitable descent into the picturesque and romantic status of “Once Great Nation”, where visitors must manoeuvre past a multitude of corrupt officials into streets full of souvenir hawkers, musicians and beggars from where a persuasive pimp will convey you to a night’s lodging in a picturesquely peeling B & B with “Victorian” (actually, 1967) plumbing. In short, Britain will appear to the clean and prosperous Chinese, Korean, Canadian, Japanese, Scandinavian and German visitors rather like most of the states of southern and eastern Europe (not to mention France) until recently appeared to us! One of the characteristics of such societies is the proliferation of cafes, restaurants, bars, kiosks and other eating places. To quote P.J.O’Rourke on Tirana, capital of Albania: “Hundreds of cafes and bars have opened … built on any handy piece of open ground … Every public space is covered with bags, wrappers, bottles, cans – and the booze shacks and pizza sheds that sold them.
Nowhere is this trend more evident than in Cromford. It is not long since the only places where you could be served food and drink were a hotel, three pubs, a transport cafe and a fish-and-chip shop. You might well think that such a number and range of eating houses was entirely adequate for a not very fashionable village of 1600 souls, but no – now there are no less than SEVENTEEN establishments (of which Scarthin Books is one) competing to fill you with fodder, while another three are lying in wait just beyond the parish boundaries in case you manage to get through the gauntlet unsated! So far, we residents and the Council just about keep on top of the litter, but only with the aid of numerous bins, which by Sunday evening are stuffed and overflowing with chip trays, coke cans and bountyful no longer Bounty-full wrappers, which by Monday morning the Jackdaws will have spread about the Marketplace and the Promenade in search of unfinished mushy peas.
So, I issue this sociable gastronomic challenge – can you, can I, can we together eat or drink at each of these seventeen establishments in just one day? The best order in which to describe all the different establishments involved is in the order in which I think they could be visited. We shall want to maximise enjoyment and to minimise the strain on the digestive system, which means having our coffees early and our chips and booze late, with as much walking as possible in between repasts. Given appropriate start and finish points, the route will seem absurdly inefficient, ignoring adjacent establishments in order to set off for the most distant of next stops. I am open to major re-scheduling, but here is my draft programme for the day.
The Morning Stroll
1. The Tors Cafe for decades an excellent “greasy spoon” and steamed-up-window meeting place for lorry drivers, cyclists and builders. We must start here with at least a Partial English Breakfast -very tasty and good value.
2. Willersley Castle Christian Hotel for morning coffee-to-follow. The position in the landscape is sublime, get your coffee from the hatch and pad into the high-ceilinged lounge. Back to the village to a surprising secret, another also idyllic hotel
3. Alison House (Toc H Centre) hidden behind Arkwright’s village school with a quiet and spacious garden looking up to Black Rocks, for another coffee accompanied by a cautious biscuit. Then back across the Derby Road to
4. Cromford Wharf Cafe Very pleasant if it’s sitting-out weather and a third entry in the coffee competition, then, a mile’s stride along the canal towpath to
5. High Peak Junction Information Centre You can complete the coffee spectrum with a plastic-beaker-full if you like – or have an ice-cream. Back to
6. The Old Bakery Restaurant for the final competitive coffee (with a big draught of water?), but no room for cake, as the next stop is the adjacent
7. Linda’s Plaice for fish-and-chips, or part thereof, to eat in, or perhaps to carry out to one of the seaside seats on Scarthin Prom.
The Afternoon Plod
8. Black Rocks Information Centre is a good four hundred feet above the Market Place, so how better to walk off the effect of the British Lunchtime. I don’t know what’s available there – but something light and luxurious will do
9. Cromford Mill Cafe is four hundred feet back down again, so we will be ready for at least a cup of tea, if no more, because back in the Market Place is
10. Arkwright Stores where we can take away a freshly-prepared cob with local ham or cheese, or a hot sausage roll, before another good walk along the noisy A6 to
11. Cromford Garden Centre Cafe if it is still open. Another cup of tea?
12. Scarthin Books Cafe back in the village brings the afternoon to a close. Their, I mean our, soups are exceptional, but very filling. A scone and jam may be enough. Time to relax and contemplate the evening to come.
The Evening Stagger
13. The Marketplace Restaurant, Cromford’s Number 1 eating-out place, is where we shall re-convene, perhaps for a speciality sizzling steak (cut into little pieces?) and a bottle of house red (one between twelve?)
14. Cromford Community Centre (“The Club”) Don’t worry, I can sign you in, though I may have to pay for the drinks (at low “club” prices) Then across to
15. The Greyhound Hotel in time for Match of the Day, maybe, on the big screen, but drink up because otherwise they’ll be closing at
16. Robinson’s Fish and Chips takeaway which serves the best fish and chips you can get anywhere. Plenty of salt and vinegar will reawaken a thirst for a beer, or something less voluminous, at our final haven
17. The Boat Inn where we will slump (if there’s no live music!) and review the day, its costs and benefits and its social and alimentary lessons. Shall we ever want to do that again!
There are issues and problems of course
When to do it? It has to be on a Saturday, I think, to be sure of catching everywhere open at the right time. Maybe in June, a week before the Celebrating Cromford weekend. In fact it would be part of Celebrating Cromford – photographs, or even a video, could be displayed during the festival.
Who is to take part? Well, the first twenty (maximum) to commit themselves; any more would over-pack some of the venues.
How much would it cost? At first sight, too much. Even at an average of only �2.50 per venue it would come to some �40 each. It seems a lot to have to pay for the sort of jape which is usually sponsored and raises money. I don’t see how it could raise money, but I think it could be made cheaper by having joint spreads laid on at the hotels, cafes and restaurants, for a special reduced price. In any case, we will hardly be able to eat a full course at each stop – and it ought to bring the establishments some publicity – of which this article is the first element, to be followed by press releases to the local, and even national, media. Maybe hearing about the event will inspire others. So, if it’s to be good publicity, maybe I should go back over what I’ve written and hype everywhere up a bit. I shan’t tell you whether or not I did that.
If the Cromford Cafe Challenge is actually going to happen, I will post the arrangements here and elsewhere. If I don’t, feel free to do it anyway. DJM Jan 09