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Where have all the cafes gone?

The starting point and mid-ride stop is an important part of my training courses.

The initial starting point is where I do the initial briefing over a cuppa. It breaks the ice, sets the tone for the training and makes sure the trainee understands what we’re doing for the day – I can write the most detailed briefing notes possible and post them off, but I know that most trainees will only have glanced at them.

The mid ride stop gives me a chance to feed the trainee and re-hydrate them (something surprisingly important when you’re riding – it’s a very dehydrating environment we’re in and a potential problem many riders are ignorant of) and to feed them more information ahead of the afternoon session (information overload is something to watch out for – breaking up the flow of new stuff is a good idea).

So part of the mission when I research training routes (yes, I DO ride the routes before I use them for training) is to find a suitable lunch stop.

That means somewhere to park, no queues, decent loos, decent food and at a reasonable price. Nothing too difficult, you might think.

Yet the standard cafe is becoming increasingly difficult to find in Oxfordshire, as it’s replaced by the twee little place serving hibiscus tea or latte, penne or fennel and chestnut stew, a place where lunch sets you back considerably the wrong side of a tenner!

My Oxford ‘meet and greet’ point is a services on the A34 – not a wonderful place but easy to find with a quiet corner where we can sit and chat and a convenient starting and finishing point.

For lunch for several years I stopped at an old Little Chef, and being situated on a major road junction it was easy to park, right on a crossing point for my bendy road routes and the food was decent if not cordon bleu.

And for a couple of years all was well.

Then one week it was shut down – although it reopened shortly afterwards having moved a bit upmarket and become a lot more expensive – forcing me to change location. More on that one in a moment.

So I moved onto another cafe, on a small airfield. It was a bit tucked away and difficult to find, but was decent “ham, egg and chips” or a basic salad style food, with proper mugs of tea.

But the airfield cafe was run by two elderly ladies and one spring I returned to find them departed and the cafe closed up.

Enter cafe the third. Another of the old Little Chef/Happy Eater type eateries, and being situated on the A44 you’d think that it would have no problems keeping going. And all was well for another few years.

Then I returned to Oxford this year to run training.

First day of training, I turned up to find tumbleweed blowing around the carpark at my lunchtime stop. As this was the middle of the course, I had to find an alternative. Not too easy, the cafe in the nearest village was closed on Sundays, so I backtracked along the route and we stopped at a place in a parade on the edge of Oxford town. Not too expensive and decent food, but very inconvenient in terms of route planning, eating into the riding time and taking us way off route.

A couple of weeks later, I’d reviewed the route to use the place on the edge of Oxford for a early ‘brunch’ and briefing after a short assessment ride. It would work but wasn’t particularly convenient, so I was planning to look for an alternative stop.

But we didn’t get as far as lunch without a hitch!

I turned up to meet the trainee at the services on Friday to find they too had closed down!

So, on the fly, I changed the route to use the mid-ride cafe I’d used a few years earlier that had closed and re-opened with an upmarket lunchtime menu… only to find – you guessed it – that it too had closed just days earlier! It was a pretty popular stop and whilst I was stopped in the carpark one bunch of bikes pulled out, another bunch pulled up as well as a couple of cars!

By now, we were both getting a bit hungry and thirsty. So we adjourned to my emergency venue – a little coffee place that does soup and baguettes but little else in an antique shops. As it was a warm day, that wasn’t a problem and at least provided us with a stop that particular course.

Astonishingly, when I returned the very next day on the next course, that place too was shut – though only temporarily as the woman had had an accident at home the previous evening. The woman running the antique shop did make us a cuppa and sell us a bit of cake, but this is not how I like to run the courses.

That evening, racking my brains, I did remember one final cafe not too far off the route and so we headed there on the final day’s training and fortunately it was open, but the parking is a bit inconvenient and I confirmed it’s closed Sundays.

So I’m left wondering what on earth is happening. It’s hard to believe that a cafe that can do a decent lunch for under a tenner is struggling at the moment when people are cutting back, but maybe rents have just gone through the roof.

At this rate, I’ll be packing the tail box with flasks and sandwiches!

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