Frank Schofield's childhood memories of Aira Force Café

Recently my wife and I decided to call at the National Trust café at Aira Force alongside lake Ullswater as a detour on our way to Scotland. I had spent many happy times there as a child and had not been there for many years.

Aira Force Café in the 1950s. Courtesy of Frank Schofield

My Great Uncle Joseph Comber owned or rented the café and ran it with his son and a business partner from 1948 to 1957 approximately. They lived in the village if Tirril between Pooley  Bridge and Penrith. The café was only open in the Summer months, Easter to September.

They didn't drive and came in each day on the bus, which, having dropped them off at Aira Force, carried on to Glenridding and Patterdale. On its return journey my uncle would take a tray with a jug of coffee and a cup each for the driver and conductor down the grassy slope to the bus stop. The local passengers were quite used to this and took it in their stride.

"During a lull in trade we would nip down to the boat and row out for a spell of trout fishing.." 

My uncle was a very keen angler and kept a small dinghy in a stone boat house on the lake shore close to the café. He always had several rods prepared for action in the kitchen area of the café. During a lull in trade we would nip down to the boat and row out for a spell of trout fishing on the lake. He always kept one eye open for any coaches that stopped, when he would row feverishly back to the boat house to get back for customers arriving.

There was a room set aside for the coach drivers and my job was to make them comfortable with a snack and make sure the glass tumbler on the table was stocked with cigarettes. The driver also got a 10 shilling note if the trade from their passengers was good.

The café was shut at 4.30 each afternoon giving us a chance for an hour's fishing before the 6pm bus returned from Patterdale. We could see it coming 2 or 3 miles away, giving us time to get our fishing gear back in the café and nip down to the bus stop, hopefully with one or two trout in a bag for the following day's breakfast.

"Ice cream was delivered with a supply of 'dry ice' to put into the insulated ice cream chest." 

At the café there was no electricity so all cooking and preparation of hot drinks was done with Calor gas. Ice cream was delivered with a supply of 'dry ice' to put into the ice cream chest. This kept the ice cream frozen for 48 hours until our next delivery.

In 1952 a film crew came amidst great excitement to shoot sequences for a film called "The Clouded Yellow", starring Jean Simmonds and Trevor Howard (two of the biggest film stars of the time). Both stars spent most of the week filming on the road outside and in the tea garden of the café. Unfortunately I was at school and missed all the fun. 

During my time there the local gamekeeper would call in for a chat and a coffee and always gave me a day pass to allow me to fish in the beck coming down from Aira Force. 

Occasionally the lady of the manor from the neighbouring estate of Lyulph's Tower would call into the café and if I was off fishing she would shout "tight lines young man" (to the uninitiated your line went tight when you had a good fish hooked!)

Uncle Joe was a keen amateur painter with watercolours and gave me one of his paintings of the café for my 13th birthday, something that I treasure to this day. It brings back so many happy memories of my time there.

Aira Force Tea Room in the 1950s by Joseph Comber. Courtesy of Frank Schofield

The local pack of Lakeland Fox Hounds would come across the fields behind the café from time to time, not the red-coated gentlemen on horseback one associates with fox hunting, but 15-20 of the small Lakeland terriers followed by local huntsmen and farmers on foot. They would give us a wave and try to make sure the dogs didn't invade the tea room.

My uncle died in 1953 and was buried in the graveyard at Barton, close to Pooley Bridge. His funeral was on Christmas Eve and I travelled up from Preston with an Aunt. His gravestone is in Lakeland green slate with an engraved scene of the lake district on it. 

by Frank Schofield

Courtesy of Frank Schofield

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