Deidre Clarke: Coffee Shop Owner

Dispensing early morning caffeine to Kemble station commuters just might make Deidre Clarke the most well known woman in the Cotswolds. Katie Jarvis went along to meet her. Mark Fairhurst took the pictures.

Deirdre Clarke is the first to admit she's gone Off The Rails. For that's the name of the coffee shop she runs at Kemble Railway Station - a boon to hundreds of early-morning commuters.

"The first words from people when we started four years ago were, 'It will never last!'" she says. "But after six months, that turned to 'Congratulations!'"

Deidre and her husband, Nick, have served cappuccinos to everyone from celebrities to the Princess Royal herself. "We get Dom Joly, Laurence and Jackie, Keith Allen, Jilly Cooper, and lots of Lords and judges - but I'm absolutely hopeless at recognising them. There are a few famous faces you couldn't miss - like the Llewelyn-Bowens - but mainly someone has to point them out to me!" she admits.

The Clarkes have a solid background in catering. They used to run the Crown Inn in Tetbury, but their priorities changed when their eldest child, Tom, was diagnosed with leukaemia, aged six. It was a year before he was out of danger.

Since then, they've simplified their lives, concentrating on their coffee outlets at Kemble, Evesham and Stroud.

Deidre and Nick have three children: Tom, now 14; Jamie (9) and Eleanor (8).

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We moved to Rodmarton near Cirencester five years ago, after selling the Crown Inn. I'm a real city girl, so it was a big change for me to live in a small village, but it made sense: Tom was already at Rodmarton school and the other two were coming up to school age. It was a bit of an adjustment because I was accustomed to being surrounded by shops and people - but I love it now. The best bit is being able to walk out of our door without anyone asking what we are doing and where we are going! Although we made lots of good friends in Tetbury, the downside was living and working in the pub, which meant we were on call 24 hours a day.

How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?

I finally succumbed 10 years ago. My husband is a Cotswoldian from Moreton-in-Marsh, but we met in London. When he got a job down here, I carried on working in the city as a personnel manager for a greeting cards company. I loved my job and it took a while to persuade me to give it up - but I wouldn't like to be getting on that train again! A lot of the commuters feel exactly the same and often talk about the amount of time they spend travelling. Interestingly, though, I've seen a change in the last few years. Thanks to Broadband, many have been able to reduce their commuting days to three or four, and some are now working from home altogether.

What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?

If you want to get to know your local area, get your kids to join a sports club! I spend my weekends driving them all over the Cotswolds. The boys play for Cirencester Rugby Club and Eleanor plays hockey, so you'll find us throughout the winter on cold, wet, windy pitches up and down the county. Believe it or not, we enjoy it! We're rugby mad.

If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?

Still Rodmarton, but in a house with a big wing so all our friends could come and stay. I used to work in Abu Dhabi, managing a recreation centre for the staff of a hospital; and Nick worked in South Africa and Paris. As a result, we've friends scattered all over the world, from New Zealand to Canada.

Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?

At Kemble Station. We've lived over the business once and that's enough!

Where's the best pub in the area?

When we had our pub in Tetbury, we'd often escape to the Tunnel House in Coates. We still go, though not to escape any more. It's not a twee pub, but it's not gastro either, and I know that's a difficult balance to achieve. The Tunnel House is helped by having a good range of customers, including all the walkers along the canal, families and the Ag College students.

And the best place to eat?

My favourite place is round my own table at home. I can cook but I'm not allowed to most of the time! Nick was the chef in our pub, and he loves French country cooking, though he also does a very good steak with pepper sauce. The one time I had no choice but to cook was when he was away for three months just over a year ago. He and a friend, Nick Graham, rode motorbikes from the Tunnel House to Cape Town to raise more than �50,000 for the children's cancer charity, CLIC Sargent, and the Eating Disorders Association. Nick Graham's daughter, Robin, has anorexia nervosa.

Have you a favourite tearoom?

We don't go out for tea very often, but I do like Tilly's in Moreton-in-Marsh and The Two Toads in Tetbury. I don't think of Off The Rails as a tearoom - it's a take-away, and we've certainly got that down to a fine art! When an announcement comes through that a train is approaching, I know I've got a minute and a half, and I can do three or four coffees in that time. I serve on average about 100 people each morning. It can be exhausting, particularly in winter when I'm trying to keep warm.

What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?

The business opportunities. There's such a 'have a go' attitude. Yara's Fudge and Rosie's Chilli Infusions are just two examples of small businesses that have been set up by local young mums working from home - I think it's fascinating. I was nervous about moving to a small area like the Cotswolds, but it's turned out to be a microcosm of everything I've ever done and anyone I've ever met.

... and the worst?

Being so far from an airport.

Which shop could you not live without?

Kemble Stores: it's a godsend. Cam supplies our newspapers and milk, and when we run out of supplies, we run to him. It's the village post office as well and you'll find queues every morning.

I'm from Limerick, and in Ireland village life is very much alive because the infrastructure is still there. I think it's such a shame that so many older people in the Cotswolds don't have access to a local shop. But my biggest criticism is of rural transport - particularly when it comes to schools. We've got five or six kids in our village travelling to Cirencester College or Deer Park who have to be taken in by car - yet we've a bus that passes our door every morning. The reason we're not allowed to use it is because we're 500 metres outside the catchment area. If we're going to tackle global warming and congestion, then the authorities will have to get their acts together and be more flexible.

What's the most under-rated thing about the Cotswolds?

The variety. People stereotype this area as chocolate box cottages and rolling hills, but there's so much more to it.

What is a person from the Cotswolds called?

I don't know - but I do know they have to have wellies, cords, a tweed jacket and a hat of some description. I've been in the Tunnel House one evening after a shoot when there must have been �1,000-worth of wellies in one small room. It didn't matter if they were landowner or farm worker, 18 or 80: everyone was dressed the same.

What would be a three course Cotswold meal?

Any starter chosen by Dave Herbert at Quayles in Tetbury.

A nice roast of Old Spot pork from Butts Farm, Cirencester, with lots of crackling, and sauce made with apples from the garden, of course;

Winstone's ice cream with Yara's fudge sauce - or maybe some scrummy cheese from Quayles.

What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?

Winter on Minchinhampton Common after a heavy snowfall - there's nothing to beat it.

And then there's the last train in the morning going up the line! I enjoy being here but, after a particularly cold morning, I do look forward to going home.

What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?

Broad Campden or Lower Slaughter. When you see them first, you think: My goodness! Did they really build this or is it a mock-up? My dad came over from Ireland and he just couldn't believe places like that existed.

Name three basic elements of the Cotswolds...


Kemble Railway Station;

Farmers' markets.

What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?

For me, it would have to be a sweeping Regency terrace in Cheltenham (which is my city side coming out), or Kemble Station itself. If you take the time to stand back and look at it, you realise how beautiful it is, especially when the garden is in bloom. An American travelling through once referred to it as the Dorchester of railway stations.

What would you never do in the Cotswolds?

I'd never open another pub!

Starter homes or executive properties?

If people can afford big houses, then there are already enough of them around. It's more affordable homes we need, especially for people who are being priced out of their own villages.

What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?

I'll go for a triangle: Chipping Campden; Bath; Cheltenham.

If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?

We'd never live anywhere else in England but, if we were thinking of moving, it would be Africa - possibly Kenya. In that case, I'd take plants for the garden and some of my husband's paintings of the Cotswolds.

What would you change about the Cotswolds or banish from the area?

The stereotypical image that doesn't do it justice. Unlike many, what I wouldn't banish are late trains! Four or five minutes late is fine - it means more people buying coffee!

What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?

Get a pair of wellies and a dog.

And which book should they read?

It's got to be Cider with Rosie as an introduction, followed by a few of Jilly Cooper's.

Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?

When we're in the north Cotswolds, we love walking up to Broadway Tower. Around Cirencester, there's a relatively easy walk from the Thames Head to the Tunnel House along the canal; then back across the fields through Tarlton and down to Rodmarton.

Which event or activity best sums up the Cotswolds?

Tetbury Woolsack Races and the cheese rolling. I love that sort of quirkiness. We have lots of parades and processions in Ireland, which are based around religious festivals where you know exactly what you're doing and why. But the Cotswolds has absolutely mad events - great fun.

If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

I often see people on the platform standing on the same spot each day, waiting to go through the same door and sit on the same seat; and I've often thought I'd like to shadow them to see what the rest of their day is like. There is a part of me that still hankers for that life - for the buzz of the city. Then you go to London for a day and realise you're glad you're not there any more.

To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?

To the great army of railway workers who laid thousands of miles of track - much of which, sadly, is no longer in use. Without them, where else would I sell my cappuccinos?

The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?

If you want to move to the Cotswolds, accept them for what they are. They're adaptable enough as it is.

With whom would you most like to have a cider?

I am guaranteed to have a good time at one of our large 'friends and family' gatherings in Ireland. I don't do it often enough - maybe that is why I do have such a good time!

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