Staff Summer Holiday: Renting A Villa In France

With the English summer well and truly washed out by the rains, it felt like the right time to take a holiday and where better than sunny South of France?

Once a year, James and I like to blow the cobwebs off our leathers and take our own hogs out for a road trip. We’ve got biker friends up and down the country, so we’ll usually be happy hitting the A-roads of the UK, stopping off at our favourite cafe’s and roadside pitstops along the way, however this summer was different. This summer has been wet to say the least, whilst we’ve certainly had our fair share of sunshine between the downpours, there have been so many downpours that we’ve even had a few late cancellations from bikers who have had to take refuge from the rain. This kind of weather does not make for good business! Still, now that that the summer seasons has effectively been put to an end, James and I at least had the chance to take a much needed holiday.

After another quiet weekend at the Engine Inn, James and I settled down to look at renting a villa in the South of France, it’s rare that we consider going far out of our comfort zone, but we were both hungry for some sun and didn’t want to risk two weeks of miserable bike rides through the UK for our only holiday this year. As any bikers reading this will know, setting the right destination is crucial for any road trip. When part of the experience of the holiday is riding your bikes, you don’t want to set your destination to close to home, otherwise you may find yourself with a bit too much spare time on your hands. Set your finish line a little too far away, however, and you run the risk of tiring yourself out and not having enough  juice left to enjoy the evening. It’s also important to have a route laid out so that you can guarantee a place to rest your head (and shelter your bikes) for the night.

Two weeks is a lot of time to play with and we felt pretty confident in setting our end point for Marseille, a good 800 miles or so away. We loaded up our bikes on Sunday night and set out for Dover early the next morning to catch the first ferry across the channel. Ever since we started riding together, James has always favoured tailing over the vanguard position. In his youth he liked to ride up front, with nothing but the horizon to chase, but now he says he prefers to follow behind me. I don’t mind taking the lead, navigation has certainly gotten easier with advances in GPS and bluetooth headsets built into helmets.

After a fine, but breezy morning ride, we arrived in France proper and began our journey down south, in search of the sun and a fine glass of wine. We’d scheduled a couple of stops on the way down to Marseille, including a couple of spots to picnic – but those are stories for another time and another blog!

North England: Biker Cafes & Pitstops

Way up North is a long way for us to travel – but it’s well worth the journey!

Anyone who’s spent time on a bike around the North of the England will be able to tell you how much fun the roads are to ride up here, but there’s also a wealth of great roadside pitstops that you should make a point of stopping off at if you get the chance.

Since the heyday of rock’n’rollers and bikers in the 50s there have always been plenty of roadside cafes offering weary travellers a chance to take a load off, strip off their leathers and grab a cup of coffee. The appeal of these cafes for many bikers is the isolated locations that they are situated in, as a result they usually offer wide open views, as well as relatively quiet roads to explore. Of course existing in such isolation usually creates a few challenges for the owner, which is why their outside seating areas are so often made up of packing crates and left over timber.

If you’re heading out on a trip up North make these quality cafes a stop on your journey:

Orton Scar Cafe

Make sure you pack your warmest thermals when you head to Orton Scar Cafe as it’s usually a bit nippy all year round at this idyllic spot in Cumbria.

You’ll want to keep your engine noise to a minimum when driving through this pretty rural town as its peaceful charm is really that main reason for having a visit! The tea room here is biker friendly and serves a delicious array of tasty homemade cakes and teas.

The Filling Station Cafe

Built on the former site of a 1950s garage, the Filling Station Cafe used to be a car dealership at one point selling Hillman, Ommer and Singer cars, it has since been a petrol station as well as a newsagents.

The cafe as it is today opened in 2011 with the enthusiastic staff holding regular events for car enthusiasts as well as music concerts and bistro nights. Their menu includes an all-day breakfast, as well as a plethora of burgers and sandwiches.

Route 59 Cafe

One of the most celebrated roadside cafes in Yorkshire, the Route 59 Cafe has comfortable outside seating on a good long straight making it a great place to watch fellow bikers fly by.

Set just outside of the town of Skipton, this is a must visit destination for anyone passing through the area, plus you’re always bound to find other bikers to chat to. You’ll always be able buy a decent breakfast here and the coffees pretty decent too!

Squires Cafe Bar

Squires is one of the original biker bars, it opened its doors in 1954 and has been supported by a thriving biker scene ever since.

Over the years Squires has developed from a simple cafe into a thriving multi-purpose venue that serves as a regular meeting place for bikers from all over Yorkshire and beyond. Although the site of the Bar has changed over the years, Squires remains as popular as ever with hundreds of bikers making the journey there every year.

South England: Biker Cafes & Pitstops

We’re all motorheads here at the Engine Inn and we love a good road trip as much as the next biker!

Although bikers in England obviously fantasise about taking their beloved rides and hitting the open road in America, there are a multitude of epic routes that you can take across the country with breathtaking landscapes and (most importantly) some brilliant cafes to stop off at.

Obviously, we’d like you to drop in and visit us on your next road trip, but if your route isn’t passing by us then you can always stop by at one of these fantastic cafes:

Ace Cafe London

Probably one of the most iconic biker cafes in the UK, Ace Cafe was first opened back in 1938 as a simple stop for travellers and passing truckers. Thanks to its 24-hour opening times the cafe soon became a hub for crews of motorcyclists looking for a place to hang out. Despite being demolished by an air raid in World War II, rebuilt, then closed again in 1969; the Ace Cafe was reopened in 2004. Today there are Ace Cafe locations as far flung as Orlando, USA to Beijing.

Chequered Flag

This family run business was only opened in 2015 but that hasn’t stopped it from garnering rave reviews from bikers and non-bikers alike. Unlike many cafes popular with bikers, the Chequered Flag also offers a community bike workshop and store, giving visitors a chance to learn how to fix their bikes as well as shop around for second-hand rides, leathers, helmets and other accessories.

They serve all-day breakfasts, a good selection of burgers and also sweet treats to go with your tea.

Ryka’s Cafe

Popular with bikers and classic car owners alike, there’s been a cafe on this site for the last 85 years; the current incarnation is a biker-friendly hub for all kinds of people serving the usual hot/cold drinks as well as food. Bikers have been visiting this spot for decades so as such it’s always populated by at least a handful of leather-clad folks hanging around. There’s a regular series of events for motorheads of all kinds to attend, so it’s worth checking their site before visiting.

Loomies Moto Cafe

Open 7 days a week, this biker-run cafe is perfectly placed on the South Downs making it a great stop for any bikers making their way around the gorgeous local routes.

The menu here offers a wealth of cafe classics including their legendary ‘Race Pro Breakfast’ and their Loomies Burger, but you can also buy some left-field items such as Chicken Curry and Chilli con Carne. On top of selling their merchandise, they also hold events with featured speakers from the moto-world.

Hillside Cafe

Directly off the A38 in the Wylye Valley, this roadside cafe is sandwiched between the English towns of Salisbury and Warminster.

Ian and Terry have been running the privately owned cafe for the last 30 years and serve up a classic array of English grub including jacket potatoes, omelettes and roast dinners. This is a perfectly placed cafe for anyone looking to visit the nearby Stonehenge or Longleat.

Upgrading the Inn

We look to upgrade the Inn…

The time has finally come for us to refurbish!

For the thirty years we’ve been open, we’ve always faced the question of whether or not to upgrade our existing premises. Many of our customers have informed us that a large part of our appeal is how ‘retro’ we feel, for that reason we’ve resisted updating our decor for fear of upsetting this fine balance that we seem to have struck by accident. As much as our roadside location does keep us isolated to a certain extent we can’t say that we’re completely immune to outside influences.

We’re well aware that our tomato-shaped ketchup dispensers are considered to be ‘kitsch’ by many and that our laminated menus are out-dated, but we believe that there are certain things about the Engine Inn that simply shouldn’t change.

There are however a handful of features here that we’ve noticed might be damaging the service we provide, so we’ve decided this month to set about making a few changes…

Bless him, our Jax never likes to complain about his kitchen although he has every right to. Everything in the kitchen from the toaster to the tiles on the walls has remained the same for the last two decades. We attribute our continued success not to the surprising longevity of this kitchen, but to the ingenuity of our young chef and his ability to adapt to a kitchen that has admittedly fallen into a state of disrepair.

We thought we’d give Jax free reign to pick what appliances he wanted in his kitchen so he’s spent the last few weeks with his head firmly jammed in catalogues umm-ing and aah-ing over potential dishwashers, sandwich grills and new hobs. In the mean time we’ve been busying ourselves fitting the kitchen out with the kind of modern infrastructure that will make it a much more pleasant place to work in.

In order to bring the Engine Inn up with modern standards we’ve fitted out the kitchen with brand new tiling and stainless steel kitchen work surfaces, this should make the space easier to clean and should make Jax feel like he’s cooking in the 21st Century, as opposed to a simulacrum of a 1980s canteen. We’ve also located a bargain price industrial extractor fan to improve the ventilation for our cooks, so hopefully we’ll be able to see them for the smoke during a busy breakfast shift!

Despite all of these changes we’re being careful not to disturb the fine balance that we’ve been able to hold onto for so long.

August’s News Update

Fire up the Engines – there are changes a-plenty here at Engine Inn…

We always like to keep ourselves on our toes here at the Engine Inn and that means consistently challenging ourselves to do better!

We’re often asked what the key to our success is here and the truth is hard work, determination and time. As a family, we’ve been at this inn-keeping game for a long, long time now and we’re proud to say that we’ve loved every minute of it – but that doesn’t mean that it’s been easy…

There are many challenges in this business, so each month we try to change our methods so that we can adapt and get the very best out of ourselves. This month we’ve introduced a raft of new changes that should help us bring a better service to our customers:

American-style BBQ arrives!

For a few years now we’ve noticed how popular American-style BBQ food has been getting. Little by little we’ve been dipping our toes into this cuisine and trying our hand at smokehouse techniques.

Our chef Jax has spent months putting together a new lunch and dinner menu that should hopefully bring a taste of the Deep South to our restaurant here at the Engine Inn. Customers will be able try a range of new dishes including: a Pulled Pork bun, Slow-Cooked Beef Ribs and our very own home-smoked sausage.

We welcome a new member of staff

It’s been a while since we’ve taken on any new staff and with Mike heading off on his travels soon, we thought it would be a good idea to find a new waiter/cleaner who could help us out on the weekends during our busiest periods.

After spending all of a fortnight posting job ads and scheduling ‘trial shifts’ for new starters we had the bright idea of asking Mike if he knew anyone who could take the job. Luckily for us, his sister had just started looking for work so for us it was a no-brainer! Suzie will be starting with us within the fortnight, make sure to give her a big smile!

Getting down to some scrubbing

Keeping a place like this clean is certainly not an easy task, especially when we’re as busy as we are. Not only do we have a constant stream of guests staying the night here, but our restaurant is also consistently busy with passing customers – needless to say, the amount of dirt that accumulates in the space of day has to be seen to be believed. Thankfully we’re all dab hands at cleaning here and we also have some fantastic contacts that help us keep on top of the important parts.

For the last few years we’ve made the use of a local Oven cleaning franchises to give all of our ovens a good go over. We usually call these guys in twice a year to make sure that our well-used ovens stay in good knick, although we’ll probably have to increase this a bit given the new additions to our menu…

July’s News Update

It’s all go here at the Engine Inn!

The schools are due to be breaking up in a couple of weeks time and we’re making preparations for the Summer Holiday rush.

When Lynn first opened the Engine Inn, over thirty years ago, she didn’t have to worry about setting up a website or scheduling social media announcements. Lynn’s responsibilities didn’t extend beyond making sure her urn was full and that she had plenty of coffee and tea to keep her in business. Unfortunately for us we run a 21st century business that demands a little more than just picking up a big drum of instant and a crate of tea from the local wholesalers!

Lynn often laughs when she comes to visit us here. When she opened her roadside cafe in 1988 she had no other intentions than making a living and meeting some interesting people. There were three things that she didn’t quite bargain on though. One was her excellent choice of location and the other was how quickly the UK’s biker community would get behind her little Portakabin. Thanks to the hard work our Lynn put in we now have a thriving community of regular customers who make us one of their regular stops on their summer road trips – which makes this time of year rather busy for us!

This month we introduce some ‘posh’ food to our Breakfast menu and we plan a few kitchen upgrades:

New ‘Posh’ Breakfasts on the Menu

For years our customers have been satisfied with our breakfast menu. After all, what more could hungry travellers want than a simple Full English? Over the years breakfast culture has changed and we’ve been surprised to find out that biker culture has changed with it! More and more long-distance lorry drivers and biker crews have been sheepishly asking for poached eggs instead of fried; tentatively inquiring about our Gluten-Free offerings and peering around for a ‘Specials’ board. We knew that that time had come to make a change.

Our chef Jax is proud to announce his new menu which includes, amongst other ‘posh’ menu items: ‘Eggs Benedict’, ‘Gluten-Free Breakfast Bun’ and ‘Vegan Brunch Hash‘. Jax has been chomping at the bit to create some new food and he’s very excited to be cooking something other than Full English Breakfasts. In light of this ‘Food Revolution’ we’ve also had the chance to take a look at updating our premises a little.

Kitchen upgrades incoming

Of course you can’t make such grand changes to a menu without making a few adaptations to your kitchen. Jax’s ‘studio’, as he likes to call it, has remained largely unchanged since Roger and Lynn left so understandably there are a few changes that need to be made. For years our chefs have put with what Mike would call ‘vintage gear’ which has served their purposes fine, however now that we’re changing our output and asking more of the kitchen it’s only fair that we give Jax a few more toys to play with.

In the next fortnight we’re going to be installing some new gear, as well as sending James out on the road to check out the competition.

Keep updated by checking back on the blog regularly!