Well Walk Tea Room
When I was a small child my favourite treat of the week was to visit the Cadena Cafe in the Promenade with my grandmother. For those too young to remember, it was down near the traffic lights where Habitat was located for over 30 years and was the place to meet and chat and drink tea from proper cups and saucers and eat buttered teacakes. It sounds terribly old fashioned put like that but we loved it.
The Cadena is long gone but it will always remain with me. These days tea rooms and cafes have been mostly replaced by chains of coffee shops where you can get an expensive cappuccino which is mostly froth or an even more expensive concoction with a calorific topping of fresh cream, nuts and caramel drizzle. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cappuccino but I also miss traditional tea shops which you normally only find in places like Bourton-on-the-Water.
But all is not lost. One such cafe is the Well Walk Tea Room, a traditional, family-run tea room in the heart of Cheltenham near the Library, which opened on Good Friday this year. It serves a variety of teas, coffee, hot chocolate, lemonade and cordials plus homemade cakes, cream teas, sandwiches, soups and quiches. It’s a real English tea shop run by Cheltenham born and bred husband and wife team Belle and Tom Strutt.
And it really is a family business. On my arrival I am greeted by Belle and daughter Annabelle and 15 year old son Tom who also helps out after school. There’s another daughter too – Sophie – who is still at university but works here when she is home for the holidays, helping mum Belle make the cakes. They are a close family, Belle tells me, and they enjoy running the tea room together.
Belle is here every day (they are open six days a week) and makes all the cakes, the soups and the quiches. Just not the ice cream – it’s Winstone’s – but I expect that will be next!
I sit down at one of the smaller tables, which is covered with a needlepoint tablecloth laid over another cloth which is green with white spots. No minimalism here – there are tapestries hanging on the walls which remind me of a very small Blenheim Palace, needlepoint pictures of bunnies and Edwardian ladies and tapestry cushions with lavish trimmings made or restored by Belle and her sister Catherine. Kate, as Belle calls her, always had a fabric shop in Suffolk Parade until 2001 when she moved it into this building. She also makes fabric props for films including the flags in Kingdom of Heaven and the Russell Crowe version of Robin Hood. Upholstery is a family tradition and Annabelle shows me a picture of her great-great-grandfather outside his shop in Putney in 1880.
The five-storey building by the way dates back to 1740 or at least the front does. Some of it may be much older. St Mary’s Parish Church is just behind Well Walk and it’s around 900 years old. Belle and Tom are building up a library of books about the history of Cheltenham and I have a look to see what else I can find out.
While we chat Annabelle is busy with the tea which arrives in a bone china tea pot with a matching bone china cup and saucer. No plastic mugs here with plastic lids to take out when you are in a rush. This is not a place to rush. It’s a place to relax with your friends and enjoy the ambience and the decor. It feels a little as if I am on the set of Cranford and should be wearing a bonnet but it all adds to the charm. All the textiles and even some of the furniture like the huge stripped pine dresser are for sale, Belle tells me, including a floor to ceiling Belgian tapestry nicknamed ‘Flora and Fauna’ which hangs on the wall in the upstairs room where a Spanish family are enjoying their tea and cakes.
Would I like to try a homemade cake, asks Belle? Of course I would, but the only problem is which one. There is Coffee & Walnut (my husband’s absolute favourite), Chocolate, Cherry & Almond, Lemon Amoretti and a gluten-free Coconut cake with Mango. I choose the Orange & Almond which is also gluten-free and fat-free and is moist and delicious. Some of the cakes are made with courgettes, aubergines or potato – the vegetables replace the fat in the cake. In fact the Chocolate Heartache only contains 200 calories a slice!
In the meantime Tom arrives and asks if I have been informed about the home made fudge at £1.50 a bag and the local honey. Yes I say and I also know about the Ploughman’s lunch with Belle’s own peach chutney made with peaches from their own garden (Belle makes all the jams and chutneys). Soup of the day is Moroccan Chickpea, a favourite of the regulars along with the quiches.
Last but not least there is a Victorian Christmas Shop downstairs which came about because Kate is often asked to decorate the Christmas trees in a film. Taking it down and putting it back up became such a chore that it is now a permanent fixture. But don’t imagine the house of Mr Christmas with its reindeer lights and Santa running up and down a ladder. This one is a cornucopia of hand-blown glass ornaments from Germany and other delightful bits and pieces to hang on the tree.
Well Walk Tea Room is located at 5-6 Well Walk, Cheltenham GL50 3JX. A pot of tea costs £1.50 while cake is £2 a slice. Hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream is £2.50.
It is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday/evenings by appointment for club events and meetings.