I can hardly believe that in just a few weeks it will be four years since the diggers moved in and I saw my lifelong dream coming true.
It was January when construction started on my indoor arena and beautiful visitors’ lodge, and we lived with the mud and disruption until the doors finally opened in September 2016.
Happy birthday, dear Ranch Bistro
So, this year has brought the third birthday of the visitors’ centre – and, strangely, it has become such a part of the landscape at Cannock Chase Trekking Centre that it feels as if it has always been here.
When I gave up modelling for a career with horses, my dream was always to create an equestrian centre on my beloved Cannock Chase that would bring visitors from far and wide. And I always had in mind a state-of-the-art facility where my riders could enjoy a taste of “après-horse”.
The battle for planning permission was a long one, but when I saw the walls rising on my unique, architect-designed cedar lodge, I knew that all the stress and worry had been worth it.
And the last three years have exceeded my wildest dreams. The bistro and coffee shop are not simply a facility for my riders: the lodge has become a popular eating place for walkers, cyclists and Cannock Chase visitors of all ages. We attract more than 25,000 visitors a year.
The floor-to-ceiling windows provide panoramic views out over the Chase, and the outdoor patio is always packed in summer with customers enjoying the same landscape. And, of course, they love to see the horses coming and going on treks and lessons.
In the winter, the underfloor heating, blazing log burner and comfy furniture make it a cosy haven. I like to think that in the winter it is like a Norwegian ski lodge and in summer a ranch in the Wild West.
We have a separate area where events can be staged, and we have already had requests from people wanting to get married here!
‘Food, glorious food’
We’ve taken time and care in creating our menu, and now many people come simply because they enjoy the food. And, of course, it is a comfortable retreat for our riders. It has given our treks a social aspect and many friendships have been made over a cup of our barista-created coffee.
Our coffee is fresh from the roaster at Chartley Coffee, Hixon, a family business with over 40 years’ experience. It is the most amazing coffee, and our baristas create speciality drinks. Our luxury hot chocolates and milk shakes are renowned! Just pretend they are calorie free! Luckily, my mum, Carole Gregory, is a cake designer, and we always have her delicious creations on offer.
Head chef Samantha Edmunds is always developing the menu, which has a contemporary ranch-style concept, and she uses the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. Our meat and vegetables all come from local suppliers. We also cater for dietary problems, with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options always available.
We are very proud that we have twice received five stars for our hygiene ratings.
This summer, we have held our first evening events: two parties with a Western ranch theme, at which we served smokehouse barbecue food, and the guests enjoyed a riding display and a live band. Both events were really popular.
A few weeks ago we staged a Game Of Thrones-themed ride across the Chase. Our riders were in costume and enjoyed a medieval banquet when we got back. In December, we have a Christmas-themed ride and our first ever Christmas party.
The bistro’s success has exceeded all my expectations. I was never sure whether we were going to be a coffee shop or a restaurant, and I think we have settled nicely somewhere in between.
I am delighted with it – but we won’t be standing still. We are always looking at ways we can improve.