Mostly, Unknown Kent and Sussex aims to bring interesting places, events and people to our readers’ (yes, there is more than one of you) attention, but it’s a joy to us writers when we’re the ones being introduced to somewhere previously unknown to us. This is what happened last week when I was collected mid-morning by my friend , Michel, with the intention of a good old natter over a coffee.
We headed south down the A22, turning right off at Lower Dicker down Coldharbour Road (the road where Metamorphosis Interiors occupies the corner site). Not too far along that road we reached the village of Upper Dicker. Well, I say “village” but it’s just a collection of houses either side of the road passing through, but it does have a cricket club, a pub and a church, plus a well-kept village green. It was here that we turned left into the car park signposted to the Village Shop. Said shop was facing us at the end of this lane that ran alongside the afore-mentioned village green.
Well, I say “shop” but this establishment was more – much, much more. What a find!
Stepping inside felt like being transported back in time. It’s an understandable feeling when you consider that the shop has been in existence since the 1840s. During that time it’s housed a dairy, bakery, butcher and hardware store as well as serving as the local post office for 150 years, although sadly no longer following government cuts.
These days, you can purchase a selection of locally produced foodstuffs such as honey, wine, gin and cakes. In the centre of the room there’s a large wooden table displaying a fine array of fresh vegetables. Select your own and purchase by the bag, just as we used to. There’s not a cellophane wrapper in sight.
I should qualify what I mean by going back in time. It’s the ambiance. You’ll have to ignore the large fridge with its mouth-watering selection of cold drinks, and the coffee and hot choccie-making machinery behind the counter.
Within that counter, behind its glass barrier, you’ll face the dilemma of having to decide which of the home-made snacks to sample. Michel and I both chose a sweet potato dosa with a crumbly outer casing along with an organic apple juice from the fridge. We took a tray and walked across to the village green where there are inviting tables and benches. Although the green doesn’t belong to the shop and is available for anyone to enjoy, everyone there appeared to be tucking into produce from the café.
We sat beneath an olive tree admiring the roses surrounding the green as they were in late September bloom. I took a photo of the village sign and noticed a ‘For Sale’ sign pertaining to the shop. Naturally, this had to be investigated further, so we headed back indoors for a coffee and a chat with the two very friendly characters behind the counter.
Let me introduce Mikey Thacker and Dan Bradley – servers and comedians (well, if not the latter, they should be). These guys and their customer interaction added greatly to the enjoyment of our visit. Dan told us that the current owners bought the place in 2007 and had decided to sell to dedicate more time to their young family. Fair enough, and I’m sure whoever buys it will want to keep it running as it is now. Presumably, they’ll live on-site in the three-bedroom accommodation upstairs and enjoy the gorgeous private garden out the back.
Over a deliciously chocolatey hot chocolate (I do detest when places serve watery brown stuff) my friend and I started considering all the other things that could be done within the café. It’s currently only open until 5pm, but it would make a terrific setting for intimate evening music events, especially as the premises are licensed. In addition to the historical photos around the walls, perhaps it could act as a gallery for the many artists in the area. It would also make for a wonderful, quirky wedding venue if the rear garden were opened up to the guests on a nice day.
I should mention that in addition to the snacks and cakes available on the counter, there’s a full menu from which to choose. For breakfast, you could enjoy a traditional fry-up. There are many combinations available or you could build your own by selecting from the individual breakfast items on offer, including vegan and veggie options. The lunch menu includes soups, burgers, salads, sandwiches and toasties. The majority of the ingredients used are from local suppliers such as Windmills Bakery and Downsview Dairy. Some cordials are made in house using foraged berries.
Customers were extremely varied. There were some older patrons, young Mums with toddlers and a couple of workmen in hi-vis jackets. We saw a few pupils from Bede’s Senior School just along the road. What a fabulous “tuck shop” to have. Well-behaved dogs are allowed in, too.
Apparently, they really go to town pre-Christmas and I’m certain the place is pretty magical. It already has the Dickensian quality to build upon. Although it’s closed between Christmas and New Year as well as bank holidays, if you get along before the big day you could pick up some unusual Sussex-made gifts. There’s a wall display of the most fabulously-scented toiletries available for sale.
Make sure you ask for a Loyalty Card since I’m sure when you’ve been here once, you’ll “do an Arnie” and be back! I can’t wait to take Hub along for a slap-up brekkie so he can discover the place in the time-honoured way, by word of mouth. Pay a visit, and take someone else. They’ll thank you for it.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri, 8.30-5 – Sat, 9-3 – Sun – CLOSED
The Village Shop, Coldharbour Road, Upper Dicker, East Sussex, BN27 3QE