Hetty's Farmhouse Bakery 2018

By: Cathy Bramley

Chapter 1

The journey from Sunnybank Farm to my daughter Poppy’s school could take anywhere between twenty-five and fifty minutes depending on tractors, tourist traffic and time allocated. Obviously, the less time I had, the longer it would take.

I gripped the steering wheel tightly and willed the tractor in front of me to turn off. The driver had twice beckoned me to go around him, but on these narrow country lanes and in my ancient Renault Clio, I didn’t dare attempt it. I didn’t want to be late for parents’ evening, but I didn’t want to end up under an oncoming lorry either. Today had already earned itself the label of being ‘one of those days’. I didn’t need any more stress.

Deep breaths, Hetty. Okay. I wasn’t late yet; I could still make it on time. My fourteen-year-old Border collie Rusty might be very poorly, but he was in safe hands with the vet, and even though this tractor was slowing me down, it gave me a chance to appreciate the wild flowers growing in amongst the long-grass verge. And as I rounded the bend and began a steep descent, the glorious vista of the Eskdale valley came into view.

My heart lifted and along with it, my spirits. The beauty of Cumbria never ceased to move me.

Despite the distances necessary to complete a simple task – like getting to school or popping out for milk – living here had many, many plus points and I wouldn’t swap my little village for the world. The beguiling landscape with its craggy peaks puncturing the clouds and its valleys threaded with lakes and tarns; the simple joy of emerging from dark green woods to discover a waterfall tumbling over mossy rocks, or an ancient stone bridge forming a perfect arch over a crystal stream; it never grew old. I loved the timelessness and the feeling of belonging somewhere special. And even though Cumbria was a Mecca for other explorers, if you picked your route with care you could walk for miles and not bump into a soul, with just a happy dog for company. Unless your dog was at this minute undergoing multiple tests and quite possibly might never walk again …

I squeezed my eyes shut for a millisecond to block out the image of poor Rusty, and turned on the radio to distract myself.

At last the tractor turned off and I could finally put my foot down. I glanced at the time on my car’s dashboard: with a bit of luck and a following wind, I just might make it.

I got the last free space in the school car park. I quickly ran a comb through my dark copper hair and applied an ancient stump of lipstick.

At college, I’d once been described by one particularly toxic girl as a poor man’s Kate Winslet, at which point Dan Greengrass, the boy I’d had a crush on since for ever, leaned over and looked at me so intensely that my stomach flipped. He whispered that if that was the case he hoped he’d be poor for the rest of his life and would I go out with him. My heart virtually exploded all over the common room and my acceptance came out as a squeak and a nod. Today my cheekbones were less prominent than Kate’s, my hips a little more padded and my locks had sprouted their first grey. By contrast, Dan still looked pretty much as he had back then, but with even more muscle. We were also still poor.

I got out and was brushing the red dog hairs – don’t think about him – from my cardigan when I spotted my best friend Anna by her car. She worked here and was loading a cardboard box into her boot.

‘Hey! Hetty Spaghetti,’ she yelled across the car park, her customary wide smile lighting up her pretty face.

‘Anna Bananna!’ I laughed and waved.

My school nickname had been coined due to my long thin legs; now it was more likely to refer to my messy hair. Her nickname didn’t mean anything, but it was fun, which meant that it suited her.

I kissed her cheek. ‘Good. We can walk in together now and I won’t be last to arrive.’

‘I’d rather be last.’ Anna arched an eyebrow playfully. ‘I like to make an entrance.’

I always felt like a giant next to Anna. She was tiny and birdlike with short blonde hair and eyes the colour of sapphires, which danced permanently with mischief. She slammed the boot and opened her handbag.

‘No Dan?’ She peered over my shoulder before applying a posh lipstick which still had its pointy end, unlike my old thing.