For over 80 years, the Forge Dam Café has been a well-loved spot for walkers and cyclists, locals and tourists, adults and kids alike. Today, it is owned and run by Nick Dunn. But the café was not a new beginning for Nick, but more like coming home.
The café opened in the 1930s. Reportedly, it used to be Walkley Methodist Hall, until it was dismantled and brought, on horse and cart, to the park. There it was reassembled as the café, and has been open ever since.
In 1968, the lease was taken on by Charles and Jean Chapman, Nick’s grandparents. So Nick spent a large part of his childhood in the café and the cottage next door. In fact, his mother went into labour there.
Charles and Jean ran the café for 27 years. In their day, the Dam was full of water, with rowing boats bobbing on the surface. Charles would even put trout in every year, attracting local fishermen to the spot. Nick would help out in the summer holidays, spending time with his parents and grandparents, enjoying the countryside. Charles still comes in every Friday to check on his grandson’s work!
In 1995, Alan and May Young took over the café. It remained largely unchanged until a few years ago, when the council paid for repairs to the roof and structure. The building work was carried out after a petition was started by Friends of the Porter Valley, and included the signatures of long-time regulars Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker. The café is, in fact, the one mentioned in the Pulp song Wickerman, which Jarvis wrote whilst sat in Forge Dam. You can still recognise it in the lyrics:
“Yeah, the river flows on beneath pudgy fifteen-year olds addicted to coffee whitener.
And it finally comes above ground again at Forge Dam: the place where we first met.
I went there again for old time’s sake
Hoping to find the child’s toy horse ride that played such a ridiculously tragic tune.
It was still there – but none of the kids seemed interested in riding on it.
And the cafe was still there too”
The café still has the characteristics and charms that have made it one of the best loved, and longest-running establishments in the area: a no frills approach to proper food, a warm welcome and beautiful surroundings.