I got a tip-off about this place (thanks Joe). Descriptions of a cafe lost in time off the M74 near the Scottish-English border. No name, no clear directions, just a cafe in Gretna that was like walking into someone's front room. Surprisingly we found it. As you enter Gretna the town (distinct from its famous neighbour, the wedding mecca of Gretna Green) there is a small building with "CAFE" painted on the gable end. There was a sign outside saying it was open, despite all appearances to the contrary. We walked into an empty room, as described, more front room than cafe. Starbucks it ain't. From the back shop a lady shuffled out. I was going to say an old lady but she wasn't that old. But middle aged would be flattering. Anyway, a lady of a certain age shuffled out, looking a bit stern. I asked if the cafe was open and she barked "Just and no more" explaining that she was "painting out the back". There was no invitation to sit but we did anyway, as I had gone slightly giddy with the strangeness of it all.
The decor, if that's the word, was "granny chic". There were odd assortments of nick-nacks for sale behind our heads, a random portrait of Edward VII and strangest of all a huge photo of a young boy hanging above the fireplace. Judging by the colours and hairstyle in the photo it must have been taken at least 30 years ago. Its size and prominence and the fact that there was a smaller version on the other side of the room led me to think that this poor boy who must have been close to the owner's heart met a terrible end. There was a whiff of tragedy about the whole scene.
The piece de resistance for this whole strange affair was Rupert the parrot, who patrolled his cage in the centre of the cafe with a confidence that suggested he was the guvnor. My son headed straight over to say hello and of course Rupert went straight for his fingers. Terrified, he ran away to eat his cake while the owner gave us his life story. He can talk but doesn't like to do it in public (yeah right). He only ever likes one person in a couple, either the man or the woman. "It can drive a wedge between you". And of course with health and safety he shouldn't be there at all. In high season he's out the back where he belongs.
The lack of clientele meant we had a good chat with the owner. She has run the cafe since 1973 and it's a steady trade. Weddings parties spill over from Gretna Green in the summer, reps come and go during the week. She asked about our boys and I kept expecting a terrible revelation about the boy in the photo but nothing came. Nowadays cafes try to be homely with their mugs and big comfy sofas. This was more like a real home but much more unsettling. Like visiting an auntie that you're a wee bit scared of. I kept thinking of the line from TS Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons." This woman certainly has, the still point of a turning world, watching everyone come and go.
Gretna Cafe photos
More of Anne’s Gretna Cafe photos
How to get there
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To find the cafe from the M74 turn off the motorway and follow signs to Gretna, not Gretna Green. The cafe is on Annan Road at right angles to the main street.