Even when driving on the Island’s quiet rural roads, it is easy to be overwhelmed with highways signage and, in the towns this pervasive blight is so ubiquitous that the messages merge and homogenise, ceasing to be of any real use. In fact last year the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England was proposing that local authorities carry out ‘clutter audits’ to make sure that signs do not cause unnecessary visual intrusion as they say ‘too much information can actually reduce road safety’. However, this is not just a highways issue as can be seen here.
On a sunny Sunday in June a rather cool welcome awaited the visitor to the Tollgate Cafe, Bembridge. The serving ladies offered a polite if perfunctory service in this perfectly located beachfront shack but it is the omnipresent signage that revealed the true feelings behind this business.
On almost every surface was some legend; over half a dozen messages were recorded by your reviewers, all of which had a rather unfriendly tone:
- no barbeques
- no skateboards or bikes at any time
- no china to be taken on to the beach
- only food purchased from the Tollgate Cafe is to be consumed on the outside tables
- dogs water bowls are not allowed inside this cafe
- anyone wet from the sea please wait outside for service
- please do not places nappies or doggie bags in this bin
- do not sit babies on the counter
- no animals from abroad may be landed (although this sign may be courtesy of the HM Revenue and Customs)
As well as the messages being lost in such a sea of directives, this scattered collection of instructions reminded Matt and Cat of their recent visit to The Sloop where the waitress greeted them with a list of food that was not available. Still, as they had only popped into the Tollgate for a cup of tea and a cake, should they have expected anything less than a swift and indifferent transaction?
From the roadside the Tollgate Cafe looks a bit utilitarian. On entering it starts to exude the slightest whiff of charm with its homemade cakes and stencilled transport cafe-style menu. For a seaside eatery the Tollgate has a comprehensive choice of hot food: burgers, chips, pies and nuggets as well as toasted sandwiches. Despite being refused a cream tea (as it was not on the menu), Matt and Cat decided to stay and have a tea cake and a cuppa. Making their way through the cafe to the harbour-side seating, M and C found the secret of the cafe’s success. The outside seating is in a suntrap with an enviable position adjacent to some excellent sanddunes which, at the time of Matt and Cat’s visit, were abundant with flowers.
The big buttered teacakes arrived with two steaming mugs of tea and it was then that Matt and Cat started to thaw a little towards this rather bizarre little cafe. Surely loved by the east Wight’s second-homers for its unspoilt charm and holiday makers likewise, the Tollgate Cafe is trading on its location. And the teacakes were really very good. Perhaps the proprietors could ease up a bit with the instructions or maybe sneak in a few that say things like ‘welcome’ and ‘we hope you enjoy your visit’.