Shoe making at Bedruthan

30 Mar

A few months ago I was presented with a little booklet. On the cover was a drawing of a beautiful Cornish beach and the words ‘Bedruthan hotel’. I flicked through and stopped at the sight of a very pretty pair of shoes. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the hotel would be running a two-day shoe making course in March, which was to be hosted by Green Shoes.

I surprised myself that I overlooked the baking and pizza oven-making courses in favour of being able to make myself a pair of hand made shoes. Jack has just designed a range of menswear shoes for Hush Puppies so I guess that was in my consciousness and I thought that it would be a nice weekend away together.

A few months later, we were boarding an extraordinarily small plane at Gatwick airport en route to Newquay. A mere 50 minutes later, we were off the plane and straight into a taxi for a ten minute drive to the hotel. Upon arrival we were given our room keys along with instructions for the course, which started at 10am the next morning.

As we arrived at 9pm we had missed the welcome drinks so decided to have an early night and rise early to make the most of the predicted sunshine. We entered the bedroom and headed straight to the doors overlooking the beach. As it was dark we couldn’t see anything but could hear the waves lapping she shore.

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We deliberately left the curtains open in the room and as the light shone through in the morning, I was delighted to see a beautiful uninterrupted view of the beach. We jumped out of bed, had a shower and quickly got ready for the day. We had just over an hour until we were due to arrive at the workshop so had a quick stroll to the beach. The weather was beautiful and the sun was shining. A huge rainbow spanned across the water before our eyes and we felt lucky to be seeing such a beautiful sight. Then as quickly as you could say rainbow, the rain started, first lightly, followed by heavy hailstones. We ran as fast as we could back up the the hotel, up the hill, slightly restricted by our heavy water soaked jeans and shoes. After a quick dry off back in the room, we enjoyed a hefty breakfast at the buffet before making our way to the workshop.

A small group of people stood waiting and after a quick name exchange and introduction, we were provided with nametags and then quickly set to work. In order to distinguish what size shoes we would be making, our feet were simply measured by drawing around each foot and measuring with a tape measure. We were able to choose the colour and type of leather that we wanted – we had a choice of vegan or leather. We were also asked to choose between a small range of styles that we wanted to make. Having seen a beautiful pair of leather t-bar sandals in YMC last summer, I chose to make a simple pair of t-bar sandals with a brown leather upper and a navy blue strap.

We took the corresponding size template for both the upper and the insole of the shoe and used a sharp tool to gently score the leather around the pattern for each foot. Then, keeping the pattern on the leather, we scored holes lightly with a sharp pointed tool all around the pattern. After each hole was scored, we took the pattern off and used the same tool that we scored the leather with to completely slice the pattern out of the leather. This part took a steady hand and a lot of patience.

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The next stage was to stick the pigs skin lining on top of the upper pattern and use a hammer and a pin to punch holes all the way through the leather.

Each stage took a while and during the morning we were provided with fresh tea, coffee and home made biscuits at 11am. We then broke for lunch at 1pm, which consisted of sandwiches and soup and we ate whilst overlooking the beach from the dining room.

When we returned after lunch, it took me a while to decided whether or not to punch a pattern in the front of my shoe. The shoes that I had seen in YMC had a complex pattern on the front, which consisted of a number of punched holes. And as I’m not overly creative in that sense, I enlisted some help to draw a pattern, which I used to score the template on my upper. Nervous, I took hold of the knife and started cutting the pattern, realising that there was no way back. The knife was surprisingly easy to manoeuvre and not one mistake was made. My finger however was starting to feel sore due to all of the pressure I was putting on it to make sure that my pattern was perfectly cut. Even a few weeks later I have yet to regain feeling in the tip!

Impressed with our work for the day, we left at 5pm to enjoy the spa facilities on offer in the hotel, including a spa pool, swimming pool, sauna and steam room.

We went downstairs to the newly opened Wild Cafe for dinner and enjoyed a range of dishes such as freshly caught mackerel rollmop, fish and chips and a really amazing chocolate bread and butter pudding for dessert.

The next day, we enjoyed the same breakfast buffet – a Full English with locally sourced sausages and bacon along with a bowl of local Cornish yoghurt, home made granola, fresh fruit and poached pears. The breakfast offering was fantastic and a great way to fuel the busy morning.

When we arrived at the workshop at 10am, the rest of the group had arrived and already started work. I punched holes through the crepe sole and started sewing, by hand, the upper of my shoe to the sole. It took a while and by the end my little fingers were sporting a couple of hefty blisters and similar to the numb finger, the evidence of sewing and pulling the thread extremely tight is still there.

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Next came the gluing of the crepe soles to the bottom and inserting a last into the shoes. The last, I was told, mimics the size of your foot and allows the show to really take shape. Once the last was on, we were able to leave the workshop for a few hours so we decided to take a walk along the coast to Bedruthan Steps.

We walked up the winding path, up the hill onto the walking path on the cliff top and were struck by how windy it was. It took around half an hour to reach the steps and we were pleasantly surprised when we arrived. Despite the wind and the threatening rain, we walked down the steep and narrow steps to the bottom where lay a bay. But as the tide was firmly in, we were unable to step foot on the beach.

When we arrived back at the workshop, our shoes were ready to try on. I cautiously slid my foot into my creation and was overwhelmed when it fit. We all put our shoes on and walked outside – everyone had done such a fantastic job and every single shoe was very pretty. After a few ‘team photos’, we were back on our way to the airport to board the plane back to Gatwick. We were back in London at 9pm on Sunday evening. I felt like we had been away for a lot longer than the standard two day weekend. I can’t recommend this trip to a Londoner enough – quick, easy, beautiful and very fun.

Food For Think was a guest at Bedruthan

Two night break and shoe making course – 2nd to 4th March & 22nd to 24th June – from £354 per person

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