As part of Dimmingsdale’s transformation in the 1800’s, the Earl of Shrewsbury commissioned the design of two gatehouses within the Alton Towers Estate – Dimmingsdale Lodge (now the Ramblers Retreat) and Pink Lodge (opposite the lower gates to Alton Towers).
These gatehouses were strategically positioned on Earls Drive, the main thoroughfare through the estate. The gatekeepers would keep a watch for the Earls carriage from the tower to ensure that gates were opened promptly & thus avoid an interrupted journey. In the 1900’s the Earls estate was divided up into lots and sold. Dimmingsdale Lodge was purchased and used solely for residential purposes until the 1960’s. However, after this time the lodge was left vacant and feel into serious disrepair.
A dereliction order was placed on the buildings in 1978; however Gary and Margaret Keeling asked to buy the derelict Lodge from the owner, Sir Anthony Bamford to enable them to restore it back to its original state. It took two years hard work to restore, however in 1980, Gary, Margaret and their family moved in and made it their home.
However, whilst in the garden, walkers would frequently comment to Gary & Margaret that it would be lovely to have a cup of tea and scone in Dimmingsdale after a walk. And so in 1981, Margaret opened up her living room to ramblers for a cup of tea and cake, and so the Ramblers Retreat was born!
Famous for its lovely homemade cakes, in particular Margaret’s Lemon Meringue Pie, the Ramblers Retreat serves a wide range of food and drinks from barista coffees and cakes to sandwiches, Staffordshire Oatcakes and Baguettes, to a full three course meal – all of which can be enjoyed in the beautiful woodland gardens or within the gatehouse overlooking them.
Helen Smith, their daughter left her job in Marketing at Britannia Building Society in 2001 and joined the family team to support her Mum and Dad. In the following years Helen began to take over the business to give her mum and dad some well-earned rest.
Sadly, in March 2017, Margaret passed away, however the family have chosen to continue running the Ramblers Retreat as part of Margaret’s legacy. Helen is now supported by her General Manager Amy Jones; a dedicated member of the team who began her career at the Ramblers Retreat as a young high school student with a part time waiting on position, as well as her son Callum Smith; who, following the family tradition also plays a key role in the running of the business. Her daughter, Megan has also started to help when she can.
The Ramblers Retreat aims to give visitors to Dimmingsdale, a true ‘Taste of Staffordshire’, using local ingredients, combined with local, caring staff and local history and knowledge. Partnerships with the Forestry Commission, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust and other conservation groups also means that guests are encouraged to enjoy the beauty of Dimmingsdale and the Churnet Valley whist being inspired to protect the environment around them.