SUPPORT OUR SHOPS: Tales of The Mermaid Inn jewel of Surfleet

VILLAGE MERMAID: Owner Karen Swindells and head chef Mark Tomeo enjoy the outdoor bar and seating area at The Mermaid Inn in Surfleet.  Photo by Tim Wilson.  SG240517-103TW.
VILLAGE MERMAID: Owner Karen Swindells and head chef Mark Tomeo enjoy the outdoor bar and seating area at The Mermaid Inn in Surfleet. Photo by Tim Wilson. SG240517-103TW.
  • Ingredient of a ‘tremendously lucky’ community
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Boaters travelling on the River Glen from Baston to Surfleet Seas End can call in at The Mermaid Inn, Surfleet.

Just yards from the semi-circular iron bridge that spans the river, the 19th century inn on Gosberton Road has gone from what was a private house to a place where guests are served food, drinks, bed and breakfast.

Owner Karen Swindells understands the sentiments of author Ruby Hunt who, in her book “Surfleet, The Story of a Fenland Village”, said: “At the present time, the Glen is Surfleet’s most attractive asset”.

Karen said: “We’re old-fashioned and homely, with a friendly atmosphere in which our staff serve traditional food that is predominantly made up of pub favourites.

“Our beef and lamb come from our own farm in Nottinghamshire, while our pork comes from W. Hargrave and Son in Pinchbeck.

“The Mermaid isn’t a hotel, it’s an inn which is run on a bed and breakfast basis, from Tuesday to Sunday.”

RIVERSIDE SPOT: Owner Karen Swindells and head chef Mark Tomeo inside The Mermaid Inn, Gosberton Road, Surfleet.  Photo (TIM WILSON): SG240517-105TW.

RIVERSIDE SPOT: Owner Karen Swindells and head chef Mark Tomeo inside The Mermaid Inn, Gosberton Road, Surfleet. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG240517-105TW.

The inn dates back to 1864 when it was called Ivy House until its conversion in 1910 when builders joined together several neighbouring cottages, one of which was called The Mermaid.

There are also accounts of The Mermaid Inn having been used as a base for the Home Guard during World War II when the bridge and River Glen were protected from invasion.

Today, the Home Guard has been replaced by Karen and her team of about 12 staff, including a gardener, handyman and head chef Mark Tomeo who said: “I’ve only been here four weeks but I’m enjoying it and everyone is really supportive.

“I grew up in London and spent ten years working at gentleman’s clubs, big and small restaurants and hotels until I moved to Spalding in 2001.

We’re old-fashioned and homely, with a friendly atmosphere in which our staff serve traditional food

Karen Swindells, owner of The Mermaid Inn, Surfleet

“After working at a hotel along the Norfolk coast and then in Peterborough for a year, I moved to the Mermaid Inn to be closer to my home.

“I see my job here as helping to promote the business and I’m trying to take on what has been done in the past, but also building on that by providing pub food done in a gastro-type way.”

Some of the Mermaid’s attractions for visitors include a mooring for boats that was built by the Environment Agency as part of its Fens Waterway Link project launched in 2009.

The inn also has an outdoor bar, tables and seating area where guests can take advantage of the riverside location.

There is also a grassed area where families can meet to enjoy the spring and summer weather.

Karen said: “It would be great to see more boats on the waterway, mooring up for drinks and enjoying the newly refurbished outdoor bar and seating area alongside the river.”

One of the hallmarks of Karen’s ownership of The Mermaid Inn, which she took over in 2010, has been her willingness to take on younger staff and give them experience of working in a customer service environment.

Helping Karen at the Mermaid are Eleanor Smith (20), of Cowbit, and James Brand (18) of Surfleet, who share with her the general running of the inn.

Eleanor said: “I’ve worked here for nearly five years after starting in a part-time role when I was at school.

“We’re part of a really good team and you can build really good relationships with the customers.

“We get lots of people who come in and say ‘this is the first time we’ve tried The Mermain Inn’ or ‘we didn’t know you were here’.”

James said: “I’ve been working here for four years, starting off as a young lad in the kitchen and then working my way up.

“Now myself and Eleanor share the responsibilities between us, while Karen makes the final decisions about things.

“As a child, I never thought I’d be working in an inn and playing the role I do now.

“But Karen is one of the most wonderful managers you could ask for and she makes us feel like we’re a family.”

The Surfleet Parish Plan 2009 set out to “safeguard those things about the village that we value”.

The Mermaid Inn is one of the elements to a village that “has everything”, according to Karen Swindells.

She said: “There’s a tremendous park where people can play hockey and football, the beauty of the River Glen, with walks along each side of its banks, and a lot of other facilities as well.

“The people who live here are tremendously lucky to be in a village that has everything.”