IMAGINE a drinking hole where the vintage products on sale have nothing to with fine wines.

That’s what happened in Alston, where the former Swan’s Head pub has been turned into an antique shop and cafe.

Julie Coonan, with the help of her husband Tom, has breathed new life into the pub, which had been closed for eight years.

They opened the antique side of the business in June, when lockdown restrictions initially began to ease, followed by the cafe in July.

Now they are working on improving the signage at the once popular ale house, situated at the top of the main street, high above Alston’s famous cobbles.

“It still looks like a pub from the outside,” said Julie. “People walk up the hill and see the building ahead of them, but if you come close enough you realise that there’s something different in store.

“It has always been a pub, so we had to get the balance right. We want to retain its characteristics and who knows? It might become a pub again in the future.”

The couple, who are originally from London, bought the Swan’s Head three years ago after an 18-month spell on the other side of the globe, after Tom’s work in the construction industry took them to New Zealand.

“We wanted to come back home to the UK,” said Julie. “We looked at Scotland but settled on Alston. It’s the sort of place which sucks you in and you feel as though you belong here. We love Alston.”

Despite an original plan to reopen the pub, the retirement of Janice Bell who ran an antique shop nearby, last December, gave the couple an idea.

“Janice was fully behind us,” said Julie. “We’ve always enjoyed antiques as well as vintage clothing, and thought it would be a good opportunity to source unique items which appeal to people.”

Old-time furniture is complemented by other household items of yesteryear, while there are no shortage of vintage jackets, hats, shoes and bags.

In addition, the shop supports local artists and craftspeople, by showcasing their work which is also available for sale.

Julie added: “Everyone in Alston tries to support each other. The locals pop in for a coffee and a bite to eat, and if they want, they can have a look at what else we have to offer while they are here.

“There’s a great business community in Alston too. I think we all complement each other. People visit our town for a morning or afternoon out, and the unique shops are a huge part of that experience.”

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