A couple have told how they moved hundreds of miles to run a roadside cafe in a remote Highland village after “falling in love” with a former 19th-century church.

Louisa and Stephen Jessup saw a picture of the B-listed Strathfillan Church in Tyndrum on a property website and decided to take a gamble on a complete lifestyle and career change.

Built in 1873, the former church and manse is one of only two in Scotland that are joined together.

The building ceased to be a place of worship in the late 20th century and is now one of the few cafes on the busy A82 route from Glasgow to Fort William.


“I think the property found us and we saw the opportunity”, said Mrs Jessup, 55, who is also a knitwear designer. “But we quickly saw that it was going to be challenging.”

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The couple were running a successful hand-knitting business that specialised in Yorkshire-spun cashmere and taking orders from all over the world when fate took a turn.

“We did a couple of shows in Scotland and in previous times we had been up to Lochearnhead going into St Fillans and we loved the area,” said the mother-of-two.

While the pandemic had a detrimental effect on many sectors, the couple’s business boomed because “everyone was at home” and more people were taking up knitting or rediscovering the craft.

However, it was a different story when Brexit hit in 2021.


“Almost overnight customers from Europe stopped buying and we couldn’t travel to Europe to do any of our shows,” said Mrs Jessup.

“We were scratching our heads thinking what happens now.”

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Their son Oscar had started at Stirling University and the couple “re-fell in love with the area” during visits to see him.

“We thought, we can sit here and panic about what is going to happen work-wise or we can try something new,” she said.

“We got addicted to property websites in the way you do when you are looking for a new home.

“My husband first showed me the cafe in June or July 2021 and I thought, ‘no, we want to downsize – the kids are at uni.’

“But an earworm started and, where the cafe was located, on the West Highland Way in Trossachs National Park, I just couldn’t stop looking at the picture of the church.

“It’s just such a beautiful building in such a beautiful situation.

“I said to Steve, ‘let’s go and visit it and if it’s not right, it’s not right, but I need to get it out of my head.”

The couple travelled up for a reccy in September 2021 and soon after decided to take over the business and move into the manse.

However, they were not prepared for how busy the Artisan Cafe would be last summer with a captive audience of ravenous West Highland Way walkers and curious holidaymakers.


“We reopened at the end of May last year and our feet really didn’t touch the ground until around the end of October,” said Mrs Jessup.

“We were flying by the seat of our pants. I had managed a cafe when I was at uni but nothing compared to running a place on this scale. 

“We were queued out the door at times. We didn’t have time to get staff in place so our children and their friends helped.”


They initially opened for four days a week but hope to stretch this to six from Easter with daughter Belle helping to run the business.

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“We decided it was better to do four days properly as opposed to over-stretching ourselves and not doing a good job,” said Mrs Jessop.

“We’ve now got staff in place and will be open six days a week going into the summer.”

She explained: “Because of the pandemic a lot of places had closed and our trade was 90 per cent tourists in the summer who had maybe flown into Glasgow and got in a car to drive to the Highlands.

“We are really the first place to stop that people can see from the roadside.

“You can go into Luss and there is one other place but everywhere else is closed down. Staffing issues last year really dictated how businesses were opening.”

Everything at the Artisan Cafe is freshly made and sourced locally, with bread coming from Argyle Bakery, charcuterie meats from the Great Glen, Glen Lyon coffee and home-baked cakes. Since opening, they have only closed for three weeks over Christmas when the coffee machine broke down.

Mrs Jessup revealed that customers had shaped how the business has evolved.

She said: “Initially, I had thought it would be sit-down lunches but people just want to come in and get a home-made sandwich, stretch their legs and get back on the road. Everybody is on the way somewhere.”

The couple have no regrets about the decision to take over the cafe but have continued to run the yarn business. “We absolutely love it,” said Mrs Jessup. “You walk out the front door, turn right and you are in the mountains.

“We didn’t know how it would be but it’s just understanding what the market is and what people are looking for. 

“We stayed open all year round and people who travel this route regularly really appreciated that.

"We’ve immediately felt part of the community.”