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How carriage driving changed my life after a serious car crash

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 October 2016

Mike at a carriage driving event (picture: www.1stclassimages.com)

Mike at a carriage driving event (picture: www.1stclassimages.com)

Archant

A serious injury caused by car thieves set Mike Clark’s life in an entirely new direction – one with a happy ending

Mike Clark at the stables with Leo Mike Clark at the stables with Leo

Being seriously injured in a car crash is always a life-shattering experience. But for all the pain, it set Mike Clark’s life in a new direction which has brought him happiness,

While working as a senior manager in the electricity industry, Mike’s car was hit head on by a stolen vehicle and the aftermath left him with a permanent disability in his left foot.

The injury made it difficult to follow his passion for horse-riding so after months spent in recovery, he quit his job and found a new love – carriage driving. He also found a new career as the co-owner of Country Harvest, a food hall, gift and coffee shop near Ingleton which turned over £2 million for the first time this year.

Carriage driving has become more than a hobby. In 2009 his Welsh Cob, George, won ‘harness horse of the year’ at the Horse of the Year Show and also the British Driving Society championship – the only horse in history to win both awards until 2015 when the accolade was equalled.

Mike Clark and Steve West in the Food Hall Mike Clark and Steve West in the Food Hall

Mike now has two Welsh Cobs, one of which qualified for the Horse of the Year show last year. Although he sends them away to be professionally produced, he can sometimes be seen carriage driving in the country lanes around Hutton Roof when one of his horses is ‘resting’ at home.

‘I can’t imagine life without horses,’ he says. ‘I get to about eight horse shows a year and sending my horses to be produced is a way of still having the involvement with them.’

Carriage driving also led him to Country Harvest. Mike, 52, took on the business with sleeping partner Gay Penn, part of the Greggs bakery family, after meeting her through their joint love of carriage driving.

‘If it wasn’t for the accident I would never have met Gay,’ he says. ‘It was a real turning point as a few years later we purchased Country Harvest together in the middle of one of the worst recessions in recent history.

The Gift Department, Country Harvest The Gift Department, Country Harvest

‘I feel lucky that I have a business partner who trusts me implicitly. She has been the most amazing friend and has enriched my life hugely. I never take it for granted. I am a great believer that you create your own luck but I have been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.’

Two years ago he bought Oakroyd Bakery in Bentham and this spring became the proprietor of one of Kirkby Lonsdale’s top restaurants, Avanti.

‘I am a retailer through and through and always have been. I love the business and although I may not cook much I certainly know how to eat,’ he says, patting his stomach.

He also has two holiday cottages near his barn conversion home in Hutton Roof but he remains extremely hands on and every weekend waits on tables at the coffee shop. ‘I never stop running around. I wait at tables, help with the washing up, whatever is needed. It’s my way of devoting time to that part of the business. It’s my eyes and ears time and I absolutely love it.’

This year marks his eighth anniversary running the business which borders Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumbria. It’s very much a family affair – his 25-year-old daughter Rebecca Hooper is the gifts and clothing manager and the store manager is his partner Steve – they met a few months before Mike bought Country Harvest after both of them had come out of long marriages.

His passion for horses comes from his father. Born and raised in Cumbria, he started riding as a child and learned about retailing by helping out in his mother’s newsagents and greengrocery business in Haverigg, near Barrow. It gave him an insight into business which has never left him. ‘It’s just something I love; the selling aspect has always appealed to me with a customer walking away satisfied,’ he says.

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