There are many tourist attractions in the Causeway Coast and Glens but some are less well known than others.
Nestled in the countryside near Articlave, Sandra McSeveney’s home baking attracts visitors from near and far.
Chatting from Causeway Speciality Market in Coleraine, where she is a permanent trader, Sandra says customers regularly make the journey to her home so they can collect items at their freshest.
It’s almost five years now since her business entity, Tilly’s Farmhouse Bakes, offered its first produce to the public at Drumahoe Ploughing Match.
The event was a triumph for Sandra, she ‘sold every crumb’ and this success spurred her on for the future.
“I shared a table with another stall holder, and put out samples which went down really well. I just couldn’t believe that someone would want to buy things that I have made. I am just an ordinary person. The hardest part was the logistics of it all, trying to work out the amount of ingredients I needed for what I wanted to make,” she said.
Since then, Sandra’s baking repertoire has increased and her gluten and sugar free products are especially well received.
Over the festive period, she fulfilled orders for 100 Christmas cakes and is now venturing into the wedding cake market.
On top of this, she also finds time to bake for a number of restaurants and coffee shops.
So how did she get into baking in the first place and where did her business name come from?
Originally from Garvagh, Sandra worked for the former Causeway Trust for over 20 years.
During this time, she acquired the nickname ‘Tilly the typist’, and as a child, she remembers her mother telling her she looked like ‘Tilly from the moss’ if she was dressed up for the day.
A name was needed for the ploughing match stall, and as Sandra says, ‘Tilly just sprang to mind’.
After having her child, Eve, who is now in Primary 7 at Macosquin Primary School, Sandra went back to her office job.
But eventually she gave it up, and is now able to have a much better work/life balance.
Baking is very much a labour of love, with Sandra referring to her former career as ‘work work’ to differentiate between the two.
In the process of turning her hobby into a viable business, Sandra completed the ‘Journey to Market’ programme. Funded by Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, it equips entrepreneurs with business skills and brings them together with funders and industry specialists.
It also includes an element of one-to-one mentoring support, which has proved invaluable for Sandra, and gave her the confidence to take her baking to the next level.
“I really enjoyed the programme. I didn’t have a business head before I began, and it really helps you with everything you need to know from this point of view,” she said.
Sandra’s baking process begins at her kitchen table, using a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon with no high powered mixers in sight: “My arms do get sore, but there’s just no comparison to the finished product. Cakes are so much lighter and moist when they are made the old fashioned way,” she said.
And instead of an overly complicated oven, her products are all baked using the stove.
It’s a solitary process, as the kitchen is strictly out of bounds to Eve and Sandra’s husband Cyril.
“The house is mine, and I can get on with baking at the table. People going by the house wave in to me because they know now to expect me at the table,” she said.
It’s certainly not a 9-5 role either.
Before Saturday’s market, Sandra was baking until 1.30am.
After a few hours of sleep she was back at the stove, and her produce was available to buy from her stall just after 9am.
And just like in Drumahoe at the beginning, there’s usually not a crumb left to sell by lunchtime.