There are a few things I look for in a good pub: nice beer, friendly service and (where food is offered, which it needn’t be) good food are some of the basics. After that, anything else is a bonus. A historic interior and a connection to Winston Churchill, for example; or a display of elaborate sugar sculptures by Colin the pastry chef: all of these things add to the ambience. If that’s what you look for in a pub too – and I know that a lot of you are sugar sculpture afficionados – I recommend The Old Hill Inn, at Chapel-le-Dale near Ingleton.
The Inn sits under Ingleborough, the second highest mountain in Yorkshire and, to be frank, a strutting bastard of a geographical feature. It faces Whernside: less showy, but such quiet confidence befits the highest mountain in Yorkshire. A few miles away is Pen-y-Ghent, which is usually the first of the Three Peaks that idiots climb in the gruelling c.25 mile Three Peaks Walk. A walk which I, unfathomably, have volunteered for.
We’ve been climbing the Three Peaks one at a time to let ourselves know what we’re in for. On Saturday we climbed Whernside: 736m above sea level and ascending around 460m from the starting point. In terms of ascents, that’s kind of, almost (but not really) equivalent to walking up all of the stairs in the Empire State Building, or the Sears Tower, or even the finished Freedom Tower. It’s not as tall as some other mountains in England, but they aren’t in Yorkshire and are therefore excluded from consideration.
On Saturday afternoon we were coming down from Whernside and I was happy with the walk. For a sloppy sack of of lard and bones, I felt pretty energetic despite the sweaty climb into the clouds; I thought that the Three Peaks was achievable. Nonetheless, I was very happy to arrive at the pub at the end of this practice walk, order a crisply citrus-bitter, yet balanced, pint of Dent Aviator and enjoy a really superb homemade burger with delicious fried onions and chunky chips.
The burger was probably the most basic and “pubby” thing on the menu, but after the walk I wanted something simple. Kate went for the second most “pubby” thing: a wonderful plate of homemade pork sausages, mash and gravy. The Good Beer Guide reports that the pub is owned by “a family of chefs”, which is reflected in the hearty but considered food which reminded me of The White Lion at Cray.
However, apart from the excellent food, what struck me most was that the cosiness of the bar (open fire etc) was reflected in the warmth of the service, that stands apart from those rural pubs across Cumbria and Yorkshire you walk into wearing hiking gear and are stared at by the locals and staff like you’ve just asked about the pentangle on the wall of The Slaughtered Lamb.
The only problem I have is that, when I actually come to do the Three Peaks in one go at the end of July, after two peaks, tired and sore, I’ll have to walk past The Old Hill Inn on the way to the third peak, Ingleborough, which looks like something out of Mordor. One does not simply walk into Mordor; at least, not when the other option is a filling dinner, a good beer, an open fire and an impressive selection of sugarwork.
If you would like to sponsor my Three Peaks walk for the Alzheimer’s Society, I’d be very grateful if you could do so here.
Our last day on The Dales Way was from Burnsall to Ilkley, which took us beyond the Yorkshire Dales National Park and also from North into West Yorkshire, having started in Cumbria five days before. We were fortunate to have another sunny day to wander the last 12 or 13 miles down the Wharfe past caravans at Appletreewick, the Yorkshire Dales ice cream van at Barden Bridge, sunbathers at Bolton Abbey and a family of ducklings on the pavement in Addingham.
Ilkey was the end of the Dales Way for us, although it’s the start for most, and many people stay there for the night before they set out on the walk. After reaching the official end/start of the walk at the Old Bridge, we walked into town for a beer. There’s actually a pub just by the end of the walk: Ilkley Moor Vaults. I’ve visited once, after being caught in the sleet, and found both decent beers and an open fire. However it was a warm day and I intended to court Mary Jane: there’s no better way to do so than Bar T’at.
Bar T’at is a Market Town Tavern pub, along with Arcadia, East of Arcadia and Veritas in Leeds, Cooper’s in Guiseley, The Narrow Boat in Skipton and nine others. The churlish might accuse them of being overly similar; one could more accurately say that they’re consistently very good, with nice food, helpful staff and a wide selection of ales, from Yorkshire micros and regionals in particular.
Bar T’at didn’t disappoint on this Thursday afternoon and at the end of our walk we quickly sank a couple of glasses of the lovely, pale, hoppy Ilkley Mary Jane before I also decided to try Goose Eye Chinook, another local pale beer (from Skipton) with a satisfyingly crisp, bitter aftertaste. I began to notice that one can’t walk through the Dales for five days without picking up at least a hint of a country aroma (i.e. sheep shit with a hint of wild garlic) so it was time to catch the train back to Leeds for a bath.
I hope that this short series of posts is useful for those planning the walk (although make sure you take the Cicerone guide and all the OS Explorer maps). If you are, good luck and I hope you’re as fortunate with the weather as we were. I really enjoyed our five days on the Dales Way, although the aches compounded throughout the week and by the last afternoon every stile earned a swear word. Good beer and food in friendly pubs along the way helped a lot, as did the roaring fire at The White Lion at Cray and the warm bath at The Red Lion, Burnsall.
The selection of beer in most places might be more limited to two or three pumps, but you shouldn’t find it difficult to find a Yorkshire bitter such as Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or Black Sheep, or a pale hoppy session beer like Mary Jane or Copper Dragon Golden Pippin to slake your thirst, if you’re very lucky something from Hawkshead Brewery like the wonderful Windermere Pale. Trust me, no drink in the world could be better in the circumstances.
Read all the other posts in this series about The Dales Way here. If you’ve enjoyed these posts, why not read Andy Mogg of Beer Reviews’ post about beer and pubs on the Coast To Coast walk (and his walking blog linked to in that post) and Mark Fletcher’s posts about The Pennine Way on Real Ale Reviews.
The penultimate day of our Dales Way (in reverse) walk was pleasant and sunny but seemed unusually long as we were really starting to feel the distance covered. We walked from Cray to Bucken down a rocky path (and past the sadly closed-down Buck Inn), then along the river from Buckden to Kettlewell, before climbing onto the moor for a long section to Grassington. We stopped in Grassington for a soft drink and a Yorkshire Dales ice cream before heading along a gentle and pretty final section along the river to Burnsall.
For our final night The Red Lion was a touch of luxury. We’d booked a bigger room on a mid-week deal and got a lovely one with a very large bed and a really posh bathroom. Although it was a Wednesday the restaurant was fully booked by the time we checked in around 5.30pm, but we got a seat in the bar where the same menu was available. I had fish and chips done well whilst Kate had cod with peas, broad beans and salsa verde (she’s posher than me).
For dessert, Kate had a chocolate, pear and frangipan tart and I had a selection of Yorkshire cheeses. I appreciated the way the cheeses came not only with some nice chutney and crackers, but also some fruitcake. I’d not come across the cheese and fruitcake combination before I came to live in Yorkshire, but it’s brilliant.
The beer was also good. Again the selection was more limited than what you would find in Leeds, but I was very happy with an Ilkley Mary Jane, which I’d been looking forward to having as we got nearer to Ilkley. It’s a really good light, hoppy, pale session beer and perfect with fish and chips after a very long walk on a hot spring day.
The breakfast was nice as well, offering a good selection including smoked haddock and poached eggs. I opted for a full English with poached eggs, which is presumably twice as healthy as having the same breakfast with fried eggs.
This section of the walk offers a number of options for accomodation in Kettlewell, Grassington and Appletreewick as well as Burnsall, but The Red Lion was just what we needed on our final night.
For our third day on The Dales Way (in reverse) we set off from Gearstones, around a mile north of the Ribblehead viaduct. We walked steeply uphill against a driving wind to the top of the moor, before descending through trees and through remote farmland eventually accompanying Oughtershaw Beck, which joined the source of the Wharfe when it met Green Field Beck at Beckermonds.
We would essentially follow the Wharfe from this point all the way to Ilkley, and the section from Beckermonds to Hubberholme was very pleasant, with a lot of green pasture, sheep and birdlife along what remained a quiet, relatively calm and low section of river. After reading some negative reviews, we had decided not to risk staying in the historic George Inn in Hubberholme, which was in any case closed at the time we reached it.
Instead we were staying in The White Lion at Cray, about a mile uphill and off the Dales Way. However the steep uphill walk was alongside a very pretty waterfall and when we got there the pub was great. The room (a superior) was simple but exactly what we needed, with a big bed and a clean bathroom. The bar downstairs had a warm log fire and the family who ran it were extremely friendly and helpful.
On the bar there was a small but good selection including Copper Dragon Golden Pippin and Timothy Taylor Golden Best, and the Golden Pippin was the type of pale session ale I had begun to really appreciate after walking for 12-16 miles a day. The food was both hearty and extremely tasty. I went for a haggis, black pudding and peppercorn sauce starter and Kate had smoked local trout pate. Neither of us could resist the pork belly stuffed with black pudding on buttery mash, which was even better than it sounds. Too tired and full to stay up and enjoy the fire, we had an early night.
The next morning we had a very nice full English breakfast (with more lovely black pudding – my third dose in two meals) and picked up the foil-wrapped sandwiches we had asked them to make for us the night before for our lunch. We headed out from the pub feeling happy, well fed and relaxed to a beautiful sunny Dales morning and a pleasant walk downhill to Buckden.
Before embarking on The Dales Way (foreshortened and in reverse) I had done a fair amount of research into the pubs along the route. I was quite disappointed to read some mixed to negative reviews of two pubs, either directly on or close to the walk, that I had considered either visiting or staying at: The Station Inn at Ribblehead and The George Inn at Hubberholme.
I tend to take negative online reviews with a pinch of salt (there is an art to reading and interpreting Trip Advisor comments), but what was most worrying was that many of the comments regarding The George Inn in particular were about incidents of poor customer service. Because pubs or inns on a walk like this should be a welcoming place to relax and recuperate after a hard day walking, we avoided both rather than taking the risk. Which brings us on to The Sportsman’s Inn.
Our second day was one of the longest and most arduous of the five days walking, starting at Millthrop and heading up and over the hill before walking along the Dee for the length of Dentdale, climbing steeply on the road to Dent Head then across moorland to Gearstones, crossing from Cumbria into North Yorkshire on the way. Dentdale was a lovely place to walk but unfortunately we didn’t have time to dally in Dent or enjoy beers from the local brewery.
Instead we walked on to Cowgill and had planned to stop off at The Sportsman’s, both for a soft drink to boost our energy levels and to call Kate’s father to tell him when we expected to have finished the walk for him to pick us up, before we tackled the steep walk up the road out of the valley.
We were pleased to find the Sportsman’s open and that it seemed to be a nice pub, with a couple of Dent beers on and a Spring 2009 CAMRA Westmorland Pub Of The Season certificate on show. I did think there might have been little tension in the air in the quiet pub when we walked in, but decided to ignore it.
After we had already bought three drinks, two packets of crisps and a packet of nuts, Kate went to call her father on the pub payphone, there being no mobile reception in the valley. After she had finished the call, she was told off by an indignant member of staff for using the payphone, which was apparently “for residents only”. Kate said she hadn’t seen anything to indicate that and was directed to a sign behind a door.
So a remote pub in a valley with no mobile reception refuses to allow paying customers to pay to use a payphone unless they’ve booked a room for the night. I might well be judging too quickly, but if this incident is in any way representative, that begrudging attitude to new customers has no place in a public house with a CAMRA gong (and, I now note, a gushing review in the current Good Beer Guide about it welcoming “both locals and visitors who are often enjoying the great surrounding walking country”). Whatever the case, I won’t be putting them to the inconvenience of taking my money again.
Our first day on The Dales Way (foreshortened and in reverse) was from Kendal to Millthorp on Easter Sunday. This was a really beautiful walk on a sunny day, passing over some lovely pasture before crossing over the West Coast Mainline and the M6 to join the Lune river at Crook of Lune bridge and following it south to join the Rawthay river.
The end of our walk that day was Millthorp Bridge, but 1km up the road from the finish point is Sedbergh, the place where Kate and I are getting married in October (*knock wood*). Opposite the church in the centre of the village is The Red Lion pub, the first of three “lions” on our journey.
Much as we’d accidentally stumbled upon a beer festival in Kendal before starting the walk, we were lucky enough to find a beer festival going on in the pub, or rather in a satisfyingly cool stone shed out the back. A very helpful barman who was there specially for the beer festival took us out to the back and told us about the selection.
As usual, I had been daydreaming for the last few hours about the beer I would have at the end of the stage. My thoughts were in the region of pale, hoppy, thirst-quenching beers, such as Hawkshead Windermere Pale or Ilkley Mary Jane. Although they didn’t have either of those, they did have BrewDog Trashy Blonde.
It might have been the sunburn, the thirst or the tiredness and reflief at the end of the first day, but that Trashy Blonde was one of the most enjoyable pints I’ve ever had. Just cool enough, bitter and fruity and seemingly a real improvement on the bottle of the same beer I’d had in Leeds previously. I obviously inhaled the first pint before having a second.
We also tried a couple of the the other beers. Marston’s Royal Wedding beer Perfect Union was a nice light hoppy beer and Rooster’s Leghorn was also fine, but on this occassion, both gentleman and lady preferred the Blonde. This was a very promising end to the first day, and seemed to bode well for the rest of the walk. However the next day we would be less fortunate.
Last week Kate and I did The Dales Way, in reverse and slightly foreshortened, when we walked from Kendal to Ilkley. We were extremely lucky with the weather and it was a truly beautiful walk over 5 days of 12-16 miles a day. I was looking forward to enjoying a few beers along along the way, and at the end of a long day we certainly felt that we’d earned a drink. In my next few posts, I intend to cover the pubs along the way, for those who are doing the walk or are just in the area.
Before starting out on our walk we stayed in Kendal for a couple of days. The Dales Way doesn’t actually run through the centre of Kendal, but does pass through the nearby villages of Staveley and Burneside and a lot of trekkers will stay in the area on their final night before tackling the last section of the full Dales Way, in the usual direction to Bowness.
Kendal town centre is pretty good for beer generally, and you can usually find some Cumbrian beers from Coniston, Jennings and Hawkshead breweries. Burgundy’s in Kendal (sometimes referred to as “The Wine Bar”) is a fairly regular visit for me when we visit Kate’s parents. It has a few (four?) handpumps with a range of local beers. It’s a decent size, spread over three levels, and a rooftop smoking area/beer garden and is usually fairly busy.
However when we visited last week the pub had expanded even further into a new area on the lower ground floor. The new bit includes a brewkit behind glass, as in The Brewery Tap in Leeds, and it will be interesting to see what their own beers are like. We were lucky enough to visit in a week where they had set up a temporary bar downstairs for a Cumbrian Beer Festival, expanding the range to around 20 beers.
We tried quite a few of the beers, including Stringer’s Yellow Lorry, Dent Brewery Baas & Stripes (an American-style pale ale with a typically painful name) and Ulverston Laughing Gravy. On a warm spring day, we were in the mood for golden hoppy beers and there were two very good beers in that category in Hardknott Continuum and Hawskhead Citrillo. The last two beers were from the two most interesting breweries in Cumbria that I’ve had a lot of exposure to; although I should mention that I’ve only tried a couple of Stringer’s beers, although I did have a Stringer’s IPA from MyBreweryTap recently and it was excellent.
The Hawkshead Citrillo did stand out as the best beer of the day. Presumably made with Citra and Amarillo, it’s a big, bitter, fruity pale ale in all the right ways, on a par with Thornbridge Jaipur and Marble Dobber, and coming across like the tough big brother of Hawkshead Windermere Pale, which also uses Citra and is almost certainly the best 3.5% beer in the country at the moment.
Burgundy’s won’t always have such a wide range, but it usually has a good one and if there’s nothing on the pumps to interest you, there is a well-stocked beer fridge with probably the best selection of imported bottles in the town centre, including a selection of Belgian beers and even Goose Island IPA.
Other good beer bars in Kendal include The Vats Bar in The Brewery Arts Centre (near the youth hostel) and The Rifleman’s Arms on Greenside, near a lot of the B&Bs. It would be foolish to pass through Staveley without visiting the superb Hawkshead Brewery Beer Hall (but check opening times in advance) or as an alternative The Eagle & Child.