Travel: Yorkshire Dales
WITH fine food and beer, the Yorkshire Dales tick all the boxes – the walks are pretty good too
Ten years ago, some friends and I started going away for an annual weekend walking holiday. Cruelly, but accurately, one of their children christened it The Fat Dads Walk, and the name stuck.
Over the years, the dads have got fatter, the walks shorter, and the pubs we stay in (and that’s one of the rules: it has to be a pub) more and more luxurious.
Early on, we stayed in some cheerful dumps with menus that didn’t range much beyond pie and chips and bedrooms where cats could only have been swung with difficulty. Then again, early on, we were young and fit and couldn’t afford better.
Over the years, the Fat Dads have tended to specialise in the Yorkshire Dales, because it’s a handy compromise between Scotland and the South of England. That, and the fact that the Fat Dads collectively like Yorkshire beers.
Our walks, therefore, take in scenery, but they also take in pubs. Wharfedale might mean staying at the George Inn in Hubberholme, with a trail leading to the Buck Inn at Buckden, the Blue Bell Inn at Kettlewell, and the Black Horse Inn at Grassington (all handily on the Dalesway). Dentdale might mean staying in the George and Dragon at Dent, with gentle strolls to the Sportsman’s at Cowgill and the Station Inn at Ribblehead. You get the picture.
Quite why we had never before done a Fat Dads’ walk in Swaledale beats me. It is easily the most beautiful of the Dales, and because the Yorkshire beer Mecca of Masham, a small market town in the lower reaches of Wensleydale, is so near, the chances are that not only can you easily find a good pint of Theakston’s but its even more impressive local rival, Black Sheep Bitter, too.
We had booked in at the Charles Bathurst Inn, in Akengathdale, a side valley that runs south-east to meet the Swale at Reith, three miles away. If your Sat Nav Lady is the same as ours, she’ll send you there via Tan Hill Inn, six miles to the north. It’s the highest inn in not just England but Britain (1786ft above sea level) and it’s one of the bleakest too: look all the way round and you see nothing but mile after depressing mile of moor – not a road, not a house visible to the far horizon, like being in the middle of Rannoch Moor without the consolation of mountains. Perhaps on a really clear day you can see the bright lights of Middlesborough 60 miles away if you look hard enough. It’s such a depressing place that you’d really want to see them.
Since you ask, it does have Black Sheep Bitter, and in the Fat Dads’ early walks – before a mile started to seem such a very long distance – that might have been enough. Not these days. These days, it’s the valleys and the pubs not the moors and the sandwiches.
Six long and winding miles later, Sat Nav Lady took us to the Charles Bathurst. “You have reached your destination,” she said, sounding rather impressed.
We were too. Whitewashed 18th-century pub once owned by Oliver Cromwell’s doctor’s son? Tick. Pint of Black Sheep Bitter and the steakiest steak pie (“because we’ve got whole cows hanging round t’ back”) any of us had ever eaten? Tick. Best countryside in Yorkshire? The pencil hesitates. Still, the Duke of Norfolk has a holiday mansion just across the meadows and he can presumably afford to live anywhere. Go on then, if you can count the walk down the roadless valley between Keld and Muker. Tick.
But there’s more. The food! Chef Gareth Bottomley used to work at the Ritz Club in London before he came here eight years ago and it shows. Best pub dinners ever? After broccoli and stilton soup for starters, fillet of beef on oxtail terrine with wilted baby leaf spinach, green peppercorn sauce and foie gras for mains and Southern Comfort and honey crème brûlée for desserts, that’s an enormous tick from me and a big thumbs up from the rest of the (by now even fatter) dads.
The good news is that the Charles Bathhurst is part of a chain. Disappointingly, so far owners Charles and Stacy Cody only have a chain of two. The Punch Bowl, three miles away over the moors (don’t worry, there’s a road) in Swaledale proper, is the other one: a century older, it has just as good food and even roomier bedrooms (11 as opposed to the CB’s 19). Maybe there’s more craic at the CB’s low-ceilinged bar, but don’t count on it – at least not if the friendly hen party at the Punch Bowl Inn when we stayed was anything to go by.
Is there a downside to any of this? I don’t think so. Beautiful scenery (once you drop down from the moors to the Dales), friends reunited for a great weekend, excellent food and drink (I believe I’ve mentioned the Black Sheep Bitter), a bit pricier than we used to pay but worth every penny. Oh, but I’ve just thought of one drawback. If you’re a Fat Dad trying to lose weight, there are better places.
The Facts The Charles Bathurst Inn, Arkengarthdale, Richmond, North Yorkshire, 01748 884567, www.cbinn.co.uk; The Punch Bowl Inn, Low Row, Richmond, North Yorkshire, www.pbinn.co.uk
Both inns offer B&B per double or twin room from £92 to £131. Two-night short breaks (dinner included up to £22.50 pppn) range from £246 to £294 per double room midweek and £282 to £334 at the weekend.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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