Thursday, 9 June 2011

A Trip Too Far?

As part of Mrs. C’s plan for my convalescence, (or possibly just a cunning plan to finish me off!), I found myself supplanted to a bijou cottage in the Yorkshire Moors for a week of ‘R&R’. I packed plenty of reading material, my smoking jacket, an excellent malt whisky and slippers, and looked forward to a restful week admiring the views over the ‘blasted heath’. Unfortunately Mrs C had packed walking gear for the both of us and was of the opinion that a few brisk walks would work wonders in returning me to my former fitness. Every cloud has a silver lining, as the saying goes, and a handy by-product of all the yomping o’er hill and dale was an increasingly hearty appetite! So if, dear reader, you should find yourself in a similar predicament on the southern fringes of the Yorkshire Moors, here are my recommendations for favoured watering holes.

A couple of general observations before I get to the specifics: a) Yorkshire people (and incomers that have lived there at least a couple of years) tend to be very open and hospitable; b) prices for just about anything are significantly cheaper than Down South; c) ‘Yorkshire Helpings’ are large, there is no such thing as a ‘lite bite’; and d) you have to search really hard to find a country pub that doesn’t serve half decent food. Indeed, the overall ambience of the area sent Mrs. C scurrying into numerous estate agents looking for her retirement home (obviously to be purchased from the payout on my life insurance following the severity of a couple of our walks!). In all seriousness, given good weather as opposed to the howling gales we experienced, I can almost understand why they call it ‘God’s Own Country’.

We were billeted some 400 yards from the White Horse Farm Inn in Rosedale which proved to be most fortuitous. An ex-coaching inn, now owned by a local syndicate, used by locals and tourists alike, the bar had a good pubby feel to it and the restaurant sufficiently upgraded to make the dining experience that little bit special. The food was consistently high standard pub food with daily specials, served by friendly staff at a leisurely pace. Table 28 in the restaurant has the best views out across Rosedale (they charge the same whether you eat in the bar or restaurant) and would be my choice. A good, though limited, choice of wines at very reasonable prices and three real ales on hand-pump ticked most of my boxes. My last meal there (almost literally) was their Pork Stack – a base of mustard mash, with two pieces of gammon steak, two pork chops and two rounds of black pudding served with a cream and stilton sauce and vegetables. Not a hint of cholesterol, almost classed as a healthy snack I believe! If possible, approach the pub from Rosedale rather than from Hutton-le-Hole thus avoiding the notorious Rosedale Chimney, certainly not a road to attempt after a couple of snifters.

Slightly further afield, The New Inn at Cropton ticked every conceivable box and then some! A brew-pub, with up to six of their own beers on hand-pump, their own smoke-house, a good atmosphere and very good pub food, what is there not to like? They even have rooms if you get ‘tired and emotional’ and will happily show you round the brewery. I unfortunately ran out of time (and capacity) so was unable to sample their Dangleberry Ale, but I can certainly vouch for their Yorkshire Moors Bitter, Two Pints Bitter, and Monkman’s Slaughter. To accompany, I would recommend their sharing platter for one (!) which gives you a selection of their smoked meats, local cheese and lightly dressed salad with wholemeal bread and homemade pickles – definite ‘Yorkshire Helpings’.

Another firm favourite for lunches was the Horseshoe Inn at Levisham. Decidedly upmarket but very accommodating (we arrived, hot and bothered after a hefty walk, five minutes before they officially finished serving food to be told there’s no rush) with real ales and everything from sandwiches upwards at lunchtime. Situated in yet another beautiful village at the end of an increasingly narrow and steep road, it is well worth seeking out, whether for a bowl of soup and a sandwich (with excellent chips!) or something more substantial and testing for the kitchen.

Not so successful was the Blacksmiths Arms in Lastingham. Again, a beautiful village (famous for it’s Saxon church) and an inviting looking pub this was our only disappointment whilst in the Moors. Cramped and just the wrong side of cluttered, the landlord seemed disinterested to the point of rudeness, the beer was not well kept and the food decidedly slap-dash. The soup was out of a packet, the panini (that well known traditional Yorkshire staple) was almost devoid of filling and the chips were insipid and tasted overwhelmingly of old oil. To compound the misery, the chips were served in a mini galvanised bucket which, thanks to it’s handle, meant it was very difficult to extricate any of the meagre portion of flabby, oily, excuses for chips. A shame that somewhere that looked so inviting turned out to be such a let-down, particularly as we had heard growing reports of the Blacksmiths Arms.

A double check of the Good Pub Guide (Mrs. C’s preferred reference book when venturing outside Essex) revealed the Blacksmiths Arms at Hartoft End to be the actual recommended venue so we set about erasing the unfortunate lunch from our memories by travelling the extra six or seven miles to the proper Blacksmiths Arms at Hartoft for dinner. No longer really a pub, although they have retained a bar area and a second bar area for eating, this is really now a ‘restaurant with rooms’ that although very well laid out is just a bit too clinical and off-white to be comfortable. We were the first diners in the restaurant, seated by the most impressive kitchen range at the far end, and we were waiting for the tumbleweed to come blowing through. No music, muted colours and bare walls do not make for atmosphere, and once further diners arrived the lack of sound deadening furnishings led to high volumes of chatter. The first courses were, unfortunately, not very good but the main courses were much improved, apart from the sauces which in the case of Mrs C’s appeared to be based on a packet mix and certainly wasn’t the promised wine and cream reduction. So a bit of a curates egg - my pork belly was perfectly cooked as was Mrs C’s fish, as were the vegetables, but let down by the sauces and starters. The service was very professional and friendly but there was a very restricted choice of wine by the glass. With just a bit of tweeking, this Blacksmiths Arms could be very good. At the moment it’s the sort of place you take someone for a business meal, rather than a tête-à-tête.

Of the towns that we visited, Pickering had a comprehensive range of independent shops selling local foodstuffs plus the obligatory Co-op, and Malton seemed equally well catered for. We were lucky to stumble across the annual Malton Food Festival that demonstrated that there is a large number of local producers (primarily rare breeds pork and beef, cheese, and the dreaded cup cakes) along with a couple of Greeks selling their own olive oil and a couple of stalls selling all sorts of liqueurs (one manned by a very ‘jolly’ Frenchman in a monk’s habit!). There was even a Beer Festival showcasing the local microbreweries.

Unfortunately we have had to return to the overcrowded, overstressed, cultural desert of South East Essex but we are already planning our next escape! Just need to clean the flies of the old jalopy and polish my goggles in readiness!

Toodle Pip!