When you've been striding the Yorkshire hills and dales, nothing beats a stay at one of the county's welcoming inns, complete with star-quality food
The very edible carrots at the end of exhilarating walks over the hills and dales of North Yorkshire are warm and comfortable inns, several of which serve Michelin-starred food.
Walks in this area can be on the wild side; along the sheer vertical escarpment at Sutton Bank, formed by the ice sheet that gouged out the valley. This is one of three nine-mile circular walks that can be taken from the North York Moors National Park centre at Sutton Bank, a handy source of walking information, souvenir shopping and a good cafe. Another walk from here is to the 70-metre-high white horse chopped out of the hills above Kilburn in 1857; the path along its top, according to local writer James Herriott, has the best view in Yorkshire. The really energetic can follow the Cleveland Way, a 110-mile route horseshoeing round the North York moors to ruined Rievaulx abbey.
A stately stay can be made at 17th-century Swinton Park near Masham in Bedale, a rambling turreted house, now a 30-bedroomed hotel with thoughtful touches in the rooms including a complimentary tray of whisky and gin. Under an ornate gilded ceiling, the dining room serves modern British recipes using estate produce including vegetables and fruit from the four-acre walled garden. Breakfast by the dining room fire fuels the walker: porridge with brown sugar, kippers, the full English with black pudding, York ham with Wensleydale cheese. For non-resident walkers it’s a bargain at £15.
Non-walkers can have a spa treatment or take a course in the Georgian stables cookery school run by Rosemary Shrager. Walkers can head a couple of miles to Masham for tours of the two breweries, Theakstons and the Black Sheep, the latter set up by a Theakston brother after a family quarrel. Or there are 200 Swinton estate acres to wander, stopping midday at the Lunch Hut, which has an open fire and where picnics can be eaten.
Swinton also arranges free walking breaks with maps and luggage transport to the Yorke Arms in Nidderdale. Under chef/patron Frances Atkins, the inn has held a Michelin star for seven years and for £25 offers a superb three-course lunch in an elegant dining room with heavy silk curtains, polished wood tables and candles in hurricane glasses. The menu might include onion and thyme soup, hare with chocolate sauce, caper and onion, and ends with coffee and vanilla fudge by the fire.
The thatched Star at Harome is another Michelin-starred inn and the reputation of chef/patron Andrew Pern is such that reservations are taken 18 months in advance for dinner. But you can stay in their beautifully appointed rooms, rent a farmhouse or cottage or from April stay in the adjacent Pheasant Hotel from £75 for dinner, bed and breakfast. The Perns also own the village corner shop, a good source of walkers’ picnic items. At lunchtime you can eat in one of the small dining rooms, the champagne bar, the opulent chef’s table or, in summer, in the garden. Dishes could start with a signature grilled black pudding with foie gras and end with chocolate and stout pudding with black treacle ice cream. Simpler bar menus can be eaten in the low beamed bar and walkers are warmed on arrival in winter by a blazing chimera below the inn sign
Monks always knew how to live well and not surprisingly the Cistercians at the 12th-century Byland Abbey had so high a reputation King Edward II was happy to be a guest. The abbey is now a gaunt ruin, hinting at past splendour in the outline of its vast rose window that was the blueprint for the one in York Minster. On the site where the monks put up their guests, the Abbey Inn, the only gastropub owned by English Heritage, carries on the hospitality tradition. Above a series of small, cosy, candlelit dining, coffee and bar rooms there are three most romantic bedrooms looking out on the silent abbey stones.
After a six mile walk into the Hambleton Hills from the abbey, the Abbey Inn’s food is perfect: parsnip and honey soup, risotto of local pheasant with chestnuts, winter nettles, black pudding and shaved Wensleydale cheese; braised wild rabbit with creamed mash, Yorkshire parkin with black treacle ice cream. Lighter dishes include bangers and mash and steak sandwiches.
Thus set up, walkers can make it to Coxwold for more good fare and accommodation at the Fauconberg Arms
: pork and apple pie; game casseroles; ham, egg and chips; fruit crumble; and 24-choice cheese board. A short hike up the road is Shandy Hall, the home of Laurence Sterne, author of Tristram Shandy
and vicar of Coxwold from 1760 till his death in 1768. The house is furnished in period with Sterne books and mementoes and the curator brings thought-provoking insights to his tour.
Helmsley is so much a walkers’ centre that hikers meet up at the Market Cross to tackle the Cleveland Way. The little town surrounds its large market square below a ruined castle. Its shops include a deli, bookshop, bespoke country tailors, outdoor wear and walkers’ needs stores. It also boasts two good inns. One is the Black Swan, which has a tea room opened by local-lad-made-good, Marco Pierre White, where walkers can get a sandwich, bangers and mash, beef and Yorkshire ale pie as well as more traditional afternoon tea selections including crumpets.
Sister establishment the Feversham Arms has a more modern feel, mixing Mouseman oak furniture (from Kilburn’s famous Robert Thompson workshop, each piece identifiable by a carved mouse) with contemporary art, and has a new spa wing of deluxe suites overlooking the heated courtyard pool. The spa embraces a saunarium with salt vapour, aromatherapy rooms, monsoon shower and reviving foot spas like mini-Jacuzzis to perk up aching muscles and tired feet.
Trains link York with Northallerton in the heart of the area. York has fast services by Great Eastern from London and through Cross Country is connected to Reading, Oxford, Birmingham Aberdeen, Glasgow, Newcastle and other cities.