Luxurious digs and sumptuous food in an enviable location makes exploring the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District a doddle
WORDS AND IMAGES | ROSS MOWBRAY
The Black Bull in Sedbergh has been around for some time. But the 17th century coaching inn isn’t some fusty old place with your usual menu of pub classics and a few tired rooms that haven’t been touched in decades.
In the hands of Nina Matsunaga and James Ratcliffe, it’s been revamped for the 21st century – bringing together a pub and restaurant serving incredible Japanese-inspired, locally-sourced food and 18 luxurious rooms in a way that still honours its past as a cosy place for weary travellers.
The two owners made their name in Manchester’s street food scene, before moving to Sedbergh to open the acclaimed Three Hares café – which itself pioneered a seasonal approach to food, focusing on sourcing the best ingredients from across the north of England. And they’ve carried all that good stuff over to the Black Bull.
Never heard of Sedbergh before? Sitting neatly on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (although technically in Cumbria) and just a hop, skip and a jump from the border of the Lake District National Park, the pretty stone-built market town is in the perfect location for those who like their nights away rural and rustic.
The town might be best known for its posh school, but there’s plenty more going for it – including the honour of being a designated ‘Book Town’ (which means there’s a ton of great bookshops to explore), in addition to sitting at the foot of the under-appreciated but stunning Howgill Fells (one of Alfred Wainwright’s favourites), close to Cautley Spout, England’s highest waterfall. There’s also a 12th century Norman church to potter around, an old wool mill which now homes a collective of artists, plus a whole host of independent shops, pubs and restaurants.
It’s easy to get there, too, and no matter whether you’re coming off the M6 opposite the turning for Kendal, or you’re cutting through the Yorkshire Dales after a blast along the wild, blustery A66, you’ll be rewarded with a scenic arrival along picturesque, hedge-lined roads which open up to show off the dramatic fells beyond.
Arriving in the drizzle after a long slog on two wheels, the softly-glowing lights of the bar beckoned us in. Warmly welcomed at reception, we quickly discarded our bike gear and nestled in beside the fire for a drink in the cosy bar gently murmuring with conversations of couples eagerly anticipating dinner. Sipping local Settle Ale and a Fresh Paloma cocktail (with tequila, lime and pink grapefruit) with menus to hand, the day’s stresses washed away and it was time to eat.
It’s worth mentioning that myself and my partner are not always the easiest to cater for. We’re not fussy, but with a vegetarian diet and an intolerance to dairy between us, it’s not always straightforward to find something on the menu that tickles our fancy. No such problems at the Black Bull. A small selection of meat-free options are available as standard – but credit must be given for how quickly, efficiently and happily a list of options of dairy-free options were presented (with an edited menu offered, highlighting which meals could be tweaked to be made suitable). We did give them a head’s up beforehand though, which is always recommended.
The menu’s a delight, with small nibbles, starters, mains and sides to choose from, highlights including Crispy Korean Beef; Shiso and Sesame; Wild Lakeland Rabbit; Pea; Isle of Wight Tomatoes and Local Smoked Cheese and Howgill Hereford Beef Pie; Seasonal Greens and Mash. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, with a whole load more to choose from (particularly if you’re a fan of meat and seafood). Following a small board of sensational homemade bread, butter and oil, I snapped up the stylishly-presented and remarkably delicious Aubergine, Coconut and Mango Salsa starter, followed by the equally fantastic sophisticated sweet and sour-like Kohlrabi, Smoked Hazlenut, Burnt Apple and Grilled Leaves. I was blown away.
My dining partner ordered the Curried Howgill Herdwick Lamb Shoulder, Liver Bhaji, Yoghurt and Lime Pickle which was quickly dispatched with a soundtrack of approving groans, before getting stuck into a main of perfectly-cooked, melt-in-the-mouth Howgill Hereford Beef Sirloin, Crispy Rub, Spicy Nam Prik Noom, Spinach and Soy Bean. And we had a portion of chips to share for good luck, too. It’d be rude not too, right?
We also grabbed a couple of glasses of wine from the generously stocked, glass-fronted wine ‘cellar’, which winks at you as you pass through reception on your way to the rooms upstairs. The best was a light, white Tasca, Regaleali Bianco from Sicily which was actually one of the most affordable on the menu at £5.50 for a 125ml glass and £11 for a 250ml glass. Not cheap, but damn good. If you want a bottle of vino, expect to pay from between £28 and £130.
For dessert I took one look and opted for the cheeseboard of Old Rowan, Doddington, Leeds Blue and Holbrook with these phenomenal homemade sesame crackers. No regrets… even if it took me a while to move after I wolfed down the whole lot. My partner kept things a little lighter, with a portion of perfectly formed Charcoal Panna Cotta, fresh fruit and sesame brittle.
For three courses for two people coming in at just shy of £100 (excluding drinks) we had one of the best meals we’d had in a very long time. The food was exceptionally good, the service was top-notch and the restaurant was warm and welcoming with a satisfying buzz, even in the middle of the week. For a less formal affair, you can also eat from a well-priced bar menu, or sample the outdoor dining on offer at the Black Bull’s ‘Stables and Meadow’ round the back, which offers a separate street food-style menu with sourdough pizza and BBQ.
Now all that was left to do was trundle upstairs to bed. Climbing the traditionally styled dark-oak staircase with deep red carpets, you’d be forgiven for being a little surprised by the slightly more modern set up that greets you behind the door of your room. But it works. The perfect balance of rustic cosiness and Asian zen, with handwoven blankets, wood-panelled walls and homemade cookies juxtaposed by industrial lights and an open-plan bright white metro-tiled bathroom, complete with toiletries from the Sedbergh Soap Company. The attention to detail was impressive and much appreciated, with the dairy-free cookie for their intolerant guest the perfect example of the thought that goes into providing for their guests.
With our bellies full of food and a long day of riding both behind us, it didn’t take long to drift off in the generously proportioned and extremely comfortable bed, before waking several undisturbed hours later and having a quick, relaxing soak in the whopping roll-top bath with a brew in hand (having made good use of the milk and freshly-ground coffee which are left outside your door each morning).
A delicious breakfast of Woodland Mushrooms on Toast and a Vegetarian Full English (marred slightly by my envy of a fellow diner munching on Welsh Rarebit on Toast), accompanied by another round of coffees and we were back out into the drizzle, having a quick potter around the pretty market town, grabbing some of those aforementioned crackers from the Three Hares Deli and a handful of books each, before loading the bike back up and hitting the road with the Yorkshire Dales set in our sights.
The Black Bull in Sedbergh is well worth a visit. The room, the food, the service and the location were all excellent, and I’d stay there again in a heartbeat. With double rooms priced from £149 in low season, up to £159 in high season (with breakfast included), if you’re after a luxurious stay in one of the best off-the-beaten-track little towns in the north that offers easy access to two of its finest National Parks, this is the place.
On the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and on the cusp of the Lake District, it’s probably going to be pretty difficult to find a better location for exploring some of the finest riding the UK has to offer than the Black Bull. If you had a couple of nights (or more), you’d be able to spend one day heading up some of the famous roads in the Dales, enjoying the sensational A684 through Hawes, Leyburn and beyond. But you’d be just as well taking in the Buttertubs Pass up to Thwaite and heading on up to the Tan Hill Inn on some of the spectacular, almost-single-track roads that career up over the otherworldly moor. In truth, you could head in any direction in the Dales and you’ll be pretty much guaranteed to find some great riding.
Likewise, heading the other way on the A684 and skipping across the M6 and on to Kendal will put you right on the eastern edge of the Lake District where you’ll find heaps of stunning roads. From there you’re truly spoilt for choice, but if you’ve never been, we’d well recommend ticking off the famous Honister, Wrynose and Hardknott Passes (which should all be do-able in a good day’s ride) – though we’d be remiss for not suggesting heading over to Wast Water, even if it’s only to take in the views.
- The Black Bull Inn, 44 Main Street, Sedbergh LA10 5BL
- Tel: 015396 20264
- Web: www.theblackbullsedbergh.co.uk
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: BikersNod is delighted to welcome journalist Ross Mowbray to the team. Ross is a seasoned professional, and editor of the monthly newspaper MoreBikes. He also works across several other bike magazines, including Motorcycle Sport & Leisure. He loves covering test rides, travel, food and drink (not sure whether that’s in the correct order) so you’ll be seeing more of him as he brings us further reports from biker-friendly country inns and food haunts in future posts.