Walk, drink, eat, sleep… repeat. How to spend a weekend at The Black Bull, Sedbergh.
The small market town of Sedbergh is just within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, but it is also convenient for all of the attractions of the southern Lake District too. Sedbergh sits at the foot of the splendid Howgill Fells, which Alfred Wainwright described as “like velvet curtains in sunlight and like silken drapes at sunset.”
This positions it as perfect walking territory. It is also situated midway on the A683 between a pair of “Kirkby” towns; Kirkby Stephen and Kirkby Lonsdale. So it seemed only polite to do a walk at both of them.
Our initial walk (before arriving at the Black Bull) was just outside of Kirkby Stephen starting in the tiny hamlet of Smardale. A newly installed visitor car park and boardwalk was in place and off we set in howling winds (but beautiful sunshine) to undertake a hilly 5 mile walk through a nature reserve and along disused railway lines which previously reached as far as Barrow to the west and Darlington to the east. This included walking over the impressive 90 meter high Smardale Gill Viaduct. This was a beautiful walk that we will repeat again, and it was only a 14 mile drive to our bed for the night, The Black Bull at Sedbergh.
Walk 2 the following day was around Kirkby Lonsdale a mere 12 mile drive from The Black Bull. This Kirkby is a proper little town with craft shops, tasteful interior shops, a beautiful modern jewellers, a proper chocolate artisan shop etc etc. Very easy to spend an hour or so wandering around. And there’s a lovely 3 mile circular walk around the river which is not to be missed. From the far corner of the churchyard of St Mary’s follow the signs to “Ruskin’s View” where the path opens up into a promenade high above the River Lune. This scene was painted by JMW Turner in 1822 and the picture so impressed John Ruskin, the art critic and poet, that he wrote “I do not know in all my country, still less in France or Italy, a place more naturally divine” and it is very difficult to disagree with him!
The 17th Black Bull reopened last August after a £1.8m refurbishment following devastating floods in December 2015 and now styles itself as a coaching inn and dining room. I have to say this does not adequately describe its loveliness. The main entrance is via the bar, a warm welcoming space which had a fire and separate wood burner on at full blast when we arrived. As well as a welcome supply of newspapers, magazines and games to play, there is a well stocked bar and friendly staff.
This is a great place to chill out. When we arrived in the afternoon there was a quiet buzz of activity and chat. Later on it was heaving with parties of local ladies, walkers in for a pint, people staying over and several young teachers from the nearby Sedbergh school, including visiting staff from their new outpost in China. A truly cosmopolitan mix.
Next to the bar is the modern dining room where we were welcomed to…
I can’t do the food justice. I don’t think it’s had the AA inspectors along yet because this food is easily 2 rosette territory. And reasonably priced. We ate at a different 2-rosette hotel the following night, and whilst it was also good it was very formal, very hushed, over staffed and almost double the price.
We had a £35 allowance each included in our room rate at The Black Bull and, although we each had three excellent courses, neither of us reached, never-mind exceeded, the £35 mark.
We both had a scallop and Jerusalem artichoke dish to start, and whilst there was only 1 scallop each, trust me, by the end of the meal we were grateful for the fact. Divine. I then had melt-in-the-mouth pork belly, along with a slab of local black pudding. OMG, plate lickingly good. My other half weirdly opted for a lamb and kidney pie. Weird cos he’s pretty much off meat these days and he never liked kidneys much in the first place. So much so, that I even offered to swop if he didn’t like it when it came. Well, fat chance! Other than a tiny forkful I didn’t get a look in, but I can report that it was delicious.
For dessert he then announced he wasn’t going to bother, but bearing in mind that he’d only spent about £26 of his £35 allowance I told him he was having one! So he did, a chocolately thing that was also woolfed down without me getting any! I was however generously granted a sample of an amazingly thin sesame seed crisp which accompanied it which was pastry work of the dark-art variety. So much so that I am attempting to make a version myself this weekend.
Stupidly (as I was stuffed at this point) I ordered sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. What the HELL was I thinking?!! A huge slab arrived and my heart sank as my DNA dictates that I am unable to leave any part of a dessert uneaten. But, hah! whilst it was sticky and toffee-y and unctuous the pud itself was as light as a feather and, ably assisted by the ice cream, it slithered down a treat.
After more drinks we then staggered up the stairs to bed and to…
Downstairs in the bar – a traditional old-style pub. The restaurant – modern with touches of whimsy. But the bedrooms – oh yes – uber-mod, Japanese influenced, clean lines, glass walls with stylish furnishings and bathrooms. The colour schemes of taupe and blue are peaceful and reflect the beautiful scenery just outside the windows. Each room is named after a nearby fell top. Some have balconies, others have roll top baths. Ours was the Suite, also known as The Calf.
Each room has a super-king mattress, delicious toiletries made especially for the Black Bull by nearby Sedbergh Soap, locally made carpets and blankets and stunning photographs of the area by a local photographer. There are also rooms which accommodate four-legged friends.
We found the bed super comfy, the toiletries divine and the bathroom a pleasure to be in. We were encouraged to take the toiletries home and went and bought more of the local soaps the next morning.
The staff were all a delight. From the young efficient barmaid, to the (different) young efficient, chatty breakfast waitress, to the super part-time waiter in the dining room, they were all keen to ensure we were having the best time possible. And we did. We were also both presented with a glass of prosecco with our dessert as it was my birthday, and even offered another with breakfast the following morning. Great hospitality.
Up late the next morning we had a lovely breakfast and then went onto the “Repeat” phase and did it all over again moving on to a different hotel. And whilst that, too, was lovely, it wasn’t a patch on The Black Bull.
For more information and for booking visit the Black Bull website here.
The Black Bull, 44 Main Street, Sedbergh, Cumbria, LA10 5BL
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Images © The Black Bull