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Sarah Maber and husband Rufus head to the Yorkshire Dales for a foodie-filled mini break at The Black Bull in Cumbria...
‘Oh, the cheek of it,’ says my husband for the fourth time since our starters have arrived. He brandishes a piece of pig’s cheek on the end of his fork and points it towards the spicy cod’s cheeks with chana dahl and coriander on my plate. ‘The cheek of it. Get it?’ We’re sitting in the dining room of The Black Bull, a 17th-century coaching inn in the small Cumbrian town of Sedbergh, where the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District meet.
While the winding streets and countryside outside look like dyed-in-the-wool Yorkshire farming territory – all cobbles, stone walls and rolling hills dotted with soggy sheep – the dining room is anything but traditional. Dark panelling surrounds a cool, contemporary space adorned with hanging plants and tabletop moss balls (a nod to co-owner and chef Nina Matsunaga’s Japanese heritage). Nearby in the bar, a fire crackles away, making a welcome retreat from the rain outside – this is The North, after all.
In lieu of the planned country walk, we have spent the afternoon playing chess in the cosy Dalesman Country Inn, washed down with a couple of pints of a local brew, the delicious Handsome Mad March Hare Lakeland bitter. When the rain lets up, we wander down the narrow main street, home to some excellent bookshops, an arts and crafts centre, gift shops and tea-rooms, plus Sedbergh boarding school – an imposing presence as much for the gaggles of teens in town as for the buildings themselves.
The deceptively large Black Bull stands at the top of Main Street. Design-wise, it’s a clever meld of traditional and contemporary, with wooden beams, flooring and panelling offset by modern touches – muted colours, exposed light bulbs and a luxe rustic feel to the bedrooms, all recently revamped to a sleek, modern spec. The glass-walled bathrooms may raise a few eyebrows – but each comes with a modesty curtain, so dignity is preserved.
After a huge G&T in the bar, we are escorted to the dining room. This is prime foodie territory, and our fellow diners are less farm folk and more the well-heeled parents of boarders. The owners are passionate about provenance, and source much of the food locally. Rufus opts for a super-tender Lakeland venison loin with haggis and turnip, which he pronounces delicious. I’m delighted to report that the vegetarian option – crapaudine beetroot with Lincolnshire poacher custard and monksbeard – is as interesting and flavoursome as the meat, and my honey parfait pudding is a treat.
The winding hallways and creaking staircases at The Black Bull are so atmospheric that, as we make our way to the dining room the next morning, I can almost imagine Rufus as Mr Rochester, sweeping down to a breakfast of devilled kidneys and suet pudding. Instead, a full English awaits, complete with the most wonderful woodland mushrooms on toast. But while our breakfast might be delicious, the weather is not. The rain clouds have gathered, dashing our hopes for a sunny country walk. The cheek of it!
How to book:
Double rooms at The Black Bull cost from £125 a night, including breakfast; theblackbullsedbergh. co.uk.