Wensleydale

We’ve just returned from a rather delicious 2 day break in the wonderful part of North Yorkshire that has long held a special place for us. It’s many years since we’ve actually stayed over, so this visit was well overdue. On the recommendation of pretty much all the Troffers, we decided to stay at the Blue Lion in East Witton and what a treat it was.

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Since I’m writing this on Hallowen, I thought I’d use one of my atmospheric early evening shots – it makes the place look sinister and intimidating which of course it wasn’t – it was welcoming, comfortable and pretty much the perfect place to spend a couple of days recharging batteries after a pretty intense few months. The Blue Lion is completely unpretentious with bare wood, open fires, stone flagged floors and ambient lighting so dark that you feel like you never want to leave it’s cosy, almost dickensian, old style atmosphere.

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On arrival in North Yorkshire we opted for a spot of lunch at the Wensleydale Heifer whilst our room was prepared. Site of the inaugural Globe TRoffers lunch a few years ago, we knew the food was good so settled by the fire for a pint of the local bitter (brewed on the premises) and guiltily ordered their famous fish and chips. Never one to shirk a challenge, I went ‘giant’ with my portion and did wonder if I’d made the right choice when the waiter ominously told me ‘not to fill up on the bread’. The biggest battered piece of fish shortly arrived along with all the accoutriments – it was a sight to see. I later found out that if I’d finished this lot, I would have got a certificate (probably a death one) and the chance to win fish and chips for life!

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It took me the rest of the day to recover from that spectacular haddock and if you’re in the area and hungry, don’t even think about it, just go.

On to The Blue Lion, dinner then. The earlier empty bar and restaurant was full to bursting on a Wednesday evening and this hotel is certainly a destination for couple and large groups with a buzzy atmosphere. Although there was a mix of people, there was a lot of London accents in the room and it’s obvious that the place has built a big reputation with the Southern foodies as one of the ‘go to’ restaurants in the Dales (Angela Hartnett’s recent visit and review can’t have done any harm).

We ate in the bar which looked a better option than the quieter restaurant, although on the first night it was probably a bit too busy and you got the impression they were only just keeping on top of it. After a bit of mix up with our table we sat down and service was super fast to say how busy it was. There is certainly a super skilled kitchen downstairs with a serious chef in charge. Starters of deep fried soft shell crab and mains on pork belly and grouse were all absolutely top drawer. I’d describe the style as high quality restaurant gastro pub without any pretense with a solid and good value wine list.

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Apologies for the picture quality – the iphone was definitely struggling with the almost non existent light conditions – which were condusive to romantic dining but not photography. The grouse was wonderful.

Breakfast was excellent (although points deducted for overcooking my fried eggs, yolks solid), if a little soon after yesterday’s belly bursting exploits. We opted for a 7 mile walk from Aysgarth Falls to Castle Bolton and back again. This turned out to be a beautiful amble through some of the most unspoilt parts of the dales in brilliant weather. Here’s the view of Bishopdale and Penn Hill from the castle ramparts.

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The last night at the Blue Lion was less busy than the previous evening (although we did eat later) and we had a better table. The menu is chalked bistro stylee on the walls around the room, which can cause a problem when you sit in a room where there is no chalkboard. Menus are available on paper on request. Same menu, plenty to choose from and Julie decided against a starter and went straight for chicken main. I couldn’t resist the scallops (and neither could J as it turned out…) and the fillet steak for main was a delight. Desserts and cheese were ordered and we started to feel like we’d not even walked 7 miles.

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A small criticism would be that the cheeses that arrived were straight out of the fridge and lacked depth of flavour. Just a small point.

I think that if what you’re looking for is a small hotel with modern accommodation and excellent food, The Blue Lion is right up there. It’s quirky and idiosyncratic too: it does things it’s own way and it’s all the more endearing for it.

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