Monday, January 05, 2009

The Ale Trail - Pub Reviews

The Ale Trail - Pub Reviews, as featured in the Yorkshire Post

By Mark Reid, author of ‘The Inn Way’ guidebooks

On the trail of Yorkshire’s great country pubs, where walkers are welcome,
beer is in tip top condition and the food is hearty and wholesome.

Blue Bell Inn, Kettlewell, Wharfedale
If you, like me, love walking and pubs, then it doesn’t get much better than this. Kettlewell is perhaps the finest village in the Yorkshire Dales to indulge these two great passions. The village is surrounded by some of Yorkshire’s highest fells, including Great Whernside (704 metres) and Buckden Pike (702 metres), as well as the superb moorland ridge that separates Wharfedale from neighbouring Littondale. Classic routes radiate in every direction. Founded by a Viking chieftain over a millennium ago, its heyday was during the 18th and 19th centuries when lead mining flourished and the old stagecoach route from London to Richmond came this way. Thirteen inns helped slake the thirst of the market-goers, miners and travellers. Three inns have survived, whose names hark back to the romantic days of stagecoach travel, although I doubt whether the people travelling in the back of a horse-drawn coach being hauled up the notoriously steep hairpin bends of Park Rash behind the village would have viewed it as romantic travel; more bone-shaking and nerve-jangling.

I had just tackled the summit of Great Whernside, coming down via Great Hunters Sleets and Top Mere Road, the old monastic route used by the monks of Coverham Abbey to get to their lands around Kettlewell. After a knee-jerking mile along a track made up entirely of loose rocks, I was now in need of rest, recuperation and refreshment, and Elvis (my dog) was in need of a fireside snooze. But which pub should I choose? The exterior of a pub tells a story; if it is clean, well-maintained and weed-free then you can safely bet that the bar, cellar, toilets and kitchen will be pretty clean as well. And so I was drawn to the bright paintwork and hanging baskets of the Blue Bell Inn, an old coaching inn that dates back to 1680. It was quiet inside with just four other people, but there again it was 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon. I perched on a bar stool, whilst Elvis curled up beside the fire. The young lad behind the bar knew his Copper Dragon beers, which was a good thing for this is one of only a handful of pubs owned by the Skipton based brewery. Assured that it was their best seller, I ordered a pint of Copper Dragon Best Bitter (ABV 3.8%, £2:50 per pint) and a packet of crisps. No soup for me, as I had missed last orders for food by an hour and a half. I always think that country pubs should offer some type of food all day, something quick and easy such as pre-prepared sandwiches or soup. They are missing a trick. The beer was in good condition, full bodied and rounded with a rich amber colour, reminiscent of those classic Yorkshire bitters that used to be big name brands back in the 1980s and 90s, but long since closed down by some multinational brewer. And the crisps were, well, salty and crisp.

It was hard to leave the warm fireside, and even harder to drag a 30 kilo dog from his slumber but, tempting though it was, I could not justify sitting at the bar for two hours waiting for food service to resume. Judging by the steady trickle of people who came in to book a table for their evening meal, it is a popular place to eat. Perhaps next time I’ll plan my walk a bit better.

Blue Bell Inn, Kettlewell, Wharfedale. Tel: 01756 760230

Opening Hours:
Open all day. Food served 12 – 2pm and 6 – 9pm.

A good range of locally sourced food perfect for hungry walkers, including Steak & Copper Dragon Ale Pie £8:25; Local Shoulder of Lamb £13:95; Fresh Jumbo Haddock in homemade beer batter £8:50.

Real Ales
Choice of four hand-pulled ales from Copper Dragon Brewery at Skipton, including Black Gold (ABV 3.7%), Best Bitter (ABV 3.8%), Golden Pippin (ABV 3.9%) and IPA (ABV 4.4%).

6 rooms, £75 per room per night B&B.

Walkers Welcome?
Muddy boots and dogs welcome, with a cosy bar complete with quarry-tile floor, beamed ceiling and cast-iron stove set in a large stone fireplace.



  1. This is gold. Im planning a 2 night Beer/hike with my mates in the area only thing is well all have tents. Any suggestions?

  2. There is a small campsite at Kettlewell. Facilities are basic (it's a farm field). It's just outside the village on the lane that leads up alongside Cam Gill Beck near the Kings Head pub.

    Hope this helps

    Mark Reid

  3. I recently walked from Grassington to Kettlewell on my way over to Littondale.I saw your sign outside the pub opposite (The Racehorse) and decided to try it.However at £3! for a pint of Taylors Landlord,and a less than friendly reception,I will be giving it a wide berth on my next visit.

  4. Ihave read the April 11 th Guardian article and consequently my son and I would like to walk the described truncated route in June.Do you give camping info in your book because that is how we would like to do it and which is a good b+b for a one night stay half way through?

  5. JohnS - thanks for your comment.

    There are campsites at Reeth and Kettlewell. There are no 'official' campsites at Buckden, Askrigg or West Burton. That said, B&Bs in the Yorkshire Dales are still relatively cheap and you can usually get somewhere for £30 or less per night (based on 2 sharing).

    hope that helps.

    there's a free accommodation guide on website