Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Punch Bowl Inn, Swaledale

We'd spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring the secrets of Upper Swaledale, opting to walk a circular route from Keld over Kisdon fell to the idyllic village of Muker and back along the banks of the fast flowing River Swale. This is a classic ramble, affording magnificent views of Swaledale and with added interest in the form of the intriguingly named "Corpse Way", the famous hay meadows, gushing waterfalls and plentiful evidence of the area's industrial lead mining past.

Tired from the fresh air and our exertions we were looking forward to a hot bath, dinner and a comfy bed. We headed along the main road that gently meanders its way through the narrow valley bottom, to the Punchbowl Inn in the tiny straggling hamlet of Low Row. The unassuming, rather plain flat fronted exterior of this 17th century inn belies the delights within

Now owned by the same family as the excellent Charles Bathurst Inn ("The CB") in neighbouring Arkengarthdale, inside The Punch Bowl has been carefully renovated. The contemporary yet traditional style still manages to retain something of the essential character of the original 17th century inn; the bare wooden floors and stone fireplaces have been preserved and old black and white photos of bygone characters and times dot the walls.

We checked in and were shown to our small but tastefully decorated room, looking out across Swaledale. For a while we took in the stunning views; the fell side on the opposite side of the valley swooping down from the dark moorland skyline through the maze of stone walls and green fields to meet the river below.

It wasn't long before our thoughts turned to refreshment and we headed downstairs. The bar area hosts a wood burning stove and a unique oak bar, hand made by local craftsman Robert ‘The Mouseman’ Thompson. The bar stools all have his trademark mouse individually carved on the seat. There is a good range of locally brewed real ale on offer and we enjoyed a perfect pint of Black Sheep Special before dinner.

The only copy of the menu is daubed in white on two wooden framed mirrors at the far end of the bar. It was difficult to read due to the light and also slightly disconcerting to see ones own ruddy cheeks reflecting back through the jumble of words. However the PB's commitment to using only the best local and seasonal produce is more than evident, the menu relying heavily on meat and game from the surrounding moors and local cheeses.

For starters I chose sesame fried mackerel with tomato and caper salsa, the mackerel was really fresh and the dish worked well. Dave had potato skins with Wensleydale cheese and bacon.

My beef, bacon & red wine casserole with a puff pastry lid really hit the mark; it was packed with flavour and big chunks of tender meat.

Dave's choice of pan fried duck breast served with a ballotine of leg and fondant potato, was slightly more refined. The breast was perfectly pink and juicy with a puddle of tasty gravy.

Our mains were accompanied by a generous portion of well cooked veggies; cheese topped mash potato, carrots, green beans and roast turnip.

The dishes were solid, well executed and portions were definitely hearty; it was just the sort of food we had craved after a day in the outdoors.

After dinner we returned to the bar, where Dave had a pint of Riggwelter. The atmosphere was buzzy and the bar staff were more than happy to strike up conversation. However perched at the bar, surrounded by tables of people eating, you can't help feeling that this isn't really a place where locals drop by for a drink. The emphasis is clearly on food and the vibe is definitely more boutique than muddy boots. If I am being overly critical it is somewhat too stylised, the homogeneous muted shade on all the walls giving the impression of being inside a slightly sterile giant mushroom. It somehow lacks the classic feel of an old-fashioned country pub. Nonetheless what the bar lacks in traditional atmosphere, the view & food more than make up for.

After a comfortable night's sleep we were ready for breakfast. For me it just had to be kippers, they are not seen often enough on breakfast menus; the whole fish was lightly smoked and moist. Safe in the knowledge that he was supporting the local farmers and butchers, Dave tucked into his quality full English. It was all accompanied by juice, a rack of hot toast, jam, marmalade and a big cafetiere of fresh coffee. Perfect.

Swaledale is one of the wilder, more remote northern dales and definitely enjoys a quieter tone. It is a valley suited to seekers of secrets, rather than those who want their recreation conveniently presented on a plate. It remains pleasingly undeveloped; brown-signposted attractions are few and far between, but if you are willing to scratch deeper than the surface and look beyond the obvious you will find a truly enchanting place. The Punch Bowl is perfectly placed for those wanting to explore these delights; good food and accommodation, warm hospitality and an authentic Yorkshire Dales experience await.

Punch Bowl Inn
Low Row, Richmond, North Yorkshire DL11 6PF


  1. This place looks like a diamond. Great place to call after a Sunday afternoon walk!

  2. Mmm it all sounded great but the kippers really struck a chord. Haven't had them in years. Where could I find them nearer to Otley? Or perhaps a day out in Whitby should be on the menu.......

  3. Hi Cooking Fairy, yes perfect for such an occasion. I can recomend the walk from Keld to Muker too -try the Farmer's Arms in Muker for a nice pint half way round!

    Katy! Waitrose in Otley stock proper kippers (from Craster I think) but a day out in Whitby over Xmas followed by kippers for breakfast next morning would be the best!