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
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.
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