Beers along the Tour de France Stage 1 route.
We recently took a last minute break and ended up staying for a week in a cottage in Aysgarth in the Yorkshire Dales. Unbeknown to us, the cottage overlooked the roads that will be part of the Tour de France route as it passes from Leeds to Harrogate on Saturday 5th July. So we noted the best pubs and beers we came across along or nearby the route, which was well decorated with yellow bikes and bunting in anticipation of the event.
Of all the pubs we visited, one in particular left a lasting impression:
Victoria Arms, Worton, Wensleydale
We passed the Victoria Arms several times before we eventually stopped for a beer. It looked like it might be an unspoilt pub – an old Magnet Ales sign hangs outside – but we had no idea we were walking into “something of a legend” where time seems to have stood still for decades. Ralph Daykin, who died in September 2013, ran the pub for 57 years and it is now in the hands of his son Neil who has been there all his life. “Dog’s had me trainers” he said as he picked one of the pair up from the middle of his living room where Hendrix the spaniel had dropped it, at the corner of which is the bar. A newspaper and some letters lay open on one of the tables, clothes were strewn across the settle, the carpet probably hadn’t seen a hoover since before the age of Dysons.
Theakstons Best and Black Sheep Bitter were on draught, “What’s your favourite?” Louise asked. He considered it for a few seconds as he looked at the pumps. “Theakstons s’alright” he said unenthusiastically as he began pouring. The walls are covered in all manner of curios, including the rear end of a stuffed fox. The larger adjoining room has a pool table and more curios, including a jukebox and eighties game machine, neither of which looked like they were in use. In the front room, he warmed to us slightly as we talked to him about the Tour de France. “It won’t make much difference to me unless people camp nearby” he reasoned. His elderly mother nevertheless suggested he should get some crisps in.
More than any other pub I’ve visited, this one left me with the feeling that I’d had a glimse into the past, when a farmer might serve beer from his front room for extra income – Bulmer’s Directory of 1890 records a “victualler and farmer” here and at the George & Dragon, Aysgarth. A photo on the wall shows Ralph Daykin, also a farmer, sitting on a chair looking caringly at a lamb stretched out thawing in front of the open fire.
Here’s a round up of the other pubs and beers we particularly enjoyed.
Campbells is a good place to stock up on bottled beer on the way in and out of the Yorkshire Dales (11 miles from leaving the A1 at Catterick), with a range of beers from Yorkshire Breweries.
Home to the Black Sheep Brewery and Theakstons. Both have visitor centres where we picked up bottles we hadn’t tried before – Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout, and Theakstons Distiller’s Cask, presumably aged in whisky casks, although the label only says it has been “warmly acquainted with Speyside Whisky”.
Cover Bridge Inn – situated on its own on the banks of the River Ure, with the date 1674 above the entrance to the gents, we were pleasantly surprised by the beer range – as well as the ubiquitous Theakston’s Best and Old Peculiar, there was By The Horns Stiff Upper Lip, Thornbridge Jaipur and Ilkley Mary Jane, enjoyed in the beer garden alongside the river.
Aysgarth Falls Hotel – Enjoyed good beer and food here and returned for more later in the week. The Salamander Mudpuppy was excellent, best of the beers we tried there, and their beers are on often.
George and Dragon – Had a great meal here, the ‘George and Dragon’ ale brewed for them by Yorkshire Dales Brewing Co the best of the beers.
A stone-built inn dating from 1732, it’s actually in Bishopdale, but just a couple of miles from Aysgarth. One of the best pubs we visited, great atmosphere, friendly welcome, good food and beer, including Yorkshire Dales Howgate and Northallerton Gun Dog Bitter.
Prior to the TdF, it seems the most celebrated event in this village near Aysgarth was James Herriot taking his honeymoon at the Wheatsheaf in 1941. Had a refreshing pint of Black Sheep Velo, a special TdF beer apparently brewed with coriander and orange, although the latter ingredient was barely detectable.
Home to the Yorkshire Dales Brewing Co, one of the best discoveries we made during our trip, a local brewery producing consistently good beers wherever we came across them. The brewery is located in a barn just behind the main street.
Doubled as the Drovers Arms for the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, walls covered in photos from the filming, stone-flagged floors and high ceilings, another pub serving a house beer brewed by Yorkshire Dales Brewery.
We came here just to try the Yorkshire Dales Askrigg Ale and ended up staying for a decent meal.
There is a third pub in Askrigg, the Crown Inn, which we didn’t have time to visit but was recommended by the head brewer of Yorkshire Dales brewery as another place serving his beers.
George & Dragon – We initially passed through this pub just to gain access to the Hawdraw Force waterfall, the highest single drop waterfall in England, but were so impressed by the cosy, traditional interior of the pub that we returned for an evening meal. The meal was accompanied by a couple of locals playing acoustic guitar and the crackling of a log fire. The friendliness of the landlord made up for the less-than-warm welcome from his wife.
Lovely pub in Upper Swaledale, very friendly, great views from the tables at the front and a cracking pint of Yorkshire Dales Brewery’s Butter Tubs (named after the fiercely steep, windy road that cyclists will have to tackle on the Tour). They’re holding a King of the Mountains festival during the TdF weekend. The holiday apartment they also own, directly opposite the pub, was noted for a future visit.
On the edge of Swaledale, well known as the highest pub in Great Britain at 1,732ft above sea level. After taking in the view over a pint of Black Sheep bitter, we picked up some bottles of it’s own Tan Hill Inn Ewe Juice, a beer brewed for it by the Dent Brewery.
Further afield, and not on the TdF route, but well worth a visit for two cracking pubs.
Faced with a choice of two unfamiliar beers, a local at the bar suggested we try the Kirkby Lonsdale Tiffin Gold – “everybody in here’s been drinking it all day” he said. It proved to be one of the best beers we tried during the trip and we wished we didn’t have to drive to our next destination so we could have sessioned on it too.
The Dent Brewery Tap, with a range of their own cask beers, and on keg Samuel Smiths Extra stout, Organic Lager, Taddy Lager and Sovereign Bitter.
Tour de France beers:
We came across several special TdF beers on cask from local breweries including Wensleydale Top Cogg, Northallerton Peloton Pale, Yorkshire Dales Tour de Dales and KOM Festivale (available at the Farmers Arms KOM festival), and Richmond Sacre Bleu, as well as bottles of Ilkley Marie Jaune, a variation on their Mary Jane, brewed with French hops and yeast, picking up the last bottle of it on the shelf from the Wine Shop in Grassington.