Sunday, 23 August 2015

Getting away from it in North Yorkshire (TRAVEL & BEER REVIEW)

North Yorkshire – the largest county in this wonderful country of ours and one I have been lucky enough to have been raised in and visit its vast and varied delights on a regular basis. Not only is it home to the unspoiled natural beauty of 'The Yorkshire Dales', heading East we have the spectacular North Yorkshire Moors stretching across to the coast, covering over 500 square miles.

This August, I was given an opportunity to have a mini-break way up in the far North of the territory thanks to Sykes Cottages. A beautiful holiday cottage in the stunning Hambleton District near to the village of Potto, 5 miles from the historic market town of Stokesley. In the town itself, I'll step back in time and discover the importance of the local Inn-Keepers, their brewed ales and its remarkable beer-related history. More on that later.

The cottage is set at the foot of the hills, the magnificent moors rising up in the distance not far away. Not only is the location great for walking and the local towns, the coast is within easy reach on a carefree drive to take in Saltburn-By-The-Sea, Staithes and even the bustling fishing port of Whitby. Head in the opposite direction and you'll drive through the market towns of Northallerton or Thirsk. Slightly further West still at the edge of The Dales lie two of the most well known breweries in North Yorkshire, if not the country. Easily accessible and well worth the visit are Black Sheep Brewery and Theakston's Brewery, both in Masham. There's long Theakston family history connecting these two here and not all of it is pleasant but it's well worth a read into the history if you're so inclined.

The Black Sheep Brewery - Masham
The Black Sheep Brewery was my brewery of choice, not for the first time may I add. They have a wonderful set up and has become a very popular tourist attraction, be that to sample some tasty 'thirds' of their beers, a piping hot meal in the bistro, or a brewery tour to see the beer being brewed before your eyes. The beer? Their Best Bitter (3.8%) is a good old Yorkshire drop of ale. No thrills really, does what you'd expect of a true Yorkshire bitter. Golden Sheep (3.9%) is a highly drinkable golden ale, perfect for Summer evenings. Riggwelter (5.9%) on the other hand might not be for the faint-hearted. This could easily lead to a sore head in the morning if you're not careful. Richer, darker and overall a much more powerful beer. A nice seasonal addition was this one below, their Hoptacular (3.6%) is an easy drinking, highly flavoursome pale ale. Big on the hops but at a generous abv it makes for a quick return to the bar for another!

Cooper Cottage - Potto
After a good ale tasting session in Masham the comfortable, clean, and quiet cottage back in Potto was perfect to head back to. Cooper Cottage provided me with a temporary home in which to relax in and rest from adventures up in the moors, towns and coast. A warm greeting by the owner, who was very pleasant and easy-going with a vast knowledge of the area and being provided with fresh milk, biscuits, tea and coffee meant settling in was instant and hassle-free. How many times have you arrived somewhere in need of a cuppa but having to go hit the supermarket or nearest shop first?
A log burning stove (not used as the weather was very kind indeed), and a lovely patio area to the back made a great place for morning coffee and late night boozes while watching the stars and enjoying the silence. I didn't even need to use the games room in a converted barn. Ideal for families if the rain does fall and something to occupy the kids though.

North Yorkshire Market Town of Stokesley
Stokesley may have moved with the times some what, its coffee shops, tea rooms and usual high street chains are plentiful. But look a bit harder and you'll notice tell tale signs from years gone by that this was once the place that traders flocked to in their droves and the town was a hub of activity for livestock, printing and linen businesses. All this meant the locals needed to provide for the influx of people coming into the town to stay. Accommodation, food and drink was a necessity and with the boom in beer production, the late 18th and early 19th century saw a huge rise in the number of Innkeepers, public houses and beer houses in the town. As I take a wander up and down this largely one-street town now, it's hard to imagine that at its peak there was something like twenty actual Inns, and numerous beer houses (literally a house with the holder selling beer, usually in bottles from within). You can easily imagine the trade-offs and deals being struck in the alley ways and house doorways. The Inns were all very traditional in name – The Queens Head, Kings Head, George & Dragon, Black Horse and so on. Very patriotic.

The White Swan - Stokesley
Over time of course, things changed, life changed and many of the Inns packed up and became something else entirely. To this day only a few have survived. In their place are of course all the business's you'd expect to find in a modern day town – banks, fast food outlets, hairdressers and so on. Pleasingly there are a number of small independent shops that fit nicely into the picturesque town here in North Yorkshire. Everywhere you go there are plants and flowers lining the streets and corners, all sitting in an old half beer casks, a dead giveaway of just what importance the drink was to the place all those years ago. Now, three pubs remain in the main part of town which from the outside look remarkably like they probably haven't changed all that much. Inside of course it's a different story. I took the time to see what possibly the most well known pub of the town –The White Swan was like in 2015. Boasting its own brewery 'Captain Cook Brewery' at the pubs rear, I thought this place would fill me with not just tasty beer but some fine tales and facts from those 18th and 19th century times. Sadly I was hoping for a bit too much in the way of nostalgia I think. The pub was typically 'Olde English' inside and pleasant enough. The beer was adequate but nothing too note worthy. Upon enquiring about the different Captain Cook beers at the bar and my request for an IPA, I was met with awkward blank faces and a 'what's an IPA?' answer from the barmaid. Oh well.

Dreamily I set foot back into the town and pondered how different life must have been back then to the rat race we all find ourselves in in modern times. Stokesley has been an insight into that period and a thoroughly enjoyable North Yorkshire town to discover. Even if I couldn't get an IPA.

Words - Pete Jackson

Accommodation provided free of charge by Sykes Cottages. All words and opinions are my own.