A cracker (well, mostly cheese) of an adventure: Eating in the Yorkshire Dales – Part 1

Born in Scotland but raised all over the land (RAF family), Mrs. B.B. has always had a special place in her heart for Yorkshire. I always wondered why (Heartbeat was a downer growing up, but then that’s probably because it was shown on a Sunday evening and I was dreading school the next day). I also used to question her obsession with cheese and why I had to eat for at least three people on the rare occasions she cooked.

It’s all become clear…

 

Day 0.25 (not in Yorkshire, so it doesn’t deserve a proper heading)

The trip started a night early – splitting the journey up to save us a single six-hour drive and give us “time for cheese” on day one proper (the Wensleydale Creamery tour).

Leaving 50 minutes later than planned didn’t win me too much favour with Mrs. B.B. (the usual excuse: work) – however, it did mean we missed the expected traffic queues between Birmingham and Manchester. Unfortunately, there’s no missing the 26 (sic) stretches of average speed checks that have been in place since 1996 (sic).

Talking Heads soundtracked the first couple of hours – a last-minute Spotify playlist prompted by a failed still-in-progress attempt to convince the board (yeah, I’ve got a ‘real’ job!) to produce a corporate video in the style of a musical. Not the reason we were 50 minutes late… ahem!

However, frustrations with the Bluetooth connection meant we had to resort to the only station not playing adverts: Heart Extra. Playing club classics including Mojo’s ‘Lady’, Hadaway’s ‘What is love?’ – and Usher?! (the title was instantly erased from memory for self-preservation purposes.) At least the car was bouncing for a good 20 minutes before the usual saccharine dross took over.

We arrived at our £7 Travelodge on the outskirts of Stoke – in silence – just before 10pm.

Disclaimer: A night at a Travelodge may only be worth £7 but this is not their standard price – I had a £25 voucher (nobody hates me that much…hmm… It was ‘compensation’ for a previous nightmare stay on a work trip). I would combine this with the £17 I’d forgotten was sitting in my PayPal following a World Cup sweepstakes win (well, second place).

 

Picture perfect, photo average (day 1)

First meal of the culinary tour!

Breakfast from the (picture the diner from any low-budget US horror movie) Subway next door:

subway-cheese-stoke-travelodge
The views improve, I promise… and I’m trusted to open a window further than a couple of inches.

‘Poached egg’ is an insult to chickens. It was a pretty flavourless eat despite the cheese (you know, that cheese, that’s not really cheese, but may come in handy if you get a puncture), but the bread was fresh, it was fuel for the next three hours, I didn’t feel greasy – and, crucially, I didn’t have to resort to McDonald’s.

The rain was brutal at this point. The lack of visibility slowing progress – our nerves not helped by other drivers showing a complete lack of common sense (no head lights, let alone fog lights – and plenty of last-minute lane changes).

No photos = no food in Sedbergh

Finally, off the motorway, away from any obvious danger (although some of the rams looked pretty mean) to the small market town of Sedbergh – cue the first 100 photographs…

Uh?

Aargh!

The camera’s broke!

My phone camera is f……………….

(Just a few highlights from my 5-minute tantrum.)

We had a quick look around, took a few photos (on my phone):

sedbergh-street-rain-people

…that I’ll skip through when we look back on the trip in a few months’ time, but focus had now shifted to finding a decent replacement camera in the area.

I was too emotional to visit the Mad Hatters Tea Room at No.6 Finkle Street as planned.

Stone Close Tea Room and B&B

Fortunately, I’d calmed down in time for lunch – our meal at Stone Close in Dent would provide crucial reserves ahead of an exhausting day.

Stone Close is a 16th century inn. An open fire and wood beams add to the building’s and waitress’ charm, and help to provide a cosy, welcoming ambiance – a much-needed haven given the relentless downpour.

The six tables (room for maybe 20-24 people) no doubt suffice on most days – but not when a group of 16 want to escape the elements!

Fortunately, we arrived ten minutes beforehand, so weren’t one of the poor souls turned away to fend for themselves – and Mrs. B.B. didn’t miss out on her first proper cup of Yorkshire tea.

And when I say a proper cup, I mean proper:

stone-cold-tea-cup-dent
Ok, confession time: I had a coffee, but hopefully this picture gives you some perspective… it was a good sized cafetiere.

I somehow managed to resist one of their homemade cakes – the raspberry and almond cake was particularly tempting – and went for one of the day’s savoury specials instead:

chicken-goujons-stone-cold-dent

The piri-piri sauce certainly put Nando’s in its place – and nearly put me in A&E. Fortunately, my lips numbed and throat calmed enough to enjoy the highly spiced, tender chicken goujons.

Mrs. B.B. had the same salad accompaniment (very fresh) but went for the vegetable tart. A huge puffy pastry doorstop filled with mushrooms, courgette, red pepper and topped with cheese.

vegetable-tart-pastry-dent

The pastry was well cooked – finding that magical middle ground where it wasn’t overcooked or dry, but wasn’t soggy or greasy either. The dominant flavour was pesto, but the veg still had just the right amount of bite, and Mrs. B.B. was more than happy.

A quick look around – a few more dodgy phone camera photos of cobbled roads and a grand-looking church in the centre of the village (a centre piece for all villages in the Dales, it seems) – before we took to the narrow, single track lanes (otherwise known as Mrs. B.B.’s shortcut) to Ingleton. A walker’s mad person’s (it was torrential!) paradise. And then onto the slightly less taxing main roads (for a start, I didn’t have to keep hopping out of the car to open and shut the cattle gates) to Giggleswick, then Settle, and then home: Langcliffe.

Cut off from the world in Langcliffe… well, camera retailers

Now this looks perfect:

langcliffe-stone-terrace-cottage
No neighbours = rock’n’roll (well, more Talking Heads).

A stone-built terrace house that had been refurbished within the last couple of months with all mod-cons… oh, the towels haven’t been folded… they are bit damp… they are dirty!

A subsequent knock on the door revealed a rather embarrassed young lady holding a change of bed linen and fresh towels (she’d also forgotten to collect the high chair from our house for another property that was being rented).

Very apologetic – we did feel for her… until we noticed the grease on the cutlery and the crumbs all over the kitchen surface.

But wait, we still haven’t found a camera – and the Wi-Fi here is… is it Wi-Fi?!

We eventually found a couple of cameras… that would do – we didn’t have the time nor the patience at that point to analyse the specs too closely or compare alternatives.

But where’s the nearest Jessops? Currys? Argos?!

After a five-minute walk around the village revealed a phone signal, we managed to determine that there was potentially a camera that would meet our needs in Harrogate (no guarantees).

With 10-minutes left before the store was due to close (yep, we took the wrong exit en route – more than once), we had our new camera – but we wouldn’t get to use it for that evening’s meal (it needed to charge).

Little House Restaurant – with our phone cameras (apologies)

Although located on the main street, we nearly missed Little House Restaurant – the lack of street lights in Settle and prominent signage meaning we walked back and forth the restaurant a good few times before Mrs. B.B. took the initiative and started peering through windows (the tales she told!).

Inside, the restaurant only had a few tables for service that evening. The décor was quite classic in style, but it had a sense of cool, ably assisted by the stereo’s jazz singer.

Mrs. B.B. had a shock when her starter arrived (I have told her to read the menu):

sorbet-grapefruit-little-house-settle

Fruit sorbet with sour grapefruit and orange. Described by Mrs. B.B. as a zingy taste sensation, it could have just as easily sat in the dessert section (the whole thing was covered in icing sugar and complemented by elderflower syrup), but it wasn’t too sweet and made for a refreshing starting point.

I played it safe with the crab, saffron & wensleydale tart:

crab-tart-little-house-settle

Well, I say safe, I’m not actually a fan of crab or saffron, but, apparently, I am now – well, if they are both cooked with a generous amount of Wensleydale cheese. And hats off to the pastry chef – thin and crisp.

For mains, Mrs. B.B. went for the baked spinach and three-cheese pancakes:

spinach-cheese-pancakes-settle
It looked more appetising in real-life, I promise!

It was a good size portion, but the pancakes were thin and not too heavy. The melted cheese (apparently, there were three, but you couldn’t tell) was mild, so didn’t overpower the dish.

I opted for the chump of ‘lune valley’ lamb – mainly because you don’t often see ‘chump’ on the menu.

lamb-chump-dinner-settle

It was quite rare – I think a few more minutes would have helped with the chew – and I would have preferred if the fat had been rendered down and crisped up. However, it’s a very flavoursome cut.

I liked the almost sautéed potatoes, the green beans were cooked nicely (still some bite left in them), but whilst the peach and red pepper salsa was delicious, it didn’t real feel part of the dish.

Mrs. B.B. hit the jackpot on dessert:

yorkshire-parkin-treacle-sauce-settle

Yorkshire parkin, hot treacle sauce and jersey ice cream. It was a hefty looking portion, but the parkin was surprisingly light. The treacle sauce was rich with a deep flavour, and the ice cream played an important role in balancing the whole dish.

I wasn’t quite as lucky with my Portuguese tarts:

nata-portuguese-tarts-custard-settle
Wasn’t expecting the icing sugar!

Although they looked the business, there was a lack of custard filling and the pastry needed to be crisp – maybe I’ve been spoilt by Nata & Co. I did enjoy the strawberries and cream on their own, but it didn’t come together as a complete dish.

So, there were faults, but we couldn’t complain too much – it was simple cooking, but it was comforting. And the waiter’s recommendation for the Mason’s dry gin with a wedge of lime was spot on.

Crucially, it had a lovely relaxed vibe, which is just what we needed after a hectic start to the holiday.

 

Pigging out (day 2)

Day two and I’d managed a lie in – until 8:45am! Well, kind of. It did take me two hours to dry off after the heating came on via timer at 4:30am?!

I frustrated Mrs. B.B.’s plans further with my lethargy.  I could only get away with that until about 11am, but it gave us the opportunity to charge everything and rework the itinerary considering BBC Weather’s ever-changing forecast (it would turn out to be a completely different day to their last update).

A quick tour of the village revealed this beautifully kept church:

church-langcliffe-village-yorkshire

And a jealous side to Mrs. B.B. (sorry, we won’t have the money to move here any time soon.)

I needed a distraction. Farm shop!

Country Harvest

We arrived at the Country Harvest just in time to get a seat for lunch (the queue was at least 20 people deep by the time we left).

The menu was mighty, but nothing compared to the servings:

ploughmans-yorkshire-settle-country-harvest

And…

Wait for…

it…

(or them…)

sausage-yorkshire-pudding-country-harvest
Sorry, I should have warned you!

Surely they should come with a health warning?! Don’t get me wrong, the ginger infused sausages were spot on. Lean, meaty and moist – with spring onions cleverly forming part of the seasoning. But I reckon it was the equivalent to eating 6-8 regular sized sausages… had I been brave enough to finish them!

The Yorkshire pudding was ‘a proper Yorkshire pudding’ – nice crunch, absorbing the flavours from the deep meaty onion gravy, but holding its own. The veg did its job without being anything special.

Mrs. B.B. went for the Three Peaks platter – sold by the home-made pork pie and selection of deli cheeses. Although the ham, fruity coleslaw and sweet apple chutney perfectly matched the Wensleydale and Stilton, the pork pie was a disappointment. The pastry was thick, the meat filling heavy and, on the whole, it was too dry.

There was no chance we were going to fit in a dessert – I figured it would arrive as a whole tray with a litre of custard – but I did pick up a blueberry and vanilla scone from the shop (along with several Yorkshire gins, Yorkshire brewed beers, Grandma Wild’s biscuits, pate, lemon curd…)  to scoff down later as my pre-dinner warm up.

Quite sweet, but wonderfully moreish – nice crispy outer and crumbly without being dry. It was a cracker of a scone in texture – but ate more like a cake. It went well with the St Andrew’s Cheddar cheese we picked up at The Courtyard Dairy.

blueberry-scone-mature-ceddar-cheese

The Courtyard Dairy

We were in no fit state to tackle the waterfalls walk or the White Scar Cave in Ingleton – and the weather had turned on us again, so we headed for cover to the first place Mrs. B.B. could find…

It just so happened to be this place:

courtyard-dairy-yorkshire-settle-cheese

They don’t let you visit The Courtyard Dairy and leave without sampling at least 10 cheeses – and buying at least three of them. This was Mrs. B.B. territory, with her top-3 (because I forced her to pick three for this blog) being:

  1. Leeds Blue. Made by Italian cheese-maker Mario Olianas in Adel near Leeds using pasteurised sheeps’ milk. Creamy and not too intense.
  2. St Andrew’s Scottish Cheddar. Produced from raw cows’ milk. This was an intensely powerful, distinctive cheddar.
  3. Boe Pepe St James. Raw sheeps’ milk cheese made by Martin Gott in Cumbria. A mellow, creamy almost soft cheese.

We also got a little more education than we bargained for with an adjoining museum giving you the opportunity to try and lift a mouldy 10kg cheese:

mouldy-cheese-courtyard-dairy-yorkshire

…learn about cheese-making in the 1930s, and take photographs of various contraptions you are too impatient (to get back to the cheese counter) to read about but look interesting enough.

We wisely chose to avoid the café – although to be fair, at that point, I’d have struggled to make it up the stairs – but foolishly chose to visit the award-winning wine shop (Buon Vino) next door, where Mrs. B.B. picked up another gin (Mason’s Tea Edition) and I started to calculate the cost of a house extension to store all of Mrs. B.B.’s alcohol.

Quick – the sun’s out!!!

Our quick stop at Booths supermarket to grab some milk and necessities (otherwise known as tonic) turned into a fairly intense walk around Settle. Not because it’s necessarily that big, but because I was layered up and cocooned in a sweat-inducing rain jacket – and now the not-forecast sun was punishing me! But we couldn’t miss the opportunity to take a couple of pictures:

settle-flowerpot-festival-2018
Very disappointed to miss 2018’s Settle Flowerpot Festival – but some of the decorations were still up (see more at the end).

We visited the town’s train station (just after the steam train had passed through!), invaded the personal space of a few residents all in the name of a cute cottage picture, and mapped out our planned pub crawl for Wednesday.

It lived up to all my expectations of a market town – but the through road is tiresome, with little let up from the loud bikes and lorries passing through. I’m glad we chose to hideaway nearby in Langcliffe, which is where I recharged myself (and our various gadgets) and ironed a shirt so I could ‘go posh’ at the Grassington House Hotel.

I won’t spoil the surprise (there’s a dedicated review in the works), but it would be fair to say I left feeling a little tingly – although that soon turned into complete panic on a hairy 45-minute drive back through the unlit lanes (apparently drivers in these parts only drive 20 miles under the limit during daylight hours).

 

Cheesed on (day 3)

After heavy consumption on day two, Mrs. B.B. was keen to get us moving… as far as the Wensleydale Creamery –  a visit we had to abort on day one.

Up bright and early, we spent much of the day driving around narrow, windy, country lanes – and somehow managing to time our stops during short breaks in the rain for a few brisk walks.

Our first venture took us to Malham Cove. It’s quite an impressive sight to see such an imposing waterless waterfall (it brought to mind the Wall from Game of Thrones, but then I’m a few years behind and the mind does play tricks on you when you get to my age).

malham-cave-yorkshire
Fair enough, it’s not quite the same.

It’s also quite a sight to see a waterfall with water – and we managed that at Aysgarth (via Kettlewell).

aynsgarth-waterfall-yorkshire

But nothing is quite as impressive a sight as seeing Mrs. B.B. consume cheese.

Wensleydale Creamery

With a coach load of pensioners making it nigh on impossible to move through the gift shop, and at least 30 people queuing for the cheese shop, Mrs. B.B. was starting to panic.

Although she controlled her nerves better than I did when the lady in the café coughed all over the scones.

The interactive Wensleydale Cheese Experience gave us the chance to see… the back of people’s heads, and hear a cheesemaking demonstration in progress… And the factory’s Viewing Gallery allowed us to watch the cheese… machinery being hosed down and the floors getting a good clean. Oh, well. We got a picture of Wallace & Gromit:

wallace-gromit-wensleydale-creamery

And once we got inside the cheese shop, Mrs. B.B. was able to consume about 200g of cheese from the samples alone (and purchase another 400g to go with her previous day’s haul, along with overpriced chutney and biscuits).

We had a quick walk around a tired looking town centre, before the drive back to Settle via the Ribblehead viaduct – and Booths for a lime (you know what’s coming!).

The Yorkshire cheese-off, sponsored by gin

We had originally planned to visit The Game Cock Inn, Austwick this evening (a Twitter recommendation), but with a mountain of cheese to get through – and a few bottles of gin to sample – we decided to take it easy that evening… by consuming a dangerous level of cheese and gin.

Winner of the very official – and definitely not decided by me because I’m writing the blog – cheese-off between Wensleydale Creamery and The Courtyard Dairy was…

The Wensleydale with cranberry and sloe gin:

wensleydale-cranberry-sloe-gin-cheese

Mrs. B.B. wasn’t as much of a fan of the Wild Ram London dry gin from the Yorkshire Dales Distillery, but I was really taken by the distinct berry notes – other notables from the local distilleries included the tea flavoured edition of Mason’s (not convinced I’ll be chucking a PG tips in as a garnish any time soon though) and the award-winning Whittaker’s Gin.

Well, who knew recalling eating cheese would be nearly as exhausting as the act itself? I need a break! In part 2, we venture beyond the boundaries of the Dales, take orders off a bloke that was once in Eastenders, and fail to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant (scruffy buggers).

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter if you want to see us try and pad out our lifestyle until we can afford another adventure.

And if you’ve got nothing better to do, here are some more pics:

 

Bill's asian ribs and coleslaw in Liverpool

A fab time in Liverpool with John, Paul, Ringo, George + Roger (and don’t forget Bill!)

Liverpool may be the birthplace of the biggest and best band of the ‘60s, but for one night only its people made the biggest and best band (well, sort of) of the ‘70s feel right at home – despite what they’d been charged for a ticket!

Finding a wife who, like me, had grown up infatuated with her dad’s record collection has its pros and cons.

On the plus side: a shared love of ‘60s and ‘70s rock and pop acts.

Not so great: Abba; a loft full of 2nd hand brown and orange curtains; and having to spend a small fortune to see musicians now compensating for several hefty divorce bills.

Plus, you often need to travel – on this occasion: Liverpool to see ‘the Messiah’ aka Roger Waters.

 

Taking the long and winding roads (to avoid the M6)

Having endured endless road works and average speed limits on the M5 and M6 a few weeks prior, we decided to take the scenic route from South Wales – ok, it was an excuse for cake!

We timed our packed lunch perfectly (well, an hour after leaving home), to arrive in Ludlow at ‘cake-o-clock’.

Unfortunately, the DeGrey’s Tea Room was no more – replaced by a Deli that looked far too clean and modern for our tastes. Turning the corner, we quickly found what appeared to be a suitable alternative.

Carvell’s The Art of Tea

Creaky floor boards, antique but ‘not worth any money’ furniture; nonmatching, tea stained china; and an engraved table top filled with dust and crumbs – all sure signs of a fat, just out of the oven, home-made scone.

Well, it looked good on Instagram:

carvells-tea-scone-cream-liverpool

The reality: too small, too dry – in fact, had I bought a multiple pack from Tesco (that had been open for a few days), this is what I would have expected.

To make matters worse, we had to share a meagre portion of clotted cream – it wasn’t too sickly, so I could have happily indulged… And the jam? I guess it came 2-4-1 with the scones.

Don’t get me started on the unbrewable tea! Maybe it was art – I didn’t get it.

 

A warm welcome in Liverpool

I say warm. Wow! The sun was angry.

We hid for a few hours in our surprisingly chilled Ibis hotel room – no need to use the air con, as we hadn’t travelled over from the Antarctic!

Ridiculously well-priced at £65 p/night considering it was only 5 mins walk from the Liverpool Arena / docks. Clearly, they are yet to adopt Cardiff’s policy of quadrupling room prices when there’s an event on.

Ok, it was a box room, but there was enough space to crack open this beauty for pre-drink drinks:

fraoch-heather-ale-liverpool
Fraoch – William Bros. Brewing Co.

The ginger / space flavour and floral notes took me by surprise (guess I should read the bottle), but it was a nice divergence from my customary malty choices. Although I think the bottle deserved a meadow for its photographic setting.

 

All you need is… a sticky, moist rib

Not wanting to veer too far from our prime location, we opted for the first casual restaurant that wasn’t a Pizza Express or a Nando’s.

Bill’s had updated its menus since my last visit – and a quick Google photos search was enough to persuade me to order the Oak Smoked Asian Spiced Ribs – despite the £16.95 price tag!

bills-asian-ribs-body-close

Admittedly lacking in The Plate Licked Clean’s considerable rib eating knowledge / experience, I have rarely come across ribs as meaty, moist or tender.

“The size of the dish nearly put me to sleep.”

Borderline acceptable if you want more than a little chew left in them – but I was content in the knowledge I wouldn’t be distractingly tonguing at the dry meat which had wedged into my gums throughout Roger Waters’ set.

Although the size of the dish nearly put me to sleep – and I’m sure it has taken a few years off me.

Mrs. B.B.’s Macaroni Cheese was well cooked – the pasta still had bite left – but was really lacking a creamy, cheesy sauce.

macaroni-cheese-bills-liverpool

Plus, “there wasn’t any garlic bread” (I’m not sure if that’s a standard combination?). Overall, “a bit dry” is never a positive statement.

We did return the following morning for breakfast – again, we didn’t fancy Pizza Express or Nando’s.

The porridge was smooth and plentiful – the coconut milk making it a little richer than usual without being overpowering. The compote was more like a very sweet jam.

bills-restaurant-porridge-liverpool

My Eggs Royale was edible, but not up to their usual standard (we were served by the same staff as the previous evening, looking suspiciously less sprightly). One egg was slightly under, one was slightly over. The hollandaise sauce lacked punch – and was a little on the thin side. And it was served cold.

bills-restaurant-eggs-royale-liverpool

 

Us + Him

Now Roger Waters likes to tell us we are one and the same.

£105 a ticket says we’re not.

Neither does preaching against plastic waste whilst swigging out of a bottle of water. Nor does complaining about inequality and mocking wealthy public figures, whilst charging your fans more than even the Rolling Stones would dare (even the t-shirts were £30!)…

“Some of the protestations were embarrassing for their hypocrisy.”

I’m sure he means well, but some of the protestations were embarrassing for their hypocrisy.

And Roger’s habit of strutting across the stage to reach his arms out as a messiah-like figure made me uncomfortable – if not numb.

Because you can’t get past the fact he’s authored some of the greatest rock songs in the history of music – and has a live band as authentic to the group he founded as you could possibly wish for. Dave Gilmour wasn’t missed at all between the virtuoso guitar work of Dave Kilminster and uncanny vocals of ‘resident hippie’ Jonathan Wilson.

roger-waters-live-onstage-liverpool

Opener ‘Breathe’ lulled us in, before ‘One Of These Days’ attacked every sense – the repetitive bass guitar, distorted vocals and aggressive guitar and drums were heightened by the lighting and visual effects. It was a real jolt to the system that demanded your attention – and Roger & co. kept it until the end.

Of course, The Wall and Waters’ latest album provided plenty of ammunition for anti-Trump / anti-establishment imagery:

roger-waters-anti-trump-pram
Mrs. B.B. can’t fathom why he hasn’t been sued – although, maybe that accounts for the ticket price!

‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’ was particularly powerful, with local school children dressed in orange Guantanamo bay detainee uniforms lined up at the front of the stage, faces masked and heads bowed – before revealing black ‘resist’ t-shirts and lightening the mood with some enthusiastic dance moves for ‘Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2’.

roger-waters-resist-liverpool-arena

The audience seemed to appreciate the more restrained moments – ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’ giving the mostly shaven-headed, pot-bellied 60-somethings a chance to show off their tender sides. Arms aloft, swaying and singing their hearts out en masse as they brought to mind The Kop in full voice on a European night.

roger-waters-fans-arms-aloft
“… And you’ll never walk alone.”

I could not have imagined these Floyd classics sounding any better had the original line-up played them in their heyday.

I’m just about over the cost.

 

Let it be! You also got to see The Beatles

Well, not quite. But The Beatles Story was the next best thing only alternative.

I couldn’t wait to buy my t-shirts, ensuring I looked extra nerdy armed with the store’s branded carrier bag and audio guide as I photographed everything in sight.

There were some nice touches – recreating the Mersey Beat office, the inside of a ‘Yellow Submarine’, and the Cavern Club, which brought back fond memories of my less-costly gig going youth at the Cardiff Barfly.

beatles-story-cavern-club-liverpool

But it was largely a collection of photos and anecdotes that you’ll have surely have seen / heard already. However, you feel like you’ve had value for money – the audio tracks ensure you don’t move too quickly.

And the baked potatoes taste better than they look:

beatles-cafe-baked-potatoe

 

Getting back to where we still belong

We did all the touristy photos we could manage in the heat – plus one of a seagull:

seagull-liverpool-docks

And made our way back – unfortunately, via the M6 (no cake!).

Our stay was sadly brief, but who else can say they’ve seen the biggest and best bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s within 24 hours?

Ok, technically, I can’t. But it was the closest someone born in the ‘80s was ever going to get. 

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter to see more pictures from our Liverpool trip and other adventures.

 

Close-up of my burger at the Ben Nevis Inn, Fort William for the banner.

Man vs. midge: Who ate more of whom? The Highlands, Part 1

Hospitality in the Highlands has improved considerably since a French Connor MacLeod was driven out of his village and paid to not to laugh in the face of a Spanish (or was it Egyptian?) Sean Connery – I either need to watch more films or learn to Google places.

Here are a few of the predominantly food-related highlights from the first half of our 16-day road trip, which took in Stirling, Fort William, John O’Groats – and plenty of midges (first piece of advice: talk little and often – please note: there’s no more advice).

 

Close, but still Carlisle

I agree, it’s odd to feature Carlisle in a Highlands article.

Plus, I have enough material ammunition to create a standalone piece on the B&B we stayed at: 4-foot long bed, next to the sort of bars that make the Borough look tame, etc.

But the reason I wanted to start here was to wax lyrical about a hot pot.

The Old Bank City Pub and Chop House

carlisle-old-bank-pub-chop
Highly deceptive.

It may not look like there was much room underneath those crispy potatoes – but they certainly made the most of it. Plenty of chicken, big chunks of ham and a tarragon and cream sauce I could drink by the glass.

Mrs. B.B. went for the vegetarian option: tagliatelle with asparagus, mange tout and peas. “A huge portion. Probably too much chilli for most people – but I found it made the dish really addictive. Somehow managed to gobble the lot – stretching my stomach in preparation for the meals to come. Often feel cheated when ordering pasta dishes out, but this was definitely worth a tenner.”

A lengthy gin list for the cool kids amongst you – even if the waitress herself seemed surprised that they sold most of them!

 

‘There can be only one’ in Glasgow

Ok, so we didn’t stay in Glasgow – have you seen Taggart?!

But as fans of Strongman, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend a ‘Highland games’ – even if it was just a small local event on the outskirts of Scotland’s biggest city…

We didn’t expect to see the one, the only, “The Mountain from Game of Thrones” (surely a catchphrase now for Colin Bryce), 2018’s European Strongest Man, 2018’s World Strongest Man, 2018’s Arnold Strongman Classic winner… you getting the picture yet?

Yes, Hafthor “Thor” Bjornsson (did I mention he’s also Iceland’s Strongest Man?) was – we still can’t believe this – Chieftain at the Carmunnock International Highland Games. And yeah, he only went and broke the world height record for the 56lbs SHGA weight (and probably for the slowest moving queue to get a fan photo).

highland-games-thor-world-r
Who was the real star attraction?

Slim pickings on the refreshments (the less said about my anaemic-looking burger, the better), but a good-natured event, with plenty to keep all the family entertained – well, mainly the compere’s scathing putdowns of Thor, the contestants, and the waifs in the crowd who attempted ‘The Manhood Stone Lift’.

 

A gold ‘old time’ in Stirling

By the time we reached Stirling, there were concerns that factor-50 wasn’t going to cut it.

We hadn’t come to Scotland expecting to get a tan. Fortunately, Mrs. B.B. is a packing magician, and we’d managed to squeeze both of our wardrobes into a Skoda Fabia. Amongst the puffa jackets, rain coats, wellies and woolly jumpers, we had an ample supply of shorts and tees for the heat wave that was to remain a constant.

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Finding some shade to admire Stirling Castle.

It’s only a small city, but the temperature certainly helped us work up an appetite as we explored the imposing castle, Wallace Monument and various historical landmarks.

Friars Wynd

Of course, I had to kick off the holiday ‘proper’ with some ‘proper’ Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.

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Lost a few marks for the dressing.

Friars Wynd obliged – not too dense, plenty of pepper. Although it didn’t look as impressive as Mrs. B.B.’s chorizo and prawn packed paella – which arrived minus the advertised langoustine and calamari.

Mrs. B.B.: “With two key ingredients missing – two key reasons for ordering the dish! – it was disappointing. As much as I like chorizo, I have my limits. It was far too greasy.”

“They weren’t kidnapping the clientele!”

And fortunately, they weren’t kidnapping the clientele! We were a little concerned as people failed to return from ‘the toilet’ – but we checked before calling the police and discovered it’s also a hotel. Phew! Although, I could have made the evening more comfortable for myself had I known at the time.

Brea

I was in meat heaven at Brea:

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A little on the pricey side (£24.95!), but give me 3 lamb cutlets and I’ll pay anything. The pesto sauce really complimented the lamb in fairness – something I need to try at home. And there was a decent selection of local beers – something the nearby Wetherspoons failed to deliver on (Lancaster Red the closest geographically).

Mrs. B.B.’s sweet potato, spinach and butterbean stew was “a little pricey for what was basically a plate of veg! It was well cooked – and a nice healthy option as I attemped to compensate for the chorizo overdose the night before – but £14.95?! I don’t think so.”

Victoria Square Guesthouse

With our original accommodation cancelling just days before, we had to up the budget to find a last-minute alternative. And on this occasion, the old proverb that you really get what you pay for rung true.

victoria-square-guesthouse-stirling

An 1880s Victorian building, the guesthouse was beautifully decorated and well maintained – with nods to the past, but contemporary in its design and features. Although located just a few minutes from the city centre (and the DJ surely past 5 on the Richter magnitude scale), it was remarkably quiet. In fact, we wouldn’t have known anyone else was staying – had they not drunk all the complimentary sherry each evening!

“Even more rich and luxurious than it sounds.”

And the all-important breakfast: I was particularly wowed by the VS Eggs Benedict – toasted muffin topped with haggis and a poached egg. My only regret was opting for the salmon on day 2 – Scotland’s national dish would prove almost impossible to come by over the subsequent weeks. Mrs. B.B.’s porridge, served with cream, brown sugar and a splash of whisky, was “even more rich and luxurious than it sounds.”

 

Walking everywhere… but up Ben Nevis

That we reached Fort William in less than a day was some achievement. A 2-hour car drive extended to 8 as we stopped at every passing place roadside gravel patch to take photos of the awesome loch and mountain views. Mrs. B.B.’s protestations that we’d have plenty of photo opportunities over the next fortnight falling on deaf ears.

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One of about 4000 mountain shots.

We sensibly opted out of climbing Ben Nevis, but our stay in Fort William was still filled with action – and even a little danger – as we walked to Steall Falls along Nevis Gorge, visited the Neptune’s Staircase and fought for a prime ‘Harry Potter train’ viewpoint (otherwise known as the Glenfinnan Viaduct for the non-geeks).

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Took a few bruises from the Harry Potter fans to get this shot.

But the real excitement was to be found at the local Wetherspoons.

The Great Glen

Now, for all its founder’s faults – and the occasionally suspect clientele – we’re not adverse to a Wetherspoons. Low effort, decent beer selection (not always the case – see Stirling above), and comparatively tasty fast food. It seemed like a good choice after I’d exhausted us with endless “photo opportunity!” stops.

However, we must have visited on everyone’s first day at work! Orders heading to the wrong tables, angry complaints, refunds being issued in every direction – and then they ran out of coleslaw! (Not ideal when you’ve only ordered a jacket potato with coleslaw).

In fairness, they did offer us a refund – for 2 steaks! And then proceeded to bring a plain jacket potato out post-refund (for the correct amount – we’re honest!). However, we opted against the freebie and moved a few doors down…

The Geographer

There was a table left in The Geographer! (who knew Scotland was such a tourist magnet?!)

I wasn’t convinced by the menu’s ‘Global inspiration’, but my Braised highland venison and mushroom stew was simply divine. The meat was moist, it was packed with flavour and the sweet potato chips somehow remained crisp to the death. It was enough to forgive the lack of air con as the alcohol consumed poured just as quickly out of my forehead.

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Mrs. B.B.’s Mexican vegetable and bean chill “was as memorable as it sounds.”

Ben Nevis Inn & Bunkhouse

We may have bottled Ben Nevis, but we weren’t afraid of a battered fish the length of my wife’s forearm (and twice as wide). Well, I was – playing it safe with the inch-thick Ben Nevis Beef Burger, topped with melted cheddar (I still have dreams about it now), streaky bacon, BBQ mayo, tomato relish – and 50p wasn’t going to put me off a pot of coleslaw (it’s rare in these parts).

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Unsurprisingly, Mrs. B.B. could only manage a few chips, but thought the fish was a knockout – “light and crisp batter, wasn’t greasy; nice and fresh.”

I had my favourite beer of the holiday at this point – Nessie’s Monster Mash. A smooth, malty ale from the Cairngorm Brewery Co. which currently holds a rare 4.5 rating from myself on Untappd (will I ever give a 5?). I’m sure they feel honoured.

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It was an important meal at The Ben Nevis Inn to regenerate – the midges had feasted well that day.

Ardlinnhe B&B

It was at this point in the holiday I made the sensible decision not to feast on a full English (or Scottish!) every day – breakfasts would consistent of fruit, yoghurt and a variation on egg (ok, I had the odd vegetarian sausage) from this point on. No complaints on the poached, scrambled or fried eggs on offer here.

We’d been spoiled at the Victoria Square Guesthouse, so neither the building nor the room offered the same elegance or splendour. But we were, again, just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre, had stunning views of the loch:

fort-william-hotel-view-day

…and couldn’t fault a thing. In fact, it seemed remarkably cheap given every B&B we saw (and they seemed to be everywhere) had no vacancies.

 

Into the mist: John O’Groats and then… well, we couldn’t see where!

My shooting rate remained stubbornly high, but my photos were compromised as we made our way up North (properly up North now!) to John O’Groats and then back down the ‘other side’ via overnight stays in Lybster, Durness and Loch Luichart. The sea mist that was to set in only heightening the otherworldly feel as cyclists appeared in what appeared slow-motion from the clouds.

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It wasn’t a figment of my imagination!

It was at this point, I had well and truly lost touch with reality – we had the Carry On box set as our companion, the only other vehicles on the road were camper vans – and chickens had made their home at the local petrol station. It would take me a few weeks to readjust to the 30-minute morning queue into Newport when we returned home.

Dunnet Bay Distillers

No longer primed for 5:30am starts, I did put our 11am gin distillery tour (with the makers of Rock Rose gin) in jeopardy – fortunately, we were only 2 minutes late! “No apologies necessary,” we were ushered in and promptly handed a glass of gin and tonic that went straight to my head.

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Mrs. B.B. is more accustomed to opening bottles of gin!

If you’re on trend, you’ll be a gin expert. We’re laggards, so found the tour enlightening in every respect. The engaging guide talked us through the history of everything from the local area to the founder’s various Frankenstein-esque experiments.

It was very good value, with plenty of interaction, a dogged determination to get the wax melter working – and enough gin consumed (and taken away) to cover the entry fee!

Oakwood Traditional Scottish Restaurant & Gift Shop

Sorry, I was a bit too keen to get to the gin then!

The day before the distillery tour, we met up with the Elgin-based in-laws for lunch near Loch Ness at the Oakwood Traditional Scottish Restaurant. It would be one of the best-tasting meals of the holiday.

And it was unexpected to say the least.

There was more than a little trepidation as we pulled in to the car park:

oakwood-restaurant-building-scotland

…and the décor certainly had more in common with the hotel in Carry On Abroad than any restaurant we would normally choose to part with our hard-earned cash. But there was a collective sigh of relief, which turned into disbelief, and finally adoration as our eagerness to bequeath plaudits saved us from indigestion.

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The bread and butter pudding that nearly put our marriage in peril.

The laird’s casserole was exactly what the menu promised – rich in flavour (red wine, port, brandy and, of course, gin!) – and the meat was so tender.

“Slow cooked to heaven.”

Mrs. B.B.: “It might not have been all that to look at, but my butternut squash casserole had been slow cooked to heaven in cider, with sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms.”

This was hearty home cooking at its best.

I couldn’t quite fit in a dessert – but I was happy to steal half of Mrs. B.B.’s bread and butter pudding, which was light and moreish. I’ve regretted not sucking it up and dealing with the heart burn of a full portion ever since – and Mrs. B.B. still hasn’t forgiven me.

Smoo Cave Hotel

Once we’d passed Loch Ness, it was slim pickings on the grub front. The electric cool box and never-ending supply of Shredded Wheat bitesize were both a genius move on Mrs. H.’s part.

However, we did have one hell of a pie at the Smoo Cave Hotel. Well, two – one each!

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The pastry could barely contain the filling!

Crispy pastry, packed with meat – I don’t recall any veg (inside the pastry that is), but I guess there wasn’t room for more than a whole cow – and a decent beer or two (the Raven Ale from Orkney Brewery stands out as a Golden delight).

Hillside Bed and Breakfast

Our hosts – who had moved from Warrington to run the B&B – were welcoming to the point it felt like we were simply staying with friends. It’s a shame we couldn’t see the views – the mist made our accommodation seem even more isolated than it already was, although it did add an eerie quality that elevated our visit to the Smoo Cave (the actual cave – the stares from the locals served the same purpose in the restaurant!).

 

Don’t loch now..

Having survived the midge invasion in Loch Luichart – there’s a horror book in me now – and a mattress I assume was filled with cement, we started to make our way to The Isle of Skye for the second half our Highlands getaway.

The alcohol consumption would increase, the food bills would set off mild convulsions – and we’d make a four-hour road, ferry and foot trip to find the best.cake.ever!

Don’t forget to check out part 2 – and to follow us on Instagram and Twitter as we try and pad out our lifestyle until we can afford another adventure.