We were up bright and early for our road trip to scenic Wensleydale in North Yorkshire. The area is famous for the cheese to which it gives its name but for lots of other interesting things too as we were soon to discover.
Our first stop was to the village of Masham (pronounced massham) to take a tour of the Black Sheep Brewery, Masham is located 9 miles from Ripon and 8 miles from the A1.
This well known brewery was founded in 1992 by Paul Theakston who broke away from the famous Theakston family brewery also based in Masham to create his own company.
The name Black Sheep was the idea of his wife which is fitting as Paul was obviously thought of as the black sheep of the family for going it alone. The brewery has now become a household name having developed a distinctive range of craft beers.
One hour ‘shepherded’ guided tours take place several times each day, standard price £10.95 to include complimentary drinks afterwards. Our tour guide was Alan who was clearly passionate and knowledgeable having worked in the brewery himself for many years before becoming a guide. The tour started with a brief talk followed by a short video on the history of the brewery.
We learnt that the four key ingredients for brewing are malted barley, water, hops and yeast. Samples of barley and hops were then shown around the group and Alan explained that particular barleys were used to obtain distinctive colour and flavours.
We were then taken around the brewery viewing the entire process from mashing, boiling, fermenting and conditioning through to filling casks. From overhead balconies we had excellent views of the process taking place and at each point Alan explained the techniques involved using the high tech equipment.
At the end of the tour we were invited into the bar as our tickets included either a flight of three Black Sheep beers or a pint of our choice. Drivers are welcome to select a bottle of beer from the Black Sheep range to take home and enjoy later. The bar serves a range of home cooked classic pub meals and there’s also a shop with a range of gifts, beers and gins.
My husband came away with two boxes of ‘The Flock’ each containing six varieties from their range. Taking the tour was very interesting whether you are a beer drinker or not, good value and a great start to our short break in Wensleydale.
On leaving the brewery we turned our attention from beer to ice cream as just a ten minute drive away lies the Brymor Dairy.
It was a warm day and perfect weather for sampling some of their delicious flavours home made on their farm at High Jervaulx just outside Masham. Brymor was established by Brian Moore in 1984 and after outgrowing its original site in Harrogate, moved to Jervaulx in 1992.
Paul, the production manager kindly offered to show us around the dairy after covering up with white coats, hair nets and overshoes. We were then taken through the process from the pasteurisation of local milk and cream all the way to stepping inside the huge freezer to view the vast numbers of tubs of ice cream ready for distribution.
We’d toured a cheese making dairy before but it was the first time I’d been around an ice cream making one so we both found this very interesting. Following the tour we were taken into the ice cream parlour which is open daily between 10.00-17.00. It’s a lovely cafe with candy coloured chairs and large windows. In addition to Brymor’s 25 varieties of ice cream, light meals including sandwiches, pizzas, cakes and scones can also be enjoyed there or outside on the large terrace.
We sampled a selection of their award winning ice creams including their Riggwelter raisin ripple containing Black Sheep beer and Wensleydale and ginger cheesecake made with the famous Wensleydale cheese produced locally in Hawes.
If I had to choose though, my favourites would be their sea salted caramel, coffee mochaccino and the Amarena Black Cherry Whim Wham which has just won three stars at the 2022 Great Taste awards. This flavour was so delicious that we couldn’t resist sitting in the parlour with a large cone each, every lick leaving me in ice cream heaven.
To walk off our sweet treats we took a stroll through their maize maze cut from a large field of living maize plants, eventually managing to find our way out. On site there’s also a children’s play area and an adventure playground offering something for young and old. I’ll definitely be stopping by next time I’m in the area and looking out for Brymor ice cream stockists on my travels as believe me, it’s delicious!
Continuing on our way, our next destination was neither food nor drink related and instead was a visit to The Forbidden Corner on the Tupgill Park Estate in Coverham, close to where we would be staying in Middleham. Its name sounds intriguing and the entire place is just that as it’s a unique labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, follies and other surprises in its four acre garden. Standard adult admission £14.50. Entrance is by pre-booked time slots only to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy the site without it becoming overcrowded.
The Forbidden Corner was originally built as a private folly for the exclusive enjoyment of friends and family but was later opened up to the public by popular demand.
On picking up our tickets we were handed a leaflet indicating numerous sculptures and other interesting characters such as a giant woodsman and a floating griffin. The idea is to work your way along winding paths, navigating through dark tunnels some leading into deep caverns and others just to dead ends to try and find as many of these items as you can.
As there are many more sculptures to be seen than those identified on the list, it’s quite tricky as it’s very easy to get lost and confused but entertaining for young and old alike. We managed to locate more than half the items on the list but it took quite awhile as we kept finding ourselves at doors that didn’t lead anywhere. Riddles etched into stone provide some clues but hazards await such as hidden water jets which we got sprayed with several times.
The Forbidden Corner isn’t a maze in the true sense of the word but sort of feels like one. Although the attraction is mainly geared towards families with young children it’s actually good fun for everyone as it’s so unusual and with a cafe and restaurant on site, it makes for a pleasant outing.
On leaving the Forbidden Corner behind, history beckoned as the ruins of Middleham Castle came into view. The castle is open from 10.00-17.00 with standard admission £7 and free for members of English Heritage. The castle is famous as it was the childhood home of King Richard III.
Although roofless, extensive remains of the fortified castle survive to this day. Middleham has the largest castle keep in the north of England and from the viewing platform at the top of its tower we enjoyed excellent views of the village below and of the surrounding area. There’s also a small museum at one end of the gift shop but no other facilities are available.
Back in the car, our accommodation for the next two nights was just down the road overlooking the market place. After parking on the cobbles we removed our luggage from the boot and wandered across to the gorgeous Grade II listed Wensleydale Hotel.
The hotel was once an inn with a neighbouring hotel and provisions store which has been combined to create a charming boutique hotel. We were greeted by the owner Fiona Merchie who along with her family took over the hotel in 2019, completely renovating it during lockdown.
We were shown to our superior double room on the first floor which had views of the marketplace and castle. The room was decorated in country inspired tones with traditional soft furnishings.
Before dinner we enjoyed a wander around the small town which is elegantly arranged around two market squares surrounded by Georgian buildings, interesting small shops, galleries and cafes.
We’d arranged to have dinner in the hotel’s Tack Room restaurant with its race horse theme reflecting Middleham’s horse racing heritage. Fifteen of the UK’s top thoroughbred racing yards are based in or close to the town producing some of the finest race horses in the world today.
Menus have a distinctly continental influence blended beautifully with the best of locally sourced produce. Monty, the owner’s son looked after us for the evening and my dishes of grilled tiger prawns, lamb rump and dark chocolate mousse were all splendid and a credit to their Portuguese chef Rui.
The Tack Room’s well thought out wine list includes a good range of wines and artisan spirits from local vintners and our Pinot Grigio was light and refreshing and a perfect accompaniment to dinner on a warm summer’s evening. After sipping coffee we retired to our lovely room for the night and were sound asleep in no time at all, nestled between the fine Egyptian bed linen.
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