SOME claims just demand to be put to the test. If a new song is hailed as the greatest ever, you feel compelled to listen to it. If a striker’s missed open goal is dubbed the worst ever, you can’t resist watching the footage.
Likewise, when I drove past a village pub and spotted a sign promising “Yorkshire’s finest riverside beer garden”, I had no choice but to perform a swift U-turn to check out this bold claim. I’m glad I did.
The Bull in West Tanfield, between Masham and Ripon, is a fine old country inn, dating back hundreds of years and boasting a friendly welcome, local ales and tempting food.
The village is famous for the medieval Marmion Tower and its church, and local history enthusiasts are proud of the fact that Turner painted here during his 1816 tour of Yorkshire – but we would have hurtled by obliviously had it not been for that one sign.
As one would expect in these parts, Masham beers dominate: Black Sheep Best Bitter, Theakston’s Best and Theakston’s new Four and Twenty stood proudly on the bar. There was a Sunday roast menu on the blackboards as well as pizzas and a scattering of other options, but neither the food nor the beer were our priority, for a change.
Instead, it was the garden we wanted to test. So, slipping through the back door and down some steps, we entered this much-vaunted little haven – and what a spot it was.
It sits in the shadow of the River Ure Bridge, virtually on the banks of the river itself, and is a beautiful little sun-trap. There are 15 picnic tables spread between three tiers of grass, on an embankment leading down towards the water. There are flower pots here and there, a couple of covered tables, and some toys to keep any children amused. And as we whiled away an hour or so, it was hard to find anything to fault.
And yet.... The finest riverside beer garden in Yorkshire? The boldness of the claim got me thinking, scouring my mind for other contenders for the crown, and there are a fair few.
The Bull does take some beating, but in the interests of fairness, here are three more of the best, all of which could stake a claim to the title as well. If you want to email me your suggestions to email@example.com I’ll mention a few next week.
• The Birch Hall Inn at Beck Hole is one of the quaintest, most endearing pubs in the North York Moors. It has a serving hatch instead of a bar and just two small rooms, one of which doubles as a miniature village shop. A couple of years ago they added a little garden just above the Murk Esk beck, and on a sunny day it’s sheer bliss.
• The Ferry at Cawood is a large riverside pub that has gained an enviable reputation in recent years for local ales and simple, hearty food. The vast garden overlooks the Ouse near where it meets the Wharfe and it has ample space, even on busy days.
• The Ferry Boat Inn in Thorganby, near Wheldrake, sits on the banks of the River Derwent and its large garden slopes gently down to the water. It can flood when the river rises but at most times it is one of the most relaxing spots in the county. The tremendous beer range in this free-house and the evening birdsong in this rural idyll add to the enjoyment.
•There’s a beer festival at The Marcia in Bishopthorpe today and tomorrow.
• There’s also one in Tollerton Village Hall from 4pm today.