Wednesday 8 July 2009

Dusk, New Street, York

An incongruously bohemian cafe-bar in amongst the chain stores and restaurants in the heart of touristy York, Dusk is squarely aimed at the student market. It has a laid-back vibe, battered toilets, free Wi-Fi, cheap drinks for students and soulful music. As well as the main bar, there is also a large seating area upstairs and a handful of tables on the pavement outside. Quiet during the day, Dusk is reputed to get lively in the evenings. 6/10

Slug & Lettuce, Low Ousegate, York

A very roomy bar with large windows overlooking the river, York's branch of the Slug & Lettuce chain is popular with local office workers and tourists, particularly on Monday lunchtimes when food is half price. Inside, there are bare brick walls, inoffensive Ikea-style fittings and decor, plus loads of tables and chairs. The creamy and cheesy fish pie, served with some willowy green beans and crispy ciabatta, is good comfort food, while the ultimate burger (about a tenner) is a generous "mini-skyscraper" of meat, cheese, onion rings, mushrooms, bacon and bread. Served with chips, it should fill you up. Fosters, John Smith and other mainstream beers are on tap, while cheerful young locals wait on tables. Not exactly the place to soak up York's history, but a respectable pit-stop. 6/10

York Minster Tower, York, Yorkshire

Inside York Minster, a sign warns visitors that only the "very fit" with a head for heights should pay four pounds and climb the 275 steps to the top of its monumental central tower. In reality, you can be a reasonably unfit vertigo-sufferer and still make it to the top with the help of the iron hand rail. But don't think about turning around half way - visitors are sent up in 30 minute batches as the stone spiral staircase is tight and there are very few passing places. Half way up, you have to traverse a narrow, but safe, steel walkway between the first spiral staircase and the even tighter second one that takes you to the roof of the tower which is enclosed by a mesh cage. Even so, there are captivating views of the Minster's splendid twin Gothic towers, the tight-knit streets and lanes of the walled city below and the distant green countryside, punctuated by a couple of clusters of cooling towers. Every few yards, there is a magazine-sized gap in the mesh through which you can take photos. Panels tell you what you are looking at and how far it is away, including both notable buildings in York and ripples on the horizon, such as Leeds, the North Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Wolds. 7/10

Northern Rail, Hammerton to York, Yorkshire

This sluggish twenty-minute journey, covering less than 10 miles, costs a whopping £4.80 one way for adults - you pay on board. Moreover, the trains only run every 30 minutes in the morning rush hour and every hour for the rest of the day. Although some of the carriages do have bicycle racks, this service is a sorry reflection of the state of Britain's railways. 5/10

The Tea Room at Bolton Castle, Wensleydale, Yorkshire Dales

Occupying one of the larger rooms in medieval Bolton Castle, this tea room serves up historical atmosphere. One wall is dominated by a large stone fireplace blackened by centuries of use and a circular cast iron chandelier hangs from the centre of the high wood-beamed ceiling. On a large table is a buffet of cakes, scones and pies. A hefty slice of squidgy, sweet and delicious banoffee pie costs just £1.70, while you can wash it down with tea, coffee or even a bottled beer. For something a bit different and quite refreshing, try one of the Luscombe's organic fizzy drinks whose exotic ingredients include Madagascan vanilla and Sicilian lemons. 7/10

The Farmer's Arms, Muker, Yorkshire Dales

A traditional pub in the Swaledale hamlet of Muker, the Farmer's Arms' front terrace makes for a good suntrap for walkers or cyclists looking for a lunch-stop. On a Sunday, there are roasts on offer (about £7.50 a dish) or you can opt to have your meat in a bap with a side salad for about a fiver. The roast beef is succulent and moreish, while the bread is soft and fluffy. The ploughman's lunch comes with generous helpings of several cheeses including the crumbly and subtle variety from nearby Wensleydale. You can also get a side order of chips for £2.50, but they can be a bit too crispy. Still, Theakston's renown Old Peculier is among the pub's staple beers and the Farmer's Arms is popular with visitors to the Dales looking for some keenly-priced, but filling, grub. 7/10

Yorkshire Dales Cycle Way

Also known more prosaically as Regional Route 10, the Yorkshire Dales Cycle Way is a 130-mile loop through one of the most scenic and timeless areas of England. Mostly on quiet, largely traffic-free, country lanes, the heavily-undulating route, waymarked by blue signs featuring a ram's head, includes many gruelling, highly-aerobic climbs. To pass from one dale to the next you typically need to climb from the valley floor at around 200 metres up to about 500 metres in the surrounding hills. Still, at the top, you usually get a grand view of the green, green slopes, criss-crossed by dry stone walls and untouched by modern development. Then you can enjoy a fast white-knuckle descent into the next dale where an age-old pub or sedate tea room will be waiting. With few really flat stretches, the Yorkshire Dales Cycle Way is not a route for the faint-hearted, but it is a lot of fun. 8/10

The George Inn, Hubberholme, Skipton, North Yorkshire

A real time warp pub, the George Inn has small, cosy rooms with stone walls decorated with brass artifacts, a flagstone floor, low ceilings, ancient fireplaces and black and white prints on the wall, including a portrait of the young George Best. On a Saturday night, your fellow patrons will likely be a mix of walkers passing through the dale and middle-aged couples sitting in semi-silence. The George Inn stops taking food orders around 8pm, but if you arrive in time, the pub grub menu includes scampi, lasagne, steak and other stock dishes. The Black Sheep casserole (£10) is rather runny, but comes with a fair helping of lamb and is served with some crispy chips and a side-plate of over-cooked potatoes and saggy vegetables. There is also a selection of large traditional English deserts. On tap are some local ales, such as Golden Pippin and Black Sheep, several lagers and a very refreshing dry cider. 6/10

Hartrigg House, Buckden, Skipton, North Yorkshire

An elegant railway hotel dating from the 1880s, Hartrigg House is now a bed and breakfast with a big garden and fine views across the pastoral idyll of Wharfedale. When you arrive, you are offered a cup of tea in a dainty china cup and a buttered scone with jam in the guest lounge. You can stay in a homely twin room with a pleasant view through a large sash window (£67 B&B for two), but your bathroom, featuring a huge air bath, is on another level and doesn't have a shower. One of the other bedrooms is en-suite. For breakfast, you can choose from several hot dishes ranging from a smoked salmon bagel to a full English consisting of a perfectly cooked and presented poached egg, meaty bacon, tasty stewed tomatoes, sausage and black pudding. On a small table there is also a buffet with a selection of juices, figs in syrup, chopped pineapple, yoghurts and cereals. Hartrigg House is run by a friendly and self-deprecating lady, with the help of her husband and, when he is back from university, a chirpy student. 7/10