Pub review: Station Hotel, Birswith, near Harrogate

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THE TOUR de France doesn’t come within three miles of Birstwith, but the village is ablaze with bunting and yellow bicycles all the same.

The trains don’t come either. The pub is one of many around the county which retain a railway-related title, long after Beeching’s axe banished its station to history.

In the brick vaulting of abandoned viaducts, in sidings overrun with rust and weeds and in the gently undulating routes loved by walkers, cyclists and wildlife, the scars of the Victorian railways remain. In Birstwith, half a stone bridge rears up from the roadside a stone’s throw from a pub whose name recalls the function it served before the last train to Harrogate ran through in 1963.

Which is all a real shame; rail passengers and Tour followers alike are missing out on a picture postcard Yorkshire village and a fine old pub which has re-invented itself as a rural inn, a quality dining destination, and a comfortable hotel in easy reach of the Dales.

It could easily be gone. Previous tenants struggled to keep their heads above water here and for a while the Station was closed. Many pubs which follow this cycle of decline never re-open, and it was this worry – that his village inn might never open again – which persuaded Martin Green to step into the breach.

“I was determined it wouldn’t close,” he tells me over a refreshingly bitter Copper Dragon Best. “I’ve lived in this village for 30 years. The pub’s had its ups and downs and by the time it closed it was absolutely dreadful.”

Keeping it open was one thing, enabling it thrived was another – Martin sank a small fortune into five guest bedrooms, a dining room opening onto a garden and “the most expensive barbecue on the planet”.

Old photographs show the famous Tetley Huntsman on the front of the pub, and though Martin did continue selling it for a while, its shift to the midlands forced a change of heart: “We wanted the beers to be all from Yorkshire,” says Martin. Best is a permanent fixture, as is Golden Sheep from Masham and there are two other guest ales changing regularly. Cask Marque accreditation underlines the commitment to quality.

Even lager drinkers can buy local – Copper Dragon produce the Radka pilsner which slugs it out with some more familiar brands on the bar.

Whether you’re here for morning coffee, a long lunch, a relaxing pint in the afternoon or a late dinner you’ll find the doors open.

“I wanted it to be open all the time,” says Martin. “It’s mad because you have a big wage bill and perhaps not many coming in. But eventually people get to know that it will be open, and they rely on it, and it’s available whenever they want it.”

Villagers, walkers, cyclists – anyone who happens to be passing – can be assured of a warm welcome and food’s served all day.

My wife and I ate here for our recent wedding anniversary (our 137th) and experienced a faultless performance.

We started with seafood – hers the yielding scallops drizzled with a big-tasting pea puree, mine the haddock goujons with their delicate batter. We soon moved onto the beef, all locally-sourced, and the high standards established by the starters were maintained into the mains. I opted for steak pie, huge chunks of lean beef in a rich sauce beneath a thin pastry lid; Katrina had rump steak, nicely pink in the middle and served with chips, onion rings, vine tomatoes and a mild peppery sauce. Portions were generous; a side dish of carrots, leeks, green beans and cauliflower remained largely unexplored.

After much resting and loosening of clothing we agreed to share a cheeseboard, a slab of Yorkshire slate labouring under a weight of blues and bries and smoky cheeses, grapes, celery and crackers. After those sizeable mains, we were crackers to order this, frankly, but sturdy reviving coffees helped it down.

FACTFILE

Name: The Station Hotel

Host: Martin Green

Type: Gastropub/hotel

Opening hours: 10.30am-11pm Mon-Thurs, 10.30am-midnight Fri, 10.30am-11pm Sat, noon-10pm Sun

Beers: Copper Dragon Golden Best (£3), Golden Sheep (£3.20) plus two guest beers, Carlsberg (£3.30), Radka (£3.50), Becks (£3.40), San Miguel (£3.60), Guinness (£3.80)

Wine: Excellent selection

Food: Restaurant menu available noon-2.30pm and 5.30-9pm Mon-Sat and noon-8pm Sun. Smaller afternoon menu available 2.30-5.30pm Mon-Sat

general: Beer garden, large car park, children welcome, disabled access, five bed b&b, £100 for a couple, live bands on Sat July 12.

contact: 01423 770254, email: station.hotel@btinternet.com

WEBSITE: www.station-hotel.net

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