AFTER a long time away “doing everything from gravedigging to teaching wakeboarding” Ian Hudson is back in his home village and running the pub which he has coveted for years.
The third stop on my meandering career in the foothills of British journalism was the Selby Times, a newspaper for whom the Abbey bells and the tolls on the river bridge were both a big source of news. Yet even by these standards the outlying village of Wheldrake was a backwater. I went there once to get a story, but it was shut.
Yet nestling in the heart of this rural community in the gentle Vale of York countryside is the very essence of a country pub with oak beams, a roaring fireplace and some proper hospitality. And by re- establishing the Wenlock Arms’ reputation for great beer and quality home-cooked food Ian is putting this road-to-nowhere village right back on the map.
From the main street, you enter a pub which is essentially open plan, but where walls and baffles create a series of distinct areas, each with a genuine feeling of intimacy. They are wrapped around a long central bar which is dominated by three handpumps dispensing well-kept real ale, and throbs with the sociable chatter of village life. Yorkshire-brewed Black Sheep has a permanent place on the bar, augmented by two guest ales which change regularly.
Ian is also re-establishing the pub’s reputation for good food, with quality pub meals served all day five days a week and a traditional carvery on Sunday afternoons.
The menu touches all of the major bases – steaks, seafood, pasta, pies, curries, salads – and impressed by the selection we decide to push the boat out with starters.
This decision proves a little over-ambitious, given the size and scale of the portions here. I start with a mound of big juicy mushrooms, which have been spread generously across a giant slab of ciabatta and bathed in a rich and creamy garlic sauce. In many pubs this would quality as a main course in its own right.
My partner’s proves the lighter option, a seabass steak which has been imaginatively served with a Caesar salad and slices of crispy bacon. Both are just £4.25, establishing credentials of both quality and value for money which continue into the main courses.
For me it’s the pie, obviously – lots of hearty chunks of steak in a rich meaty gravy, all wrapped in a shortcrust pastry (£9.95) and served with a bowl of carrots, peas, crunchy kale, and a mound of chips.
Not uncharacteristically, my partner goes straight for the rump. This juicy 8oz steak (£12.95) comes with salad, tomatoes, mushrooms, chips, and giant onion rings and defeats her utterly.
A brace of old school desserts – brownies and sticky toffee pudding – are served at the next table, but the relentless onslaught of those first two courses ensures that we opt instead for coffees instead, before staggering out to the car park for the drive back to West Yorkshire.
Over coffee, Ian joins us for a chat. “I grew up in the village. I used to help out here, and I have been after it for about 15 years. I’ve been in here about three months now.”
He already runs the entertainment-oriented Bay Horse at nearby Stamford Bridge, and though he has begun to put on live acts at the Wenlock, the two pubs will remain quite different, this one very much focussed on the food. “I’m enjoying this different challenge,” he tells me.
Ian’s parents still live nearby, and he has been working hard to garner greater public support for the pub. There’s a quiz on Wednesdays, good value lunches for senior citizens during the week, and he has tapped into the local talent in order to showcase some live music acts too: “There are quite a few guys in the village who are in bands, so we’re given them a place where they can play.”
Future plans include establishing an inflatable indoor play area in the function room, to attract more young families along.
And for all that the food and beer will play a big part in the Wenlock’s resurgence, it is this strategy of getting the village onside, and bringing in customers from wider afield, which will be crucial to its long term success.
As Ian says: “It’s the people who make it work.”
Name: The Wenlock Arms
Opening Hours: Noon-midnight daily
Beers: Black Sheep (£3.20) plus two guest ales at around £3.20. Also Carling (£3.30), Coors (£3.35), Stella Artois (£3.70), Guinness (£3.50), Carling cider (£3.50)
Wine: Decent wine list with choices from £4.95-glass and £14.95-bottle
Food: Quality pub meals served noon-9pm Tues-Sat and noon-5pm Sun. Senior citizens meals noon-2pm
Children: Welcomed – indoor play area planned.
Disabled: Easy access to ground floor, split level areas inside
Beer garden: Yes
Entertainment: Lively programme of live music, quiz Weds.
Functions: Function room available for private hire
Parking: Large area to side and rear
Telephone: 01904 448240