IF YOU were searching for the perfect picture book example of the traditional Yorkshire village pub, the Buck Inn would surely make the shortlist.
Thornton Watlass is one of those lovely unspoiled Dales villages which you might occasionally chance upon during walks or drives around this remarkable county. At its heart is a wide green which doubles as a pasture for the cows and a cricket pitch for the village team; the stone fronted pub sits just beyond the boundary.
Tony and Vicky Jowett bought The Buck in 2014 and have worked hard to restore its reputation for hearty Yorkshire hospitality. “We looked at lots of places before coming here,” says Vicky, who has long experience in the hospitality industry. “This had everything – a garden, bedrooms, a function room – we could see it had potential.
The couple spent plenty on the kitchens, five guest rooms and on the two distinct drinking spaces which open to each side of the central bar. One is a long function room which has proved ideal for all manner of events: They hosted their first wedding recently.
The function room is playing home to the annual agricultural-themed quiz for the Young Farmers on our visit, so we head to the other, a cosy and fiercely-traditional snug with a tartan carpet, brewery mirrors, watercolours of country scenes, and a red-brick fireplace roaring with a big log fire. On each table cruet sets have been embossed with the deer’s head emblem of the pub.
Here a group of locals have gathered at the bar for an evening pint, and we soon fall into conversation with some of them – it’s that sort of place.
In a corridor between the two bars is a little collection of vintage theatre and cinema posters. One, advertising a fresh-faced John Gielgud starring in The Tempest, looks like a real collectors’ piece.
Masham is close by so it’s no surprise to see Black Sheep and Theakston’s Best on the bar, though there’s a much wider choice on the other hand-pulls than these two Yorkshire heavyweights. “We want people to drink local beers,” says Vicky, whose sources a variety of moderately-strengthed ales from smaller breweries. From these, I choose The Ex-Wife, a well-balanced session ale from the Three Brothers Brewery on Teesside, a fine accompaniment to some of the simple but high-quality fare being turned out from the Buck’s refurbished kitchens.
I started with a generous portion of the crunchy deep-fried whitebait. My wife went for creamy garlic mushrooms.
The menu changes with the seasons - now the clocks have gone back I feel perfectly justified in plumping for the chunky pork, onion and black pepper sausages which comes on a sturdy mound of mash, with a red onion gravy and a bowl of vegetables. Across the table, a slab of beefburger with melted blue cheese, chips and salad elicits significant sounds of appreciation.
Apart from the ice cream, all the food here is home made, and much of the produce sourced locally. Even so, Vicky is keen to assert that the Buck is, first and foremost, a pub. “We’re not gastro [or a]restaurant, we’re just a local pub.
“Most people in the village come in – perhaps not every night, but maybe once a week or once a month.” It helps that a couple of neighbouring villages have no pub of their own and as word has spread of the good things happening here, the Buck is starting to draw in a healthy clientele from further afield.
Visitors to the village’s holiday cottages and caravan park also support the Buck; clay squares out back for the traditional game of quoits, and private fishing rights on the River Ure draw those in search of a little sport.
The Buck Inn
Hosts: Tony and Vicky Jowett
Opening hours: Noon-11pm Mon-Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun
Beers: Theakston and Black Sheep – plus a changing choice of real ales, predominantly from northern breweries. Also Carling, Guinness and Stowford Press cider.
Wine: Good choice of wines by the glass and by the bottle from £3.10-glass and £15-bottle
Food: Quality pub food served lunchtimes and evenings daily
Children: Welcomed but no special facilities
Disabled: Straightforward access
Beer Garden: Tables to the front and beer garden to the rear
Entertainment: Trad jazz on Sunday afternoons, cricket in summer – and fishing passes are available exclusively to pub guests. Quoits fixtures played on Wednesday evenings in summer.
Functions: Large function room
Accommodation: Five rooms available for bed and breakfast
Telephone: 01677 422 461