IF YOU asked the average person which were the bloodiest battles ever fought on British soil, the chances are they would go for Hastings, Bannockburn or Bosworth.
History may have turned on each of these, and yet in sheer terms of bodies, they were mere skirmishes compared to the events of Palm Sunday 1461 when, amid a whirling snowstorm in Towton, the Yorkists defeated the Lancastrians, and something like 28,000 died – many of them drowned in nearby Cock Beck as they fled the battlefield. The death toll amounted to about one per cent of the entire British population of the time.
The site of this ancient massacre is just across the road from the Crooked Billet, the battlefield now a mundane spot for walkers and historians. These gentle rolling Yorkshire pastures have long closed over their past and sealed their bloody secrets to the earth.
Those who are drawn here often make their way to the Crooked Billet for refreshment after their walk. It’s a little off the beaten track, roughly midway between Tadcaster and Church Fenton, among that constellation of largely unspoiled villages just to the east of the Great North Road.
Stepping through the front door, you arrive at the corner of a bar which is dominated by three real ale handpumps. The choices change, but on this occasion they included Theakston’s Best and the refreshing White Witch from Moorhouse’s Brewery in Lancashire. These quality beers and their Cask Marque accreditation are a symbol of a pub which clearly looks after its drinkers, and there’s plenty more here – an attractive beer garden, social events, and a weekly quiz – to suggest that the Crooked Billet is keen to nurture its regular local drinking trade, as well as those who come here for the history.
To the left of the front door is a drinking area, to the right a main dining room, beyond which is an airy conservatory, again the preserve of the diners.
For decades the has had a strong reputation for its food, and landlady Laura, who has been here for nearly four years, seems to have maintained that tradition.
When we called in for dinner last week, the majority of customers were eating, many of them gamely doing battle with chef’s truly massive Yorkshire puddings which are roughly the size of the helmets worn by the combatants at Towton, and come stuffed with a host of fillings.
As we stood at the bar with our pints, a steady stream of plates piled high with pies and steaks were whisked under our noses – and so inevitably we decided to stay for dinner too.
It was a good decision. After a chunky smoked haddock and chorizo fishcake I went for the pie of the day, a hearty slab of chicken and asparagus, encased on three sides by pastry and served with chips, gravy and a bowl of mixed vegetables for good measure.
My partner slurped her way through the soup of the day, a porridge thick swamp of leek and potato, followed by roast beef and all the trimmings.
Smaller portions of many of the dishes are also available, while the main menu is augmented by a lunch menu, specials board and fixed-priced offers.
The food here actually starts at 9am, with hearty full English breakfasts served until late morning – which could be just the thing if you’re setting out for a yomp across the battlefield.
And, if you want the full Towton experience, why not come along here for one of the regular archery meetings? The next one is on October 16 – see the pub’s website for full details.
The Crooked Billet
Address: Wakefield Road, Saxton
Type: Traditional dining pub
Opening Hours: 9am-10pm daily
Beers: Changing range of three real ales, plus Guinness, Fosters, Kronenbourg, John Smith Smooth and Moretti
Wine: Good choice
Food: Hearty Yorkshire dining available, starting with breakfast from 9am – and changing menus throughout the day. Sunday menu noon-8.30pm
Children: Welcomed, kids meals available
Disabled: Slightly tricky access and some split-level areas inside
Entertainment: Quiz night Friday plus occasional other special events
Functions: Areas available for private hire
Beer Garden: Attractive area to the rear
Parking: Large area to the side
Telephone: 01937 557389