AFTER a period of some decline, things are looking up at the Hopper Lane Hotel.
Under the ownership of Intrepid Inns and the management of Chris Mallows, plans are afoot to return this famous old roadside inn to its rightful place as a serious drinking and dining pub – and as a great place to stay.
It is too big, too impressive a property to lie around unloved and unfrequented. With a warren of drinking areas, dining rooms, five bedrooms and a 200-seat conference venue upstairs it’s considerably bigger on the inside than it first looks when you pull up at the car park, alongside the A58 at Fewston reservoir, between Harrogate and Pateley Bridge.
Stepping inside, you are greeted by the heartening sight of Yorkshire ales on the bar, from which I initially choose the refreshing, easy drinking Timothy Taylor Golden Best, which has many of the soft, slightly malty characteristics you might actually expect of a mild. I’m not sure if Taylors are having a particular “push” on this beer at the moment, though I’m coming across it increasingly frequently on my travels, at least as regularly as their world-famous Landlord. My partner goes for the soft, slightly banana-toffeeish Black Sheep.
We take our beers to a table in one of the pub’s numerous nooks and crannies, one of which has a glass-topped table offering floodlit views down the pub’s ancient stone well. There is a smattering of customers around the place, but for the Hopper Lane really to have any atmosphere it needs more of them. Here it feels a little like we’re rattling around in an empty shell, waiting for something to happen. It’s been allowed to get a little cold too; the open fire lies sadly unused, so we naturally gravitate to a spot beside one of the radiators and pray that our dinner would be both hot and prompt.
Beside the table, a huge old century map of neighbouring villages proves an interesting distraction, not least because it seems to predate the construction of the string of reservoirs in the Washburn Valley, which have now made the area around here such an attractive spot for walkers. Such folk will certainly find a warm welcome at the Hopper Lane – the part wooden, part stone-flagged floor is ideal for heavy walking boots, the well-kept bitter the perfect end to a long day’s ramble.
Good food too. Ours soon arrives, a chunky pork loin (£11.25) for me, served with a mound of red cabbage and fluffy mashed potato, and a powerful mustard and peppercorn sauce.
My partner is on the steak again – it’s her way of reminding me that our oven’s grill still isn’t working, despite me having promised to fix it. There’s a part on the way, honest. Anyhow, she’s chosen the rump steak (£15.35) which is a really sizeable slab of beef with tomatoes, fried onions, mushrooms, slightly overdone potato wedges, and, for no particular good reason, salad. She polishes off the meat of course, but some of the accoutrements remain unfinished, despite my help.
Over coffees, Chris wanders across for a chat. After taking redundancy from Hallmark Cards, he has been in here just six weeks, though has considerable experience of running pubs earlier in his career, notably the Station at Otley.
His mission is to re-establish the Hopper Lane’s reputation as a place to drive out to, the kind of destination to appeal to drinkers and diners from miles around. At the same time, he wants to re-connect with the pub’s locals, who are spread around the villages and farming communities nearby “What we are trying to do is offer good English pub food and real value for money,” he says. “The locals are starting to drift back in. We’re serving breakfasts from 8am and hoping that will bring in the passing trade, people on their way to work.”
A function room upstairs can seat up to 200 people and with its own private bar lends itself well to all manner of conferences, events and receptions. Special events are planned for Burns Night, this Tuesday, and Valentine’s Day, next month. “We’ve got a darts team as well,” he adds. “It’s really all about fostering a strong community spirit.”
Host: Chris Mallows
Type: Roadside inn, restaurant and hotel Opening Times: 8am-11.30pm daily
Beers: Copper Dragon Golden Pippin (£3), Timothy Taylor Golden Best (£3), Black Sheep (£3), John Smith’s Smooth (£2.80); Foster’s (£3.10), Kronenbourg (£3.40), Amstel (£3.40); Strongbow (£3.10), Guinness (£3.40),
Wine: Good choice from £3.75-glass
Food: Food available to 8.30pm daily from breakfast menu through to lunch and dinner menus
Accommodation: Five letting rooms, prices from £45 for double room
Functions: Upstairs conference suite available for hire for special events
Entertainment: TV, darts, occasional themed events
Disabled: Straightforward access, disabled toilet facilities Beer Garden: Attractive area to rear
Parking: To side and rear
Telephone: 01943 880191