The Black Bull in Sedbergh – Review
By Rachel Howard
Living in Yorkshire, I’m very lucky to have a number of national parks on my doorstep – the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District, the Lake District and Northumberland are all in spitting distance – if not within – God’s own county. Along with the UK’s other national parks, these provide us all with some of the best scenery, nature and scenic villages the country has to offer.
So it is with great excitement that we set off on a mini break that will enable us to visit two of my favourites in just one short trip. Our destination is the small Cumbrian town of Sedbergh, lying just 10 miles east of Kendal and 10 miles north of Kirkby Lonsdale. This location couldn’t be more perfect for getting out into the hills of the Yorkshire Dales, but also out on the water in the Lake District.
“Warm and welcoming”
Sedbergh is a picturesque book town nestled into the surrounding hills. Narrow cobbled lanes are packed with book shops, cafes and pubs, not to mention a highly regarded public school. The town attracts large numbers of tourists and walkers – so it is especially apt that one of the local pubs has recently been renovated to give visitors the option of a high-end, luxury Sedbergh stay.
The Black Bull is a former coaching inn situated on one of Sedbergh’s narrow, winding lanes. It retains its original features from the outside but once inside, it’s a different story. Run by James Ratcliffe and his wife, Nina Matsunaga, the Black Bull has been transformed into a stylish, warm and welcoming environment. There are many nods to Nina’s German/Japanese heritage, not only in the decor throughout, but also on the menu – but more of that later.
All 18 rooms are luxuriously appointed and decorated in a modern style, reflecting not only James and Nina’s love of Japanese culture and style, but also their support of local materials and craftsmen. Our luxury room is an oasis of calm… a super king-size bed and a sizeable chaise longue sit alongside a bathroom of dreams with views over the rolling hills.
Separated from the main room by large glass doors (don’t worry, curtains are optional!), a huge freestanding bath and large rainfall shower are accompanied by locally produced toiletries from the Sedbergh Soap Co. The use of locally sourced products continues with wool blankets created by Laura’s Loom of Sedbergh and stunning artwork (not only in the rooms but throughout the hotel) by the award-winning photographer Rob Whitrow. A flat-screen TV, tea and coffee making facilities (with fresh milk) and complimentary mineral water and homemade biscuits provide the finishing touches.
Having made full use of all the amenities in our room, we head down for dinner to test out the Black Bull’s claims of “creating the best British, European and Asian-inspired dishes”. The restaurant is a continuation of the modern, Japanese-inspired theme and features a seasonal menu that changes regularly depending on the availability of local produce. We kick off our meal with warm, fresh bread with dill butter, followed by starters of celeriac, white asparagus and beetroot; and pork belly.
We follow up with main courses of pork chop, trotter croquette and mashed potato; and lamb pie, creamed potatoes and fermented carrots. We both deem our starters and mains to be completely delicious, with just enough of a twist to make it interesting, but not too much to take away from the high quality local produce. Our dessert options of salted caramel fondant and sticky toffee pudding are the icing on the cake, and having been washed down with plenty of superb wine, we are more than happy diners.
A fantastic night’s sleep follows and by the morning we are ready to explore the breakfast offerings. Cereals, yogurts, fruit etc are all available, but we go straight in for the poached eggs on sourdough toast, and a full English. Both are cooked perfectly, and alongside two of the best cappuccinos we’ve had in a while, really sets us up for the day.
It’s at this point I should mention one of the Black Bull’s most prized assets – its staff. From the moment we arrive we are treated warmly by everyone we come into contact with. Special mention must be given to Marco in the restaurant. His unique ability to professionally host us at the same time as chatting to us like old friends makes our visit one to remember. His warm manner, excellent tourist advice and genuine interest really made our stay. Thank you Marco!
So with full stomachs, and Marco’s excellent advice, we head off to explore those aforementioned national parks. The location of Sedbergh makes Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District our first port of call – it’s just a 40min drive away – and as luck would have it, the sun is shining so we take to the water and make the most of the fabulous scenery. Then, on our way back home through the glorious Yorkshire Dales we make a stop at the stunning Aysgarth Falls, strolling from the Middle Falls down to the Lower Falls, trying to work out where Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was filmed and getting into a few risky positions in the quest to get the perfect photograph of the falls.
Not only is Sedbergh, and the Black Bull, the perfect location for exploring these two national parks, it is also a convenient stop on the way up to (or back from) Scotland. It really can offer something for everyone. So whether your interest lies in books, hiking, tea rooms, scenic drives or simply a relaxing luxury hotel getaway, you’d be hard pushed to beat the location, setting and warm welcome provided by the Black Bull.
The Black Bull, 44 Main Street, Sedbergh, Cumbria, LA10 5BL
Rooms start from £125 per room per night, breakfast included.