The Marton Arms, Thornton in Lonsdale – Review
By Karl Hornsey
Given the concerning trend that continues to see so many village pubs forced to close or being taken over by multinational companies, it’s always a pleasure to stumble across one with character, independence, history and a sense of optimism. And that’s just what we found when we ate, drank and slept at the Marton Arms in Thornton in Lonsdale, just outside Ingleton on the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales.
“Homely and spacious”
The pub dates back to 1679, which is impressive enough in itself and has been through many a landlord ever since, especially in recent years, but finally seems to have the right people running it, who understand the needs of locals and tourists alike, and have gradually made their mark since taking over in 2017.
Thornton in Lonsdale is one of those blink-and-you’d-miss-it hamlets that look so beautiful, but pretty much consist of only a pub and a church. The church, St Oswald’s, has been attracting visitors for many years due to its connections to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who married there in 1885, just a couple of years before his first Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet was published, and now there’s very definitely another reason to visit.
The bar and eating areas in the pub have been given a makeover in the last year or so, making it welcoming, homely and spacious, but I have to say the standout attraction of the Marton Arms on our visit simply had to be the food. The menu looks simple enough, offering up the usual selection of classic pub grub dishes (burgers, fish and chips, steak, pasta), but scratch beneath the surface and there’s so much more going on. The clues are there. These days, the more simplistic a dish is described on the menu, the more likely you are to get something that goes way above and beyond your expectations. And that was very much the case for our meal.
While each of the six dishes were superb, the best, and most surprising, was also the first of the evening. While my monkfish with peas, potato and tartare dressing was delicious, it was overshadowed by my wife’s choice of pork cheek, white cabbage and apple sorbet. Yes, apple sorbet. We were ready to expect the unexpected, but whoever thought of combining a sorbet with a hot starter such as this deserves a medal. It really shouldn’t have worked, but it did, packing in huge flavours of Bramley apples to accompany the melt-in-your-mouth pork.
The main courses could easily have been a letdown after that triumph, but there was never any danger of that, with the duck with spiced carrot and fondant potato, and chicken, ricotta and spinach kiev with potato rosti, sautéed peas and mushrooms proving to be almost as mouthwatering as the starters. We finished off this delightful meal with a strawberry panacotta and a rhubarb crème brulee that left us drooling over not only the food, but the quality of 30-year-old head chef Sean, who deserves every credit for serving up such an imaginative and tasty meal. After that, we didn’t even end up sampling one of the 50-60 gins on offer in the bar.
Our room, one of 12 bedrooms, was dominated by the four-poster bed and was comfortable and spotlessly clean, offering up a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside and leaving me refreshed enough in the morning to sample the Full English breakfast on offer.
This was more along familiar lines, with all of the locally sourced ingredients cooked simply and very well, not trying to create anything fancy with this most traditional of English delights, all served with friendly efficiency by our host for the morning. In fact the owners have made it their mission to source the food they serve as closely to the pub as possible, including keeping their own pigs in the village.
There are still elements here that are a work in progress and I’d be intrigued to return to the Marton Arms once some of the future plans for the place have been completed and also to sample more of the food on offer, but it’s fair to say that the villagers of Thornton in Lonsdale, as well as the tourists who look further afield than the local hotspots of Ingleton and Kirkby Lonsdale, have got themselves a gem of a pub to savour. And long may that continue.
The Marton Arms, Thornton in Lonsdale, Ingleton, LA6 3PB
Rooms from £75. Food served Mon-Thu 12-2 & 6-9; Fri-Sun 12-9