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Wholesome, this is. Gourmet, this isn’t.

A TravelZoo voucher triggers an eventful outing to the Barbon Inn, taking in Devil’s Bridge and Ruskin’s View on a picturesque walk from Kirkby Lonsdale.

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First impressions

We arrive at The Barbon Inn, a 17th century coaching inn near Kirkby Lonsdale, around lunchtime on a wet, dreary Saturday in early February. Spirits are not damp, yet the dancing flames and crackle of wood from open fires in both the lounge and bar are particularly welcome nonetheless.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”1525,1524,1523,1522″ img_size=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-lg vc_hidden-md vc_hidden-sm”][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”1525,1524,1523,1522″ img_size=”medium” onclick=”img_link_large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]The bar is full, so the place is not lacking atmosphere [the pictures above were taken later in a quieter moment], and it quickly becomes apparent that this may be ostensibly a traveller’s rest, but also serves the local community. This is a nice mix between merry villagers who couldn’t be bothered to cook and cold interlopers with muddy boots and too many trousers. Several proper dogs sit casually and compliantly under tables, like this ain’t no thing.

We are made to feel at home by Andy, who I presume from his bar mastery and general demeanour is the proprietor. When completely stricken by indecision regarding the quantity of lunch to shovel into my mouth, he is instantly at hand to suggest a hot beef sandwich and chips on a sharing platter, which turns out to be the goldilocks amount. The bar is well stocked with wines, but this meal is pleasantly washed down with Ruskin’s bitter from the Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_empty_space height=”40px”][vc_single_image image=”1600″ img_size=”full” alignment=”right”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]

Rugby, farmers and death

Despite (or perhaps because of) warnings that the lounge will soon be teeming with loud farmers, we make camp in front of the fire and, slightly embarrassingly, the TV, in readiness for England’s six-nations opener against France. Backgammon and a cryptic crossword while away the lead-up to the game, with Scotland defying the odds against Ireland in the background.

My travelling companion and I befriend a retired couple from the village sat opposite on another sofa, who seem to be rooting rather fervently for Ireland. The gentleman is either over-excited, or in the early stages of some kind of medical episode. I now begin to regret my earlier throwaway comment, something along the lines of “he’s going to have a heart attack at this rate”. I swear it was aimed at the television, yet retrospective guilt consumes me now; he is indeed having a heart attack.

I implode into a non-entity of uselessness, while my companion becomes exactly the person you’d want to be sitting next to as you wait for an ambulance. She comforts and distracts and encourages and tends and entertains and supports. I poke the fire.

As the ambulance finally leaves, the local farming community flock in. They are rowdy, but in a good way. Banter abounds. Beer flows. England win.

[I sincerely hope this lovely old chap did not actually die. As a strapline, ‘Rugby, farmers and someone having a heart attack that may or may not have lead to his death’ doesn’t have quite the same ring. Call it poetic licence.]

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Dissenting voices

Later, we encounter a Liverpudlian couple staying at the inn with most unfavourable views of the service and staff, including some long convoluted tale about divergence from the set menu, trying to drink the bar dry despite having a whole cooler box of cheap Prosecco in their room, adapting to unusual sleeping patterns, the reintegration into society of ex-servicemen, the misconstruing of and general stigma associated with the Scouse accent, and several other points which unfortunately pass over me due to mishearing the Scouse accent.

Fortunately for us (and for the inn), we are not successfully poisoned by this and we determine to judge for ourselves.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_empty_space height=”40px”][vc_single_image image=”1600″ img_size=”full” alignment=”right”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]

Dining

As is the duty of travellers, especially those with a TravelZoo offer, we later sit down in the dining room to sample the gourmet menu. I am gently persuaded to take the locally-sourced pheasant. It is wholesome fare, and we acknowledge the generous portions while wishing the bird was pinker in the middle. It’s tasty enough, although I personally prefer a little more seasoning, and a soupçon more of the juniper reduction would have compensated for the slight dryness of the overdone meat. The star of the dish turns out to be the spring onion mash, although again it is a little under-seasoned.

Desert is a cheesecake with raspberry topping and sauce, served with ice cream. The cheesecake is very light (almost like a mousse in fact) and peculiarly a little bland, so would benefit from either a healthier quantity of the sauce or just a bit more oomph in the cheese itself. The ice cream also lacks depth, as though vanilla pods are being rationed this week.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”1528,1529″ img_size=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-lg vc_hidden-md vc_hidden-sm”][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”1528,1529″ img_size=”medium” onclick=”img_link_large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]The starter, if you’re interested, is a plate of breaded tiger prawns. I mention them here as an afterthought, perhaps because in all honesty they are a bit meh. Wholesome, this is. Gourmet, this isn’t.

Still, it is all pleasantly accompanied by a bottle of La Baune, not as plummy as some French merlots, more at the blackcurrant end of things, but highly quaffable all the same and an excellent match for the gamey pheasant. In choosing the La Baune before the meal, I’m offered a small glass of this and also of the house merlot (Chilean I think) in order to do a like-for-like comparison. This is a really nice touch.

Service is attentive, quick, friendly and not over-intrusive despite a busy dining room. All in all, I can recommend the dining experience, as long as expectations do not float too high in the first place.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_empty_space height=”40px”][vc_single_image image=”1600″ img_size=”full” alignment=”right”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]

Walk from Devil’s Bridge

For the second day of the outing, we hop back down the Lune valley to Kirkby Lonsdale and park at Devil’s Bridge. Free parking at the bridge is a boon, both for us and also for nearly every biker in Cumbria, Lancashire and the Yorkshire Dales combined. The peace is somewhat disturbed by the occasional rasp of a Harley or sports bike, but it somehow seems an integral and necessary part of the experience.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_single_image image=”1530″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”link_image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-lg vc_hidden-md vc_hidden-sm”][vc_single_image image=”1530″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”img_link_large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]Walking north from the bridge along the gently curving banks of the Lune, we eventually reach and climb the Radical Steps, all 86 of them, built in 1819 by Francis Pearson. Pearson apparently harboured radical political views, hence the name. I resolve to name the two flights of straight stairs leading up to my house in Haworth something similarly absurd. Maybe the Visceral Steps. Or the Dire Straight.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_single_image image=”1532″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”link_image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_single_image image=”1531″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”link_image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-lg vc_hidden-md vc_hidden-sm”][vc_single_image image=”1532″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”img_link_large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-lg vc_hidden-md vc_hidden-sm”][vc_single_image image=”1531″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”img_link_large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]The pay-off for completing the climb is a fabulous view across the fields and paddocks within the bow of the meandering Lune, across the valley to the Howgills in the north, Middleton Fell, Calf Top and Gragareth to the east. Ingleborough pokes its head out too on a clear day, and we are treated to glimpses of its snow-capped peak jostling with some nuisance cotton-wool clouds. A Turner painting of this panorama sold at auction in 2012 for £217K, and it is known as Ruskin’s View after John Ruskin wrote of this place (I think with a modicum of over-exhuberence):

I do not know, in all my own country, still less in France or Italy, a place more naturally divine.

Hilariously, a farmer called Thomas Wharton, owner of the land directly ahead of the viewpoint, fell out with his local planning authority and decided to stick his fingers up at The Man, promptly painting his barn in vivid multicoloured stripes. The barn has come to be known as the Liquorice Allsort. To my mind, there’s little more British than this outrageous act of defiant heresy. This is why we have Brexit. It’s Wharton’s fault.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”1535,1534,1533″ img_size=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-lg vc_hidden-md vc_hidden-sm”][vc_gallery type=”image_grid” images=”1535,1534,1533″ img_size=”medium” onclick=”img_link_large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]We continue a couple of miles along the valley to a point where instinct tells me we should cross the river and head back to Devil’s Bridge on the other side of the valley. There is something deep within my DNA that prevents indulgence of the concept of doubling back. My Dad, a far better navigator than I will ever be, always extolled the virtue of the circular walk, probably something to do with getting your money’s worth. To this end, we now trudge through bovine clarts and country pancakes down to the river, finding we’ve overshot the bridge I’m looking for. It sits picturesquely some 400 metres back to the south.

As we consider scrambling along the river bank, which tapers near the bridge to a thin spit at the base of what I can only describe as a cliff, we encounter a sheep carcass, the skull of which my companion decides to bag up and later boil clean as a present for an art teacher she knows. Despite my innate scepticism towards fatalism, I see this wretched remain as a menacing portent. So we squelch the clarts once more back to the road and head towards the bridge on firmer ground.

At the entrance to Underley Garden School, the drive of which clearly would lead to the bridge, we meet a couple with a severely autistic child. The school is apparently not the type one can simply wander through, irrespective of one’s phobia of doubling back, even if the instinct to contrive a walk into a circle is a palpable force. This maybe for our protection, or that of the students – requiring as they do an unchanging routine and a buttressed privacy wall behind which to shelter from things like tourists with pink hats and multi-soiled boots. I have a friend whose son is autistic, so I do get it. Either way, we are forced to suffer the indignity of doubling back.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_empty_space height=”40px”][vc_single_image image=”1600″ img_size=”full” alignment=”right”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]

Kirkby Lonsdale

We return to the town of Kirkby Lonsdale. It is a splendid old place, with sections largely unspoiled by the inexorable passage of time. It’s Historic 2.0, whereby the corporeal fascia of ancient wisdom regarding architectural aesthetics is stuffed with the innards of modern shopping sensibility, a sort of retail taxidermy served with home-made shortbread.

Rather like Skipton, it has learned to exploit its prime geographical location for trade, combined with the picture-postcard legacy of the industries that once burgeoned there, long after its market became a rather quaint sideshow. Also like Skipton, I imagine that market day heralds the arrival of coachloads of elderly Lancastrians, aimlessly poking around the stalls and looking for toilets.

So the shopping here on a non-market day isn’t terrible. Cafés, pubs and restaurants vie for prominence on the high street with independent shops offering a superior level of tat to content the tourists.

I dip into an art gallery with its slightly garish collection of oils and a surprising obsession with dog portraits in extreme close-up. There are the usual overpriced photographs of the local area, some of which are pretty decent. Even I find myself tempted by a triple frame of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough, the inconvenient obstacles along the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge, a bastard of a walk I did for charity last year. Sense prevails and my wallet stays rooted.

It has to be said that charity shops in well-to-do places like this tend to have infinitely better cast-offs than those in economically deprived areas. I immediately fall foul of the voice in my head that shouts loudly with delight when a bargain presents itself. Having entered the shop with no expectations, I suffer the compulsion (and suppress the compunction) to engage in retail therapy. I buy a tweed jacket and a rather agricultural shirt. Perhaps I imagine dressing as a country gent will enamour me with the farmers back at the Barbon Inn.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_empty_space height=”40px”][vc_single_image image=”1600″ img_size=”full” alignment=”right”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]

Breakfast

I should mention that the inn offers a small selection of breakfasts, but (call me old-fashioned) I always on these occasions tackle the full English, since it seems a reasonable barometer of a chef and of an establishment. I can report a slightly mixed bag, although the local sausage is more than decent. Endless coffee refills are definitely a deal-swinger.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_empty_space height=”40px”][vc_single_image image=”1600″ img_size=”full” alignment=”right”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]

Barbon village

Before we leave Barbon, we take a few moments on a gorgeous frosty morning to explore the village. I’ll let the camera do the talking here:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_single_image image=”1526″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”link_image”][vc_single_image image=”1527″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”link_image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column offset=”vc_hidden-lg vc_hidden-md vc_hidden-sm”][vc_single_image image=”1526″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”img_link_large”][vc_single_image image=”1527″ img_size=”medium” add_caption=”yes” style=”vc_box_shadow_border” onclick=”img_link_large”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][vc_empty_space height=”40px”][vc_single_image image=”1600″ img_size=”full” alignment=”right”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]

Barbon Inn – Conclusion

Directions and all that jazz may be extrapolated from the Inn’s website. There’s also some kind of super-positive promotional video here if you want the ‘without warts’ version, or if you care what deco delights await you in the bedrooms:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4QNuodAcKw&feature=youtu.be”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/6″ offset=”vc_hidden-xs”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”5/6″][vc_column_text]Overall, our stay at the Barbon Inn is a very pleasant experience, thoroughly deserving of the adjectives friendly and cosy, and with the TravelZoo voucher, there is excellent value to be found here too – a two-night stay with a three-course gourmet menu on the first night and breakfasts both mornings came to £129. I can’t promise your visit will be similarly spiced with death, rugby, disgruntled Scousers or sunshine, but it’s definitely worth seeking out if you’re thinking of exploring this beguiling part of the land.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row]