Sitting on the fringe of Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales, the delightful town of Sedbergh is one of only three ‘book towns’ in the UK.
There are nods to this throughout the town, including an impressive array of publications at Westwood Books, which is home to 70,000 titles. There’s also a book shelter on the high street – a redundant bus shelter kitted out with shelves, where you can swap your pre-loved titles for free.
This lovely, warming community feel of the town is coupled with stunning views of the nearby Howgill Fells, but there’s another reason for people to flock to Sedbergh – the incredible British and Asian fusion food offering at The Black Bull.
A 17th-century coaching house, The Black Bull sits in the middle of the narrow main street. A popular spot for both locals and visitors, its draw includes 18 luxurious bedrooms, a cosy pub and two restaurant areas, and is also exceptionally dog-friendly, as approved by our cockapoo, Poppy.
The interiors are a superb balance of contemporary and modern. Walk through the entrance and a log-burner and cosy corners welcome you to the pub area on your left, head a little further to the right and you’re in the bright and airy restaurant. The bedrooms are stylishly understated, with neutral colour schemes and tasteful interiors.
Our dog-friendly room was a generous size, while still emphasising the history and character of the building as a former coaching inn. The focal point of our room was certainly the huge glass-walled, gleaming white bathroom, complete with a deep, free-standing bath and walk-in rainfall shower (there are also modesty curtains in front of the glass bathroom).
The charming small touches and nods to supporting fellow local businesses are particularly noteworthy; you can pick up your own selection of artisan teas from the foyer and milk is left at your door in the morning. The warm welcome to your room includes fresh biscuits with a handwritten note, and you can enjoy them in a fine china teacup made by local ceramicist, Rebecca Callis.
The super-king size bed is cosily layered in handmade British wool blankets created by Laura’s Loom (another local business) and even the toiletries are bespoke, having been designed exclusively for the Black Bull Inn by the Sedbergh Soap Company.
After working (or walking) up an appetite, the restaurant at the Black Bull Inn is the ideal place to replenish, unwind and rest your weary feet. While the name and location in a quaint Cumbria town might offer the impression that the food offering is traditional hearty pub fare, the menu is an eclectic mix of British and Asian-inspired dishes. The menu is the result of a fusion of the owners’ two different cultures, thanks to the Japanese heritage of Nina Matsunaga and James Ratcliffe’s upbringing in the Yorkshire Dales.
Quality ingredients are essential in the Black Bull Inn kitchen, which means the menu changes daily to reflect seasonality and local produce. But if a more traditional post-hike meal is what you’re looking for, the bar food menu includes options such as a Howgill Hereford beef burger, chilli con carne or Mansergh Hall pork and coconut curry, as well as sandwiches and platters at lunchtime.
The vast and carefully selected wine list offers a diverse selection of white, rosé, orange and red wine, alongside a range of sparkling, sherry, mead and sake. At first glance, it’s easy to see the owners’ passion for good wine. The list reflects their all-encompassing approach to provenance, stating: “We look at all of the environmental factors involved in the production of the wines we source, including the people who make them, the land they manage and how they manage it, as well as just the grapes.”
After an expert nudge in the right direction thanks to the impressive array of choices, we opted for a glass of zesty Slobodne Oranzista Pinot Gris orange wine, and a delicate Minuty Prestige Côtes de Provence Rosé.
The food menu offers a choice of six starters and eight mains, which again fits into the ethos of the restaurant and reflects the decision to change the menu frequently. It’s a nod to the confidence that Nina has in her seasonal, locally produced ingredients.
I decided on wild halibut, fermented tea leaves and squid cracker for my starter. I could’ve happily ordered any of the choices, but the fermented tea leaves piqued my interest. Nina uses green tea leaves which are lacto-fermented with cabbage, and the final result is a sublime, perfectly balanced plate with stunning flavours.
This was followed by beautifully cooked Skrei cod for main, served with monkfish liver, chilli, turnip and miso. It was another successful combination of tastes, although I wasn’t taken with the monkfish liver, my husband, Tom, loved it.
Tom enjoyed the smoked mallard, green tea and prunes for a starter (another tea dish that worked beautifully), before a mouth-watering main course of wild venison, quince, almond and purple sprouting broccoli – and we shared a delicious side of liquorice carrots.
Nina’s bold flavours and personal twist on fusion food hit all the right notes for us. Despite feeling happily full, we reasoned we’d earned our dessert after our trek up the fells and devoured the Yorkshire rhubarb, semifreddo and honeycomb – a fabulous combination of textures, and a burst of flavours with every mouthful that wasn’t too sweet.
After sleeping soundly on the luxurious super-king size bed and impossibly fluffy pillows, a leisurely breakfast was served, complete with excellent coffee and a pile of newspapers – the perfect start to the day and the perfect end to a superb and impressive getaway at The Black Bull Inn.
A visit to Sedbergh wouldn’t be complete without a walk to the Howgill Fells, especially if your pooch is accompanying you on your getaway. Plus, it’s the ideal way to work up an appetite before sampling the delights of The Black Bull kitchen. We headed over to Cautley Spout for our walking fix and we were rewarded with views of the spectacular scenery that the area is famous for.