A Christmas present from the mother in law found us in Ripon for the weekend. Often overshadowed by the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales and the better appointed cities of Harrogate and York, Ripon is not always viewed as a premier Yorkshire destination (well not by me anyway). However, as I was soon to discover, it has lots to offer. Based around a traditional Yorkshire market square, Ripon has a very compact city centre with an imposing but grand cathedral, antique and charity shops and a good number of cosy pubs. It felt a bit of a ghost town when we were there and we heard mention from locals about their fears of the failing high street. This is a real shame as Ripon is less than hour’s drive from Leeds and has all the countryside of the dales on its doorstep, so it really is worth the (short) trip out.
Where we stayed
The aforementioned Christmas present that brought us to Ripon in the first place was a voucher to stay in the impressive Old Deanery. Directly opposite the cathedral this is an ancient building dating back to the 1700s and built on the site of a former monastery. The place is full of character and charm, with wonky floors and ornate staircases. It was restored in the noughties and is now run by a group of very friendly and convivial owners. It has ten bedrooms. We opted to go in the attic as I love being in the eaves. This did not disappoint – lots of beams and good views of the cathedral. The room was lovely and big with a huge bathroom to match. A roof terrace was available just outside our bathroom window, but we didn’t use it as it wasn’t the nicest of days! Breakfast the next day was very impressive. My traditional Yorkshire breakfast was full of good quality bacon, sausages and black pudding, and I loved the granola, yoghurt and berries that preceded it.
Where we ate
The Old Deanery had a decent sounding menu, but we wanted to explore slightly further afield. Having researched on tripadvisor I had stumbled across Samphire Bistro – an independently run restaurant that’s been open about 18 months and serves local British grub. There was a fantastic atmosphere as soon as we arrived, we were made to feel very welcome and looked after by the friendly front of house. The restaurant was small but decorated with cosy lights and pictures of favourite chefs, like Marco Pierre White and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall – perhaps showcasing the foodie passion. The menu declared that ‘everything is sourced within a 25 mile radius’ but with Scottish venison on offer and a ton of fish I think this might be a teeny tiny fib!
I started with crispy mussels as I was intrigued by how on earth they would be crispy. What this in fact meant was mussels breaded and deep fried and then served back in the shell. For me this slightly took away some of the flavour of the mussel, however it was a fun and more substantial way of eating them. They came with a crispy salad complete with the samphire namesake, which was a nice touch. My main was the venison steak. This was served simply – medium rare, onion rings, chips, mushroom, tomato. I was a bit worried about the lack of sauce but I needn’t have. The meat is the best I have eaten in a long time. Perfectly seasoned, rich with iron and meltingly juicy. For drinks I had a Yorkshire Blackout – a porter full of vanilla and chocolate notes. This was strangely refreshing and comforting at the same time. We didn’t have room for desserts, although they looked good, the signature dish appeared to be a berry brulee with chocolate shards. Once we’d finished eating we were told to sit back and relax and enjoy our table for the rest of the night.
What we did
Our first day in Ripon was very stormy so we had a quick mooch around the shops followed by reading the papers in the pubs. Shops of note include Drinks Well, a specialist booze shop with an excellent range of Yorkshire ales and spirits. I picked up a little bottle of the Mason’s Yorkshire gin. Made with Harrogate spa water, I found it very aromatic.
Pubwise, the newly renovated Royal Oak is a very decent pub with a good few ales on and a strong bar menu. I had a pulled pork sandwich with homemade vegetable and barley soup which was just what I needed on a stormy day. I’d also recommend the Water Rat, which is down by the river and canal basin. This pub was quite hard to find at first (don’t confuse it with the less quaint ‘Navigation’ as we did!). It’s full of quirky charm, has a riverside view and lots of nooks and crannies to hide yourself in whilst nursing a pint of the many ales on offer.
Next morning, to walk off all that beer and food, we went on a bracing walk. Starting at the cathedral we went through the graveyard, up the river and over fields to Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey before heading back to Ripon again. It was about six miles, not too hilly, not too muddy (given the wet weather we’ve been having) and gave us fabulous views of the cathedral.
So, I hope this has given you a taste of what a little place like Ripon has on offer. Sometimes it’s good to take a further look at the underdog!