I've recently paid a visit to the small but lovely North Yorkshire city of Ripon where, on a cracking sunny afternoon, I had a mini tour of some of the town's best watering holes. Here's what I found....
The trains were off this weekend, so for a change I decided to take a road trip to Ripon, a place I had not visited for at least 20 years, but being somewhere that had lost its railway station during the Beeching cuts in the 1960's, it is a place that needs to be visited by road anyway whether or not the trains are running. Situated about 12 miles to the north of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, Ripon can trace its roots back for centuries, to at least the 7th century when it was part of the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria. Ripon was granted city status in 1865 and is the third smallest city in England, with only the City of London and Wells in Somerset having a smaller population, but it packs a lot into its compact footprint. It is famous for its stunning cathedral whose origins can be traced back many centuries, although despite its importance it was only upgraded to cathedral status in 1836. Today it maintains a constant vigil over the city, regularly popping into view when you don't expect it. Religion played a big part in the shaping of Ripon and its neighbouring area, which included the Cistercian monastery at Fountains Abbey, and whilst in the Middle Ages it was the third biggest centre of the wool trade in Yorkshire after York and Halifax, it was largely bypassed by the Industrial Revolution, although the Ripon Canal was built linking the city to the River Ure to bring coal from Durham into the city. Other features of the city are the Grade I-listed Ripon Obelisk situated in the town's market square, and the tradition of the Ripon Hornblower, who every day at 9pm blows a horn at each of the four corners of the Obelisk. Just outside the city is the racecourse, which features flat racing on several occasions throughout the summer months, and which brings a large number of visitors to this popular tourist destination.
It was hot and sunny when I arrived in Ripon, having had not too bad a journey apart from a slight delay on the M62. Parking was well-signposted, and I managed to get a centrally-located spot fairly easily near to the Cathedral. At £1.60 for 4 hours parking it was excellent value for money, I thought. I set off walking following the signpost via a path though a wooded area towards the cathedral, and after stopping to take the obligatory photo, I headed off along an attractive street with several shops and restaurants to start the business of the day.
Ripon has three pubs in the 2023 Good Beer Guide, although there are plenty to choose from in the town, but as I was limited in what I could drink, it had made it a logical choice for a visit. The first of these was the Royal Oak, at the other end of Kirkgate from the cathedral. It has the distinction of being the most northerly tied house of Timothy Taylor. I walked in to a cool space after the heat of the sun outside, my eyes taking a few moments to adjust to the change in light. When they did, I noticed a number of the Taylors beers, which you'd expect of course, plus a couple of beers from Bosun's, the peripatetic brewery who started out in Horbury, then moved to Huddersfield, and are now based in Wetherby. This was the first time I'd seen any none-Taylors beers in one of their pubs, so whether its a new approach I don't know, and the Good Beer Guide states that Saltaire Blonde is a big seller here, although I didn't see it on the bar. The lady behind the bar greeted me cheerily, and I decided I would have a half of the Knowle Spring Blonde, which I took to a corner table in a room to the right of the entrance in a nicely decorated room with fake book wallpaper. I took a sip of my beer. Wow! It was great, refreshing, cool and in excellent condition. Now Knowle Spring is a beer I have been very dismissive of at times, but I have to say this was a real eye-opener (NBSS 4). Shame I was in the car, I thought. The pub was fairly quiet, although there were a couple of tables lunching in the neighbouring room. An older couple came into the room and took their drinks to a nearby table. I liked the Royal Oak; there was a friendly, unhurried calm about the place and the beer was superb. A splendid introduction to Ripon.
|The Royal Oak; excellent pub|
I walked out of the Royal Oak, and set off on a road heading downwards opposite the pub beside an attractively-decorated Spanish restaurant with a chalkboard outside advertising 4 pintxos for £10. Tempted though I was, I resisted and walked past, coming shortly afterwards to a roundabout. Google Maps suggested I needed to walk straight on to my next destination, and sure enough, shortly after coming in to a more residential area, I turned left towards the River Skell and at the end of the road beside the river and a small footbridge was the Water Rat. The area outside had been taken over by chairs and tables which afforded pleasant views over the small river on its way to join up with the larger River Ure, with a distant view of the cathedral providing an attractive backdrop. I noticed on the outside wall sign that the place's name was suffixed by Restaurant and Bar which tends to induce a sense of alarm, and when I walked in and saw the number of diners seated at tables I saw where their priorities seemed to lay. The two girls behind the bar were busy, one sorting out bookings on a tablet, whilst the other waited for table 10's bill. Nonetheless, on a positive note there were 4 hand pumps on the bar featuring fairly locally-brewed beers from the likes of Rudgate and Theakstons. Done with sorting the booking one of the girls greeted me cheerfully and asked what I would like to order. From the beer selection available, I went for a half of Theakstons Bitter, and said that was all, thanks, when asked I wanted anything else. I headed out to find a table in the sunshine. There was a mix of different people, with the odd dog sat panting in the afternoon heat. A number of kids were paddling in the river, whilst a group of teenagers were jumping into a deeper area off a large stone ledge. It was a pleasant summer's day scene, whilst the beer was a decent enough NBSS 3. Had it been a cold winter's day and I'd had to sit inside, I would have possibly had a different view of the Water Rat, but as far as today was concerned, it was most a enjoyable place to sit out and enjoy a beer in the sunshine.
|The Water Rat, Ripon|
I had one more place to visit, and so I headed off over the little footbridge to the other side of the River Skell and followed the road round, passing another view of the cathedral on the way. I came to St Mary's Gate, and turned left on to it. I came across the Police and Court museum which I did toy with calling in, but with an eye on the time it closed versus how much time I had left on my parking, I decided I had better stick to the matter in hand.
I passed the entrance to the car park and came to a set of traffic lights, where I turned left up Allhallows Gate and a little way up was the One-Eyed Rat, with an A-board inviting you to visit the pub's beer garden, whilst a bicycle was casually propped up against the wall. The pub appears to be quite small from the outside, being set in a row of cottages, but when I walked in I saw that the pub went back quite a way, with two sections of an attractive long room, with a section as you go in with the bar on the left hand side, and an area beyond a pillar and a glazed partition where a large screen was set up on the far wall in readiness for the afternoon's all-Manchester FA Cup Final. There were 6 hand pumps on the bar from Yorkshire-based breweries, including Acorn, Ossett, and Saltaire. I ordered a White Rat and took it outside, where there is a small yard with seating, a couple of large covered areas, and beyond a proper beer garden which understandably was pretty busy.
|One-Eyed Rat, Ripon|
As I walked into the beer garden, I noticed a number of old pub signs attached to a redbrick wall. One was for the Duck and Drake, a reminder that for many years the One-Eyed Rat was run by Les Moon, who had previously been landlord of the famous old Leeds pub. Les was well-known in the city having run several pubs there over many years, and was in the best sense, a proper old-fashioned landlord. I had first got to know him when he was running the Eagle on North Street in Leeds, where we used to call sometimes for a pint after work. Les later moved away from Leeds to take on the One-Eyed Rat, and whilst he has now retired and lives in Thirsk, the pub is still owned by the family, although on a day to day basis it is run by a manager. Over recent years, I have bumped into Les in and around Halifax from time to time as his son Darren had moved to Queensbury. Darren has kept me updated on the pub's progress, and when I messaged him to say I was here, he mentioned that his nephew Josh would probably be working behind the bar, which he was, another generation maintaining the family connection with the pub trade.
|One Eyed Rat, Ripon: photo @Brilliant Boozers|
I found a table in the garden, with the sun continuing to beat down, and I have to say it is a very pleasant and relaxing spot in which to have a drink. My pint of White Rat was going down well and was the best pint of it I'd had for some time, cool and refreshing, ideal for a hot afternoon (NBSS 4). Much as I would have loved to stay longer, I needed to be getting back, so I headed back in with my empty glass just as the replay was being shown on the big screen of Ilkay Gundogan's first goal for Manchester City, scored after only 12 seconds to claim the fastest goal ever in an FA Cup Final. I left my empty glass on the bar as I bade my farewells to the guys at the One-Eyed Rat, another top pub that is well worth a visit if you are in Ripon.
Meanwhile, changing the subject, following on from my recent piece about the troubles a few miles away at Black Sheep, it emerged a few days ago that the company had been acquired by lending and advisory group Breal, and a new company, the Black Sheep Brewing Company Limited has been formed. This maintains brewing at the company's site in Masham, although with it having been a pre-pack administration, the chance of shareholders and creditors in the old company being able to get any of their money back looks remote. However the fact that around 150 jobs have been saved is some good news on which to finish this time....
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