White Lion, Cray
Dennis Peacock and Amelia Johnson ran Masons, a successful burger bar in York and lived the good life in their favourite city. One day Dennis drove past an empty, desolate Dales pub for sale and bought it. Then told Amelia. It’s perhaps best to draw a veil over the ensuing conversation, but suffice it to say they’re still together 12 months on.
‘It’s fair to say it was a bit of a mess’ says Dennis ‘and it had been shut for about a year. We rolled our sleeves up, set to at the end of March 2015 and opened the doors nine months later – we started pulling pints on Christmas Eve’.
They’ve made a terrific job of it. A former drover’s inn, the fabulous flagged floor, dark beams and monumental stone fireplace remain – I’m so glad they had the sense to keep the integrity of the building intact – but they flushed the fusty, stuffy (and frankly, mucky) stuff out. Walls are smoothly painted plaster and there are fresh flowers on the oak tables, next to the papers. The look is stripped down, almost Amish, and it feels great; calm, chilled.
It’s a good 10 years since I visited, but on that occasion I recall being grunted at by the landlord, and stared at by the customers. Now there’s a genuine welcome from Dennis, Amelia and Sandra Holmes, who ‘does the books’. Sandra’s ex-Provenance Inns, so knows a thing or two about running pubs. Behind the high bar, topped with a fabulous slab of wood, nicely kept Wharfedale Blonde, Hetton Pale Ale and Black Sheep, plus a selection of Yorkshire gins. There’s an interesting wine list with over half a dozen by the glass and bottles starting at £15.
On the menu, pub grub and then some. The descriptions are simple and well laid out on a single sheet of paper; Parfait: chicken liver, croutes, onion marmalade £6. Smoked: duo of smoked duck & chicken breast, orange and black cherry salad, berry dressing £7. Mains-wise choose from the likes of game pie (£14) Jacksons of Cracoe sausages (13) and wild mushroom risotto (£12). All of it appeals but I go for the ‘Ultimate Open Sandwich’ – beef and stilton on a toasted brioche with a sharply dressed salad and a pile of frankly brilliant chips.
If you want to make a night of it there are nine simply furnished but stunning bedrooms, all with views over Upper Wharfedale. On a better day than this, sit outside with a pint and a sandwich and listen to Cray Gill burbling by. There were always reasons to take the drive from Kettlewell to Reeth – the stark countryside, even on a grizzly February day – is magnificent. Now there’s another reason. We’ve got a feeling the White Lion is going to grow into a well-loved pub.