Photo of Punch Bowl

Review by Fiona Duncan, published 27th May 2008.

I am back in the Dales. It’s taken a mere three hours from London, courtesy of a train to York and a hire car, to reach wild and narrow Swaledale and to feel that delicious release of pressure on being suddenly deposited in the depths of the countryside. Shoulders drop. Life feels good again.

My last trip to Yorkshire was revealing. The region is stuffed with excellent, sensitively converted and updated inns, with plenty of traditional character in the public rooms, but modern bedrooms as well as great food and glorious views. I was impressed; especially as such simple, unfussy places are far more alluring to me than any twice-the-price extravaganza.

“What’s your favourite hotel?” a mogul of my acquaintance asked me as we whizzed about in his private helicopter. I gave the name of a humble place with a view that makes you think you’re dreaming. “Not a five-star?”

He plainly thought I was mad, or didn’t know my job. He wouldn’t care to stay at the Punch Bowl. Next to the church in Low Row, it’s the latest venture of Charles and Stacy Cody, owners of the popular Charles Bathurst Inn in nearby Arkengarthdale. Both places have the same ethos: straightforward, uncomplicated hospitality; affordable, agreeable and up-to-date accommodation; excellent food and drink.

The Punch Bowl is a plain, flat-fronted, 17th-century inn with stunning views of Whita Side as it swoops down from the fell through stone-walled fields to the narrow valley floor and the river.

The three connecting ground floor rooms are filled with too much pine furniture for my liking, though the solid oak bar from the “Mouseman” Thompson workshop in Kilburn, York, is magnificent and there’s a welcome wood-burning stove at one end.

Some rooms work better during the day, others at night; here, when the sun slants through the windows, it’s the former. I was meant to sit in the more formal dining room, but find myself gravitating to a table by the fire for dinner.

If the room lacks atmosphere (apart from the jolly people inside it) the food more than compensates. A succulent mound of salmon that cuts into large, just cooked flakes is joined by a tasty fishcake, the two united by proper sauce Bercy and accompanied by a dish of five different vegetables, all cooked à point. I reflect as I eat that I am enjoying this grub much more than the last restaurant meal I’d indulged in, where the chef was as precious as his tricksy menu and the bill for one would have fed at least two people here at the PB Inn.

By a quarter to 10, the family groups (there’s a wealth of attractions and outdoor activities in the area) and other guests have deserted the dining room. As with jet lag, I’m out of kilter: early rise and early to bed is the norm here. It’s plainly time to retreat to my warm room, like the others, spacious, attractive and well-planned.

In the morning I’m last down to breakfast, where a cheerful local inquires if I’d like a fry-up from the kitchen. I decline, and set off to acclimatise with a walk, reflecting that, like it’s sister the CB Inn, the PB Inn is just right for its location.

Total rating: 4/5

Low Row, Richmond (01748 886233; Doubles from £82.50, including breakfast. Ground-floor room suitable for those with disabilities.