Review by Fiona Duncan, published 21st January 2007.
My neighbour at dinner, a soldier, urged me to try this 16th-century coaching inn in Pickering. "It does rather stick in the mind," he said, and told me how a safe alarm had gone off in the middle of the night. With the bell ringing furiously, guests sleepily emerged in their nightclothes, but no member of staff could be found. No doubt the General (no less) swiftly took control of the situation and eventually the police were summoned, the management contacted and the bell suppressed.
They apologised profusely," he told me, "and actually we liked the place very much. I'd go back." He made a stay at the White Swan sound rather exciting - or, at any rate, amusingly Fawlty Towers. What would happen to my son and me?
Not a lot. I was woken abruptly, as it happens, though not by an alarm, but by the blaring television of the people in the next room. We were in a row of new bedrooms fashioned from former workshops with windows on two sides. In restful colours, with slate floors, they were contemporary without being bland, with elegant touches such as tall glass bedside lamps, Perspex armchairs and wall-mounted flat-screen TVs. The bathrooms were good, too, with comfortable baths that sloped at either end and generous separate showers. Pity about the view: one window on to the car park, the other on to the Club Room, an inviting modern version of the residents' lounge, with pool table, daily papers, magazines and honesty bar.
The White Swan, it seems, has always kept up with the times. On the first floor, in a space now occupied by three bedrooms (rooms here are less contemporary but freshly decorated), there was once a ballroom for locals to meet and dance. When Victor Buchanan took over from his parents and refurbished the hotel in the mid-1990s, he uncovered an imposing and rare Art Nouveau cast-iron fire surround that must have given the ballroom as contemporary a feel as the public rooms have today. Now it's installed in the convivial bar/sitting-room, whose 17th-century panelling has also been uncovered.
The food is the thing at the White Swan: superior bistro fare, one might call it - plump scallops and properly pink lamb for me, a juicy steak for my son, with a particularly yummy chocolate cake to follow. As for drink, the specially imported house wines are excellent, and there's a collection of more than 50 superb St Emilions on the list.
There's another good reason to stay at the White Swan. The market town of Pickering makes a great base for diverse outings, not least the North Yorkshire steam railway that snakes into the Moors from the town, but also Castle Howard, Flamingo Land (for the children), York and Harrogate, and the beach at Whitby, all close at hand.
So, no night-time farce for us (the management had evidently learnt its lesson: we were handed a card with a number to ring in case of night emergency), though the mischievous spirit of Basil Fawlty did hover at breakfast, which was absolute chaos, with harassed waitresses skidding between tables and irate guests berating them as they passed. The General would not have been surprised, and yet, in step with him, I liked the White Swan too.
White Swan Inn, Pickering, North Yorkshire (01751 472288; www.white-swan.co.uk). Doubles from £129 to £229, including breakfast