Book a room in England's book town
Close enough to M6 junction 37 in Cumbria but far away enough to feel sufficiently out in the country. The award-winning Black Bull in England's official book town, Sedbergh (pronounced Sed-ber), is just outside the official boundary of the Lake District but within the Yorkshire Dales National Park so surrounded by scenery for country walks.
Book Town Status
Sedbergh is one of three UK book towns (Wigtown in Scotland and Hay-on-Wye in Wales are the two others). There are many nooks and crannies to explore on your getaway break to this small, walkable town, from a selection of free books in a bus shelter to the Tourist Information Office, which is also a book shop to Westwood Books, which used to be a cinema and now houses over 70,000 titles.
But we were here for eating, drinking and sleeping at the Black Bull rather than reading. Owners Nina Matsunaga and James Ratcliffe moved from Manchester to Sedbergh a number of years ago to open the successful Three Hares cafe and as a result of that success, they then opened a restaurant with rooms, The Black Bull, on the same main shopping street in the town.
We don’t have a car so travelled by train to Oxenholme then caught the local bus (run by Woofs of Sedbergh and costing £5 each way), arriving a bit too early to check in so had a drink in the bar while we waited for our room to be ready.
On tap was a range of local Fell Brewery beers, which included two on cask and they even had Budvar on draught, not just the lager but interestingly Budvar Dark as well, which we had never tasted before.
The bar has a warm fire for colder days so was roaring away on our visit and it's also dog-friendly. After our drinks we checked in and headed upstairs to our accommodation for the night.
Bedroom and Bathroom
We were staying in room 11 (Crook) on the 2nd floor, which has windows on three sides of the room - the bedroom looks out onto the narrow Main Street and a lane to the side of the building while the view from the bathroom window is towards Winder Fell, the walkable hill behind the town.
The bedroom is modern and classy with a spacious glass-encased en-suite (don’t worry, there are curtains to protect your modesty!). If you’ve been out walking, or you just fancy a soak, then there is a large rolltop bath.
The en-suite has a step from the bedroom so be careful if going to the toilet at night otherwise you may end up with a stubbed toe.
The first rule of bath club is to tell everyone about the bathtub.
The bathroom is big and immaculate looking with toiletries provided by the local Sedbergh soap company.
The bedroom is modern but with a nod to traditional country styles. Everything we needed was here, from a hairdryer to cookies. No robes though. A fridge with fresh milk and an excellent selection of teas was just outside in the corridor.
Dinning at The Black Bull
After freshening up, it was time for dinner. Again, the decor is a modern twist on traditional country interiors. Visiting during COVID times, there was a one-way system in operation and a good amount of space between tables.
The Black Bull has a worldly selection of wines by the glass that we dived right into. All glasses are 125ml so you can order a few to try without getting too tipsy and so we started with...
Norton Finca Perdriel Extra Brut from Mendoza, Argentina (£7)
Dry and a little bit yeasty.
Maurer Oskar Szeremi Szerelem Field Blend 2017, Serbia (£5.50)
We've been to Serbia once and must surely have tried the local wine but couldn't remember for sure so ordered this. It was sweet and drinkable but with a bit of a 'barnyard' aroma.
A la carte food menu
The menu changes often hence why it's a simple print out but for a single AA rosette restaurant, the dishes listed are quite bold with a few unusual food pairings.
First up was warm yeasty bread with a great crust and pumpkin seeds, served with soft spreadable butter, which we think may have been goat butter due to the earthy flavour.
We started with some nibbles. A beignet is a fried dough fritter so these were a bit like fish pakora and very scrumptious. Great pub snack food.
More nibbles - this was like a vegan version of the fish above, we love curried / tempura cauliflower so this was all kinds of good.
At this point, we ordered up a glass of Staffelter Hof, Little Bastard 2017 (£8.50) a Blend of Muller Thurgau, Muscat and Riesling. And yes, we partially ordered it for the name but also because Rielsing, probably our favourite white wine grape was used.
Teal. I thought that was just a colour but it’s also the name for a type of duck, in this case really tender duck served with the amazing fresh flavours of Isle of Wight tomatoes, which we have had delivered to our home a few times before.
Now a seafood course with 'allumium' and apple flavours that always work well with scallops. Add some black pudding and a poached egg and you would also have a delicious main course.
At this point we ordered up another couple of wines. The Rakete is a red wine served chilled. Bright red in colour like a Cosmo cocktail and in fact it tasted like cranberry juice too.
Along with this we had another Serbian wine, this time Maurer Oskar Crazy Lud (£6.25) with a sweet honey and raspberry aroma and a raspberry taste.
The lamb was sadly off the menu so I opted for the faggot instead as it’s not something you really see on menus in Scotland.
This was proper winter food, meaty and wholesome with strong flavours.
The venison was perfectly pink, while the treacle had a sort of liquorice taste.
We went into our final pudding course with another couple of wines, a Chinese Ice Wine called Changyu - possibly the first Chinese wine we've ever tried, which had a fairly Chinese taste being reminiscent of sweet lychee.
We also had a Delgado Zuleta Pedro Ximenez, which was delicous and a mere £4.50 per glass.
The Cheese board came with: Parmesan; Lancashire cheese, a goat cheese and a sheep cheese. All were very good and at room temperature.
A little eggy muffin-like cake filled with blueberries. A little overcooked but still tasty. We've had douglas fir syrup before but we weren't getting much of the flavour from the sorbet so it was more of a neutral sorbet to provide moisture to the drier financier.
Welsh rarebit on toast - purely because this isn't normally a breakfast option in Scotland or Northern England.
We made sure to also order the full English to confirm that this is a hearty, well-cooked energy-filled breakfast for anyone looking to go walking Winder Fell afterwards.
We had a great stay at The Black Bull Inn. Our room was lovely and warm and we slept soundly at night. Checking in and out was a breeze. Everything was to a high standard, especially the food and drink - the restaurant has an AA rosette but based on our visit it deserves at least one more. The wine list was very interesting so for any wine buffs this is an ideal place to stay and sample glasses and bottles from unusual locations.
The background music was good too, a chilled out mix of DJ Shadow, Mr Scruff and Agnes Obel etc. We stayed for one night but the town is worth visiting for a few days to take in all the book shops, do some walking, possibly have a drink in the historic Cross Keys Temperance Inn a few miles outside Sedbergh, or just relax away from home.
There's also another 3 pubs, the Three Hares deli and a chip shop so plenty of other places to eat if you're spending a few days here. We visited using public transport but there's very few buses per day so plan your journey around the timetable or take a note of the two taxi companies listed in Sedbergh.
+ Dog friendly
+ Great wine selection
+ Good beer selection, local beer and Budvar Dark on tap
+ Interesting food combos
+ Classy bedroom and spacious bathroom
+ Fresh milk for tea in hall
+ Parking just behind the inn
- Can be tricky to get to without a car
- Step to the bathroom from bedroom
The Black Bull,
44 Main Street,
Bookings for outdoor dining is scheduled for 15th April while overnight stays are due to recommence 19th May.
For more information visit The Black Bull website.
The Three Hares Deli also does deliveries of their produce.
Looking for things to see and do in the Yorkshire Dales.
Steps at main entrance (possibly better accesibility at the rear) and no lift as it's an old building.
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Disclaimer: we received a complimentary DBB stay. We did order a fair few extra drinks, as they have a good selection, but paid for these ourselves.