Eating Out: Answer to your prayers for bank holiday weekend
The May bank holiday weekend is almost upon us '“ with a forecast of sunshine. And there's nothing like a spring day to send city dwellers heading for the hills.
That’s good news for country pubs and tea rooms across the Peak District, but it rather defeats the object for day trippers in search of a little peace and tranquillity.
The answer is to find somewhere that’s friendly, welcoming, serves decent food – and is off the beaten track.
At the risk of transforming a hidden gem into a tourist hotspot, I’m about to let you into a well-kept secret...
Chelmorton is one of those places you never come across unless you go looking for it – or wander off one of the nearby long distance trails (the Limestone Way, the Pennine Bridleway and the Midshires Way all pass through).
Off the A6 beyond Bakewell, you head out into the wilds, up a narrow lane and find a sleepy village, fringed by medieval strip fields.
Cottages and farm buildings dating back to the 1600s line the banks of a stream known as Illy Willy Water. And Chelmorton Low – which rises to over 1400 feet – bears evidence that the area has been home to Peaklanders since the Bronze Age.
At its foot is the village church and opposite the Church Inn, a cosy country watering hole and guest house that promises a warm welcome whether you’re walking, cycling, staying or just out for a leisurely drive.
Behind this little piece of Peak perfection is former Sheffield taxi driver Justin Satur and his wife, Julie.
Originally from Dronfield, Justin trained as a chef and worked at a number of acclaimed local restaurants including the Riverside at Ashford and the Monsal Head.
Then he changed course and took up taxi driving in Sheffield for six years.
“But I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do… I’d always wanted my own pub,” he says.
His opportunity came after meeting Julie, who was working at the Eyre Arms in Hassop but lived in Chelmorton where her family owns a dairy farm.
She shared Justin’s dream – and mentioned that the pub next door to her cottage was up for sale. The rest, as they say, is history.
The couple took over the Church Inn in 1999: “We were just ordinary folk and we knew little about running a pub, but we knew the kind of place we wanted and we knew it would be hard work,” says Justin.
So they extended the bar, improved the kitchen, installed new toilets and put in four letting bedrooms.
Restoring the character was no problem: the Church Inn dates back to the 1700s, when it was the Blacksmiths Arms with the village smithy at its rear: “Atmosphere is the most important thing: it makes a place,” adds Justin.
The inn has it aplenty, with displays of photos, paintings and snippets of Chelmorton life over the years.
It also boasts an attractive beer garden and patio – perfect for al fresco dining if the promised sunshine materialises. And ramblers can take advantage of the inn’s own range of local walks.
Gradually the place took shape: “It was hand to mouth for the first eight years, but by that time we’d doubled the size and got people coming back on a regular basis.
“We’ve been here 16 years now and seen families grow up. People like continuity.”
At first Justin did all the cooking, with Julie lending a hand. Between them they built up a reputation for good, home-made food.
But the inn became so popular that they needed help.
So professional chef Fraser Buckley, who lives in the village, came to their rescue and now runs the kitchen.
He and Justin come up with the menu between them. The selection changes constantly, offering a good choice of pub grub staples and a range of daily specials chalked up on a board above the fireplace.
“It’s all home-cooked food and it depends what’s available,” says Justin. “But there are certain things we can’t take off the menu – like rabbit pie.”
As a free house – and CAMRA High Peak pub of the year – the Church Inn offers a choice of five real ales and two guest beers. There are a dozen wines, from £14.25 a bottle (£2.75 a glass).
It may be spring, but it’s decidedly chilly tonight so my companion starts with broccoli and cheddar soup. A generous topping of grated cheese melts into the creamy broth and is mopped up with a granary roll.
My smoked mackerel, perked up by a zingy horseradish dip, comes with buttered brown bread, salad garnish and a lemon wedge.
Braised beef from the specials board makes a hearty main course: a deep pie dish packed with pieces of steak in thick, Guinness-infused gravy and cheesy Stilton dumpling.
I can’t resist the legendary rabbit pie – and it doesn’t disappoint. Shot on a nearby farm, the meat is slow-cooked in rich gravy and topped with a rustic lid of perfectly stodgy, crisp-topped suet pastry, just like my grandma used to make.
The finishing touch to both dishes is freshly-steamed broccoli, carrots, beans and baby sweetcorn and a mound of crisp, golden chips.
There’s a tempting sweet menu for those with room. We share a soft, unctuous bread and butter pudding laden with juicy sultanas.
And finally, good coffee and a mini macaroon. Three-course meal, excluding drinks and service, from £17.85 per person.
* The Church Inn, Chelmorton SK17 9SL 01298 85319 The Church Inn