Dining out: The Boar's Head, Ripley

The Boar's Head in Ripley
The Boar's Head in Ripley

You forget about the stars; even on the clearest evenings only the very brightest appear in the city sky. Yet in pretty, honey-stoned Ripley, far from the streetlights, as our eyes widen to the darkness, a whole blanket of gloss-spattered night unrolls above us.

The Boar’s Head landlord is baronet Sir Thomas Ingilby, though I'm not sure he's the kind who changes the barrels.

His family have lived at Ripley for 700 years. With its manicured verges, stone cottages, pub, church, and castle, it feels not just simply that you have left the light-polluted city behind, but have pitched up in feudal England.

The Ingilbys’ path to seven centuries of wealth began with marriage into a family who had held Ripley since fighting on the winning side in 1066. The son of that marriage not only married into another of the north’s wealthiest dynasties, but the favourable stars aligned to allow him to save King Edward III from being gored by a wild boar during a hunting trip to Knaresborough.

The rest is not just history – it’s geography, economics and religious studies too.

The next big date for this Catholic and Royalist dynasty comes after the Battle of Marston Moor when Jane Ingilby holds Cromwell at gunpoint to prevent him finding her brother hiding in

Ripley’s priest-hole. Another Ingilby was hung, drawn and quartered for his faith.

Each of us has remarkable ancestors – one of mine was posted to Botany Bay to guard deported convicts; another patented a safety device for the flying shuttle of the Lancashire mills – but few of us can compete with these starring roles on the high days of English history.

Saving the king turned the boar’s head into a family crest. There’s a stone one in the village and a rather gruesome stuffed one called Boris high on one wall as you enter the pub which shares the Boar’s Head name. I’ve met a few pub bores in my time, but few so ugly as this.

He looks down over a long bar dominated by a little constellation of Masham’s beers – Black Sheep, Pathmaker and Theakston’s Old Peculier among them. I choose instead the rarer pale bronze Comfortably Numb from Bad Co in Dishforth, which crams in some significant bitter hop character to a beer of sessionable strength, and laces the glass beautifully as it falls.

Food is served here on lunchtimes and evenings daily, with a brasserie menu served in both the bar and a much more formal dining room across the lobby.

I start with the delicately battered squid rings, stacked like carelessly-discarded tyres on a spicy garnish of peppers. The fish pie is generously loaded with salmon with just a scattering of prawns and mussels for good measure, all wrapped in a rich white wine sauce and devilishly studded with capers. A mustard-mash and a tiny saucepan of garden peas complete this hearty main course.

Inevitably the pub is known locally as the Whore’s Bed, though the rooms here are only available by the night, rather than the hour. Each has been individually designed by Lady Ingilby; bed and breakfast starts at around £85 a head and includes free admission to the castle gardens.

But we are afforded no such star treatment. So after a little more awestruck gazing at the heavens, we head home to the murky, clouded, starless night of the city.

Ripley, North Yorkshire

Type: Village hotel and restaurant

Opening Hours: 11am-11pm Mon-Sat; noon-10.30pm Sun

Beers: Changing selection of real ales, usually including Theakston’s Best, Theakston’s Old Peculier and Black Sheep, plus Peroni, Beck’s and Stella Artois lagers and Guinness

Wines: Good quality wine list

Food: Brasserie menu is served in the pub and restaurant from noon-2pm and 6.30-9pm Mon-Sat; noon-8pm Sun

Disabled: Straightforward access

Children: Welcomed. Children’s menu available

Accommodation: 25 bedrooms

Beer garden: Small grassed area to rear

Parking: Small area to rear, on-street areas nearby

Telephone: 01423 771888

Website: www.boarsheadripley.co.uk