THERE can be few finer views from a pub car park than that of Holmedale laid out before diners as they park up at the Shoulder of Mutton at Kirby Hill.

The dale drops sharply away to reveal rolling golden fields, dotted with round hay bales which a puff of wind might roll away. At the bottom, among the water meadows, are the ruins of Ravensworth Castle – a couple of arthritic fingers of old stone pointing high into the sky. And then the patchwork climb up the other side, with a tiny silvery line of vehicles silently catching the last of the day’s sun as they inch along the A66.

Kirby Hill, as its name suggests, is a church on a hill, with a square of old properties gathered around a green. It is a couple of miles north of Richmond – Gilling West is nearby, at the head of Holmedale.

The view from inside the ivy-covered pub is nearly as good as from its car park – through one window, heavy branches of green leaves wave slightly in the breeze to reveal the sturdy church, while through another is a nostalgic corner of olde England: a bright red phone box and a pillar postbox add a dash of colour to the green scene.

The Shoulder’s menu is unpretentious and not especially pricey. Starters are under a fiver; mains are generally under a tenner.

For example, one of the most expensive items was the £12.95 Barnsley chop on the specials blackboard. It was served with minted mash and gravy. How good to see a chop taking pride of place, and how great to see the word “gravy” proudly advertised – none of these trendy words like jus, sauce or reduction up here.

For my starter, I opted for breast of wood pigeon with black pudding and bacon – a special – while Petra, my wife, chose the fishcake with poached egg.

It was a pleasantly fishy fishcake, not padded out with potato, with a nicely poached egg on top. We didn’t quite understand the presence of the egg, though, and thought some sharpness from tartare sauce or some capers wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Given the gentle way wood pigeons coo at each other, I wasn’t expecting their little breasts to present such a powerful, gamey taste. They were perfectly cooked and unadorned, lying on a bed of artfully-arranged lettuce (in my notes, I wrote that the plate looked like the flying wheels emblem of the Cyclists Touring Club, but, in the cold light of day I can’t possibly expect anyone else to understand the comparison), accompanied by fine, moist pieces of black pudding and some crunchy bacon.

The starters were accompanied by a basket of good, herby focaccia bread, with butter. We asked for some water, and it came chilled in a carafe. Things had obviously been thought through.

The short wait for our mains allowed us to examine our surroundings. We were dining in a corner of the bar – about six tables, all full – which had interesting old photos and horseware on the walls. All meal, I marvelled at one strange, horsey device hanging near the ceiling. Painted red and gold, it was nearly the shape of an Irish harp, or perhaps a Scandinavian snowshoe, or perhaps a fisherman’s lobster device – none of which could explain why it was covered in horse brasses, nor why it had two industrial winching hooks hanging from it.

Anyway, for our main courses, Petra had wanted something light, and so had chosen a goats’ cheese pasty in béchamel sauce, whereas I had wanted something substantial, and so had opted for liver, bacon and onions in gravy with mash.

The pasty, unfortunately, was disappointing. It swam in a lake of sauce, but had just a few pieces of goats’ cheese accompanied by a couple of leaves of shrunken spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. It just felt deflated.

By contrast, my liver was absolutely fine. Again well cooked, it was a traditional combination with the bacon, and a good meaty gravy. I’d asked for chips instead of the mash, but actually got both, so I was well and truly stuffed with honest-to-goodness food.

However, not so stuffed as to avoid the lure of chocolate brownie in chocolate sauce with ice cream. Apart from a squirt of cream – I always think such squirts are unnecessary – It was well-judged, not at all sickly, and as I scraped the bowl, I realised that my choices of liver and chocolate pud had betrayed my love of school dinners.

Petra had a good crème brulee. Both desserts were £5.50 and came with a monster strawberry and a shortbread biscuit – they do give you your money’s worth.

Food came to £38.40, which would have represented really good value if the pasty had gone down better, and the total bill, with wine, was £54.20 (the bar, incidentally, has a couple of Cornish beers with a trawling theme to them plus, as this is the Shoulder of Mutton, Black Sheep). Service was prompt, friendly and pleasantly chatty – although no one knew what the strange red-and-gold horsey thing was hanging above the arch.

Back outside, I walked off my mash and chips with a quick stroll around the old houses on the green, and then had a last look over Holmedale from the car park as night fell. One couple had brought a cup of tea from their cottage, presumably a holiday let, and stood admiring the dying of the day – quite literally, drinking in the view.


The Shoulder of Mutton, Kirby Hill, near Richmond, DL11 7JH

Telephone: 01748 822772



Ratings (out of ten): Surroundings 8, Service 8, Quality of food 7, Value for money 7