IT’S that time of life when attending funerals begins to outnumber the weddings and christenings.

Most recently we were at St Gregory’s in Bedale to say farewell, with many, many others, to the town’s celebrated butcher Bryan Cockburn.

It was a fine send off with the wake afterwards in Bedale Hall where, among others, North Yorkshire’s finest butchers gathered to pay their respects – and the day’s silver lining appeared in the form of a lovely lady called Doreen.

Doreen Haigh is one of my food heroes on account of her magical recipe for black pudding – a closely-guarded secret of course – conjured up more than 35 years ago.

Regular readers will, at this point, despair. Yes, I do like to talk, and have done repeatedly over the years, about the singular qualities of the triangle-shaped black gold produced on a rather unmagical industrial estate at Dalton, near Thirsk. No, I’m not on a retainer from the family business established by Doreen’s husband Arthur. But perhaps I should speak to her son Duncan about that.

Whatever, Doreen’s black pudding is the best and don’t just take my word for it. It is officially internationally-award winning having picked up a gold medal courtesy of La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Goûte-Boudin in Normandy, France, where they take the business of black pudding making very seriously, seriously as in dressing up in silly robes with sashes, parading through town and holding an annual black pudding festival.

It is increasingly a feature of menus in pubs and restaurants hereabouts – which brings me to the Milbank Arms at Well – just south of Bedale – where we found it at the heart of a warm salad of black pudding, bacon and new potato along with some dressed leaves.

Very beautiful it was too, and also substantial – possibly overly so for a dish listed among the starters. But worth every penny of £7.95.

Apart from the Milbank Arms’ impeccable taste in black pudding supplier, we very much liked the cut of its jib.

It’s got that balance between the full Farrow and Ball trendy gastropub makeover and untouched traditional country pub just right. The trouble with the former is it makes re-worked pubs all look a bit the same and the problem with the latter is the lurking suspicion that a commitment to leaving a place in all its untouched glory means it’s not very clean.

It’s cosy with warm red walls, a separate, formal-ish dining area with sturdy furniture and at its heart a bar with a friendly welcome for drinkers and diners alike. We noted the presence of both Black Sheep and Theakstons hand pumps on the bar which is quite diplomatic given that the home of both breweries, Masham, is just a few miles down the road.

I can vouch for the well-kept quality of a half pint of Theakstons (£ 2). Driving duties precluded me from sampling the Black Sheep.

The Milbank food offer is similarly balanced and unpretentious, covering traditional pub classics and something a little more adventurous.

Like my main course hake fillet (£13.95) roasted to firm-fleshed but nicely moist perfection which nestled in a creamy fricassee of chorizo, bacon, onion and peas (lots of peas!) with new potatoes. The sparingly-used chorizo was not too pungent so didn’t overwhelm the hake.

Right at the most traditional end of the menu spectrum was bangers and mash, or Old English pork sausages with buttery mash and onion gravy (£10.95) to accord it the full glory of its specials board description, which Sylvia very much enjoyed – firm, very meaty sausages, super-smooth mash, proper gravy.

The experience was tempered by her choice of starter – haddock goujons with home-made tartare and salad garnish (7.95) – which like my warm salad was enormous for a first course. Three very large pieces of super-fresh haddock in a top-quality batter, deep-fried, would have made a perfectly good main course.

So only I could manage a dessert – a peach pavlova (£5.25). Some meringue, Brymor vanilla ice cream fresh raspberries and tinned peaches. Tinned! Yes I know, but it was February and perhaps we’ll have to get used to it after the 29th. Sorry, a bit political that - and you thought you could take refuge from the B-word in this column?

Our evening’s experience was considerably enhanced by bumping into villagers Phil and Sue Day who were also enjoying an early evening supper and who we hadn’t seen for, well, too long, and then in walked Paul and Helen Klein of the fabled Blue Lion at East Witton – which has been very favourably reviewed by this column on more than one occasion.

If the Milbank Arms is good enough for the Kleins it’s good enough for us.


The Milbank Arms, Bedale Road, Well, Bedale, DL8 2PX

Tel: 01677 470411 Web:

Open: noon-2pm Tuesday to Saturday and from 6pm. Closed Mondays and Sunday evenings.

Disabled access. Vegetarian and gluten-free options.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9, Service 9 Surroundings 8, Value 8