NO one would have picked 2020 as the year to launch a new hospitality business.

Opening the doors of a fairly isolated village pub last October just a fortnight before the second national shutdown of pubs and restaurant in November seems like madness.

But that’s exactly what Neil and Gemma Doogan decided to do at the Forresters Arms in Kilburn, the pretty village in the shadow of White Horse Hill on the edge of the North York Moors.

The couple took it on at the invitation of pubco owners Enterprise Inns (EI) who had fully refurbished the building after a fire which pretty much gutted it in the early summer of 2019.

The Doogans have a lifetime between them in the hospitality industry. Neil is what the industry calls a “turnaround specialist” – that is he takes on places that have fallen on hard times and puts them on back on their feet.

Making village pubs viable is quite a skill – beyond the capability of many who have tried and failed – and his success with the Bay Horse at Goldsborough, near Knaresborough, was the catalyst for EI asking him and Gemma to have a look at the Forresters.

He says they signed up and agreed to open in October in the full expectation that further restrictions on trading were likely somewhere down the track and they remain remarkably philosophical about the situation.

There’s evident method in the apparent madness.

What keeps them going currently – apart from offering takeaway meals on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – is the firm conviction that once the pandemic is tamed and restrictions are lifted, they will have a good business sustained by villagers pleased to have their local back and tourists visiting the area for the White Horse and everything else the Moors and adjacent Howardian Hills have to offer.

The refurbishment work covered the downstairs bars/eating areas and the eight letting bedrooms. It’s all brand spanking new and despite being carried out by a big pubco it doesn’t feel remotely corporate.

To be fair I can’t recall what the Forresters looked like from a previous visit many moons ago but the impression we got was that every inch of old village inn character has been retained.

We visited just before Christmas on a wet night in that twilight period between the end of the November shutdown and the shift of North Yorkshire from Tier Two to Tier Three restrictions. So a “substantial meal” was available but the special atmosphere of a packed village pub on an evening in the run-up to Christmas was sorely lacking. Simply a sign of the times.

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There were a few folk in to eat but it was a long way from being full. While not exactly chilly, our dining spot in what is known as the top bar (a step up from the main bar where a fire was roaring) was not very cosy either.

The menu, however, was packed with winter-warmer, robust, pub classics from fish and chips to pies, steaks and burgers. Fine dining it ain’t.

The temperature outside and to an extent inside influenced our choices, braised belly pork and pig’s cheek (£18.95) for me and a trio of sausages (£14.95) for Sylvia. I started with broccoli and Stilton soup (£6.95) and Sylvia chose a prawn and crayfish cocktail (£7.95).

The starters were good. A fine plateful of juicy prawns and crayfish in a traditional marie-rose sauce with baby gem lettuce made Sylvia happy and my soup was well-flavoured with a mild cheesiness. It was perhaps a little under seasoned.

The mains were real winter warmth and the epitome of a “substantial meal”. Sylvia’s three big fat sausages – decent quality with a high meat content – came with a thick onion gravy and roasted root vegetables.

My belly pork and pig’s cheek – also served with roasted root veg – was overwhelming in more ways than one. Firstly, the portion size was enormous for a rich dish which features a good deal of flavour-ful if over-facing fat. Secondly, the meat juice gravy had been so reduced down the flavour was almost over-powering in its unctuous, sticky, intensity. The consistency was that of used engine oil. It was all just too much and I left half of it which was a shame because the constituent pieces of pig were beautifully cooked.

We couldn’t manage desserts so our bill was £55.80 with a well-kept half pint of Black Sheep (£2) and a gin and tonic (£5).

We wish the Doogans the very best of luck with the Forresters. While our experience was not perfect, there’s lots to celebrate about its resurrection during the most difficult of times.

The Forresters Arms

The Square, Kilburn, York YO61 4AH

Tel: 01904 947570 Web: Email:

Open: hopefully very soon. Takeaway service with a restricted menu currently available on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday lunch.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 7, Service 8, Surroundings 8 Value 7