What to have for breakfast when you’re staying in a place called Great Fryupdale? No contest, is it? So that’s bacon, egg, fried potato, oatcake and tomatoes for me. It’s a little ritual I have every time I come to this hidden valley very few people know, even though it’s only 10 miles from Whitby.
There isn’t even a village (although there’s a building called a village hall), just a few farmhouses and scattered hamlets and a post box. Even the name is unsure: the signs say either Fryupdale or Fryup Dale. Either way, it’s next door to Little Fryupdale and Glaisdale, arranged in a row like piglets at the belly of a sow, Eskdale.
There was never any thought of a Full English Breakfast when they came to name the area. The two dales get their name from Frige, the Anglo Saxon goddess of love (the Vikings’ version was Frigg) and ‘hop’ means a small valley: so Frige’s valley. But my fry up could be regarded as a 21st Century votive offering to Frige.
You don’t go through Fryup but to it. A little single track lane lazily circles the dale either side of the beck although there is a spur which climbs dizzyingly up the hillside and over the moors to Rosedale and beyond.
I’m not sure about the people (only a few hundred) but the rabbits breed like, well, rabbits here. Stroll down the lanes of a midge-filled evening, look across the fields and clap your hands like a gun going off. Their white tails bob furiously as they run for cover to the hedges.
I dream that if I lived here all year round I would have a gun and eat rabbit pie. Or rabbit ragu, perhaps with a wild garlic pesto made from the leaves which line the verges, the white flowers twinkling like stars. Instead, I usually stay for a week at Prospect, a converted coach house owned by local teachers.*
The dale is a larder. Up above, the moors will be heavy with bilberries come late July. In the valley, along with the rabbits, sheep and cows graze. And somewhere there are pigs, unseen, but they’re there because we eat one later.
Just over two miles away, out of the dale in the parent valley of Eskdale, is the village of Lealholm. Besides the river is the Board Inn, the sort of pub you imagine only in your wildest foodie dreams.
Former butcher turned chef Alistair Dean and his wife Karen have turned this 18th century inn into a real beer and real food haven. The boast is that all the main ingredients are sourced within 500 yards of the pub. Now how’s that for terroir? Perhaps not the fish, from Whitby, but the trout might just have been hooked from the Esk alongside.
Blackboards in the bar give the pedigree and provenance of almost everything Alistair cooks. So they list the serial number of the heifer which donated your steak, its owner, who ‘despatched’ it and for how long it was hung. And it’s not just the meat. Providers of the eggs, potatoes and even who grew the rhubarb get a name check.
Don’t think gastro pub but good, honest, homely cooking without Fancy Dan gastro prices. For our Sunday lunch we had some wonderful pork which came from Fryup and pot roast mutton on the bone, followed by rhubarb sundae. Lovely.
Lealholm has a railway station. Ten miles down the line is Whitby, which has so many fish and chip shops and restaurants you could have fried cod or haddock in a different place once a week and not go back to the same place.
For us, the acme is the Magpie Café but then we only go to Whitby once a year and always eat there. Others, who eat in Whitby more widely, tell us the Magpie has slipped. I’m not sure it has but the menu is certainly trendier. These days you can also get habas fritas, fried broad beans, to nibble if you don’t fancy the vinegared cockles to nibble while you’re waiting for your fish. Actually, I do want the cockles and they are lovely.
There is a dazzling array of fish to eat, fried, poached, steamed and gluten-free but this is Yorkshire and for me it’s got to be battered haddock, the Northerners’ fish, although I am from Down South. My wife, who isn’t, has the cod.
But first I have three shucked oysters, served with lemon and shallot vinegar, as juicy and briney as you could wish for. The haddock comes with a wonderfully crisp and rippling batter, echoing the waves outside. The chips aren’t bad and the mushy peas, just dried peas and water, nothing else, are heavenly. I like the haddock but the flavour might just have been more pronounced but you’d only mention this in a place where you naturally expect perfection.
So I’m going to mention the tartare sauce as well. As I remember they used to make their own. This was a commercial confection, cheap and vile. Yet, oddly, the woman at the next table loved it. There’s no accounting for bad taste, is there?
*Prospect can be booked via http://www.sykescottages.co.uk