THAT is the question, and one that is much debated in this family. Which is better, the bairns endlessly argue, the Wetherspoons breakfast in all its preternatural permutations or the Toby Carvery’s “eat as much as you like” offer, choices including “breakfast” Yorkshire puddings and “breakfast” gravy.

“Gravy to die for,” says the younger bairn, harnessing one of the 21st century’s more fatuous clichés but insisting that we see for ourselves.

Last week we rose to the challenge.

The Toby in Darlington is next to the Travel Lodge on Yarm Road, serves breakfast from 8am to 11am. Taylor’s, the celebrated butcher’s, also has a cafe out the back somewhere but it may yet be too early for a pork pie breakfast.

Though it’s tempting to eviscerate the music machine, the Toby is convivial, family friendly, smiling and clean. Plenty of outside tables, too – views of Cummins factory – though perhaps not at 9am on a cold morning in late January.

A sign in the window promises “Yorkies measured to perfection”, though hitherto we’d been unaware of a gauge for such things.

A lot of the customers appear to be fat lads (and lasses). If the question’s “Do you come here often?” the answer may be self-evident.

The all-you-like option is £4.69, £3.39 for those 12 and under. Alternatives like porridge or cereal (“just ask for today’s selection”) are £1.29, fresh bottomless coffee £2.09. It’s pretty good.

As we ate, the younger bairn – he who might sell his soul for a ladle of breakfast gravy – was in the birth room of a south London hospital, trying to look useful. His mother emailed him a picture of our breakfast, 21st century sadism.

It was really rather enjoyable, not least the “hand made” (Oh, come on) bacon, potato and cheese and onion hash. Why “hashtag”, we wondered inconsequentially over the toast.

The Yorkshire puddings (“with bacon and onion bits”) were very much more appetising than they looked, the gravy satisfactorily savouring. It doesn’t much go with HP, though.

As is her custom, the lady of the house had swum a mile before breakfast, polished off a very hearty meal and knew at once where she’d gone wrong.

“I should have swum two,” she said.

BEFORE addressing a Wetherspoons breakfast – the Sir Ralph Fitz Randal, in Richmond – a morsel of recent news.

Richmondshire, which includes Swaledale and Wensleydale – and Catterick Garrison, come to think – has been named in a Halifax survey as the second best place in Britain in which to live, behind Orkney.

Orkney’s fine, but not on the X26 bus route.

Hambleton, the area around Northallerton and Thirsk, was rated fourth best – up from 28th two years ago.

Richmondshire, says the Halifax, was characterised by a high sense of wellbeing, including happiness and low anxiety. Other feelgood factors included crime rate, traffic flow, population density and, get this, the ratio of people to pubs.

That’s a bit coincidental because only last week, taking the country bus from Richmond to Barnard Castle, the column lamented the number of village pubs no longer serving a need.

In England’s Elysium, it’s shortly before 10am that we pitch up at the Ralph Fitz Randal. Clearly toasting the good life, a group of lads is already on the ale.

The pub’s named after a 13th century Lord of Middleham who founded the friary across the road. After his death, says the menu, his heart was buried in the quire. Probably it’s a good thing that they waited until he was dead.

The town’s former post office, the pub has extensive book shelves at the back – job lot from Oxfam, probably – and additional reading matter in the form of Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin’s ceaseless no-dealing on Europe.

Next to the menus, a plastic-protected brochure asks questions like “What don’t you like about free trade Mrs May?” and “She tries to con the public.” Then there’s the company magazine, page after page of piffle beneath the heading “Circle of deceit”.

What’s that to do with the price of a bacon butty?

Breakfast options are extensive, including – as at Toby – vegetarian and vegan. Unlike Toby, breakfasteers get what they’re given, enabling the menu to list the exact number of calories in each dish – 921 for the “traditional” breakfast, more than 1,500 for the large.

How precisely do they know? Perhaps the term “bean counters” originated with Messrs Wetherspoon and not, as one of the websites more absurdly supposes, from a counter that sold beans.

Beyond question, Toby offers more adventure. What, blessedly, Wetherspoons doesn’t offer is music.

The principal reason that the column has always been a bit lukewarm about a Wetherspoons breakfast is that they never seem hot enough. So at the Ralph Fitz Randal.

I have the traditional, which otherwise is OK and contains approximately 158 baked beans. The lady has Mushrooms Benedict (“fine”) and, for £1.99, a fresh fruit bowl.

The whole lot, including bottomless coffee, is £10.54 for two. It’s impossible to question the value, if not unconditionally to equate it with the Richmondshire rapture. If the question’s the one in the headline, the answer’s in the affirmative.

“TO be or not to be” is from Hamlet. So, often slightly misquoted, are the lines “Oh that this too too sullied (solid) flesh would melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew.” After two big pub breakfasts in as many days, the second may be more appropriate.

SERENDIPITOUSLY searching for something else, we come across a 1986 column on Reeth, also in Swaledale, where the village bobby – the Reeth police – was PC Dick Cresswell.

His patch embraced 82,145 acres, 27 small villages and around 1,500 people.

When not on round-the-clock call – “If someone wants a policeman, I can hardly tell them to go to Richmond, can I?” – Dick, 30, had a reputation as a bit of a trencherman.

In the Kings Arms, up there the Middle House, he’d won an eating competition by seeing off 28 two-ounce sausages, had a drink of pop and managed another sausage.

What he didn’t tell them was that he’d had his dinner first.

…and finally The Spectator, of all magazines, carries a piece on drive-through food outlets, majoring on Wolvision services where the A19 skirts swiftly past Billingham and where KFC, Costa and McDonalds all vie for business.

“Such is the intense competition between all three of them that customers are treated royally,” says The Speccy. “Wolviston is drive-through heaven.”

It was tempting to see for ourselves, of course, but as may never be said of the Toby eat-all-you-can breakfast – or in the Reeth police house back in the 1980s – you really can have too much of a good thing.