SWALEDALE has many secrets. We went wandering in a hidden fold above Healaugh, where a ring ouzel revealed itself to us flitting among stones on the fellside, but a cuckoo remained frustratingly out of sight in the trees that line Barney Beck. It was always one clump away from us no matter which direction we walked, taunting us with its invisibility.

However, one previously concealed corner of the dale has just opened up to diners: a tearoom has been set up in Ellerton Abbey, which was the fictional home of Mrs Pumphrey and her pampered Pekingese Tricki Woo in All Creatures Great and Small.

The Northern Echo: Ellerton Abbey was built in the 1830s as a shooting lodge by the Erle-Drax family

Ellerton Abbey was built in the 1830s as a shooting lodge by the Erle-Drax family

Anyone who has ever driven along the B6270 at the bottom of the dale must have wondered about it. It is an 1830s hunting lodge built on the site of a late 12th Century priory, accessed from the road by a causeway over a bog garden. It has a gorgeous grassy seating terrace, above a ha-ha, that looks over the riverside pasture in which lies the romantic, roofless ruins of the 15th Century priory church. The Erle-Drax family who they built the shooting lodge turned the tumbledown church into an eyecatcher, and now the specimen trees are reaching maturity in the nave, it feels a privilege to have them as your backdrop, even if you can’t walk over to them.

The Northern Echo: The view from the terrace over the ha-ha towards the romantically ruined Ellerton Priory church

However, in Swaledale on a slightly sunny Saturday in early May, you could be a chill-catcher if you sat outside looking at the eyecatcher so we, along with all but the hardiest of diners, opted to sit inside, warmed by a woodburner.

The tearoom, in a family home with an antique shop alongside, first opened in the summer of 2019 but within weeks was devastated by Storm Desmond and shut. The pandemic kept it closed until a little more than a month ago.

The menu is limited. There’s an all-day breakfast (£8.95), soup (£5.95), quiche (£7.45), a full range of sandwiches (£7.45) and a selection of scones (£4.95). Petra and I opted for the ploughman’s sharing board (£14.95) while our son, Theo, had a sausage sandwich (£4.95) and grandma had smoked mackerel pate (£7.45) from the specials board.

The Northern Echo: The dining room in the Grade II listed Ellerton Abbey

The dining room, which has fabulous views of cows with their calves wandering down to the ruined church, has the air of an old-fashioned guest house, with condiments kept on the sideboard and a draught creeping in through the sash windows.

All of our soft drinks arrived with appropriate fruit in them; all of our teas came in artfully mismatched fine bone china – a 1930s teapot accompanied by the sort of richly decorated, ornately-handled cup that almost forces you stick out your little pinky as you drink.

The Northern Echo: The ploughman's platter for two at Ellerton Abbey

Our ploughman’s platter (above) was as quirky as the crockery. Lots of different breads, three cheeses plus a bowl of cheese savoury, a bowl of homemade coleslaw with apple in it, a bowl of chutney, a clump of dressed salad, all finished with large slices of home-roasted ham topped by a de-shelled runny, boiled egg.

It was a terrific effort. For £15, it could – well, did – feed three.

Ploughman’s purists would quibble about the lack of a pickled onion. We wondered whether a slice of pork pie might have been included, and we debated about whether the ploughman would have been a henkeeper as well because I’ve never had a runny boiled egg on a ploughman’s lunch before. It was, though, definitely preferable to a pickled egg, and the yolk was a classic accompaniment for the ham.

“That’s the best ham I’ve ever had in my life,” said a lady on a nearby table as her plates were cleared. As she did not appear to be in the first flush of youth, this was a great compliment.

The platter was also extremely large, but fortunately we had Theo on hand. He demolished his three sausage sandwich (below) and was quite happy with the bread and cheese we couldn’t manage.

The Northern Echo: Sausage sandwich

The Northern Echo: Smoked mackerel pate

Grandma’s plate was also too much for her, but her fish pate (above) was really good. It was quite a smooth and creamy pate, with plenty of bread and salad. It also came with a bowl of chutney, which I had never considered as an accompaniment for smoked mackerel, but the fruitiness worked quite nicely with the strident fishiness.

The Northern Echo: The cake counter at Ellerton Abbey

For dessert, there were plenty of homemade cakes (above). Theo and I chose a chocolate ganache muffin (£3) (below), which had fabulous icing, and the others had fruit and white chocolate crumble slice (£2.50), which they liked. The cakes came beautifully presented with cream and strawberries on the side.

The Northern Echo: Chocolate ganache muffin

The Northern Echo: Fruit and white chocolate crumble slice

The fruit and white chocolate crumble slice

The bill for four of us was £54.95. Two notes of caution. Firstly, it is only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Secondly, this tearoom is Ellerton by the Swale to the west of Richmond and it is not the tearoom at Ellerton-on-Swale which is 15 miles away to the east of Richmond.

It offers nice and simple food, chatty and friendly service, an interesting room of antiques to browse and a view that brings you closer to one of the great secret places of Swaledale.

The Northern Echo: The entrance to Ellerton Abbey on the B6270

Mrs Pumphrey’s Tearoom,
Ellerton Abbey, near Richmond, DL11 6AN
Phone: 01748-884321
Open: Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10am to 4pm

Food quality: 7
Service: 7
Surroundings: 9
Value for money: 8