IT was Messrs Crosse and Blackwell, memory suggests, who boasted that all their stuff was Ten O'clock Tested. What was so crucial about ten o'clock, whether it was am or pm, how the testers spent the rest of their working day and why ten o'clock testing should never be confused with Seven O'clock Shadow we have been wholly unable to ascertain.

This timeless little reverie was occasioned, as readers will probably have supposed, by a 2.30pm piece of pork crackling.

Crackling is the great litmus paper - the sine qua non, as Roman pig farmers used to say - of Sunday lunch. Half past two is getting on a bit; the crackling, conversely, was at its prime. Manifestly, they cared.

We dined, unbooked and unbidden, at the Bolton Arms in Downholme, a hamlet between Richmond and Reeth which, like Escomb, has had a long flirtation with its final "e". We include it trepidantly, and may get Letters.

The village is Crown property, Ministry of Defence land, Catterick for the use of. Newspapers - that is to say, this newspaper - used to suggest that it was the world's only pub owned by the Queen, which was stretching the prerogative a bit. Reminders abound, nonetheless.

By the car park entrance, for example, stands a vast notice board - the Catterick Garrison Military Lands Bye-laws, 1976 - which in more portable form could be serialised for A Book at Bedtime.

It's formidable reading, but the royal imprint remains: "Any animal, vehicle, vessel or thing found in the area in contravention of any bye-law may be removed by any constable or officer as aforesaid, and on due proof of such contravention, be declared by a court of summary jurisdiction to be forfeited to Her Majesty."

Her Majesty, in truth, may have an entire storeroom at the Palace devoted to animals, vehicles, vessels and things removed from Downholme Common and guarded round the clock.

Once the village was a frequent location for manoeuvres, and worse. Now the military presence has subsided. "During the summer there's bombing going on until two o'clock in the morning, but we enjoy it," a resident told the Darlington and Stockton Times in 1936.

Once there were three pubs, five shoemakers - whatever the Army marched on, it wasn't made to last - and the Downholme Feast, somewhat surprisingly described in the dear old D&S as "a week of sports and gaiety, not to mention debauchery".

Nothing of the sort seemed likely on Palm Sunday - no sports or debauchery, anyway - although a debate in the bar over whether farmers remained rich, or even filthy rich, threatened (The Boss thought) to get out of hand.

It's a welcoming, cottagey, coal fired bar, two or three of the more widely available real ales and a photograph showing a group of old lads outside the pub in the between-the-wars tenancy of William Metcalfe, said in 1936 "to present a fine type of rural Boniface".

Mary Ayre, who succeeded him in 1939, stayed for 42 years and was known to hustle out of bounders into the cellar - a sort of military priest's hole - should top brass swagger stick their noses round the door.

Several licensees have followed, the pub presently run by Steve and Nicola Ross, who had the Friars Head at Akebar, near Leyburn.

Steve, it transpired, was the big chap in the trousers like a 1970s tie and the shirt that said "Culinary Genius". Though he seemed to spend much of the time chatting to the lads in the bar, there was an occasion when he disappeared into the kitchen carrying a glass of wine.

"Perhaps it's to go into my mussels," mused The Boss, but soon reconsidered.

More likely, she agreed, it was to go into the Culinary Genius.

(We raised this later. Steve proves to be one of these six days shalt thou labour sorts, though whoever worked the Sabbath shift was coping admirably.)

Most meals are taken in the newish conservatory out the back, views across Her Majesty's presently plagued dales, prints of same on the walls, greenery making constant insinuations and chairs so handsome that The Boss wondered if they'd miss one.

The Sunday lunch menu, sensibly short - a pound for every time THAT phrase has been used hereabouts - offered French onion soup, mussels (aforesaid), warm salad with smoked bacon and cheese and garlic mushrooms with cheese and bacon as starters' orders.

The soup, dark if not satanic, unusual if not unpleasant, appeared to have seen little of the cheese which characterises such things; the mussels were delicious.

Her salmon with hollandaise sauce, our pork, were both abundant and excellent and (in the latter case) with proper gravy. Salmon £7.50, roasts, tremendous value, £4.95.

Servings are generous, vegetables amply side plated, service cheery, surroundings attractive.

A two spoon cheesecake, topped with wild berries, was also miles above average. It had been a most enjoyable lunch - Downholme from home and 2.30 tested, an' all.

l Bolton Arms, Downholme, near Richmond (01748 823716.) Food every lunch and evening except Tuesday; restaurant difficult for the disabled.

REGARDING long distance lorry driver Peter Crawforth, last week's column wondered why roadside advertising only promises "good food" when so much of the other sort is on offer. It doesn't, says Philip Lassey - from Bagby, near Thirsk - who knows a place off the A283 near Godalming, Sussex, which promises "warm beer and lousy food". "It looks pretty grotty as well," says Philip - but if only with the curious, it's usually full.

THE last night of the 5s and 3s confirmed two things - that the brainless Britannia B will finish second bottom of the bottom division and that they do a lovely piece of cod at the Duke of Welly in High Coniscliffe, on the A67 west of Darlington. On Wednesday we returned, fish and chips twice, in the convivial company of Mr Jack Watson who is 80 today - Happy birthday, old friend - and who reckoned he'd not had a finer fish dinner in many a long march.

A bony brute, mind, but batter unbettered and for £4 outstanding in both quantity and quality.

The menu, incidentally, is overprinted on images of the Grand Old Duke, who looks awfully like Elvis Presley. Another incarnation of the Elvis lives saga, perhaps. Something fishy somewhere.

THE Black Dog Brewery lives again. Just a month after we reported the Whitby based operation's demise, John Hartas has announced that his ales will be brewed under licence by the Hambleton Brewery, near Thirsk. Ralph Wilkinson, the highly acclaimed "Village Brewer", has a similar arrangement.

The first batch of the naughtily anagrammatical Rhatas should be available on Thursday, others following shortly and Jet in the winter.

....and finally, the bairns wondered if we knew what's full of milk and only has one horn.

A United Dairies lorry.

Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2001