ON the trail of a decent meal, Malcolm Warne visits a walkers' pub on the Coast to Coast

EVERY year, as the good weather returns, a little economic boom takes place along a 183-mile corridor across the North of England.

With the arrival of Easter, keen walkers from around the UK – and indeed the world – take to Alf Wainwright’s famous Coast to Coast trail from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay.

As they make their inspiring way across fell, dale and vale they need sustenance and accommodation – and the many hostelries along the route make a decent living restoring good spirits and vigour to the weary who need somewhere to rest up overnight.

Pubs like the White Swan at Danby Wiske which we likened to the canteen of the United Nations when enjoying an excellent meal there one evening a few summers ago.

And also the Blue Bell, a few miles further along the route at Ingleby Cross, which until last week we had never graced with our presence.

I actually thought the place was long-closed until a villager told me a few months ago it was very much open and the new people were making a decent fist of it.

Those new people are now into their third year at the helm and are the Lill family – brother and sister Chris and Samantha, backed up by parents Dave and Sue. Chris is the chef, having previously worked at Chapters in Stokesley where the family come from.

It was a midweek evening when we called and foot-sore walkers seemed thin on the ground. But there was a bibulous crowd of locals. Which is exactly what a pub landlord wants, of course.

They were friendly, vocal and congregated around a blazing fire (this was before the Easter heatwave) and handsome stone fireplace at one end of the bar.

On a beam above the bar is inscribed “St Bees 140¼ RH-B 50½” indicating the distances in miles to either end of the Coast to Coast. Now the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed adds up to more than the 183 miles referenced in the opening paragraph. I’ll leave that to the Wainwright experts to explain.

The table nearest the splendid fire was reserved so we found ourselves at the other end with an unlit fire. No matter, the fire and the locals were generating enough heat and hot air to keep everyone cosy.

The Blue Bell menu is designed with hearty appetites in mind – the sort of thing to fuel up on before striding out and up on to the North York Moors for the final stretch of the Coast to Coast.

We were only tottering out to the car so we decided to share a starter – halloumi fries and chimichurri sauce (£5). Not your average pub fare and we liked it rather a lot. The five chunky chips of squeaky cheese didn’t split very easily between the two of us but Sylvia graciously ceded the fifth chunk to me. The South American herby (and not too spicy) sauce and the lamb’s lettuce salad were appropriate accompaniments.

Other starters available included breaded brie and mango chutney (£5.50), southern fried crispy chicken with buffalo sauce (£5.50) and a roasted pepper and Wensleydale cheddar stuffed mushroom (£5).

The main course options were similarly slightly left-field, at least for a pub bar menu. The Bangkok Bad Boy vegan burger (£9.50), the Katsu chicken curry (£10.95) and the Hot Shot Parmesan (topped with jalapeno and sliced chorizo - £10.95) piqued our interest but we settled for some rather more conventional options.

Sylvia’s lamb shank (£14.95) – once an absolute sure-fire staple of pub menus, it was good to see it back – was slow-cooked in a red wine sauce and served with new potatoes (her preference over the minted mash suggested), broccoli and carrots.

The lamb fell off the shank just as it should, the gravy was deeply-flavoured and the veg were just fine. One happy diner.

My grilled pork steaks (£10.95) served with a classic cider and apple sauce and extra sauce in a little jug on the side were substantial (three of them) and nicely browned if a teeny-weeny bit tough.

They came with new potatoes and excellent chips so there was no shortage of carbs.

The dessert menu was limited to three options, all at a very reasonable £4.50. They were a New York cheesecake, a gluten-free chocolate brownie sundae and, my choice, a banoffee waffle – a rather agricultural construction of waffle, banana, caramel sauce, squirty cream and ice cream.

The waffle was a bit past it, the central section being particularly chewy, but it disappeared nevertheless.

Our bill, including a half of lager (£1.75) and a half of bitter – I think Black Sheep - was £39. Pretty good, we thought.

Service from a youthful crew was perfectly friendly and efficient.

Blue Bell Inn

Ingleby Cross, Northallerton DL6 3NF

Tel: 01609 882272 Web: thebluebellinninglebycross.co.uk

Disabled access. Gluten free diets catered for

Open for food (Spring and summer): Noon-2.30 Tuesday to Sunday, 5.30-8.30pm.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 7 Service 8 Surroundings 7 Value 9