Rugby league legend Andy Gascoigne reveals his plans for Swaledale pub The Farmers Arms at Muker

A former rugby league star is looking forward to his latest challenge,= - running one of Swaledale’s most iconic pubs, The Farmers Arms in Muker.

Andy and Mandy Gascoigne in the village of Muker

Andy Gascoigne, who throughout the 80s and 90s played for Bramley, Hull, Keighley, Leeds, Doncaster and York in a career spanning more than 15 years, swapped the pitch for hospitality when he retired

Along with his wife, Mandy, they turned their hand to pubs and brewing with the traditional inn located in the Yorkshire Dales their latest venture.

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“I always wanted to be in a one-pub village,” said Wakefield-born Andy.

The rugby league legend has run a microbrewery and an oyster bar before

The couple bought the pub in September last year, which Andy described as a “poor time” as the business has only opened for five days since.

However, Andy said, he is convinced it will work and “couldn’t be happier” with the move to North Yorkshire.

“We’ve bought The Farmers Arms at a poor time, when Covid is making everything uncertain.

“Who knows what will happen in future but I’ve always been someone who is along for the whole ride. You make your decisions and get on with it. You can only affect what you do now and it is no good looking back and regretting because it won’t matter.”

The couple have been embraced by locals in remote Swaledale

During the five days over Christmas the pub was able to open, Andy said it was a mixed experience.

“Our first two days were disastrous! On Christmas Eve we served just four meals to a local family from Gunnerside.

“But the gentleman told me: ‘You think you’ve bought the worst pub, but you’ve bought the best pub in the dale. When all this is over, you’ll see. We’ll be back, I’m in the darts team’.”

But, Andy said, things picked up after that.

“I don’t know if word of my wife’s proper Yorkshire cooking got out but it must have gone round pretty quickly because the night before New Year’s Eve we were full and it was a fantastic time.

“In that short period we were booked out for New Year’s Eve, but unfortunately lockdown happened.”

The bar at The Farmers’ Arms is the third the couple have stood behind. The first pub they took on in the 90s was the Waggon and Horses at Oxenhope.

Wanting to learn more about the beer-making process, Andy worked for free at a brewery in Rochdale, taking that knowledge back to his own pub, where he launched a microbrewery.

After a few years, he decided he wanted a different challenge and bought a former fish and chip restaurant on the Isle of Seil, off the west coast of Scotland to convert into a pub and microbrewery.

“We had fallen in love with Scotland having visited friends on the Isle of Muck. We bought an old fish and chip shop with a café at Ellenabeck in Easdale, turning it into The Oyster Bar & Brewery. It was a massive success.

“We looked out on to the Atlantic Ocean and it was amazing. The Scottish lads nicknamed it The Woolpack.”

Channel Four followed the Gascoignes’ adventure for a year as part of a documentary called Life Begins Again. It proved to be a savvy business move as people came from all over the world to visit the pub they had seen on the television.

The couple ran the Oyster Bar for six years before selling the business and moving back to Yorkshire with a view to taking a break. But Andy found an old greengrocers in Haworth and decided to turn into a pub. It was here he set up the Haworth Steam Brewery and along with a number of beers, has branched out into gins and mixers.

With the pandemic having closed hospitality venues, Andy said he is cautious about it reopening this coming Monday.

“People have survived without pubs for over a year and the idea that everyone will supposedly come rushing back to have a drink outside on April 12 when it might be bad weather is a bit alien to me.

“If a heatwave comes to Swaledale who knows but my big philosophy in life is that you get out what you put in, the reality is there are no shortcuts to success whether you’re a rugby league player or a pub owner.”

But Andy said the couple’s commitment to The Farmers Arms, despite being unable to open has been noticed by the local community who may have been sceptical when they heard an ex-professional sports player and brewery owner had bought it.

“A few local gamekeepers told me that because of some of the coverage we’d had, there was a feeling we wouldn’t be hands-on.

“When they see me behind the bar and Mandy making the meals, both of us grafting, making our own beer and talking with customers I think they will know we are in it 100 per cent.”

While Andy and Mandy have made improvements to the pub, Andy said it was important to keep the “ambience and atmosphere” of the building.

“We’ve come in and changed it with a bit of refurbishment and given it a bit of love. We haven’t gutted it, as we knew it needed to keep its atmosphere so we’ve done small things like put cloth on seats that were a bit hard and the toilets definitely needed a kiss of life.

“We’ve also changed all the beer lines and now have The Farmers Brewing Co here producing our own ales, all named after the area - Shepherdess, Crackpot IPA, Farmers Draft Ewe lager on draught and a dark velvet stout called Gundog.”

The couple are now looking forward to re-opening and being a real part of the village.

“Real hard graft is what buys you that success, we’re always working, that’s how it is. My wife wants me to slow down a bit, but I can see the Farmers being the pub I can run in the winter and will keep us both happy.

“I can have a pint on a night with a few locals - and hopefully we’ll have busy summers!"

The pub is a great favourite of walkers, cyclists and campers at the nearby site of Usha Gap.