Meet the couple who have taken over famous Dales inn The Green Dragon at Hardraw - having never run a pub before
Chris Robinson and Ann Rennoldson are the new leaseholders of The Green Dragon at Hardraw - famous for its links to William Wordsworth, Robin Hood, All Creatures Great and Small and nearby Hardraw Force, England's longest single-drop waterfall.
The couple have seen their lives change since they left York to re-open the pub last spring, with long-term owner Mark Thompson interviewing numerous applicants before settling on Chris and Ann.
Chris is a former HGV driver, trainer and assessor - and jokes that he's picked the worst time to leave the industry - while Ann taught primary maths at The Grammar School at Leeds. Neither have worked in hospitality before, though Ann's parents were publicans in their hometown of Richmond.
After spotting an article in The Yorkshire Post about Mark seeking new licensees - the businessman still lives in the village and also owns the waterfall heritage centre - Chris and Ann decided to call him after their original plan to run a campsite together fell through.
"We thought we didn't stand a chance - Mark invited us up but he'd seen some really experienced people. But we had a real belief and there was something about the pub that felt like it had been sleeping. At first, we looked at the interviews as just nice days out, but we think we have old-fashioned values and that's why Mark chose us," said Ann.
She admits 'fear set in' over their lack of experience before they decided to take the plunge and moved into the historic inn, which dates back to the 13th century. At this point Ann was still teaching in Leeds - she left her role at the end of the summer term - but she harnessed her contacts at the independent school, consulting head chef Andy Mirfin for advice on running a kitchen and bringing in tired seat pads for a colleague talented at needlework to re-upholster.
Chris, meanwhile, began renovating the building, which has capacity to sleep 80 guests in a series of en-suite rooms, 'bunkhouse' dormitories and self-contained apartments. One ladies' toilet even needed a mushroom infestation removing.
Getting the locals back on side was the couple's first aim.
"It had been closed so often under the last management, and we now have a policy of opening seven days a week until winter. It takes ages to become a 'local' here but people like you if you're hard-working," added Chris.
"We took a leap of faith, a risk during a time of uncertainty, but people do appreciate the pub's imperfections and it makes us happy when they are having a nice time," said Ann.
Their major challenge has been staffing - though they have two chefs, including a 75-year-old known as the 'pie man of the Dales' and long-serving barmaids, they are only able to operate at 50 per cent capacity because of difficulties in filling vacancies, despite being able to offer living accommodation.
"We're still searching for people. We're currently doing up the function room so we can open for Sunday carveries and group bookings - though we're staying away from big weddings at the moment! We had outdoor music events in the summer and the musicians are starting to come back for our 'ticking' sessions, where people just turn up and play, now," said Chris.
A glowing review from Guardian travel writer Kevin Rushby helped boost their profile, and there have also been visits by the singer Jane McDonald to film her new show and the All Creatures Great and Small cast and crew, who shot series two's Christmas special at The Green Dragon in May, when the Georgian interiors became The Drovers Arms.
"The contract stipulated that we needed to limewash the walls, and it took Chris forever, but when the crew arrived they spray painted them yellow because they said it looked too clean!
"It's good to get the All Creatures fans in, but we have our own identity and our own pulse as well," said Ann.
They are back on the map with motorcycle clubs and classic car rallies, and are hoping to capitalise on the recent resurgence of Wensleydale's red squirrel population, having enjoyed regular sightings in the car park.
"We had a couple come who'd been to the Lake District just to see red squirrels, didn't manage to see any but saw some here," said Ann.
Adapting to the slower pace of life in the upper Dales has taken some adjustment, and they are now at peace with the absence of convenience shopping and the need to prepare in advance for harsh winters.
"There's no 24/7 supermarket so you have to be organised and plan ahead. On our first Sunday here we had to drive 17 miles to Leyburn for a pint of milk! But it's been nice to get away from it all," said Chris.
Their long-term plans include expanding the functions - they have already agreed to hold a small Alice in Wonderland-themed wedding - refreshing the guest rooms and opening up redundant areas of the building.
"We had a guest who wrote a review saying 'this place should be available on prescription'. For us it has been a complete change of mindset - we've gone from job to lifestyle;" added Ann.