There are some places in Yorkshire where you become inextricably linked not by the obvious relationships of either birthplace, where you grew up or workplace but by circumstance and what life throws your way.
The sleepy village of Millington just a couple of miles out of Pocklington has always been one of those for me ever since my dad drove us through Millington Springs and Millington Pastures on one of his “let’s see where this road takes us” expeditions in his works Austin 1100 in the 70s.
It’s a thought that is particularly poignant given my mum’s passing in February.
I can hear her talking to my dad now saying, “where are you going Laurie?”
This is also where a wonderful man by the name of Roger Dykes, who is also no longer with us, lived for many years.
Roger was a leading musical light in the MAYC (Methodist Association of Youth Clubs) movement that I was involved in too. He possessed a gleaming smile and a spirit of fun that few could match.
I have known the owners of The Gait Inn in the village since before they moved in as landlord and landlady 13 years ago, swapping farming for the pub world. I’ve also entertained their patrons on their regular music nights and the beer festival.
Stuart and Helen Stephenson will no doubt know just about every one of the current village population that hasn’t altered much numerically for hundreds of years.
They took over the pub from George Snowden who still lives close by and has some land where he keeps sheep and cattle. Last year they extended their village offering when they took on two holiday cottages. They are three years over their original plan for the pub but still smiling and it continues to keep them busy.
“I’m a farmer’s son from Nunburnholme Wold where I had farmed all my life before Helen and I decided to take the pub,” says Stuart.
“Our children weren’t interested in farming and that spurred us on to try something different to help them with what they wanted to do. This had always been my ‘local’ and our daughter Philippa was working for George as a waitress so we were aware he was thinking about putting it on the market.
“It came about at a good time and we had a ten-year plan for while our three children were growing up. They’ve all played their part too and still do even though two of them have now moved away.”
Far from being one of those pubs that constantly fights a battle flirting between closure and breaking even The Gait Inn has always managed to provide both George previously and the Stephensons with a healthy return albeit with the customary necessary hours and hard work associated.
Rather like my dad, since those pre-country tourism explosion days, thousands have found and fallen in love with Millington, Millington Springs, Pastures and Woods whether through walking, driving or cycling, and the pub’s trade has bloomed.
“This was a thriving pub when we bought it and turnover has got better and better ever since.
“We spent a lot re-roofing and smartening it up and although the Tour de Yorkshire hasn’t been through the village itself it has passed close by.
“People then want to come where the route has been, but we attract people from everywhere. It’s a good job too because with the numbers we have in the village a pub wouldn’t survive, but we’re known as a nice place to come to in the countryside and people love Helen’s home cooking and our real ales. We’ve won a few seasonal pub awards from CAMRA.
“We have the regulars – Black Sheep, Tetley and Theakston – and rotate guest beers with a lot of Yorkshire brewers including Great Newsome, Wold Top, Half Moon in Elloughton and Yorkshire Heart.”
“There has been a massive increase in cyclists in recent times and that helps the other business in the village The Ramblers Rest. We both get a lot of walkers.
“This area and right through to Huggate, Bishop Wilton and Thixendale has become a real walkers’ paradise.”
Shooting parties during the winter provide Stuart and Helen with welcome additional revenues, but the now all-year round nature of walking as a pastime and the growth of tourism to market towns like Pocklington sees substantial trade.
“Pocklington has grown massively as a destination town and is getting busier all the time.
“Our two new holiday cottages next door have been busy ever since we opened them at May Bank Holiday last year. I think people really like getting away to somewhere quiet like this yet still not far from cities like York and Hull.
“We’re a bit off the beaten track but that’s what people also enjoy, away from it all but with a pub where they can get proper food. Helen’s steak pies are legendary.
“We use Givendale Prime beef from Stabiliser cattle and we’re told countless times it is the best steak our customers have ever had. All our produce is locally sourced and Helen cooks everything from scratch.”
Helen hails from Market Weighton. Her father worked for corn and seed merchants Dawson’s in the town as well as keeping his own pigs and chickens.
She’s used to working in the background, in the kitchen while Stuart is mine-host.
“Stuart does all the talking while I get on with the cooking. It’s worked well for us and I get a lot of people who make the effort to pop their heads into the kitchen to thank me. It’s generally the only way they can unless they stay very late.”
The couple’s presence is always asked after if one or the other happens to be missing.
“If I’m not here there are always questions about where I am. People like to chat and get to know you. We always say that here you’re not a number on a table you’re a real person.”