When the Tour de Yorkshire flashes through the gorgeous unspoilt village of Linton in Craven tomorrow, another beautiful corner of the county will be unveiled to the rest of the world. Good-natured banter among locals has been that one way of slowing the race down in order to create a longer lasting spectacle would be to close the main bridge over Eller Beck and send the peloton over the ancient pack horse bridge single file.
“That’s been one of the topics of conversation among our regulars,” says Chris Gregson, who with wife Natalie runs The Fountaine Inn that looks out on to the village green, the beck and the road that will see the race come right past. Also nearby are the almshouses built thanks to Linton in Craven-born Richard Fountaine, who became a timber merchant in London and earned his fortune supplying planks for coffins at the time of the Great Plague and helping rebuild the city of London after the Great Fire in 1666.
“Everyone in the village is very excited about the race coming through and we have received several orders for tables on the day. Le Grand Depart went past Cracoe, which is about three minutes from here by car, and that was a surreal experience for me here at The Fountaine. We were really busy up until half an hour before the race went past on the main Skipton to Kettlewell road and all of a sudden I was the only one here. Then we were packed again half an hour later.”
This time it looks as though Chris will have his hands full all day and being a cyclist himself he’s pumped up about it too.
“My dad was keen and I was time trials cyclist with the Preston Wheelers when we lived over on the Fylde coast. Since the Tour de France we get far more cyclists, as well as our fair share of walkers and those who have found and fallen in love with Linton in Craven as Natalie and I have.
“I’d started as a teenager pot washing at a pub in Wrea Green in Lancashire. We came over to Yorkshire when the managers who had it took on the Tempest Arms in Elslack and after running a couple of other pubs in Cracoe and Grassington we came here 12 years ago.”
The Fountaine Inn is owned by the same man Chris started with back in Wrea Green and is part of a small group called Individual Inns that also includes the Tempest Arms.
“I had heard the Fountaine was up for sale, rang Martin (Clarkson) as I knew he was looking for a certain type of pub and he said if he bought it would I run it.
“Even though I was only in Grassington at the time I had not been to the village previously. Natalie and I came to have a look around with our children, we had two at that time and three now. We went on the village green, it was perfect. Just right for us and we have been here ever since.”
Sadly Linton in Craven property prices and their expanded, growing family have meant that Chris, Natalie and their three sons George, aged 15, Jacob, 13, and Lucas, eight, now live in Earby. Being a Lancashire lad the border town ‘Roses’ rivalry provides a source of humour for him. He fuels the fire a little by telling locals he’s gone back across the border.
“It’s fun listening to whether people consider themselves from Yorkshire or Lancashire. We moved there a couple of years ago and were concerned that customers might think we were coming out of the pub but that was never the case. We just couldn’t afford the house prices here. What is a little concern is that so many younger people have had to move away to live in Keighley and Silsden. That was our next generation so we do have a slight worry about what the next ten years will bring.”
Having been involved in the food and drink world since his teens Chris has seen dramatic changes in the pub trade and particularly in recent years over the food that customers are wanting.
“We are well supported by local people including farmers and we buy their produce. We’ve just tried one of Frank Carr’s Shorthorns and we’ve had one of Tom Boothman’s Belted Galloways. They’ve proved excellent and people really appreciate and are prepared to pay for something different in addition to our regular menu with steak pies and other offerings. The pub has always had an excellent reputation for food. What we’re finding is people are spending less time eating. Customers are more interested in having one very good course, rather than three courses and coffee. Now, it’s a cracking main course and a bottle of wine, that’s the main thing.”
Linton in Craven’s stepping stones, the almshouses, village green, pack horse bridge and pub make it an artist’s dream. It’s always been this way as the obelisk on the green professes with its inscription Loveliest Village in the North 1949. Millions more will find out tomorrow.