It will become quite obvious for people reading subsequent posts that the title is misleading. I am not qualified to undertake a triathlon. My cycling is intermediate level (at best), I can’t run and whatever the tri part of triathlon is… I can’t do that either. Nonetheless, it seems fitting as a title for the precise reason that I am about as likely to win a triathlon as Stephen Hawking (is that in bad taste?) for reasons that will become clear.
The destination was Castle Howard near Malton, North Yorkshire. Cycling from York it’s around 25km as an outward journey. If you take a good route (through Strensall), you encounter beautiful countryside, roads with more sheep than people and hills. Don’t get me wrong, hills have their place in cycling, but the 12% incline defeated me… And then scared me out of my skin on the way down. Still, the route cannot be faulted and is a stunning ride once you get out of York.
Castle Howard itself is a strange place. Years ago it was essentially built as a great, big folly. The Howard family was eccentric and self-absorbed and so built a huge country house, naming it ‘Castle Howard’. You will notice that, unlike Leeds, Hever and Windsor, ‘Castle’ precedes the nominal. Why? Because it’s not a castle. It is surrounded by sprawling gardens and a large lake, as well as numerous rolling roads and some ridiculous looking ‘monuments’ to the original owner. The thriftiness of Lord William Howard appears to be genetic, because these days the Howards still live in Castle Howard, and to pay for the upkeep they are required to turn the estate into a cash cow. Regardless of this, the place has been genuinely well developed and is lovely to walk around (when it’s open, during Summer months).
Enough of the heritage lesson. The real reason for myself and cycling bud going all this way was for a fantastic farm shop and cafe. This is only one method that the place has diversified to bring in more money. They also run regular weekend events: triathlons for instance.
After having battled the hills and the Sun, we ran straight into the path of cyclists, coming round for the 23rd kilometer of their cycling lap. The Triathlon is quite competitive; people on their TT bikes and Cubes passed myself on an old Raleigh with an embarrassing pace. I don’t mind being passed by cyclists: they are usually nice enough about it. But being chivvied on by the stewards (“you’re almost there! Don’t give up now!”) was the final descent into humiliation. I need to be frank here, my cycling partner is far more able than myself, and was a trooper for not racing on ahead in the last stretch.
Still, after that it was time for food. The farm shop is stocked full of divine local foods, and some more general stuff (Cooper’s Marmalades, Taylor’s Coffee etc.). The real gem, if you’re having a party, is the butcher’s that has a mouth-watering selection of joints and cuts. The alcohol selection is not one to turn your nose up at, with a fantastic selection of beers and interesting wines. I got the distinct feeling that people from the local villages would come here just to do their regular shopping. And why the hell not.
The cafe, however, is probably even more worth a look. I’m going to start off with the bad: the coffee is dull and listless (I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the Taylor’s from the farm shop [pre-ground]). No flavour, and too frothy for a Latte. But some places just don’t bother with coffee, and we shouldn’t hold that against them (too much). The food though is fantastic, for what it is.
I ordered the tuna nicoise wrap (I wanted pittas, but they had run out), and it was perfectly balanced between salad and tuna. I was delighted to find out that the tuna was steaks of tuna. I ordered chips on the side (because I had just done a triathlon after all) and these were very well made too. Thick cut and very sweet. The service was nothing special, but they delivered the food and there was no great wait. The real charm of this place was the quality of the ingredients: all fresh and well selected. This is the beauty of being attached to a farm shop, and located in the heart of great british farming country, the food itself is likely to be well selected and of the highest quality. My cyclist friend approved of his bacon and cheese sandwich.
Though we had to be virtuous in our choice of food: the hills would give us all the punishment we deserved.