Just off the A590 towards Ulverston, Witherslack is one of those small Cumbrian hamlets lucky enough to have a local pub and village store. The Derby Arms is typical of a large early 19th century public house, not dissimilar to its sister establishment, The Strickland Arms further down the road. Purchased from Punch Taverns by the Witherslack Community Land Trust, the Ainscough Family took over the lease in December 2008, adding it to their extensive portfolio of pubs in Cumbria and Lancashire.
Originally from Glasgow Manager Barry Thomas has been down here for some time, coming to The Derby Arms nearly two years ago from The Pig & Whistle, Cartmel of John Rogan fame. A really friendly chap he greeted us with a warm welcome when myself and hubby rocked up last Friday to give his pub the Welly once-over.
We’ve been to the Derby Arms many times before, usually popping in for drinks whilst camping up the road in Moss Howe Farm during the summer (who says you have to leave Cumbria to have a holiday??) Built in the early 1800s The Derby Arms is the perfect place to hunker down for drinks with friends. In summer the long windows and high ceilings make it light and airy whilst the real fires and squishy cushions provide a warm and cosy respite during the winter. There’s two main rooms which create a natural split between bar drinkers and restaurant with a snug at the furthest end used for hosting private dining or small parties.
We left the drinkers to the bar and made our way to our table in the restaurant area. It’s a large space with plenty of room for mixed-size tables. There’s a huge fireplace and the decoration kind of ressembles your granny’s front room but on a larger scale. With the kind of porcelain trinkets you buy at a car boot sale and a mix of higgledy-piggledy paintings and framed replica drawings on the wall, it’s an ecectic but comforting blend of worthless nick nacks, typically decorated for a pub of its size and era.
The food is more wholesome/hearty than gastro-inventive and that’s exactly the intention. Keeping it simple is the mantra here, with classic dishes such as steak and ale pie, fish and chips and the house burger the order of the day. The food is mostly locally-sourced with seafood provided by Neve Fleetwood and the beef from Belted Galloway reared on the Ainscough family farm in Parbold.
For starters I chose the crispy whitebait and homemade tartare sauce whilst Mr Welly opted for the goat’s cheese bon bons. Both deep-fried they were typical pub fare starters – satisfyingly tasty in a naughty but nice way.
For main, I decided on the steak and ale pie, keen to try out their home-made option. Hubby went for the Specials menu choosing pan-roasted chicken breast. My dish was certainly tasty with plenty of large chunks of beef in a rich gravy. Together with the pastry and a separate side of chips, this dish was definitely the more stodgy option. Meanwhile the ‘lighter’ dish of chicken breast, cooked on the bone was succulent and tasty; both accompanied by simple, uncomplicated seasonal veg as expected.
Thoroughly stuffed, we managed to fit in a dessert, sharing Eton Mess from the Specials board. In my experience Eton Mess is usually top notch when not a mainstay menu item; an indication that the chef has had to intentionally order in quality fruit and berries.
We weren’t disappointed. Juicy blackberries, blueberries and strawberries a-plenty, this dish definitely constituted one of my five-a-day despite the delicious gluttony of mandatory cream with meringue, but hey it wouldn’t be Eton Mess without the good stuff too.
Good for: Casual meals out with family and friends. Honest pub grub, the traditional menu caters for big appetites seeking unfussy, filling food.
Not for: Fine diners, seekers of high-end cuts of meat or members of Slimming World.
Food: ££ Average pub prices. Starters and desserts around the £4 to £6 mark with mains a typical £11 to £12. Priciest dish £16.95 for rump steak.
The Derby Arms Hotel, Witherslack Nr Grange-Over-Sands, Cumbria, LA11 6RH
T: 015395 52207 E: firstname.lastname@example.org