There is an honesty box for the parking in the market place at Masham, with a suggested donation of 50p. I call that very honest, and I think this really sums Masham up: a thoroughly honest sort of a place. The market square is made on all sides of solid, square, stone buildings, and the place retains all the character of its past. We stayed in The Kings Head, a pub/hotel which looks out over the square. Again, a very honest establishment, where we found really friendly service, good pub food, a comfortable bed in an unfussy room, and a decent breakfast.
Arriving on a bright and blowy afternoon we had a walk around the town and found it to be nicely contained, with several footpaths crossing between the houses making it easy and pleasant to explore and get our bearings. Theakston’s brewery, which has formed a significant part of the local economy for well over a century, is centrally-located and The Black Sheep Brewery (the whipper-snapper cousin of the old firm) is just another stone’s throw from there, looking out over the verdant hills which are the beginning of the gorgeous Yorkshire Dales.
We popped into the Black Sheep brewery for a swifto and to check out the brewery tour for the next day. The barman was extremely pleasant and helpful and advised us to book, but that we could turn up on spec in any case. We had read that the Other Brewery was one of only ten places in the country still practising traditional coopering techniques and we thought this might be the decider.
Unfortunately when we arrived, all eager, the next morning, with the youngest member of our group tied up in her baby sling, we were told that there was no admittance for under 10s to the Theakston’s tour, due to health and safety concerns (how we have ever made it this far as a species without H&S regs must surely be a miracle).
With a much more modern kit there were no such restrictions over at the Black Sheep so we toured there instead. Despite being a keen appreciator of real ale I had never toured a brewery before but I was glad to have taken this one in. I found the talk from our guide genuinely interesting, suffused as it was with the intrigue of a splintering family dynasty which spawned this cheeky young brewery back in 1991; and having the chance to savour the malt and hops aromas and watch the huge vats frothing was more exciting than I had anticipated, and we were looking forward to our complimentary half of (very fine) Black Sheep Ale in the baaaa…r (their joke, not mine) afterwards.
Before heading off we had a quick turn around the town’s collection of small, independent shops and also the regular Saturday market. There is nothing pretentious or overly self-conscious about the town, it has a genuine and thriving heart, and is pretty without being chocolate-boxey, which honestly makes it a very nice place to visit.