The Pack Horse Inn is one of those pubs that sits, apparently in the middle of nowhere, and attracts far more custom than it's location would suggest. In this instance it's partly due to it's location close to part of the Pennine Way in an area popular with walkers, but perhaps also because it seeks to sell itself as a cosy, family run business that offers good value and a warm welcome as you can see from their website (http://www.thepackhorse.org), as well as a good selection if whiskies. So how did we find it today when we visited for lunch.
Well there is reasonable parking outside with some limited ability to park by the verge opposite if necessary. As for the Pack Horse itself the first impression was good and gave a homely feeling as there was a selection of what looked like locally produced foodstuffs on sale just inside the door - a pick something and take it to the bar selection that included large wedges of Shropshire Blue cheese and large carrot cakes for only £2.50 each or a variety of oat cakes and jacks for £1 a packet, all of which were really good value. Getting furher in was a little harder as there appeared to be quite a queue at the bar straight ahead. In fact the bar itself has three sides and the small crowd of people just inside the door were trying to read the blackboard with additional food choices. For some reason this is located just above the bar close to the entrance where it's bound to block the door if a handfull of people try to read it.
Once inside the pub is divided into two halves, the cosier being to the right. The boards advertised that food was available all day with evening servings being up to 8pm and all the tables had menus. However it gets a bit more awakward because another oddity of organisation quickly becomes apparent. If you want to order drinks you go to the bar but if you want to order food you have to go into the kitchen where only one person is allowed at a time for health and safety reasons. The latter is understandable, but it seems odd in the first place to expect people to go into the kitchen to order their food. They also don't tell you in advance that you can order your drinks when ordering the food so like me, there were people who ordered twice (twice the hassle and twice the wait) by going first to the bar for the drinks and then on to the kitchen to get the food. Next oddity - there are no table numbers. When you place your order you are shown a floor plan of the pub with the tables numbered on the plan. This means you have to visualise the quite possibly unfamiliar pub you've just walked through and locate your table on the plan. It seems an inefficient way of doing it when everywhere else either has numbered tables or simply gives out a marker, like a numbered wooden spoon to put on the table. They don't do that because they are downmarket, they do it because it's simple. Since it's a kitchen it's also not immediately clear that it's possible to pay by card, though it is. While in the queue two people ahead of me left it to go back for their wallets because they gained the impression they needed cash. It wouldn't take much for the owners to sort out these organisational quirks and make a visit easier and more pleasant. When I ordered I was also asked if I would wanted to order any deserts. For some reason we couldn't find them on the menu though so it's lucky I didn't want any.
Yet another strange little quirk here is that they are proud to be a 'Chip free zone', in fact there are several signs proclaiming the fact and the kitchen door bore a notice saying that there is a fine of 50p for asking for chips that will be donated to mountain rescue. Now I know opinion may be divided on this one and some people will think it's a welcome difference. On the other hand I sometimes fancy a traditional pub plate of fish and chips and, if I was an owner/landlord, rather than sell people what I think they ought to have I would think it sound business to offer what people want. My wife for example fancied a side order of chips today but couldn't have them, so if you really do want some chips you'll have to drive on because they aren't served here.
That said, what was the food like? Well the menu isn't extensive but has a reasonable range of options from mains to salads and sanwiches, though for a pub the Sunday dinner style roast meals were a little on the pricey side. For vegetarians there were three options on the menu, all priced at £6.95 - a vegetabe gratin, a mushroom stroganoff and pasta neoplitan - though there were two slightly more expensive options on the blackboard. My wife opted for a lasagne from the menu and I went for a mushroom, broccoli and cheese pie with mash (one of the vegetarian options on the board). Once ordered the service was impressively fast and we had our meals in little over 5 minutes even though the place was busy, and there was apparently only one young man waiting on the tables who looked as though he was rushed off his feet but was doing an very good job. In terms of food quality my wife was disappointed with her lasagne. It came with a nicely presented but very small side salad with two small pieces of garlic bread and consisted of a dish at least half of which turned out to be sauce with the lasagne immersed in it in the middle. Her comment - "There's not much lasagne is there!" sums it up and her impression was that it had suffered from re-heating. The pie on the other hand was a different tale - it came with sliced carrot and garden peas while the pie itself was generous and very tasty. The mashed potato hadn't been mashed to the consistency of a cloud as seems popular in some restaurants and pubs, but tasted like potato and looked like like my Mum used to make it - it was really nice and priced at £7.95 it was good value.
Our table turned out to be number 2, near the kitchen door and right by an old fireplace where some second hand books had been left for 50p each (for charity) though we weren't disturbed as no-one bothered to look at them while we were there. I would suggest though that the owners think about removing the dusty and very bedraggled stuffed bird that lurks just inside the fireplace and close to your left shoulder if sitting here. I found it a bit off putting to be lifting a fork full of peas and suddenly noticing this long dead bird in poor condition staring at me. Others may feel the same and what it's doing stuck up there is hard to imagine. If it doesn't enhance the image you want to project then you should lose it or improve it, so the pictures, though they could do with some attention were interesting. You could compare those of the fascinating trestle bridge (who would imagine this part of the world had a bridge that would have looked at home in the wild west) with the long plan drawing hanging on the wall behind one of the tables.
Are there any points not covered? Well one proud boast we didn't try to check was that they stock well over 100 malt whiskies! If you are a whisky enthusiast this might be paradise, but all we can testify to is that the drinks seem reasonably priced. Finally there's the service. It was prompt even though the place was busy, but it wasn't welcoming. After ordering I commented to my wife that the staff I encountered, at the bar and in the kitchen seemed a bit brusque and unfriendly. There is always the possiblity that I gained a false impression, but when I mentioned it my wife told me that the person ahead of me commented, as she went back to her table, that it wouldn't have hurt them to smile so I wasn't the only person to get that impression.
Overall then I would say that the Pack Horse Inn has the potential to be very good but that what we experienced today let it down. The warm and welcoming atmosphere was absent and there were a number of organisational quirks that added to that impression - strange for what is a hospitality business. The food from our experience varied in quality and preparation, and it may be that some of the standard menu offerings receive less attention than the new dishes given on the blackboard. If so this is one for the management to look at because ironing out those quirks and providing food like the pie I ordered would make a real improvement - as would a smile and an occasional friendly comment. This is quite a nice pub and a free house (increasingly rare these days) in a good location that could be even better with very little effort. Top marks too for the chap who brought our food, he trod on my wife's foot at one point but given the speed he was having to maintain to keep up he was doing well.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.