Published on April 5, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
A feather in the local cap
A decade running a pub allows one Northumberland couple to think back and look forward, writes Alastair Gilmour
Ten years has gone like snow off a Northumbrian dry-stone wall. That’s the conclusion reached by Rhian and Helen Cradock as they think back across their decade at The Feathers Inn, Hedley-on-the-Hill, near Stocksfield in Northumberland.
One successful business, two children, and countless awards later, they’re enjoying the country inn food and drink culture more than ever.
“We’re only about 12 miles from Newcastle but it sometimes feels like we’re in the middle of nowhere,” says highly-acclaimed chef Rhian. “It’s a lovely place to live and bring up a family; we’re very fortunate. Our aim is simply to offer good food and good beer in a relaxed setting. It’s what we set out to do and what we still do. We didn’t want to put a restaurant in a pub – rather, we’re a pub that’s also a restaurant.”
Helen and Rhian set the bar high in 2007 – the bar of ambition, that is – and the subsequent level is impressive. The Feathers has been named Country Dining Pub of the Year nine times by The Good Pub Guide, has been Great British Pub of the Year (2011), Northumbrian Gastropub of the Year in 2011, awarded Best Sunday Lunch (Observer Food Magazine 2012), with tourism gold awards and organic commendations filling the gaps, while Rhian has appeared regularly on television cookery programmes.
The Feathers Inn is the epitome of a country pub, a refuge and resting place for the weary traveller in pursuit of energising food and drink. But these days, traditional country pubs have to extend their reach – you can’t expect people to come in every night of the week for a meal – so The Feathers offers the likes of Spanish lessons, Knit & Natter sessions, monthly star-gazing, wine tastings, beer-matching menus plus the Easter beer festival and legendary barrel race which are on this month’s horizon.
And an insistence on locally-sourced (but top-class) ingredients has been a major contributor to the pub’s success.
“Food is traditional English, quite robust dishes using the best local ingredients,” says Rhian. “We’re making things that people don’t make at home any more – hearty dishes using the whole animal. The trend is for jellies and textures, creams and foams which is just not us. It’s substantial food for hungry people – you need something like sausage and mash when you’ve been for a long walk.
“We try to do the whole process, there’s nothing we don’t make ourselves. We make our own bread, our own butter, our own charcuterie, ice-cream, all of which we couldn’t do at the beginning because we just didn’t have the equipment.
“Our suppliers are very much local, all from around Hedley and all the farmers come in for a pint. Our lamb is from the village, pork from just up the hill; there’s a local shoot, and we started a project three years ago to raise Japanese Wagyu cattle (known for its high quality beef). The first of them will be sent away in October.
“That way we put all our money back into the community. We can’t get any bigger here, so were doing a lot of outside events such as street markets which also help to remind people that we’re here.”
A Feathers in the North East’s cap, one might say.