Published on April 11th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour


Choo choo choose your pub

The Tyne Valley railway line is as picturesque as it gets, while the stop-offs along the route are well worth lingering in

Railway pioneers William Hackworth and George Stephenson would hopefully be very proud of their contribution to a great Tyne Valley day out. There are some terrific pubs sitting along the Sunderland to Carlisle Tyne Valley line and since the pair of them were born in Wylam, Northumberland, they’d be doubly pleased at how easy it is to hop on and off the train and enjoy a few pints in between.

The Tyne Valley line is one of England’s scenic railways and between Carlisle and Newcastle trains run hourly for most of the day, every day including Sundays. All trains call at Haltwhistle, Hexham and Prudhoe.

We’re departing Newcastle Central Station at 11.54 on a Saturday, having limbered up with a glass of Jarrow Rivet Catcher in The Centurion. Formerly the station’s First Class Refreshment Room it’s one of the city’s cultural jewels and awe-inspiring surroundings to begin a great day out.

On the bonny first-leg run along the riverside to the pub you can almost hear Stephenson say of the white-painted cottage on the opposite bank as they near Wylam: “Why Timmy, there’s wor hoose ower there – still looking good after all these years.”

Boathouse12.10: We’ve arrived at Wylam with only a few yards to walk from the platform to The Boathouse, a regular Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) winner as pub of the year.

Home to a terrific range stretching over 15 handpulls it’s the flagship for Hadrian Border Brewery ales, cider is a speciality too. The pub is divided into separate bar and lounge, which gives it the advantage of being almost two pubs in one. The bar is one of those typically English pub rooms with a forest of handpulls on the counter – real ale rules here – and a large (recently refurbished) fireplace at one end. It’s comfortable, sociable and dog friendly, which is a boon for thirsty walkers.

TheBlackBullWe’ve given ourselves a couple of hours so we can meander over the bridge and head for The Fox, The Ship or the Black Bull in Wylam village. The Black Bull is a traditional pub offering a warm, friendly and laid-back welcome to accompany a selection of Wylam Brewery beers. While enjoying our nibbles tapas-style we take a note that on Tuesdays two lunchtime courses are £10 and on Wednesdays it’s two steaks for £21.

14.23: The Wellington, Riding Mill, appears on the other side of the car park – again just a short hop from platform to pub. Now part of the Chef & Brewer chain, the building itself is dated 1660 – since when it was known as a witches meeting place. A famous trial took place when a local woman, Anne Baites, was accused by a “witch finder” of dancing with the devil. The case was thrown out of court. Today this is a homely venue with two open fires, beamed ceilings, secluded areas for private dining and a large outside area with sturdy benches where you can watch the world – and trains – go by. It’s a difficult choice between Deuchars IPA, High House Farm Wellington and Cullercoats Brewery Jack The Devil. We’ve got an hour to think about it.

15.26: Our turning point of Corbridge is only three minutes from Riding Mill, but it’s a fair old hike into the village proper so best gird our loins in The Dyvels right by Corbridge Station. The pub’s ales – Black Sheep Bitter and Deuchars IPA – accompany sausage and mustard mash nicely and on a sunny afternoon the beer garden is a huge plus. It’s a favourite meeting point for local clubs and societies, particularly vintage car fanatics and their waxed beauties.

Corbridge is characterised by a chaotic Co-op piled high with produce and impossibly narrow aisles contrasting with country-clothing shops – everything for the discerning gentleman – plus ladies’ fashion for the Next-free generation, with high-end jewellers, a contemporary art gallery crammed with cutesy prints and paintings of sheepdogs, “little scamp” children and illustrations where everybody sports an umbrella.

GoldenLionBut above all, Corbridge has some terrific pubs. The Golden Lion occupies a huge corner site on Hill Street, having crept into the houses next door, step by step. It manages to hang on to tradition, however – dining areas are clearly designated and well-lit and the whole open-plan interior is divided into five or six separate areas which actually makes it work as different pubs. For example, a small snug area features a huge fireplace while the room at the far end is more of a dining room in ambience. The toilets are immaculate, nicely tiled and are worth commenting on.

The menu relies on trusty staples – steak and ale pie, whole tail scampi and chips, and classic 4oz cheeseburger, while there’s also a takeaway selection. Similarly secure is the beer choice of Caledonian 80/-, Deuchars IPA and Adnams Broadside.

The Wheatsheaf Hotel’s lounge is very much like that of a city-centre hotel with panelled walls, low tables, leather seating and a racy carpet. Is that Talking Heads playing? If so, we’re impressed. The small public bar is a touch more earthy and a television with rolling sports news is a magnet while supping a pint of High House Farm Nel’s Best or Hadrian Border Tyneside Blonde. Newcastle United memorabilia lines the walls; a reminder of the late Sixties Fairs Cup run and the visits of Feyenoord, Rangers and Vitoria de Setubal, among others. Nostalgia also influences the menu with lamb’s liver and crispy bacon a perennial favourite, and grilled gammon steak with fried egg and pineapple as much North East Swinging Sixties as Willie McFaul and Wynn Davies.

Odd nooks and mismatched furniture plus an open lounge reflect tidiness, efficiency and a sense of personal attention at the Black Bull. The pub is comfortable in its rustic, small‑town skin and its reputation for food is well deserved with enough of a choice to add up to home-cooking at reasonable prices. Beers are mainly from the Greene King stable but Black Sheep Bitter represents the North and Budweiser Budvar indicates a sense of enterprise which slides into the wine list – the pick being classic Chianti with hints of oak and spice.

They must be doing something right at The Angel Inn. Here it’s the “grey pound” which Corbridge attracts in droves. But it begs the question: Where does a pub stop and a restaurant start? The interior is a curious mix of pastel blue and natural timber – but it works – and the lounge is “gentleman’s club” in style where clouds of cigar smoke would seem more appropriate than a family sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches. Daily specials include pan-fried hake fillet, curly kale, pancetta, hollandaise sauce and new potatoes. And the beer range is impressively local – Mordue Workie Ticket, Hadrian Border Tyneside Blonde and Corby Ale from further west along the Tyne Valley line.

18.02: We’re pulling in to Prudhoe and have another very short walk to the first pub, The Adam & Eve. Handily perched right by the station, it’s a large, open planned – once multi-roomed – child-friendly pub. There’s a games room, bar, quiet lounge and dining areas all with well-preserved beamed ceilings. Charles Wells Bombardier and Jennings Cumberland Ale offer a contrast of flavours and beer styles, while mince in a rich red wine gravy and home-made smoked bacon and leek dumplings are exactly what’s required at this hour.

BridheEndInnNext it’s over that odd bridge over the River Tyne to the appropriately-name Bridge End Inn in Ovingham. The year-long closure of the bridge to traffic from next month for a £3m refurbishment has caused a lot of consternation on both sides of the river and it’s a regular topic for discussion in the pub.

The Bridge End Inn reminds you of those Lake District pubs – classically English village in style, cosy and friendly, with the village green sitting behind that hosts the annual Ovingham Goose Fair. It even has its own cricket team. Wylam Brewery features heavily with Gold Tankard and Collingwood as regular offerings alongside Timothy Taylors Landlord, Allendale Pennine Pale, Jennings Cumberland and Tetley’s Bitter.

19.12: Blaydon Station has been “granted” more stops every day – now 10 in each direction, we’re told – but it’s still woefully short of a decent rail service. But The Black Bull is handy so get your times right and you’re in clover. The boast here is real ales, real fires and real people, “with no gaming machines, juke box or other electronic gadgetry to disturb the atmosphere”. Curiously there’s free Wi-Fi which some believe can be equally antisocial. Live music has thrived for ever here and three music clubs are based in the pub. The beer range varies but standards include Black Sheep Bitter, Deuchars IPA and Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger. The rear beer garden overlooks the river and the railway, and the Keelman’s Way for walkers and cyclists is easily accessed, as is a nature reserve.

20.30: And we’ve run out of rail travel, but it’s a just a short walk to Blaydon Bus Station where the regular number 10 service will have us at Gateshead Metrocentre for 20.38 or Newcastle’s Eldon Square at 20.51 for onward journeys.

Further information from www.whistlestops.co.uk

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Alastair Gilmour

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