Published on April 6th, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Rooms with a brew
Staying overnight in a pub is a joyful experience. A pub will give you all the comforts of a decent hotel and the friendly informality we all want. And rather than an anonymous, could-be-anywhere hotel room, a pub comes with huge dollops of character that makes a stay particularly memorable.
You’ll get decent food and a great drinks choice at reasonable prices – and it’s not far to toddle up the wooden hill, either.
For example, at Battlesteads in Wark, Northumberland, you can take advantage of an observatory to study the night sky after enjoying some of the best food and drink the region can offer. Similarly at The Barrasford Arms – also Northumberland – where local produce and friendly bar banter are at the top of the list.
City pubs have a distinct advantage over hotels too. The Cumberland Arms in Byker, Newcastle, is easily placed to get out to see what the city has to offer and a haven to return to with its open fires, real ale (some brewed next door), cider, impromptu music, comedy and poetry sessions.
The Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) Good Beer Guide is a good place to start poring over if you’re seeking out a pub to put your head down for the night, but we present our own selection of the incredible quality and value available around the North East.
BLENKINSOPP CASTLE INN
It’s not difficult to realise that the Blenkinsopp Castle Country Inn was once a coaching inn. It’s situated against the backdrop of Hadrian’s Wall in the heart of the glorious unspoiled Northumbrian countryside and, as its origins date back to the 13th Century medieval fortified manor house, its hefty stone walls could certainly tell a tale or two.
Connected to the ruined Grade I-listed Blenkinsopp Castle, the inn is a treasure trove of architectural and historical delights and a perfect choice for an overnight stay (two double rooms and one single) while exploring the area around Haltwhistle and Brampton.
Local produce is the order of the day – ham is roasted on the premises, for example – and in the traditional, wooden-beamed bar there’s a fine choice of beers and a well thought-out wine list. Bar meals on the lighter side are a speciality – afternoon tea for two is particularly popular – and a celebration tea
can be a bespoke affair with previous notice.
A sheltered beer garden and outdoor relaxing area are perfect for those sunnier days coming up.
And, the inn has its own ghost, the White Lady of Blenkinsopp…
DIAMOND INN, PONTELAND
The Diamond in Ponteland, Northumberland, looks a million dollars whichever way you approach it. Tudor-style timbers, attractive brickwork and large bay windows with stained glass detailing point to tradition and quality.
Five minutes from Newcastle International Airport and easy access to the beauty of Northumberland’s coastline and Newcastle’s vibrant city centre. The newly refurbished Diamond Inn is the ideal place to stay – with 12 en-suite bedrooms – whether you’re just passing through or enjoying a romantic getaway.
It’s a coaching inn surviving – and thriving – from the early 1700s and has been under the expert guidance of Paul Holliday since 1986. An impressive range of real ales, wines and spirits complement a variety of traditional English dishes, Sunday lunch, breakfast and private dining menus and it’s noticeable how well trained the staff are.
A seat by the fire in the bar in the winter is old-fashioned luxury and a pint in the picturesque beer garden is a fine way to spend an afternoon.
Ponteland itself is one of the most attractive and fully-functional villages in Northumberland with a long historic legacy that’s apparent at virtually every turn.
DUKE OF WELLINGTON, NEWTON
The Duke of Wellington Inn sits just far enough off the A69 east-west artery (barely half-a-mile) to feel completely subsumed by attractive Tyne Valley countryside. Its décor reflects its traditional country inn history but with a modern twist. Existing oak and stone have
been enhanced with modern colours, furniture and fabrics in a pleasing combination.
The pub’s menu reflects traditional British comfort eating to a high standard and makes full use of local, seasonal ingredients. A comprehensive range of beers and ales complements an extensive wine list, while the distinctly Northumbrian coaching inn experience continues with seven en-suite bedrooms gaining a five-star grading.
Walkers on the 84-mile Hadrian’s Wall Path are well catered for – Duke of Wellington staff will pick them up at the end of the day’s leg (it’s normally a five or six-day ramble) and transport them to the inn. After a long soak in the bath, a great meal and excellent refreshments, a good night’s sleep, a hearty breakfast, it’s back to the Path in the morning.
RED LION, MILFIELD
The Red Lion in the tiny North Northumberland Milfield village is a classic stone building dating back to the mid-1700s. It was originally frequented by sheep drovers and became a major resting point for stagecoaches carrying passengers and mail between Edinburgh
Weary travellers will appreciate the six en-suite bedrooms and delicious cooked breakfast. The Red Lion is also a popular meeting place for local groups, with leek club aficionados and members of the Borders Gliding Club swapping tales and banter and a tall tale
Close by is the site of the infamous Battle of Flodden which is well worth a visit. On September 3 1513, Henry VIII’s army, under the charge of the Earl of Surrey, marched through Northumberland to engage with James IV, King of Scots, and his force of 35,000 men. Some 14,000 men and women died, including King James himself, and his remaining army fled.
In these more peaceful days, fishermen, golfers, shooting parties and tourists benefit from Claire and Iain Burn’s age-old innkeeping principles: well-kept ale, hearty food, efficient service, a friendly experience, and a comfortable bed for the night.
THE FEATHERS INN, HEDLEY ON THE HILL
The Feathers Inn’s list of dining and drinking awards is impressively long and prestigious. With its solid and sturdy stone exterior and traditional interior, it hasn’t, however, become so much of a gastropub that it’s forgotten how to be a pub. Eight times Good Pub Guide county dining pub of the year, the Michelin Guide Eating Out in Pubs “inspector’s favourite” eight times, as well as awards from The Times, The Observer and the Sunday Times, demonstrate something of high quality is going on here.
The pub’s framed photos show local suppliers; in fact locally-sourced produce is a great fount of pride for owners Rhian Cradock and Helen Greer, as are sustainability and an insistence on the reduction of “food miles”. Foraging for ingredients from surrounding woodland, fields and lanes adds an extra dimension. The Feathers is a freehouse where care about the welfare of livestock and the condition in which animals are reared are of paramount importance.
Accommodation isn’t actually available in the pub, but a short stroll away across the village green is The Old Forge which provides all that travellers would ever need in comfort and hospitality.
MANOR HOUSE INN, CARTERWAY HEADS
The 18th Century Manor House is the quintessential coaching inn, sitting on the undulating A68 and straddling the borders of Northumberland and County Durham at the head of the Derwent Reservoir, the noted watersports and wild fishing centre.
Its lofty location offers up the beauty of the Derwent Valley across all the seasons with fantastic vistas of the moors and North Pennines. It’s an ideal retreat to enjoy a glass of wine, a hearty local ale, open fires, delicious food (including homemade bar snacks and free dog bones), and to soak up this cosy pub’s warm hospitality.
The owners work with local suppliers and are passionate about delivering great plates and glassfuls, whether it’s a delicious home-cooked dish and a local brew you’re after – or something more adventurous such as local game dishes alongside fantastic wine. Specials change frequently and are served alongside a traditional menu.
To top this, you could stay the night in one of the four, neat en-suite rooms then wake up to those stunning views which make a tasty locally sourced breakfast an even greater pleasure.
THE ROBIN HOOD, WALLHOUSES
Northumberland isn’t short of dramatic castles, countryside and coastline – and traditional, stone-built pubs to relax in. The Robin Hood Inn at Wallhouses on the B6318 Military Road is dated 1752 and it’s highly probable that the stone used in its construction
was “borrowed” from nearby Hadrian’s Wall.
The pub’s car park sits on the Wall’s North Ditch, while Vallum Farm opposite is the site of the actual Vallum (huge earthwork) which can be seen striding out westwards. From May to October, The Robin Hood acts as a stamping station for those tackling the Hadrian Wall Walk which makes it an ideal stopping off point for the night. Bed and breakfast is offered in its en-suite two twin rooms and one double. Camping facilities are also available.
The pub itself consists of a small separate bar with open log fire, a lounge bar with individually carved oak settles, a cocktail bar, and impressive restaurant. It’s known for its local produce, open fires, cask ales from neighbouring microbreweries and a traditionally warm Northumbrian welcome.
THE WHEATSHEAF, CORBRIDGE
The Wheatsheaf in Corbridge – noted for its boutique-style shopping, charming streets and buildings – is one of Northumberland’s most highly regarded pubs and is popular with visitors to Hexham Racecourse. Solid and traditional (with a large car park), its bar, restaurant and six bedrooms (one with a four-poster bed) were refurbished in 2009 to a high standard and the pub retains that fresh, cared-for ambience. Bedrooms are a combination of modern home comforts and country living aspiration. Each room is individually decorated with colour schemes complementing wallcoverings, window dressings and bed covers. Some rooms enjoy glorious views of the Tyne Valley, while others look over historic Roman Corbridge which is renowned for its arts and crafts businesses, jewellers, antique dealers, furniture shops, food suppliers and one of those shops that stocks virtually household object known to man.
The Wheatsheaf’s Sunday carvery is a popular option – as are main menu staples such as beer-battered cod and mushroom stroganoff – and the daily set menu offers great value for money. Real ales include Hadrian Border Tyneside Blonde, a fine, sessionable beer that suits even the most demanding
NORTHUMBERLAND ARMS, FELTON, NORTHUMBERLAND
The Northumberland Arms was built in the 1820s by Hugh Percy, Third Duke of Northumberland, as a coaching inn where his horses, family and guests could be refreshed before reaching his Alnwick Castle home. The building has been lovingly restored in what could be described as chic, eclectic styling, while it retains a traditional, welcoming feel.
Its six luxury en-suite guest rooms – which were awarded a five-star rating in 2015 – offer initiatives such as a school-night special, Sunday sleepover or two-night package. Felton is an attractive village situated only a mile from the A1 in Northumberland, so access couldn’t be simpler.
Wholesome, locally sourced food is served daily in the River Room, as well as the restaurant and bar/lounge area, prepared by a brigade of experienced chefs who have worked in AA Rosette and Michelin Star-awarded kitchens.
The bar offers an impressive range of ales from the likes of Wylam, Anarchy, Allendale, Alnwick, Hadrian Border, Stables and Consett Ale Works breweries – all based in the North East – plus Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted
It would seem High Percy knew a thing or two about ambience.
THE PERCY ARMS, CHATTON
You’ll find the village of Chatton and The Percy Arms in the heart of rural Northumberland – follow the Chillingham Castle signs from the A1 and descend on peace
The Percy Arms – dating back to the early 1900s – is close to the spectacular Northumberland coastline, the National Park, dramatic castles and country houses, splendid churches and delightful towns and villages. There are also seven golf courses within easy reach, so it’s the perfect place to stay with a bagful of clubs in the car boot.
The pub’s dog-friendly bar is done out in greens and tartans with fabrics, and depicts hunting scenes complete with horns, horseshoes, riding crops – and wellies.
Its five luxury double rooms (some of which can be used as family rooms or twinned) are decorated in old-style elegance, combining delicate porcelain fittings; all with large walk-in showers and some with “roll top” Victoria & Albert baths. The rooms – two of which are dog-friendly – are fresh and crisp but the feel is somehow traditional and historic and are ideal for a relaxing break in informal yet luxurious surroundings.