Published on May 3, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour


Small village big ambitions

Country pubs are under pressure from all quarters, particularly when the population of your home village barely scrapes above 300. They need to work very hard to hang on to their regulars and to attract new custom.

But country pubs are the stuff of dreams – take The Pack Horse at Ellingham in Northumberland (population 282), a very tidy, stone-built inn with Tardis-like attributes. It’s the quintessential village pub but it still needs regular influxes of visitors to keep it hale and healthy – in this case, good beer and great food aided and abetted by five letting rooms and a small self-catering cottage.

On top of that, The Pack Horse has organised its first festival next month which should go a long way to attracting new and existing customers.

Manager Kirsten Sutherland says: “We are a small country pub in a small village – but nonetheless we are popular for our food and beer and I believe we provide a great atmosphere. I’ve been managing the pub for just over a year and as I’m a big beer and music fan, we thought it was time to create a beer and music festival, a no-brainer, really.

“Northumberland is a huge attraction for visitors; tourism is going nuts and the pub is doing well. We get lots of local custom from Ellingham itself – a really good mix – plus people come regularly from Belford and Alnwick and once the sun starts shining we’ll get a lot of other visitors.”

The local community is right behind the weekend event and Ellingham’s church and community centre are joining in with a fundraising programme that will take full advantage of the expected influx of visitors. For example, a vintage motorbike rally will finish up at the community centre on the Sunday.

“It’s taken a lot of planning,” says Kirsten. “We’re involving Rigg & Furrow Brewery from Ackington, Bear Claw from Spittal and Alnwick Brewery with bands from Newcastle and Berwick, including Brydon Acoustic and The Dissidents, plus some musicians I know from Bristol.

“All the food and drink produce is as local as it can be and the menu changes daily to keep the interest.” (She points to a herd of Dexter cattle in the next field, though not quite going eeny-meeny-miny-mo.)

Regular open-mic sessions have proved extremely popular in the pub, which prompted Kirsten and her team to investigate the festival idea.

“They’ve been a roaring success,” she says. “We’ve had people in who have never performed at an open mic night before, and there are so many around here who are musical they’ve been loving it. I’m trying to jam the pub full of as much that is Northumbrian as I can.

“At the festival we’re going to have a marquee with bands, a cocktail bar, spit roast, vegetarian burger bar, and of course, a beer tent.”

The Pack Horse, Ellingham, Chathill, Northumberland NE67 5HA. Tel: 01665 589292. Beer and music festival: June 8-10.

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Alastair Gilmour

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