The holly bush is believed to be the first version of a pub sign. The..." /> The sign of a great pub – Cheers North East


Published on June 5th, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour


The sign of a great pub

The holly bush is believed to be the first version of a pub sign. They were placed at each side of a door to signify that the building was a drovers’ inn which would provide sustenance and shelter for cattle traders on their way to mart.

Since the Holly Bush Inn at Greenhaugh, near Kielder in Northumberland has been traced to an 1170 alehouse on the same site, who’s to argue?

Today’s solid, stone-built Holly Bush Inn sits in a row of three cottages with private houses on either end. Nobody would guess that owners John and Lynne Thompson have been in charge for mere weeks; they’re so comfortable with the place – and their customers – that they appear to have had their feet under the table permanently.

They’ve lived locally for around a year, having taken the drovers’ road from Tyneside and when they discovered the pub was available they decided it could work for them. And they’ve enjoyed a tremendous response from locals with everyone coming in to have a look – then crucially, coming back.

“We hit the ground running,” says John, recalling their first three busy weekends. “People just go away happy.”

“We haven’t had time to think about the place being quiet,” says Lynne.

The main bar is dominated by a huge, beautifully tended cast-iron range with fireplace and ovens once used for baking bread. The beer choice runs right across the board with two real ciders also available, while John has made sure the whisky bar is represented by every distillery on Islay – and more.

High House Farm Brewery Nel’s Best is a permanent ale (“It’s very, very popular here”) with two more local beers rotating from the likes of First & Last, Big Lamp and Hadrian Border breweries.

It has seven letting rooms, a dining room and small snug and the traditional food menu is about to see some chef-inspired changes. The stunning view over the Tarset Valley from the beer garden is Northumberland in miniature. Greenhaugh sits not only in the National Park but in the Dark Skies Park where an incredible amount of stars can be viewed on cloud-free nights.

“The pub is 300 years old,” says John. “We want to work around its history.”
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Alastair Gilmour

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