Published on April 2, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Tradition and modernity
Milfield is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village and therefore doesn’t score highly on a destination map of Northumberland. But travellers on the A697 are advised to take stock and pull in to the Red Lion, a classic stone building that has history dating back to the mid-1700s. Originally frequented by sheep drovers and passengers on the Mail Stage Coach between Edinburgh and London, it is now undoubtedly one of the county’s most impressive food and drink stop-overs.
These days, fishermen, golfers, shooting parties and tourists benefit from Claire and Iain Burn’s simple innkeeping principles – well-kept ale, wholesome food, efficient service and a bed for the night with a generous breakfast that sends folks happily on their way.
“We have a great local following for lunch and beer from pensioners to the young farmers on a weekend,” says Iain. “The four chalets at the rear have been going really well in the four years we’ve had them, as are the two upstairs rooms.”
The Red Lion offers a range of sandwiches to pub classics – steak and ale pie – and firm favourites such as pan-fried salmon fillet with garlic king prawns, followed by decadent homemade desserts.
It’s wholesome home-cooked food, freshly prepared using locally sourced seasonal ingredients. The core menu features up to six dishes which changes every four to six weeks.
Black Sheep Bitter is a permanent cask ale with two local beers always available on rotation, which could be from Allendale, First & Last, Credence or Cheviot breweries as well as Tempest craft lager.
Iain says: “I’ve always said Black Sheep Bitter is the fish and chips of beer. No matter what you’ve got on the menu there’s always someone who wants fish and chips.”
The Red Lion also caters for visitors to the area who tend to go out exploring during the day and come back in the evening.
“What we want is a nice sunny day with an easterly wind when it’s too cold to be on the beach,” says Iain. “There’s no pattern to days. We’re not particularly a destination area like Bamburgh. Custom comes from five to ten miles away, so one day you’ll do one table and the next it’ll be thirty people.
“Visitors come for the fishing on the rivers Till and Tweed. We do a really popular bingo lunch once a month which attracts about thirty people and a Wednesday quiz. We host the Borders Gliding Club and have a horse-racing syndicate which is great fun – and quite successful. And the leek club has been going since 1966.
“There’s a domino school on a Sunday night after the diners have left. I’ve never seen so much cheating for ten pence.”