GT Northumberland 0098

Coast and country –  a gourmet guide to Northumberland - England

Where to stay

Beadnell Towers Comfortably refurbished 18-room boutique hotel on the coast, handy for myriad sandy beaches. ‘We are your home away from home’ is the ethos and they’re also very dog friendly – on our visit every table in the bar had one. Doubles from £122. The Wynding, Chathill, NE67 5AY, 01665 721211,

The Black Bull Inn A historic country inn refurbished in a stylish and contemporary way with 10 rooms. In the quiet village of Lowick, within striking distance of Holy Island, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnwick and walking in the Cheviot Hills and St Cuthbert’s Way. The restaurant specialises in the abundant local game when in season. Doubles from £69.2-4 Main Street, Lowick, TD15 2UA, 01289 388375,

The Cookie Jar This stone-built boutique hotel adjacent to Alnwick Castle has 11 rooms, each with its own unique character (look out for The Chapel with original round stained glass window), luxury towels, linen, Hypnos beds and Penhaligon’s amenities. Doubles from £175. 12 Bailiffgate, Alnwick, NE66 1LU, 01665 510465,

The Whittling House Hotel, Restaurant & Bar Opened in 2020 in the picturesque coastal village of Alnmouth, close to Alnwick. Refurbished to a high standard with a choice of family rooms, dog friendly ones and some with sea views. Cosy laid-back luxury. Doubles from £170. 24-25 Northumberland Street, Alnmouth, NE66 2RA, 01665 463001,

Travel Information

The county of Northumberland is located in England’s North East. Its northern reaches tickle the Scottish Borders, with Cumbria to the west and Tyne and Wear to the south. Alongside its striking moorland areas and national park, the county also has some 100km of bracing North Sea coastline. Time is GMT and the train from London to Berwick-upon-Tweed takes around 3 hours and 45 minutes. For those driving, the county is well-served by the A1, which runs past Alnwick up to Berwick-upon-Tweed.

London North Eastern Railway runs regular, direct train services from London King’s Cross station to Berwick-upon-Tweed, throughout the day.
Cross Country lines connect the county to York, Birmingham and Bristol.

Visit Northumberland is the regional tourist website and is full of useful information and plenty of inspiration to help you when planning your trip.

Where to eat

Prices are for a three-course meal for two people with a bottle of wine, unless otherwise stated

The Alnwick Garden’s The Treehouse Restaurant Chef Rhys Faulkner-Walford offers a set lunch menu, grills and dinner specials such as twice-baked Northumbrian nettle cheese soufflé. Try the adjacent Potting Shed for early evening cocktails – its ‘Jane’ range (named after garden visionary the Duchess of Northumberland) should put a spring in your step before wending your way back down to terra firma. From £77. Denwick Lane, Alnwick, NE66 1YU, 01665 660320,

Audela Chef Craig Pearson offers a modern British menu at this intimate restaurant of eight tables, named after the last boat to be built in the Berwick shipyard in 1979. The short, seasonal menu changes daily according to local availability from land and sea – specialities include Eyemouth halibut with heritage potato terrine. From £90. 64 Bridge Street, Berwick-upon-Tweed, TD15 1AQ, 01289 308827,

Bait at Beadnell Beach café-style food from a container bordering the sand dunes of Beadnell Bay. Evening suppers change each night, but there’s always local lobster, garlic and herb butter and chips on offer on Thursdays. Feast in the dunes watching the sun set over the bay. Suppers, from £5-10pp; lobster and chips, from £15pp. Beadnell Bay Sand Dunes, Chathill, NE67 5EE

Carnaby’s Café Family run, with homemade cakes and sausage rolls (using pork from their own rare breeds), frittatas, beautiful salads, assorted scotch eggs (think sweet potato and chickpea with dukkah crust) and burgers – all of which can be taken away. Sandwiches, from around £6. Brownieside, Chathill, NE67 5HW,

Embers Inviting courtyard pit-stop on the coast road. Delicious wood-fired pizzas are made, cooked in and sold from a re-purposed shipping container using local ingredients. ‘Northern heat’ is topped with bresaola from local Hammond Charcuterie. Pizzas, from £8.50. Spitalford, Embleton, NE66 3DW, 07858 984544,

Hjem Pronounced ‘yem’, meaning ‘home’ in Swedish and Northumbrian, Swedish chef Alex Nietosvuori and his local partner Ally Thompson opened this small destination restaurant with rooms in Hadrian’s Wall country in 2019. Alex’s Michelin-starred Scandinavian-inspired food has people flocking from far and wide, so booking is essential. A 15-18-course tasting menu, from £85pp excluding wine. The Hadrian Hotel, Wall, Hexham, NE46 4EE, 01434 681232,

The Old Boat House Rustic seafood joint on the harbour front, formerly home to the inshore lifeboat. Wide range of fish and shellfish, including lesser-known types. Diners enjoy discussing and choosing from the iced fish display, or the speciality Boat House seafood platter. From £74. Leazes St, Amble, NE65 0AA, 01665 711232,

The Ship Inn A small homely pub tucked into the corner of a square of cottages overlooking the sea in an unspoilt bay. Good, simple food using local ingredients, including crab or lobster straight from the bay – plus real ale from their own microbrewery. Hand-picked crab sandwich, £7.75. Low Newton, Alnwick, NE66 3EL, 01665 576262,

The Potted Lobster Popular restaurant in Bamburgh. Chef Richard Sim is fanatical about locally caught fish, with specials changing daily according to what the boats have landed. Alfresco seating plus a food collection service for those who want to eat on the beach. From £67. 3 Lucker Road, Bamburgh, NE69 7BS, 01668 214088,

Food Glossary

Berwick cockles
The region’s answer to humbugs – red and white striped hard but crumbly peppermint-flavoured sweets made in Berwick-upon-Tweed since 1801
Doddington Dairy
Makers of award-winning cheese and ice cream, using milk and cream from the cows at Doddington Dairy Farm, with an iconic Milk Bar at Wooler
Earl grey tea
Specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Northumbrian and British Prime Minister the 2nd Earl Grey to suit the local water, so the legend goes
Pan haggerty
A bake of layered thinly sliced potatoes, fried onions and cheese
Pease pudding
Smooth, spreadable yellow rough-textured purée made from split peas, traditionally cooked alongside a joint of ham
Singing hinny
A fruity griddled scone, so named because of the hissing noise the fat makes on the griddle; ‘hinny’ is a North East term of endearment
Large, round, chewy, flat, bap-like bread with an indent in the centre, usually used to make a sandwich – perfect with pease pudding

Food and Travel Review

Piping-hot, floury and crispy: the holy trinity of chip perfection. We’re eating thick-cut, skin-on chips and remarking on the pleasing simplicity of this humble, tasty morsel. Martin Charlton points proudly to some fields across the harbour, the provenance of the chips in question, adding ‘local’ to the satisfying equation. Martin, a chef by trade and owner of our Amble lunch stop, The Old Boat House, has just swept in fresh from painting his sister restaurant, The Fish Shack, which is housed in an upturned boat further along the harbour. ‘You can’t fail to be inspired when you’re working in suchan environment,’ he effuses. His enthusiasm for Northumberland, the local produce, his customers and staff could sound trite, but in fact it’s charming, his authenticity reflected in an efficient team, a perfectly judged, fresh and unfussy menu and a bright (thanks in part to the floor-to-ceiling windows), bustling restaurant atmosphere. I’m sure that the pair of nearby diners, who are tucking in with gusto to the gargantuan Boat House seafood platter would attest to all of that.

Sitting on the River Coquet estuary, Amble marks the southern gateway of a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that winds up the coast to Berwick-upon-Tweed.

This farming hamlet turned coal port turned fishing community continues its evolution today, with the wooden retail pods of Amble Harbour Village. A recent addition, Northumberland Seafood Centre, is home to the Creel Fish Club, a subscription box scheme aiming to alleviate the strain on overfished stocks and support the inshore fishing fleet by introducing customers to less mainstream, locally caught and ‘spanking fresh’ catches.

The centre also houses a lobster hatchery to help promote a sustainable local trade. Leading our tour is Amble-born Bart, who tells us that of the 20,000 eggs a female lobster can carry, surprisingly only one will survive to adulthood in the wild. Here, young lobsters are hatched, reared in two aerated water tanks and then released at 4cm, at which point they’re deemed big enough to burrow from predators; a promising 50 per cent will survive.

We venture north, the wild and elemental Northumbrian scenery reducing the sense of our presence as humans – a feeling that’s not unwelcome. It’s a land that pulses to its own powerful rhythm; birds soar and the frenetic North Sea surges over rock formations, beating a hasty retreat to reveal centuries of history contained within the exposed mineral layers. A few miles inland, nature prevails within the walls of The Alnwick Garden, a charitable project conceived by the Duchess of Northumberland and residence of the world’s largest Taihaku Cherry Blossom Orchard and wooden treehouse, as well as a Poison Garden in which each of the 85 plant species holds the sinister capacity to kill. To dine in The Treehouse Restaurant is to enter a dreamscape, where rough-hewn softwoods clamber and twine around the entire wood-crafted interior. Lime trees burst through the floor and a central fire adds a primitive quality to an otherwise twinkly woodland backdrop.

There’s an ease with which innovation and regeneration sit alongside the town’s considerable heritage. Sixth-generation family butcher Turnbull’s has witnessed the tenure of six Dukes of Northumberland and is as much a part of Alnwick’s rich tapestry as the castle walls. The stalwart purveyor of fine meat continues to thrive, meeting modern demands with deft diversification. A decade ago, it was the introduction of a bakery and delicatessen and, more recently, the opening of a flagship food hall with a parade of local produce and culinary craft. A newer resident, The Cookie Jar hotel, slots discreetly into the scene. The self-styled ‘cosy retreat’ blends flair and quirk with reverence for the town and community in which it sits. Local art adorns the walls of Northumbrian-inspired rooms and The Chapel suite retains original stained glass windows, a nod to the listed building’s previous incarnation as a convent.

Back to the coast and a few winding miles north we descend into Craster Harbour, a seascape idyll reminiscent of a bygone era; houses meander around the harbourside and a smattering of fishing boats are grounded ashore. Following the low hum of industry and a pervasive smoky scent, we find ourselves in the courtyard of L Robson & Sons, craftsmen of the legendary ‘Craster kipper’.

Four generations of the Robson family have smoked herring in this smokehouse, built in 1856 by the Craster family. The process itself remains remarkably unchanged: the herring are split, brined, hung on tenter hooks and then left to smoulder for up to 16 hours over a fire of whitewood shavings and oak sawdust.

The result is exquisite, an unfathomably soft and buttery texture, a deeply satiating, savoury mouthful.

With its reputation spanning over 100 years as one of the finest kippers in Britain, there must be a secret formula. Alas, no secrets, but a rudimentary formula, insists Neil, the latest Robson at the helm. It’s an age-old process paired with the finest quality herring. The latter was a given in his grandfather’s day, when great shoals would make their way down the east coast, from the north of Scotland to Yarmouth. ‘As they were passing the North East, they were at their best,’ says Neil. ‘They weren’t full of roe by that time, there weren’t great big bellies on them and their oil content was just right.’

It’s a different story now as herring haven’t been landed in the area for over 40 years. Neil has had to cast his net further afield, to Norwegian waters, where the fish are perfectly plump and carry the optimum 17 per cent oil content for smoking. Demand for kippers is as good as it’s ever been, however, albeit with an increasing preference for the bone-free fillets. ‘We’ll probably end up having to cook them as well at some point,’ chuckles Neil. We amble over the road to The Jolly Fisherman pub to devour a plate of kipper scotch eggs and a perfectly pitched spicy devilled crab toast, looking out over Dunstanburgh Castle to the north of the village.

Onwards to Bamburgh, the vast swathes of untethered coastline are punctuated only sporadically by secluded bays and inlets ripe for exploration. ‘It started somewhat as a hobby,’ says Northumberland born Richard Sim, chef behind Bamburgh restaurant The Potted Lobster. Richard was working flat out as a private chef in winter, but come the summer he was ‘bored and doing my poor wife’s head in!’ In 2015 he saw the restaurant lease and went for it, pulling together a team of four, with the idea to ‘work four days a week, have fun, cook some nice seafood and chill out’. Six years on, the restaurant teems with diners and the now 12-strong staff are joined by a handful more during high season. The laid-back chef artfully achieves the oft tried, but rarely realised, harmony of a lively setting without a trace of pretence, and simple, finger-lickingly delicious food.

Unsurprisingly, lobster is star of the show; Richard likes his cold with lashings of mayonnaise, but he honours the majesty of these delicacies, offering them up in myriad ways: half or whole, potted, grilled, poached, thermador and, restaurant favourite, twice-baked lobster soufflé.

It’s roll-your- sleeves-up kind of food, that of a land and of a people, that brings true meaning to the promises of ‘fresh’ and ‘local’ that pervade menus today. Meat comes from R Carter & Son next door, a butcher’s that has served the village for over 130 years. Lindisfarne Oysters come from just over the neighbouring headland.

Lobster, crab and a revolving array of fish are brought in daily from Amble, and the cheeseboard boasts Doddington Darling Blue and Admiral Collingwood from award-winning Doddington Dairy a few miles inland. Carroll’s Heritage Potatoes in all their wonky, vibrantly coloured glory, hail from further north in the county, where this family business champions lesser-known heritage varieties, a mission born out of disillusionment of the potato trade’s emphasis on high yield and uniformity. Star of the restaurant’s drinks list is Hepple Gin, a high fidelity spirit conceived in a wild Northumbrian moorland, combining the uniquely fresh source of juniper with its own pioneering triple distillation process.

Perched on a rocky escarpment above the North Sea, Bamburgh Castle commands spectacular views of the surrounding coastline. To the north lies the tidal island of Lindisfarne, where Oswald, the venerated saintly king of Northumbria heralded the arrival of Christianity, giving land to a monk (who would become St Aiden), to establish a monastery in 635AD. Later the birthplace of the Lindisfarne Gospels, the island is widely considered to be the cradle of Christianity in mainland Britain. Nestled alongside the causeway are the aforementioned Lindisfarne Oyster beds, thought to have been founded by the island’s monks in 1381 when they purchased an oyster-filled boat from a Scotsman. The beds were returned to glory by Christopher Sutherland’s father, John in 1989. Today Christopher and wife Helen brave the unforgiving north-eastern elements year round, supplying pristine oysters, matured for up to four years in the cool, clear Lindisfarne waters, to restaurants and homes throughout the country.

A crossing to the island itself is worth the tidal planning, not least for the pleasure of a Pilgrims coffee. Cut off from the mainland twice daily, there’s a certain romance to the roastery’s nature-governed accessibility, a feeling that extends to both the smooth and velvety organic coffee and the aged walled yard in which it’s crafted. Tide permitting, a walk to Gertrude Jekyll’s tiny walled garden alongside the 16th-century castle is also imperative.

Resoundingly declared ‘the’ border town, having switched hands between England and Scotland an astonishing 13 times, Berwick-upon-Tweed marks the culmination of our journey, a further five miles up the coast. Imprints of a colourful history are ubiquitous, from the pink pantile roofs, which arrived as ballast on European merchant ships collecting coal from Fife, to the Royal Border Bridge, a magnificent, curving stone rail viaduct, suspended high above the River Tweed.

Despite the biting sea breeze whipping through the town, Rachel Hammond leaves the door of her charcuterie container ajar as the salty breeze is deemed an essential ingredient to her curing process.

A self-taught, one-woman band, beneath Rachel’s affable, light-hearted exterior lurks a profoundly passionate and masterly artisan. A taste of her pork salami, with fennel and orange is giddying; a mellow, extremely delicate texture meets riotous flavour, with fennel and orange positively humming in harmony, both amplifying and tempering the rich intensity of the pork. The aromatic wild venison snacking salami with juniper and black pepper is equally life-affirming. Hammond’s extraordinary flavours and textures are fostered by a refined process that ‘mimics the conditions in the hills of Parma’ and an unyielding commitment to working only with wild game and free range, rare breed Northumbrian meats.Mangalitsa and Kunekune pigs roam and root freely in the woodlands of Bamburgh. Hebridean and Shetland mutton is sourced through Flexigraze, which is a Northumbrian non-profit conservation grazing scheme. It allows specialist breeds that are able to ‘survive and thrive’ on poor pasture to be brought here to restore balance to ailing land, often living long lives before being sold for their lean and flavoursome meat.

Rachel has a burgeoning pile of mail orders, but before letting her resume packing, I nudge her for her take on Northumberland. ‘It’s a wild old place, with ancient traditions and a long history; there’s a culture of living close to the land and the sea,’ she reflects. ‘It’s easy to find a deserted beach, with great sweeping golden sands, even in midsummer, and it’s one of the few corners of the country where people are still connected with the land and the food it yields.’ Add to that a kind, straightforward and gloriously laid-back people, and I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Words by Jane Lovett. Photography by James Byrne.

This feature was taken from the July 2021 issue of Food and Travel.

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