Steph Theodosiou swaps the city hustle and bustle for the peace and quiet of a quaint little village in the north of England
Nestled in the tranquil village of Blanchland lies the Lord Crewe Arms: hotel. Originally built by twelfth century monks, the beautiful building is full of historical quirks and stylish interiors. Named Inn of the Year by the Good Pub Guide 2018, I was very excited for my two-night getaway.
Blanchland is a tiny, listed village in Northumberland, a 45-minute drive from Durham. Snuggled into a small dip next to a babbling river, there is no mobile signal whatsoever (although Wi-Fi is available at the hotel, should you need it). All the homes have been built from the same stone, which emphasises the charm of the architecture. Its unspoilt nature means the village is frequently used as a filming location for many period films set in the 18thcentury.
The village square is formed by the main structure of the Lord Crewe Arms; their 21 lovingly-restored cottage bedrooms; The Gatehouse, a dedicated event space run by the Lord Crewe, and a small Victorian-era post office. Inside the main building, I duck through low doorways and weave my way over uneven floors to find delightful features including original fireplaces and even a priest hole. There are three separate dining areas, a lounge and the atmospheric Crypt Bar: a medieval vaulted chamber stocked with plenty of brilliant ales, wines, whiskies and gins. My favourite concoctions are the ‘Salted Caramel Vodka and Apple Juice’ which tastes like an apple crumble dessert, and the ‘Rhubarb and Rosehip Gin with Tonic Water’ – refreshing and sweet, yet not overwhelmingly so.
The walled garden at the rear is a picturesque al fresco spot for the summer months, with lush countryside views stretching as far as the eye can see. Great care has gone into the whole property to ensure that it feels warm, welcoming but also fun. This is reflected in the staff, who are very friendly, and the interior design, which is interspersed with colloquial phrases and their translations. The atmosphere is very relaxed and jovial, particularly when regulars arrive for a pit stop with their furry four-legged companions.
Nothing has been overlooked in the personal and practical extras. Barbour jackets and Hunter wellies are available for guests to borrow freely. I adore the little touches in the bedrooms. The homemade cookies and fudge, the reading corner, complete with a small pile of books, two comfortable armchairs and a retro-chic Roberts digital radio is wonderful. And the bathroom, with its huge waterfall showerhead, free-standing bath, fluffy towels and Noble Isle toiletries, is a spa-lover’s dream.
Head chef Simon Hicks previously worked with Mark Hix at HIX Soho. Here in the quiet countryside, Simon focuses on fresh produce, utilising the vegetable garden, no food wastage, and unpretentious yet delicious, high-quality food.
The menu sizes are very much something out of the Goldilocks tale: not too large but not too small. They are just right. With a great amount of variety and daily specials, you can certainly enjoy a delightful foodie experience. Of all the dishes tried and tested from the menu, my favourites are the ‘Toasted Almond Hummus with a Sweet Chilli Dressing and Flatbread’ starter and the ‘Halibut Special with Whipped Tatties, Spinach and Caper Hollandaise’. The almond hummus is so excellent that I ask for the recipe.
The bread here is a noteworthy speciality that the kitchen is proud of. Every loaf is baked fresh every morning, and the quality is noticeable. I have the pleasure of attending a bread demonstration with Simon himself at the newly-refurbished Gatehouse. He guides our group through the process required to make the signature sourdough bread and I even have the opportunity to get my hands dirty. Mixing everything is incredibly satisfying and we enjoy the fruits of my labour with our dinner later that very evening. Other group events include a regular curry night hosted by guest chef Titu. Although I don’t attend, I head over to the Gatehouse after it’s over to see the aftermath. The lingering aroma from the curry spices have filled the space and I make a mental note to attend next time I find myself in Blanchland.
A walking tour with Kevin from Wild Dog Outdoors is highly recommended. He is knowledgeable, very friendly and passionate in his guiding. If you fancy venturing out alone, you can simply follow the river and see where it takes you, meander around the village and the neighbouring fields, or follow the 12.5-mile circular walking route suggested by the hotel.
Being here feels like taking a step back in time to a place where mobile phones didn’t exist. It is an idyllic countryside location to disconnect from modern 21st-century life, with enough excellent food to keep everyone happy.
Rooms start at £129 per night, including breakfast. lordcrewearmsblanchland.co.uk