Have you heard of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty? No, I hadn’t either but what a gem. Our trip takes us to the Durham/Northumberland border where we find a special place – no chocolate box, but beautiful in a rugged way. This land of heather moors houses 80% of England’s black grouse, with room to spare for short-eared owl, ring ouzel, and common redshank. There is industrial history, rare alpine plants and one of England’s biggest waterfalls – High Force.
We are heading for the Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland, named after the white clothed monks who founded their abbey here in 1165.
The hotel incorporates several buildings around the square. We head out for the door marked ‘Angel’, and climb two flights to ‘Muggleswick’ named after a nearby village. There are smaller ‘cosy’ rooms, but this is the bigger ‘canny’ with the comfiest super-king bed. Country House meets Fortified Manor style from a soothing light ash, taupe and olive palette. There are some delightful extras – tartan rugs, bath robes, hot water bottle, ensuring you’ll always be cosy; teas for every taste; yummy pack of fudge; walking pack including local OS map, compass, torch.
Sitting in our matching window seats, books close by is so relaxing. Views of the Pennines to the left and to the right, honeyed stone cottages, set against a verdant backdrop. We are birds eye height, among the chimney pots. A wisp of smoke adds to the romanticism. Lingering here the whole stay wouldn’t be a chore.
The buildings are ancient with uneven stone floors, changes in level and no lift. If mobility is your challenge, there are several ground floor bedrooms and one accessible to wheelchair users. The dining room is on the first-floor, but they will happily serve breakfast and dinner in one of the ground floor dining areas. The comprehensive access statement on their website should answer any nagging questions.
Staff are local, with just a whisper of Geordie. Generous with smiles, they know their stuff, be it wine or food. Dining room can get a little noisy, but this is simply folk enjoying themselves.
Chef Simon Hicks believes in sourcing the very best ingredients. Wild garlic and mushrooms foraged within a mile, the Abbey kitchen garden is even nearer. Hubby’s crab started life in Portland, my steak was Irish. As we tucked in silence fell but the food was singing. On to puds. I was delighted with my raspberry bakewell, full of flavour, with the lightest, crispiest pastry – no soggy bottoms allowed! Hubby was ecstatic at the chilled strawberry cream. He reluctantly permitted me a taste – wow, I know my strawberries, but this was another level. This recipe is from ‘Down Under’, we begged but it remains secret. Guess that’s another reason to return.
Whether fishing, shooting, cycling or walking the hotel has local knowledge to give you the best of days. A few suggestions: Bowes Museum; Hadrian’s Wall; Durham Cathedral; High Force Waterfall
Kynren – Epic Tale of England. Spectacular live action through 2,000 years of history. (Summer weekends only). If all you want is a quiet read, choose a shady garden corner or fireside snuggle with tipple to match.
The hotel can facilitate helicopter landings but for something larger, Newcastle is your nearest airport and rail station, less than an hour by taxi. For 2 or 4 wheels, just bang the postcode in the sat nav and enjoy the scenery. The Lord Crewe is perfect for short breaks or place to overnight on the long drive to or from Scotland. The only problem will be tearing yourself away the next morning.
Website, brochures, signage and welcome hint at a relaxed atmosphere, of a company embracing humour and scorning the rulebook. It seems wonderfully casual and there-in lies the alchemy, because amongst all of this, someone, with an amazing eye for detail, has invisibly woven everything together. The success of the whole Lord Crewe package is anything but accidental.
The Calcot Collection has 5 kids (aka gorgeous hotels). Now I have the measure of this naughty northern brother I’d love to meet his 4 Cotswold sisters.
I’ve loved breaking new ground in Northumberland. Did I mention the warm northern welcome or how stunning is the gritty landscape, which creates the softest water in your reviving shower? Now please forget everything. It’s my little secret!
To find out more, visit The Lord Crewe Arms.