Saturday, 23 October 2010

Tea Rooms of East Tynedale

For a very long time the tearoom, like the garden or the church, has been sacred space in our lives. The cheese scone if not the object of worship is certainly sacramental, as north of the Border is the oatcake. One or two folk knowing our predilections suggested that we really should blog on the subject. Where to start? More importantly, where to stop? The next few paragraphs with a few stretches will focus on East Tynedale from Hexham to Wylam and a semi circular thrust south out to Consett and Allendale.

Starting just over the border in Gateshead is Bradley Gardens. A wonderfully restored walled garden with many plants for sale. A substantial thread of sculpture. The tearoom is in former greenhouses set against a south facing wall. Very comfortable with newspapers. Easy to linger. A view out to an enormous almost Devon like hillside. Slightly expensive and a top endish menu. Also a sense of being child unfriendly. Despite those apparent reservations, so long as you don't have an army of children in tow and you do enjoy the finer things of life, this is a very pleasurable place.

Wylam Tea Room: has recently moved though the management remains the same. Have not visited the new location which is near the Renault dealership. The old one although small and at the back of an excellent deli was good value, good for craic and I can still taste the bacon sarnies.

The Hearth Horsley is notable for its arts and crafts connection. The village site has extensive views, is very accessible from Newcastle.

Now entering our hometown of Prudhoe. Whilst not renowned as a destination nowadays there are several worthwhile meeting spots. Waterworld has since its opening in 1990 offered a cafe and for a good while was the only pleasant cafe style in the town. It now has rivals but it still remains a friendly definitely child centred eatery and is good value for money. It is called Cafe@leisure.

The Manors is a retirement home opened in 2010 in Prudhoe and which advertises its cafe forcefully. Not yet sampled.

Balls of Prudhoe. An award winning fish and chip shop which in September 2010 opened next door a tea room/restaurant. Small and will get very popular is our take. But delightfully furnished, personal service from the proprietors. Plenty of laughter. Varied menu from tea and cake to very generous helpings of British classics. You don't have to have chips with everything. The toilet is a hoot worth travelling miles for. The placemats certainly inspire conversation too.

Moving down the street to Prudhoe's Corner Cafe. The most obvious place for tea or coffee in the centre of Prudhoe. Recently refurbished c2008. Straightforward, reasonable and reliable. Plate pies, mince, corned beef etc. We have enough confidence in the offer that we will take guests here for a working lunch.

Just to the west of the town is the spectacularly located Valley View Cafe at the Tyne Valley Garden Centre. Newly refurbished in 2010, the offer is very pleasant and the high level view over the valley quite exceptional.

Jiggery Pokery Mickley. Only a few yards on up the A695, this is one of our all time favourites. Sadly Pamela and John Jewitt no longer operate it. John has passed on. The slight edge of its excellence is gone but it is a very good tea rooms nonetheless. Towering cakes. Mouthwatering cheese scones? Is John's touch - for he used to personally make them - of a nick of mustard in the mix still employed?

Continuing west to Riding Mill, this is a community without a tea rooms. However tea and cake in an exceptional location can be procured. Up the Slaley Road is Shepherds Dene. This Arts and Crafts House has since 1946 been the Newcastle Anglican Diocesan Retreat House. Generally speaking even casual visitors will find a warm welcome and tea and home made cake in the wooden pannelled dining room overlooking the valley is an experience of its own. The more so if prayer is something that does not frighten you.

As Shepherd's Dene is south of the A695 and the main Tyne Valley we now continue an exucursion south towards the Derwent and Allen Valley catchments. Up Apperley Dene is Wheelbirks Ice Cream Parlour. For many years we have enjoyed Wheelbirks farm for its green top milk and ice cream from a Jersey herd. The Quaker heritage of the estate is also notable. In 2009 a major investment opened an ice cream parlour alias a ice creamed theme tea room. It is especially comfortable and the website very informative. The ice cream is something the cognoscenti will rave about. There is plenty of information about the history of the farm. The setting is very pleasant high up this north facing side valley. I am glad to see children's parties of all ages are welcomed. That was not the case earlier in 2010 when we tried to locate Clare's 10th birthday celebration there. In the event we moved a mile down valley to Broomley Grange, a Boys Brigade activity centre. Their adventure course contains elements of high drama and ingenuity: the stream walk, the very long zip wire and the tunnel maze. Rounded off with a hearty tea for the kids, but not quite a tea room unless you go for the Christmas fair.

From Wheelbirks the road runs south along a Roman alignment to Ebchester. It passes the Highland Cattle Farm with tea rooms and then over the summit and down to the Derwent Valley, and on the left is The Herb Patch at Newlands. Definitely in a particularly favoured category. David and Linda here are a couple to admire. This is a not so common example of a flourishing smallholding. The tea room itself is a simple wooden building with a "green" shop attached. The fare is excellent and the welcome warm but the chance to buy herbs or let the children meet sheep, geese, rabbits and cows is the extra. An interesting programme of short courses is also promoted. The very enjoyable venue for a couple of Clare's birthday parties.

The River Derwent is crossed and so to County Durham. We will not be here too long but the opportunity to sample two linked tea rooms cannot be missed. The link is the long established Durham cycleways on old railways. One of these is now part of the c2c route and there are two tea rooms established on the route. Just outside Consett is the Howns Gill Farm Tea Rooms hard by the cycleway. Another recent addition, the food is straightforward rather than exotic, the welcome warm, the view excellent. It is especially favoured by cyclists and the offer could be seen as pointed to them. The result is that it is exceedingly reasonably priced.

Continuing along the cycleway or the nearly parallel moorland road, the views ever increase. The Scottish Border Hills and the North Sea as far as Hunt Cliff in Cleveland will be seen on a clear day. Just over the top and facing Weardale, was once an extra-ordinarily remote railway junction. It last saw trains in 1969. This is Parkhead Station. There is a tale of more personal endeavour here from Terry & Lorraine Turnbull. When we first patronised the establishment, they were operating from a caravan whilst the stone built station was gutted and rebuilt. There is car parking and walks and rides galore start here. It can be very cold, very windy and completely snowbound. An open all hours mentality prevails and whilst the soup and bacon baps are hardy favourites, something more sophisticated is available for those who stay the night. And what a place for a stranger to the North Pennines to stay the night.

An adjacent road junction to Parkhead Station allows us to turn back into the Derwent catchment and so to The White Monk Blanchland. Blanchland is small but picture postcard in quality. A stone village around an old monastery set deep in the headwaters of the Derwent Valley. The Lord Crewe Arms is the prime hostelry and our poet of study W. H. Auden stayed here. But for tea room fare, there is one candidate which is The White Monk. It has moved location and is now in the former school. It is very popular and can get very busy but if you come to this lovely village and require tea, you will be drawn here and it should be enjoyable.

Mr Auden moved with ease and great pleasure around the valleys of the North Pennines. For him Blanchland, Rookhope, Allendale, Nenthead and Alston Moor became part of a sacred landscape. You will not find it easy to find too much about this on the ground but the next valley to the Derwent west is Allendale. His poetry wrote about the lead smelt mills which tower above Allendale Town. These were flued to a smelt mill in the valley bottom. Here the ruins have been redeveloped as the Allen Mill.

Thus to the Allendale Bakery at the old Lead Smelter: A recent opening (in 2009) when we visited in October 2010. A nice conversion of old lead smelt mill buildings with interesting other units. The whole called Allen Mill. The bread is outstanding as is the website which made us visit. Plenty of nice wooden games for the children and when we partook a rather unexpected and exciting exhibition of bespoke corsetry. The site as a whole is not yet complete. Car parking is a bit hardcore. Very nice walks from the site but be cautious of leaving your car too long as it does get locked.

Up in the town is the Allendale Town Tea Rooms. Since we lived here for a couple of months in 1990 when moving from Scotland this is bound to get our attention. Refurbishment, probably several times and new owners since then. This is a traditional tea room in the centre of the town square. Very much a hub of life. The Sunday Roasts are very popular and very reasonable. Like going back to the best of the 1950s.

Right at the head of the Allen Valley is the Allenheads Tea Rooms in the Hemmel. I have a memory of a friend's birthday party here with the most prodigious amount of profiteroles. The tea room is usually very nice and passes the cheese scone test. Over the long period I have known it, its remote location at the head of a lonely valley has seen numerous business viscissitudes. The mine site all about is fascinating and car parking is adjacent. Incidentally the link profiles a number of further tea rooms to the south of us and they include more of our favourites like Eggleston Gardens.

Returning now to the Tyne Valley proper and imagining ourselves crossing Ovingham Bridge, we pass the next village of Ovington. Unfortunately Winships there which was for a while a community tearoom and excellent at that, is now purely a restaurant and somewhat limited in opening at that. There follow two excellent farm shops both offering refreshments. The first is North Acomb which is slightly tucked away off the A69. It has wonderful views and good walks from the venue, indeed a walk there and back from Ovingham is very pleasant. Primarily it is a butchers and very good at that. Hot drinks are available and there are so many cakes and pies for sale that an impromptu meal is easy. Very pleasant with Fentimans fizzy drinks sat on the grass verge outside watching the lambs at play in early summer. The sun dried tomatoes will go well with their cold meats and cheeses on oatcakes. There is plenty of choice of (live) animals to watch. Great for chidren.

Only a mile or so on from North Acomb and at the Styford roundabout where A69 and A68 intersect is Brockbushes farm shop and tearoom. This is very well known and very busy. In summer it fills with PYO. The tea room is sizeable and needs to be. The cakes are on the grand scale. All sorts of things in the farm shop but usually there are cheaper outlets around for all this. It is priced after the captive passing trade.

From here it is easy to reach the line of Hadrian's Wall and with recent initiatives like the Hadrian's Wall Path there is a constant succession of venues west. We will not cross the North Tyne at Chollerford although two tea rooms are only over the bridge and there is also the remarkable Simonburn tea room in a post office a few miles further up that valley and in a decidely off the beaten track estate village. Has served us a wonderful turkey dinner in the fast.

Instead we retire east along the old military road. At the top of the big Brunton bank there is St Oswalds Tea Room. Situate in a farm, this is definitely farmhouse fare. Not quite so farmhouse but on a farm nonetheless is the Vallum Farm Tea Room. Here the feel in a new and generously proportioned wooden building is contemporary in structure and fare.

Our last call is tucked away a mile north of the wall alignment and is the High House Farm Brewery Tea Room at Matfen. An excellent and original adaption of old farm buildings to produce a broader plate with which to enjoy the prime product of the operation.

That's it for now but we have not tackled:
Hexham: so much choice in Hexham that we have not even started to review them. If you are feeling pious and it is not the depth of winter, you might try the Abbey Tea Room for simple economic fare in a stony vaulted setting. The same response of generous provision applies to Corbridge.

Reading this, you might feel there is not quite enough about the food or the tea. They are very important and you can assume a location is not listed unless it is tasty. You can also consider that a key criteria for our private judgement will be the quality of the cheese scone or the corned beef pie. However once the food and drink past muster, next in our criteria will be issues, like comfort, view, history, the craic. A tea room visit has to convey a sense of heaven to us, it has to be wholesome experience in the round. One that we carry into eternity.

Remember to check back here as there is every chance this page will change as we travel around.

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