Postcard from... The Lord Crewe Arms at Blanchland
Northumberland is somewhere I've long wanted to visit, but every time we've previously tried to arrange a trip we've struggled to find availability for good quality, reasonably priced accommodation and ultimately opted to go somewhere else instead, so I'd been eagerly looking forward to the opening of the Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland.
The Lord Crewe has a rich history that dates back to the twelth century - it was originally built as the Abbots lodge and guest house for Blanchland Priory, a function it maintained for over 400 years until the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539. It then went on to play a role in the Jacobite rebellion before becoming an inn serving the local lead miners.
Now part of the Calcot Group, who also own Barnsley House and Calcot Manor in the Cotswolds, the hotel finally reopened its doors earlier this year after a major refurbishment project, and when we began planning our Jaguar F-TYPE road trip last month it was one of the first places that came to mind.
The reopening of the hotel was beset with long delays after remains of the old Chapter House were unearthed in the grounds during the redevelopment project. English Heritage were called in and the entire project was put on hold. But it was worth the wait, because they've done a fantastic job with the place.
Our room was full of thoughtful touches. An amply stocked tea tray and a generous portion of the most delicious melt in your mouth local fudge greeted us when we checked in...
...and I loved the cover of this rather charming little notebook, which suggested a list of nearby places we might like to visit.
The contemporary country style bedrooms - tartan, tweed and toiles in sludgy country tones - are comfortable and welcoming. Our 'Champion' room was generously sized, but the smaller 'Cosy' rooms are equally delightful.
Step past reception on the ground floor of the hotel and you find yourself wandering through a warren of flagstone floored spaces with thick stone walls until you reach the bar, which is set in a rather remarkable vaulted stone crypt. You can't fail to sense the history of the building in this part of the hotel.
Upstairs the restaurant has the most incredible views out over the surrounding fells and when we visited on a beautiful midsummer evening the light and the atmosphere was quite magical. The menu is "robust, modern and British" and includes imaginative dishes that should satisfy more adventurously minded foodies. Fresh produce from the kitchen garden features prominently and there are some thoughful vegetarian options. I opted for the pea, lettuce and lovage soup with a goats curd muffin, followed by rosemary roasted sea bass, and when we returned for breakfast the following morning we were served up excellent salmon and bacon from the chef's smoke house at the bottom of the garden.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the village itself. Blanchland is a peaceful and attractive conservation village that straddles the Northumberland Durham border in the North Pennines - one of only six listed villages in the country. It really is a bit of a hidden gem. We visited with friends who live in County Durham and know the area well, but until our visit its charms had somehow largely slipped beneath their radar.
We found both the rooms and the restaurant at the Lord Crewe Arms excellent value, and notably more affordable than at the other Calcot hotels. This perhaps reflects the fact that its location is a little more out of the way. You may have to make a trip to get here, but you'll be amply rewarded for your efforts.