As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Northumberland Coast, Jo Keeling picks out a selection of local produce, cafés, and pubs and restaurants along this glorious stretch of the northeast coast of England.
The abundant North Sea brings to a wealth of fresh fish and seafood to this already diverse county, giving you ample opportunity to tuck into simple Northumbrian dishes such as kippers, brown bread and butter; crab stotties and fresh lobster (delivered to pubs and cafes daily by the bucketload). Head to fishing hubs such as Seahouses and Craster, where you can see producers using methods that date back 170 years to smoke their catch over oak sawdust. Or explore inland on the moorlands, where bees forage to produce distinctive heather honey.
Read on and we’ll let you in on the best places to try border tarts (rich fruit tart encrusted in pastry) and singing hinnies (Northumbrian bannock, known as fatty cutties in Scotland); to sample Earl Grey tea in the manor house where it was invented; to kick back with a coffee inside an ornate Victorian railway station and to find classic northern pubs with cask beers and healthy portions of seafood dished up in sight of the North Sea.
The Ship Inn, Northumberland
There’s something eminently comforting about The Ship Inn, which is tucked between a row of fishermen's cottages in Low Newton. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of those rare British pubs that still feels like someone’s front room – albeit, at lunchtime, the busiest front room you’ve ever been in. Or maybe it’s the way the small handmade bar, with its makeshift shelves and rows of stem ginger sweets, feels rather like a 1970s village shop (in a good way). Our guess is that it’s down to the fresh and simple food. Tuck into Craster kippers with brown bread, butter and a slice of lemon; crab stotties; pork pie ploughman’s and fresh lobster (delivered daily by the bucketload). Wash your meal down with a pint of ale brewed by the hardworking mother and daughter team in their microbrewery. Lunch is served between 12pm-2.30pm, so make sure you turn up early to bagsy a table. shipinnnewton.co.uk
Chain Bridge Honey Farm, Northumberland Coast
This honey farm near Berwick-upon-Tweed is named after the Union Chain Bridge, built in 1820 to link England with Scotland over the River Tweed. The farm maintains 2,000 hives within a 40-mile radius. Early in the year, the bees feed on wild flowers and oil seed rape before being moved onto the moors to feast on the heather. Honey is a natural antiseptic, so as well as the edible “food for the gods”, the makers mix it with oats, tea tree and chamomile to create a range of ointments, balms, polishes and candles. Stop by the museum to watch the bees at work in a glass observation hive, explore the Tweed valley through panoramic murals and spread “liquid gold” on your crumpets in the double decker bus cafe. chainbridgehoney.com
Alnwick Farmers’ Market, Northumberland Coast
This monthly farmers’ and craft market, held on the last Sunday of every month (9am-2pm), has been attracting townsfolk for generations. Organisers encourage stall holders to sell well-priced ingredients which are grown, reared or made within a 50-mile radius and many producers are happy to chat about their work. If you’re self-catering it’s a great opportunity to pick up local fruit and vegetables, Northumbrian meat and fish as well as freshly baked bread and cakes. There are also regular markets each Saturday (9am-4pm) and Thursdays in April-December (9am-4pm). alnwickmarkets.co.uk
Swallowfish, Northumberland Coast
If you’re in Seahouses, it’s well worth seeking out this traditional smokery hidden above the harbour on South Street. The company has played an important part in the Seahouses fishing narrative for the past 170 years â€“ in fact, it’s possible that smoked kippers were invented here. Using methods that go back generations, Swallowfish smoke their catch over oak sawdust without colourings or additives to let the natural flavour of the fish come through. Head to The Fishermen’s Kitchen for all manner of smoked and fresh fish, seasonal shellfish and homemade potted shrimp swallowfish.co.uk
Doddington Ice Cream, Northumberland
Doddington prize themselves on producing natural ice cream using simple ingredients and real “regional” flavours: Newcastle Brown Ale, Alnwick Rum Truffle, Heather Honey and Roman Britain (said to recreate flavours that would have been available to Roman Britons such as apple, cinnamon, cherry and heather honey). They source their ingredients from local food heroes: honeycomb from the Chain Bridge Honey Farm, near Berwick-upon-Tweed, who produce two types: Tweedside set flower honey and their famous heather honey; Alnwick Rum, a distinguished dark rum based on a 90-year-old recipe lost for 20 years; Pumphreys Coffee, a flavoursome roast with hints of caramel which has a history tracing back to 1750. doddingtondairy.co.uk
The Barn at Beal, Northumberland Coast
One of the main attractions of this coffee shop and restaurant, housed in a 19th-century cart shed next to Beal House, is the huge windows overlooking Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve: 3,500 hectares of sand dunes, tidal mudflats and salt marsh between the mainland and Holy Island. The Smith family work closely with Natural England to farm in harmony with resident species, improving the quality of hedgerows, providing links between fields and wetlands, establishing tussocky beetle banks through arable fields and creating grasslands to attract overwintering wildfowl. The menu reflects their focus with a thoughtful sourcing of ingredients: game from the farm, kippers smoked in Craster and beef reared on Lindisfarne. Their baker makes a celebrated variation on the Border Tart, a rich fruit tart encrusted in pastry, as well as ramblers’ snacks to give you a boost on walks. barnatbeal.com
The Lavender Tea Rooms, Northumberland
Ford and Etal are two exceptionally pretty villages surrounded by a tempting network of footpaths, quiet lanes and bridleways. This traditional tea room in Etal serves sandwiches, Ploughman’s lunches with local Doddingtons Cheese and Homemade lavender cake. For something a little different, try a Border tart (rich fruit tart encrusted in pastry) or singing hinnies (Northumbrian bannock, known as fatty cutties in Scotland) with jam and clotted cream. As well as a cafe, it is also the post office, a well-stocked general store and a tiny garden centre (open Mar-Oct). thelavendertearooms.org.uk
Barter Books, Northumberland Coast
Housed in an impressive Victorian railway station designed by William Bell in 1887, Barter Books is a treasure trove of second-hand literature, with a maze of bookshelves to lose yourself in – and a model railway with a train running merrily over the top. Snuggle in an armchair by the fire at the Station Buffet to eagerly begin reading whatever gems you've discovered over a cup of tea or coffee and maybe a bacon roll or a slab of cake. Intriguingly, the room the café occupies was seemingly forgotten about when the station closed until a mysterious hidden door was discovered almost 50 years later, and the idea for the Station Buffet was born. barterbooks.co.uk
For more ideas for green holidays in the area, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Northumberland Coast