As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Northumberland National Park, Jo Keeling picks out a selection of restaurants, cafés and markets in this glorious protected area in northeast England.
Northumberland prides itself on an independent spirit – and this is expressed abundantly in their love of local food. The national park is surrounded by some of the best livestock producers in the UK and not far from the bountiful North Sea, so expect hearty portions of organic lamb, Galloway beef, fresh crab and more kippers than you can shake a net at.
To get a flavour of the region, head to the
farmers’ markets where welcoming producers peddle locally-grown vegetables, freshly-caught trout, home-baked bread, chutney and cheese.
Cyclists and walkers can refuel at a number of quirky pit stops across the region, including a renovated 1957 train carriage and a tea room that doubles as a post office, village store and garden centre. Keep an eye out for local delicacies such as the border tart, singing hinnies (a Northumbrian bannock), and Doddington’s ice cream in real ‘regional’ flavours: Newcastle Brown Ale, Alnwick Rum Truffle and Roman Britain.
Carriages Tea Room
A real treat, this cafe at Bellingham Station is housed in a renovated 1957 MK1 train carriage. The carriages were brought up from Okehampton and restored by volunteers. You can sit in original seats (or the driver’s cab) and tuck into a light lunch, freshly-baked scone or homemade cakes, while surrounded by original heritage railway fixtures. The ‘Wannie Line’ exhibit in the rear carriage has displays exploring local history and wildlife. carriages-tearoom.co.uk
Otterburn Mill is an historic weaving mill that has been in the Waddell family for generations. It is renowned for its pram rugs, which gained royal approval when Buckingham Palace requested a baby blanket for Princess Elizabeth in 1926. The Weavers Coffee Shop has a choice of locally-sourced dishes and a 2-mile Otterburn Village Trail to help you walk it off. otterburnmill.co.uk
Fountain Cottage Café
Although it looks rather plain from the outside, it’s well worth pulling in to the Fountain Cottage Cafe when you see the quirky teapot ‘cafe’ sign. This busy little cafe is run by a friendly bunch who serve up hearty portions of home-cooked food at reasonable prices and with a warm smile. On the Pennine Cycleway and Sandstone Way, it’s a popular pit stop for cyclists who can take advantage of their £5 meal deal for cyclists - soup and roll, cake and unlimited tea and coffee. visitnorthumberland.com/food-drink/cafes-tearooms
This homely hub, right by the river in Rothbury, is likely to be bustling with Lycra-wearing tourers, bunkhouse guests, ramblers and their dogs. You’re in the heart of Northumberland hill farming country here, surrounded by some of the best livestock producers in the UK, and not far from the bountiful North Sea so expect hearty portions of seasonal, locally-sourced burgers, big breakfasts and fresh salads. It’s a quirky but warm and welcoming place, with solid wood tables, deep purple wood-clad walls and soft velvet sofas beside a wood burner. The cafe and bunkhouse, housed in a former old school, is run by keen cyclists, so expect prints of two-wheeled adventures and characterful sculptures. tomlinsonsrothbury.co.uk
Hexham Farmers' Market
If you happen to be in Hexham on market day, you’re in for a treat! Everything sold in this long-established market, sandwiched between the abbey and the imposing Moot Hall, comes from within 50 miles of the town and is sold by 30 farmers and producers who are passionate about what they do. Shop for locally-grown organic vegetables, cheese, rare breed pork, local honey, Galloway beef, organic lamb and a wide range of sausages. This vibrant market takes place 9am-2pm on the second and fourth Saturday of each month, with occasional extra events over the summer. hexhamfarmersmarket.co.uk
Boat Inn Restaurant
The Leaplish Waterside Park is a handy entry point to Kielder Water and the Forest Park. The modern Boat Inn offers generous lunches with lakeside views, made by a chef who’s passionate about North East produce. After you’ve had your fill, you can hop on the Osprey Ferry to explore the lake, visit the Bird of Prey Centre, hire a boat, seek out red squirrels or take a stroll along the 26-mile Lakeside Way. visitkielder.com/pubs-inns/boat-inn-restaurant
The Pheasant Inn
Near to Kielder Water, this family-run 17th-century inn offers a warm welcome, hearty food and good ales along with an abundance of old-world charm: rich red upholstery and dark wood tables, brass beer taps and 100-year-old photos of the local community, farm tools and bellows over an open fire. The food is freshly-made with seasonal produce, picked from the pub’s kitchen garden or sourced from the national park that surrounds it. Readers of The Observer rated their Sunday lunch ‘Best in the North’. The Kershaw family, who have been running the pub since 1985, have an intrinsic respect for the pub’s history and traditions. In the mid-1600s, the inn was a farmhouse and the hub of the community – locals gathered to socialise with the farmer and his family; even the post was delivered here. A quarter of a century later, the Kershaws extend this warm welcome to locals and travellers, fishermen and cyclists, walkers and families. thepheasantinn.com
Red Lion Inn
This village pub, four miles from Hadrian’s Wall, was originally an old coaching inn dating back to the 1190s and it still has plenty of original wood and stonework remaining after recent renovations. The restaurant menu focuses on local-produce with seasonal homegrown vegetables: expect Northumbrian pub classics such as twice-cooked belly pork with black pudding, homemade burgers and cod and mackerel caught at nearby Seahouses. We particularly liked the Stanegate Room, which celebrates local history and showcases the work of emerging crafters in the neighbourhood. By all accounts, the owners are exceedingly welcoming, the atmosphere friendly and the ales local. Upstairs there are five neat B&B rooms. It’s also dog-friendly. redlionnewbrough.co.uk
The Garden Restaurant
The aptly-named Garden Restaurant sits in within the National Park, close to Bellingham and takes full advantage of its position in the heart of Northumberland. The chef and his team make everything from scratch, from the bread to the butterscotch sauce: they grow fruit and vegetables in their kitchen garden, source meat and fish from local producers and forage for ingredients to add those unusual touches to the menu. garden-restaurant.co.uk
The Queens Head Hotel Restaurant
Marking the geological boundary between the sandstone heather moorlands of the south and the volcanic Cheviots to the north, the Coquet Valley is surely one of Britain’s most spectacular yet serene landscapes. In its upper reaches, it is bleak and beautiful, scared with bloody border reiver history and peppered with shaggy-coated feral goats. On the gentler plains of the river valley you’ll find Rothbury, a creative little market town with an abundance of galleries and tearooms as well as the ever popular Queen’s Head. Owners Bill and Terry pride themselves on taking full advantage of the best local produce on offer, from the humble Northumbrian turnip to chicken cooked in Lindisfarne mead, local game, sustainable fish from Seahouses and the pub’s own award-winning homemade sausages. ourlocal.pub/pubs/the-queens-head-rothbury
For more information on characterful places to stay, nearby visitor attractions and activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to Northumberland National Park