The Northumberland coastline is considered a no-go area for food lovers, as once you cross the Tyne and head north, all expectations of Michelin stars, rosettes and other accolades must be left behind, apparently. The coast has a reputation for poor weather, but this is the North of England ( I have spent many sunny weekends there, so it is not all true).
So why make the effort to travel so far for what, seemingly, has so little to offer?
Simply because it is beautiful.
The coastline from Amble up to Holy Island in Northumberland is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty, yet even that glam title does not capture what that 40-mile stretch has to offer. Take the coastal path for vast beaches where people are pretty rare - though you may get the occasional flurry on a Sunday if the weather is fine; it seems there is a castle perched on every headland along the coastline (though in truth there are only three), and quietly tucked away are some stonking good pubs, restaurants, breweries and food producers. Northumberland and the coast really are worth visiting. Read on to see why.
The once fading Amble harbor has had a resurgence of interest and something of a makeover in the past three years. Where once I said there was not food, all that has changed. Walk around the harbor for new cafés and The Pods , where 15 retail businesses sell individual art, gifts, crafts, food and drink.
Or, for something more substantial, the Boathouse Cafe is just the ticket.
For ice cream and coffee in the town, pop into Spurelli, just a skip down from the chippy and next to the boatyard.
North of Amble is Warkworth (complete with one of those famous castles and worth a visit) which is charming but offers little in the way of memorable food or drink, instead head to the pretty coastal village of Alnmouth just four miles away.
This is one of the most loved small towns on the coast and no wonder, it is charming and the beach, simply beautiful. Pop into the Red Lion for a real, traditional boozer and a pint or two of Sneck Lifters (the robust pub food’s not bad either). More colourful in its decor but less an old boozer (but still good) is the Sun Inn. If you want funky and good fun then stop on the main street and check out Northumberland Street Food, just lower down from the post office. Sometimes it is open and sometimes not but when it is, give it a go. There is an evening restaurant but needs booking well in advance to get in.
Afternoon tea or simply tea and cake at Howick Hall is quite special. The gardens are exquisite.
Though Howick boasts gorgeous gardens, it was formerly the home of Earl Grey, and yes, the tea did come from here. Earl Grey was British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834 and was famed for managing to pass The Great Reform Bill of 1832. The distinctive tasting Earl Grey tea (named after the Earl)was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin who used Bergamot to offset the lime-tasting water in the well at Howick. Earl Grey tea was eventually marketed by the famous Twinings Tea Company and now sells worldwide.
Sadly, the Greys didn’t register the trademark, so never received a penny in royalties for the tea. Ouch.
Either yomping along the coastline on foot or heading north by car, there is no way of avoiding Craster, a delightful village and harbour complete with fishing boats and also home to the ubiquitous Craster smokehouses and kippers.
L Robson and Sons Ltd is a 4th generation family business, famous across the UK and the world for oak smoking kippers and salmon. They are in the heart of the tiny fishing village, and the long stone building of the smokehouse and restaurant dominates a good section of the main street as it has done for over 130 years.
Bang opposite the smokehouse is the Jolly Fisherman Pub, a destination venue for great food and drink though it wasn’t always that way , the inn has had many incarnations and this one is the best so far; order a crab sandwich and you will see why.
If you plan ahead, then this is a great place for lunch especially if you can book a window seat looking up along the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle. Really good pub food here.
High and Low Newton
Onwards and upwards and long before hitting the commercialism that is Seahouses, lies the bewitching High (at the top of the hill) and Low Newton (at the bottom and by the sea). High offers the Joiners Arms, for a good Sunday lunch and at Low Newton, the Ship Inn which sits within spitting distance of the beach. It would be foolish to be in Northumberland visit here. Great for kids as it is practically on the beach.
The Ship enjoyed anonymity for years until along came TV celebs Oz Clark and James May on their travels around Britain in search of the best drink. Despite not revealing the location of the tiny inn and micro brewery, it didn’t take long for viewers to work it out. The place was inundated for a while but has now calmed down.
Owner and Brewster Christine Forsyth moved to Low Newton in 1999 and despite knowing nothing of running a pub or brewing set about to do both. She still revels in the delight of the location where standing on the beach on a moonlight night and hearing the seals calling from the rocks, watching the path of the moon on the sea and the fingers of Dunstanburgh castle stand black against the sky or to watch the sun rise over the sea on a glorious summer morning, she remarks. These are the things that make Low Newton the very special and unique place it is. There are always her special ales on in the bar and a hearty menu, but if you plan carefully, call a few days and order a lobster dinner, and the local fisherman will drop one off to order, and she will cook it perfectly.
With so much great food, drink and breathtaking beauty on offer on the Northumberland coast, seriously, who needs Michelin Stars?