Sunday, 12 February 2012

February 12th - Northumbrian air and the pub on the beach

Dear Nigel,

So good to be away and walking across the golden sands of a wide Northumbrian beach with salt on your lips and the wind in your hair. Of course it's still Winter and the only mad sods out are walkers doing the coastal path and people with dogs. My children go chasing each other in the sand dunes, and, hopeless Mother that i am, by the time we look up Molly has almost legged it to "the broken castle" - she means Dunstanburgh. The peace is shattered and we head back home to Mum's for dinner.

I am looking forward to my regular visit here to the pub at the end of the beach. Every holiday destination should have such a gem. To be able to walk across the sands, round the bend, and see the  perfect little horseshoe of fisherman's cottages nestling against the shoreline never fails to bring a smile of cheer to my face. The young couple who lease it from the National Trust are lovely and dynamic. The food is good and the microbrewery wins many acclaim. Oz Clark and James May came here in their recent TV series and sat in deckchairs on the sand supping their beer, i recall.  My children play with the landlord's little boy and the other Summer we watched as a swallow swooped in and out of a part-open door of the brewery while we sat soaking up the sun on benches on the green. The pub does a fine crab salad sandwich, amongst others. Each day a boatman lifts his pots in the bay and the fresh catch is delivered almost straight to the plate. You can't get fresher than that.

The other highlight of our visit here is almost bound to be the Ice Cream Farm. And here's the dilemma : do we go to the traditional dairy farm at Morwick where the children can play on the swings and see calves in their plastic tardises. Or do we go to the adult-friendly chic Italian Ice Cream parlour at Amble, bolted on to the front of a Boatyard, and which serves the most delectable Ice Creams imaginable. A fairly new business, they have already picked up several Great Taste Awards, including one for pistacchio.

This is a fine coastal area and all along the lacy coastline are unique treasures of a seafaring community. In Amble, arguably the best fish and chip shop and sit-in cafe on the harbour wall. Child-friendly and simple and fresh; they do what they do best and they do it well. Further up the coast are the smoke houses - Robson's in Craster (good Northumbrian name that,- my family's), and Seahouses, where Swallows the fishmonger's is hidden amongst the cottages and you'd have to seek it out to ever find it. But when you do, the freshest catch is yours for the asking. Rick Stein rated Swallows as one of his food heroes. I find a little tub of oak smoked sea salt from Swallows in my Mum's kitchen - so good news travels fast, and even small places are moving with the times. Heston may get shelved: I prefer to support local businesses.I'm already planning our trip.

And then we'll go further up the coast again and cross the little causeway to Holy Island. We tried to get there in the Autumn but the tides were always against us and the hours wrong. The Lifeboat people are fed-up with having to rescue careless drivers who ignore the warnings and think they can beat the tides. A huge waste of their revenue - i hope these selfish drivers get billed for the the full amount. The island is a truly unique place and one of my favourite parts is the little garden at the foot of the castle created by Gertrude Jekyll on a wind-swept corner where no garden has any right to exist. Lutyens mark is everywhere in the cosy little castle and the footsteps of early Christians make this a very special and revered place.

I have no idea what you're choosing to cook today as i am on holiday and have carelessly forgotten your diary. Whatever it is I'm sure it'll be good. Bon Appetite,


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