Dining Out

THE BLACK BULL, ETAL

WE had a busy morning shopping in Berwick then drove to the railway station to collect friends from Tyneside. They had been on holiday in Berwick previously but had not visited the beautiful countryside. With so much to talk about, we decided to travel to Etal and enjoy a meal.

Our friends were astounded by the sheer beauty of the area and Etal’s stunning thatched pub in the heart of the village. The Black Bull is the only thatched pub in Northumberland and looks distinctive amidst the pretty white washed cottages. It is a long, narrow pub with thick, 18-inch walls and is set on different levels with the bar spanning the middle. There are low beamed ceilings, white- washed stone walls, many nooks and crannies and a huge stone fireplace. This, combined with heavy, dark furniture and the owner’s collections of witches on broomsticks, adds to the vibrant and vivacious atmosphere.

My friends were spellbound with the pub and also the wide choice of traditional and vegetarian dishes on offer. There was a message on the board asking customers to allow 30 minutes for their meal, as it was cooked from locally sourced produce and fresh ingredients. If you need to know anything about the contents of the meal for allergy reasons, you are encouraged to ask.

There were a variety of starters including prawn cocktail, Thai fish cakes and garlic mushrooms, all reasonably priced. Our friends enjoyed their home-made veg-etable soup which was thick and creamy with a choice of plain or garlic croutons sprinkled on top.

We omitted starters and ordered from the main menu. Edward chose roast of the day in a baguette with chips whilst one of our friends chose liver and onions and the other black pudding wrapped in bacon. I chose chicken Kiev on rice. All were delicious and tasty.

There was a special menu for children, which included cowboy pie, chicken bites and fresh slices of haddock. Everything was beautifully presented with a satisfying mix of flavours. We finished our meal with a pot of tea but the children were keen to try a dessert. They had a choice of treacle and lemon pancake, fruit crumble, apple pie with cream, custard or ice cream. They chose the ice cream and loved it.

On a Thursday, a special over-60s weekly lunch offer is £7.95 for two courses and £9.95 for three courses. The menus are tempting and cater for all tastes.

The pub was spotlessly clean and the waitress friendly, especially with children. The toilets are clean and the gent’s has a baby changing corner.

Flowers adorn the patio outside where there are ample tables and chairs for customers.

After we had sat and talked for a while we walked up the hill towards Etal Castle. It fell to James IV’s invading army in 1513 immediately before their catastrophic defeat at nearby Flodden. We were welcomed inside and were surprised to see so many children. They had travelled on the tiny 15-inch gauge steam railway which starts at Heatherslaw station and winds along the river bank ending at Etal Castle, a return journey of 50 minutes.

We continued our walk down the hill towards the River Till, a ‘site of special scientific interest’. The river is fast flowing, beautiful and a great place to sit and enjoy the peace and tranquillity.

The Ford and Etal Estates are one of Northumberland’s hidden gems and support a vibrant tourist economy. They are perfect for anyone who loves horse riding, walking and exploring this beautiful part of Northumberland.

MAUREEN RAPER