Think about the dream vacation that the pandemic denied you this summer. Think of this long golden beach and the shimmering and shimmering surf, just minutes from your elegant hotel and its extremely chic restaurant.
Good news, you don’t have to dream about it. It’s up to you to take it, if in a rather unexpected place. Northumberland.
Some readers are already familiar with the charms of England’s northernmost county, too often overlooked. They may actually cherish his secret and despise me sharing it here. However, too many of us have not given it the attention it deserves for too long. I grew up just over an hour from Carlisle, but only discovered its wonders decades later, on a trip in June.
The Whittling House, in the village of Alnmouth, is a short scenic drive to the coast from Newcastle
Whittling House is called a restaurant with ten rooms – and James says it’s right to focus on the food
While most of the rest of England wallowed in an unusual and relentless monsoon, my few days in Northumberland were incredibly sunny. In such conditions it is as great a place that I have never visited in our beautiful nation, and at the top of my list now for new adventures.
I have established my base at a brand new boutique hotel, The Whittling House, in the village of Alnmouth, a short drive from the Newcastle coast. It first opened a few brief days between the closings of last fall, but is now back with open arms, doubly eager to welcome you. Boutique hotel might not be the best term: it already conjures up something airbrushed, airless, and primitive that The Whittling House coldly and confidently eschews.
It calls itself a restaurant with ten rooms, and while the rooms – which we’ll get to in a moment – are gorgeous, it’s fair to emphasize the food.
In confinement, we all dreamed of a first-class meal that we didn’t have to cook on our own. Whittling House Chef Dan Duggan doesn’t just fill that prospect out, he sprinkles a generous amount of butterscotch for good measure. I could have laughed at every delicious prospect on her menu. Finally, I chose the twice cooked Northumbrian cheese soufflé, still sizzling in its pan and spicy on the tongue with its dusting of sea salt and chives, then a large piece of halibut bathed in about twenty mussels and Soft, unsalted capers in a lagoon of sumptuous white butter.
You’ll be hard pressed to find anything nationwide to break free from 18 months of familiar recipes and take out food so quickly. It’s not just a destination dinner: it’s food as therapy.
James says his room was “furnished with love and luxury” with “an extravagant armchair that felt like it had been upholstered with the most cuddly poodle”
The Whittling House seemed remarkably secure and flawless for a new hotel, writes James
Local sourcing – from the menu to the furnishings – is a particular point of pride for Manager Lottie Haylock and her team.
I hadn’t planned on dessert, but I heard the couple next to me, back for the second night in a row, order what they called “the best sticky caramel pudding ever.” How to resist such a proposal? And indeed, they were right, mainly because of the aforementioned butterscotch strewn over the black molasses sponge. Any sticky caramel pudding that now comes without it will look completely naked.
Touches like this really define The Whittling House, which seemed remarkably self-assured and flawless for a new hotel. My sumptuous bedroom was furnished with so much love and luxury: the heavy, richly embroidered curtains; the range of designer lamps that I wanted to pinch; the extravagant chair that felt like it had been covered with the cuddest poodle (rest assured, it wasn’t); most striking of all, the range of eclectic and stylish prints illuminating every wall, mostly sourced from the magnificent Old School Gallery just up the road.
Indeed, local sourcing – from the menu to the furnishings – is a particular point of pride for Director Lottie Haylock and her team, themselves part of the charm of The Whittling House. Because indeed, this is another advantage of visiting Northumberland: the locals are so cheerful and welcoming. They are so proud of their country and are so happy to share its treasures with you.
“I could have laughed at every delicious prospect on the menu,” James says of his dining experience at The Whittling House
Alnmouth is bordered on one side by the River Aln and the sea on the other – and full of small boutique shops
James was hosted by The Whittling House, 24-25 Northumberland St, Alnmouth, Alnwick, NE66 2RA. Rooms cost from £ 140. Visit thewhittlinghouse.co.uk, call +44 (0) 1665 46300 or email [email protected]
Alnmouth is a treasure in itself: an intimate haven, bordered on one side by the River Aln and the sea on the other. A short stroll down the main drag to small, boutique shops (including one of those prized English post offices that sells everything in the world including great local beers) and, in a minute, a footpath through the dunes grassy area invites you to the most beautiful sandy beach. Besides, apart from a few smiling walkers, I had everything going for me.
It turns out that there are many more beaches like this stretching for thirty miles all the way to the Scottish border. I especially recommend the deep, wide and uncrowded stretches of Craster, Budle Bay and Longhoughton. The latter is found strangely via a farm where they ask for a pound in their honesty crate to roam their land. Best book I’ve spent all year.
One day, I took a boat to the Farne Islands to see the magnificent bird fauna that congregates there: it is a bit like an avian Vegas with apparently billions of murres and puffins ignoring any distancing label. social and clearly having fun. I also visited several of the county’s iconic coastal castles: Lindisfarne (the famous), Bamburgh (the resplendent) and Dunstanburgh (the ruined) – there are around 70 more to explore.
The pandemic may have drastically reduced what we can do this year, but you’ll feel enlarged, lively and refreshed, as I was, with a getaway to Northumberland and The Whittling House.