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From The Borders to The Sea....

Part 2 of my latest trip to the North East. This time it's a foray into the Scottish Borders, plus some delights back in Northumberland....

I never get tired of the view of Bamburgh Castle. Whichever angle you see it from, it is a stunning sight, a constant whatever is changing in the world around it. For the second year in succession, I was staying in the village, at the Victoria Hotel. Beer choice in the village is a bit restricted, although I enjoyed Anarchy Blonde Star at the Lord Crewe, Foxy Blonde from Born in the Borders at the Castle, and tolerated a pint of Alnwick Village Bike at the Victoria itself. Bamburgh, though, is a pleasant village, and only a few minutes walk from the sprawling strand where there is always plenty of space for a wander, a paddle, or simply to look out across the sea to the Farne Islands.

It makes for a good base, and I decided to head north towards the Scottish borders. My original plan was to check out the visitor centre for the afore-mentioned Born in the Borders Brewery, but I decided that maybe Jedburgh was a bit too far. So I decided to pay a visit to Kelso and take it from there. Bamburgh is situated about 5 miles from the A1. It took longer to get out on to this busy stretch of road than to drive along it and take the next left towards Wooler!  Very soon, though, I was on sweeping open roads with hardly a car in sight. In the distance, the Cheviot Hills were looming ever larger. The Percy Arms at Chatton wasn't open when I passed by, I made a note for a possible stop on the way back (I didn't in the end). Fairly soon I was pulling into Wooler, a small town nestling at the edge of the Cheviots. I headed off along the A697 towards Coldstream, but then turned off and headed towards Yetholm, with more open roads and improving views. Being, Northumberland, even the B roads are wide and comfortable to drive.

After a few miles I came to a sign announcing the arrival of the border with Scotland, and not long after that I arrived in Kirk Yetholm, a pleasant village famous for being the finish (or start) of the Pennine Way. Various information boards and fingerposts attest to its status. Almost conjoined is the village of Town Yetholm, where I stopped off at the Plough Hotel for a half of Belhaven 60/- which I hadn't seen for years. Despite now being part of Greene King, Belhaven are still brewing in Dunbar just as they have done since 1719, using their own well and local Scottish barley. The beer was pleasant, mild in character, and the pub was traditionally furnished with great views over the hills from the garden.

Belhaven and views at the Plough, Town Yetholm
The friendly chap from behind the bar bade me a cheery farewell, and I headed off towards Kelso, a small market town situated at the confluence of the rivers Tweed and Teviot, where I found an unexpected and very rare free car park. The town grew up around the Abbey, which originates from 1128. The abbey became very powerful, controlling much of local life, but following the Reformation in the 16th century, its influence declined, it eventually fell into disrepair, and today its ruins are free to enter and look around. It started to rain as I was walking around them, and so after taking a couple of pictures, I went in search of somewhere to shelter(my jacket was in the car!), and found a convenient doorway. Fortunately, the rain soon abated, and I headed back to the large and attractive market square.

I was making for Cobbles, the other pub in the guide didn't open until 3. Or did it? I walked past said pub, Rutherfords, and spotted that the lights were on and the door was open. Nobody was in, but I didn't have long to wait before a guy walked in with a couple. It turned out this was Simon Rutherford, the owner, and he had been showing the couple around. They were from Australia, and there interest arose from the fact that a previous generation of their family had run this former shop in years gone by. 3 years ago, Simon opened it as Scotland's first, and so far, only micropub. It is a smashing place, with Simon's skills as a former graphic designer coming across in the ergonomic layout and decor of what is a pretty small room. There is bench seating opposite the bar, but otherwise it is standing room only. There are 4 beers on draught, all on gravity, kept on a gantry with a hoist system to move the barrels into place. Beers on offer included offerings from Firebrick, Stewarts Brewing, and Knops, and the half of Firebrick I had was very good. People popped in and joined in the ongoing pleasant conversation. I enjoyed chatting to Simon, he is a most engaging chap, and as well as the beer and various pies and nibbles, Rutherfords also sell their own home-distilled spirits. It is a must-visit if you are in the area.

A must-visit: Rutherfords, Kelso
By way of a contrast, Cobbles, just around the corner, doesn't look anything special when you walk in, with clearly a fair focus on food. However, the friendly staff and couple of locals that were in soon won me over. I took a sip of my half of the Pale Armadillo, from Tempest Brewing of Tweedbank, and it was delicious. This was the best beer I had on the entire trip. Sadly, I had to move on, but Kelso was an absolute delight and I hope to get back there before much longer.

Next port of call was Coldstream, situated on the Tweed just before the A698 crosses the Tweed back into England. The town sprawls either side of the main road, which is lined with grey stone buildings that are functional rather than attractive. Here the pub I visited was the Besom, with a very attractive wood-panelled lounge and bar, but with the beer choice restricted to Greene King IPA. I took my half and headed outside to one of the picnic tables, where the blandness of the beer was offset by the flavour from a packet of Pipers' Jalapeno and Dill crisps, the purchase of which had drawn a murmur of approval from the landlord!

I stopped to take some pictures of the Tweed, but then it was back to Bamburgh, where I dropped the car off, had a quick wash and change, and then went to catch the bus into Seahouses. As we passed through North Sunderland, the heavens opened, and there was a torrential downpour which led to me running and sheltering in the Co-op when I landed in Seahouses, where stocks of umbrellas were rapidly depleting. Water was rushing down the street towards the harbour, and it was a good few minutes before it slackened off sufficiently for me to venture out. I needed to check the time of the bus back, and having done that I went down towards the harbour and the Olde Ship Inn, one of my favourite pubs in the world.

The Olde Ship Inn, Seahouses
I managed to get a seat at the bar, and I ordered a pint of The Pale Ale, from a new brewery to me, Rigg and Farrow, from Acklington, near Alnwick. Despite sounding like a brand of paint, it was most pleasant. I have been visiting the Ship on and off for well over 25 years, and it never fails to impress. The main bar is a full of maritime memorabilia and old pictures. When I first visited, the landlord was Alan Glen, a most genial host, but he has now retired and for the past year or two has been run by his son-in-law, David, who used to work behind the bar in those days. The pub has now been in the same family for four generations, and the same unruffled charm and efficiency with which Alan used to run the Ship is still very much in evidence today. There are 10 hand pumps on the bar dispensing cask ales, featuring a mixture of national, regional, and local brewers. There are usually 2 real ciders. There is a full food menu, and if you fancy an overnight stay there are 12 bedrooms, plus further accommodation in nearby former fishermans' cottages. With its position overlooking the harbour and across to the Farne Islands, it really is a special place. If you can get your hands on a copy of the current edition of 'Canny Bevvy', the magazine of the Tyneside and Northumberland branch of CAMRA, there is a spotlight on the Old Ship which will tell you more.

I got the bus back to Bamburgh, and after a couple of pints and some food, I headed up for the night. It had been a busy, but most enjoyable day.

Sadly, the following day, it was time to head home, but I had decided I would stop off at a few places. After a walk down to the beach, packing up, and checking out, I headed to Low Newton-by-the sea, a beautiful spot with a lovely beach and a square overlooking the sea. The Ship Inn, with its own brewery, sits in one corner, but at this time of year it just gets too busy, with the queue for the bar often stretching out of the door. I decided I wouldn't bother queuing up to order some lunch, so instead I went a few miles further inland to the Horse Shoes Inn, in the village of Rennington. This is a lovely old pub in an attractive village. I walked in to a sixties soundtrack and there was the sound of an accompanying whistle. The door to the kitchen opened and the source of the whistling emerged. It was the landlord, who broke from the whistling to give me a cheery welcome. I ordered a half of Hadrian Border Farne Island, and studied the menu. I didn't want much, so I decided to go for the Fish Finger sandwich. It wasn't long before a groaning plate arrived, a huge breadcake with copious battered pieces of fish. It was accompanied by a huge salad and a bowl of homemade coleslaw (or 'slaw' in the modern parlance). So much for a light lunch!

Light lunch, Horseshoes Inn-style
It was delicious but I couldn't finish it all. The Horse Shoes seems to have a good mix of locals and visitors from further afield. Everyone though is made to feel welcome. A neighbour popped in and asked if she could order some chips to take out. The landlady said she would bring them over to her house when they were done. I have been to many countryside pubs over the years that look the part, but then fail on one or more of service, price, quality of beer or food, and general welcome. The Horse Shoes manages to provide all of them in abundance. And with a sixties soundtrack to the proceedings as well!

Top-notch: The Horseshoes Inn, Rennington
So, time to move on. I went to Alnwick to check out the famous Barter Books, which is based in the old railway station. It is an amazing places, I wouldn't like to say how many books they have, and whilst on this occasion I didn't make a purchase, I wouldn't like to rule it out in the future! After an hour or so of browsing, it would have been nice to have a beer at one of the town's pubs, but at 3.30 in the afternoon, none of the GBG pubs were open. So back home it was after an excellent few days in one of my favourite parts of the country. But in the words of the man, I'll be back....

Sunset on Bamburgh Beach


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