Holy Island might be the photogenic scene stealer of this Northumbrian blog but it will just need to wait its turn behind two rural gems close to the Scottish border.
The Redesdale Arms is listed as being in Rochester but feels like it is not in anywhere. It’s an example of a bastle (bastille) house, a dwelling fortified to protect against the Border Reivers that plundered the region for several centuries.
Carol Armstrong – a real Border Reiver name that – has had it twelve years and built up a solid trade. She even let me in early to get the precious tick. The beer was Equinox from the First and Last brewery, just down the road in the Guide-listed Bird in Bush at Elsdon. It was a lovely, satisfyingly dry 4.2% pale ale.
Alwinton looks close on the map but the Cheviot hills intervene.
It’s the sort of place that has many more sheep than people, and a bus stop with books.
Just don’t expect many buses as there are only 4 a week. Tuesday and a Thursday are the rush hours.
It’s an endearing hamlet with gorgeous views, even on a wet day.
The Rose and Thistle has been in the same family since 1907, though this year they will have to make do without custom from the annual Border Shepherds Show, another victim of the pandemic.
The show was revived by Willian Dagg, whose spitting image arrived in the bar one day and spooked the locals. And I don’t mean his photo arrived, it was an actual doppelgänger, right down to the mystical torch on his cap.
The beer here was also Equinox and every bit as good as in the Redesdale. Fair play to the local Camra branch for researching such remote pubs. From here and emptiness it was a winding route to join the throngs waiting for the tide to drop low enough to reach Holy Island.
It’s not wholly holy nor wholly an island as there is a causeway. 180 people live there but many more than that passed the old coastguard’s lookout in the hour I was there.
People go there for this.
But I like this even more.
There are a few bars on the island. My records show I had been to the Castle and the Ship so I was surprised the 2020 Good Beer Guide listed not one but two new entries there. Pub tickers had it even tougher in 1898.
The two newbies are immediate neighbours but have little else in common. The Crown and Anchor has a proper old fashioned bar and a proper old fashioned landlord, who told me off for looking at the pictures on the walls and not sitting down at a table. In the best traditions of British hospitality a couple who asked about a food at five past two were sent on their way for their cheek.
Two beers were on, Tyneside Blonde and my choice, Muckle Chuckle, a 4.2% bitter from Muckle Brewery. New to me, they are based near Haltwhistle, a town that lays claim to be the geographical centre of Great Britain.
That was two more than were on next door in the Manor House Hotel. Three empty handpumps looked on forlornly on as the choice was fizz or more fizz. So fizz it was and it didn’t sound like cask was going to return any time soon either.
Like most films based on a true story it took liberties. A somewhat anticlimactic way to finish Northumberland for another year but the others made up for it.