Gary Ramsay does dinner and a sleepover at The Lord Crewe Arms, Blanchland
Collins English Dictionary has declared hygge (pronounced hooga) the runner-up UK Word of the Year 2016 after Brexit, presumably because it’s suddenly everywhere.
If you’re not familiar with it, Collins defines it as “a concept originating in Denmark of creating cosy and convivial atmospheres that promote wellbeing”.
There is no English equivalent, but if you consider the warm glow of a wood fire and candlelight, a gathering of friends and family, food and drink, and a peaceful outlook on the world, you have a flavour of it, and the Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland has it in spades.
The village of Blanchland, in the upper Derwent Valley, and I go back a long way. Back in the 1970s when I was in short trousers, it was a Sunday day trip out, and more recently it’s become a rest stop when we’re cycling around Derwent Reservoir. Most importantly, it’s home to The Lord Crewe Arms, which, after a major refurb, has gained a renewed reputation for its excellent food, drink and rooms, and an almost magical atmosphere, borne of its historic walls and an incredibly cosy ambience which is almost tangible – rather like that which you find in lovely old churches and houses inhabited by friendly ghosts and centuries of welcome.
I recommend you have a drink or three in The Crypt – vaulted home of welcoming spirits of more than one kind drenched in a sense of hygge and home to similarly atmospheric craft ales. But when you go, do not, whatever you do, just slump at the bar, lovely as it is, and leave it at that. You must explore the place and all its twists and turns, nooks and crannies, to soak up the atmosphere imbued by a rich 900-year history and the twists and turns which present a series of serendipitous surprises. Downstairs, we wandered into a large room with a huge open fire to find three plump, salt-crust
ed chickens resting by it, while in a little snug a convivial family party was in full swing.
We also discovered that head chef Simon Hicks serves up an excellent menu of exactly what you might hope to find in a 12th Century abbot’s lodge, including steaming bowls of ham,
lamb shoulder and vegetable broth; breaded ox cheeks; marinated stone bass; and salmon cured in the on-site smokehouse. There is sourdough bread drenched in roast chicken butter; veal sirloin; Longhorsley duck with sweet and sour beetroot; and roast rump of lamb with seashore vegetables and hollandaise sauce. After all that,
it would be rude not to try the clementine posset with iced white wine or the warm treacle tart with clotted cream, creating that perfect juxtaposition of sticky heat and creamy coolness.
I imagine the 12th Century abbot’s guests ate well, but nothing like this well, and they could not have slept better than we did in our snug retreat, complete with Roberts radio, fluffy bathrobes and lots of little luxuries including a slab of melt-in-the-mouth fudge and homemade biscuits.
Dawdling over a suitably relaxed breakfast the next morning, we stumbled upon a list of the suppliers whose produce fills the larders here. A who’s-w
ho of food heroes, it includes Weardale Estate game, the excellent Hannan Meats, a
nd Peter’s Plot – the on-site garden, which supplies the kitchen with muddy veg and hen’s eggs. All of this is a perfect fit for the warm atmosphere, the sense of welcome, history, happiness and contentment which I think, in the absence of an English word for it, comes close to the elusive sense of hygge the Scandinavians know so well.
Cosy up and go – but remember, you will eventually have to leave.
The Lord Crewe Arms, The Square, Blanchland, Northumberland, DH8 9SP, tel 01434 677 100, www.lordcrewearmsblanchland.co.uk