Tasty treats, delicious drinks, sensational smells and more filled the town as Alnwick Food Festival was again hailed a huge success.
With more than 60 traders filling the Market Place, all manner of delicious delights on offer, a visit from celebrity French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, and thousands of visitors filling the town, the tenth event of its kind was a big hit with everyone.
Taking place on Saturday and Sunday the festival, which is arranged to tie in with Local Food Fortnight, and showcases the amazing produce and producers in the county, saw chefs’ demonstrations in the Northumberland Hall, a mini tea festival at Bari Tea and a guerilla kitchen popping up around the place for ad-hoc demos.
And running alongside the event was the eighth Alnwick Beer Festival. And two intimate cookery courses also took place at Alnwick’s Outcook Cookery School, where Jean-Christophe showed how to create delicious French dishes, quickly and easily.
He said: “It was another fabulous event and I loved it. What I liked this year was that there was novelty again. There were new people, new businesses and people looked like they were having a really good time.
“Once again there was no compromise on the quality of the products that traders were selling, the produce is tremendous and the visitors seem to enjoy everything that is on offer.
“And I think that out of all the festivals I do the Saturday night event at Alnwick raised the most amount for charity, which is just superb. It is a well-organised festival and I love coming here. I really enjoyed the courses at Outcook, I think it is great and I would love to franchise the school.”
And it seems the weekend was a bumper one for some of the stallholders. Claire Watson-Laney, from the Northumberland Sausage Company, ran out of sausages by 2pm on Saturday.
“We sold double what we did last year,” she said. “So we went back and spent the night making more sausages for Sunday. It was an amazing weekend. The organisers have done an brilliant job and it is great that people come back to support you because they know you’re going to be here.”
Festival stalwart, Sandy Higson, the Mad Jam Woman, has been to every event so far. She said: “I’ve been here since it started and I always have a good time.”
First-time festival-goer, the Northumbrian Smokehouse, also had a good time. Owner Steve Peart said: “It’s been fantastic. We sold out of some items on Saturday and spent all night smoking more and all morning vacuum-packing. We will definitely come back again, everyone has been really friendly and the atmosphere is fantastic.”
Mark Turnbull, owner of Turnbull’s butchers in Alnwick had two stalls in the Market Place on Saturday, while the shop was open and on Sunday his van was also in the square.
He said: “Once again it has been absolutely fantastic, we did a brilliant trade on both days and it was great to see the town so busy and full of life on a Sunday. In terms of the shop we had a bumper day on Saturday and were 20 per cent up on normal Saturday trading. It’s unreal. The only bad comments have been about parking and traffic.”
Alyson Archer, from Simply Cheesecakes, sold out on Saturday, having to make more for the next day.
“It’s been really good,” she said. “The atmosphere has been brilliant and the public have been fantastic.”
And the Gingerbread Mam, aka Liz Ramshaw, who came back for her second year, was delighted with her sales. She said: “It’s been a real party-like atmosphere which is fantastic. It’s been buzzing and we’ve had a really good weekend. Everyone is so lovely and friendly and the whole event is really well organised.”
“We loved it last year and couldn’t wait to come back, we really look forward to it.”
But there was a mixed response from town traders.
Tommy McKie, who runs the Lunchbox in the Market Place and Copperfields, on Market Street, said: “I was 50 per cent down on last year and a lot of the traders are complaining, it’s all down to the traffic.
“People who want to come in to town will, but others who come on spec and get stuck in traffic will do an about turn and go somewhere else.
“It’s normally the best weekend of the year for me so I’m really disappointed.”
However, Caroline Stewart, who runs Bari Tea, said it was the best year yet for her. The tea shop ran a mini tea festival and launched its new Bari Breakfast Blend tea.
Caroline said: “It went really really well for us and I think it is probably the best year ever. We really enjoyed it and had some really good feedback. Lots of people came down from the Market Place and it seemed really positive. Sometimes here we can feel a little bit detached but now with all the new shops on Narrowgate there is a real pull towards the Castle Quarter.”
Alnwick county councillor Gordon Castle also paid a visit to the event. He said: “It was, as always, a great event and the organisers should be very proud of themselves. I went around the stalls and spoke to people and got a good reception. It was great to see the Market Place a hive of activity, like it should be.”
A special evening with Novelli was also held in the Northumberland Hall on Saturday night with a five-course meal, entertainment and an auction which raised £7,000 to be split between the Stephen Carey Fund, HospiceCare North Northumberland and the food festival. To add to the entertainment, Alf the food festival mascot and Chicken George were also roaming.
Food festival director Karen Larkin said: “The weekend has been a great success.
“It is always a lot of hard work but when everyone enjoys the event, the traders sell out of produce and the Market Place is buzzing, it makes it all worthwhile. It was lovely to see some new faces and some new businesses but equally lovely to see the regulars.
“The highlight of the weekend for me was seeing Gordon Castle walking towards me to ask how things were going.
“It was totally unexpected and I was so pleased to see him on his feet and determined to get back to normal.”