Perhaps country pubs could look south for inspiration

The Black Bull at Lowick
The Black Bull at Lowick

The news in this paper that the Black Bull at Lowick might soon, quite literally, bite the dust after 300 years of trading prompts me to wonder how many more traditional pubs in Northumberland could be facing the same end.

I know many are struggling. In the Black Bull’s case, the owners say it is commercially unviable, mainly because it is on the periphery of the tourist area and therefore it would be better to knock it down for new housing.

If I were 10 years younger, I wouldn’t mind having a go with a traditional country pub. The time is right to take one by the scruff of the neck, using a dozen or so models doing very nicely in the Cotswolds.

Now I know Northumberland is a far cry from the chocolate-box, wealthy environs of the heart of old England. The thing is many of their ancient pubs were going through similar problems and thanks to some innovative and out-of-the-box thinking by new owners and talented chefs, they are laughing all the way to their banks.

In short, they have turned them into chic and serious places to stay and eat. Old beams and flagged floors have been brought back to life and pukka open kitchens create a special ambience which diners seem to have taken to their hearts.

Young, pleasant and smartly dressed waiters bring good and uncomplicated food straight from the stove. Before your very eyes, chefs cook meals with seasonal and, wherever they can, local ingredients. Old English pies and plenty of game are on the menu, along with battered fish and steaks from a charcoal oven. Prices are reasonable too, especially for the Cotswolds.

The Wild Rabbit at Kingham is a good example. After months of renovation, costing a cool £1.5million, it opened last September to great acclaim. The new owner is Carole Bamford, wife of the JCB magnate Anthony Bamford, and owner of the mind-blowing Daylesford Organic deli and spa just a few miles away.

Head chef and Gavroche-trained Adam Caisely steers an organic menu offering such delights as potted rabbit (£7.50) and main courses such as roast partridge (£21), all nicely presented and delicious.

l Keith and Lynne Allan are travel and food writers. They also run the Restoration Coffee Shop and Parlour Kitchen with an AGA cooker, as part of their country concept store at the Old Dairy in Ford. They specialise in artisan roast coffee and freshly-baked scones and cakes and they make a range of Lady Waterford’s jams and marmalades. Open Wednesday–Sunday, 11am–5pm. Call 01890 820325/01289 302658. Website:

theolddairyinford.co.uk.