If Lord Howell of Guildford still thinks the North East is desolate, then perhaps he should pay a visit to the charming village of Etal.
It may have a bloody past, with the 1513 Battle of Flodden site nearby and the remains of its castle – built as a defence against Scots raiders – providing a constant reminder of its brutal history, but nowadays this rural gem offers nothing but peace, quiet, tranquillity and beauty.
And The Black Bull is very much apart of this idyllic rural setting.
Just like its surroundings, the building is a truly picture-postcard affair, oozing character, both inside and out.
It is Northumberland’s only thatched pub and its white stone-washed walls only enhance the beauty of this place.
Add to that its pleasant beer garden, which offers spectacular views of Etal Castle, and The Black Bull certainly serves up a fine experience for outside drinkers and al fresco diners.
There are also several car parking spaces at the front of the pub.
The quaint nature of this charming building continues inside, with its exposed beams, stone fireplaces, and nooks and crannies aplenty.
There are also ornaments and memorabilia which reflect the area’s history and heritage – a nice touch.
Perhaps the only thing that would add to the character is a wooden or stone floor – instead of the carpet which is currently there.
The pub is long and narrow, on different levels. The bar straddles the middle.
One of the most quirky things about The Black Bull is its collection of witches, which are dotted around the pub.
It is a tradition which started when the landlady was given one of the dolls by her friends because it reminded them of her mother.
Since then, visitors have brought witches from around the world and these figures are proudly displayed.
The Black Bull also has a pool table and dart board.
The lunchtime menu offers simple, functional pub grub.
It certainly is wide and varied, from scampi and chips, to baked potatoes, baguettes and sandwiches, and a specials’ board.
There is also a separate menu for younger diners, with dishes such as fish or chicken bites, cowboy pie, and burger with chips and beans. All are priced £5.
On the subject of children, there was a baby-changing area in the gents’ toilets.
Ford and Etal’s website says that the pub’s food is made with local produce, although there was no mention of this on the menus we saw, which was a shame.
My partner and I decided to go for three courses but shared the starter and sweet.
To kick-off the meal, we went for black pudding and brie wrapped in bacon with a light batter and orange glaze (£4.85).
It was a fine start to the meal. The batter was indeed light – thankfully – and there was a generous helping inside both parcels.
The brie had melted and was gooey and worked well alongside the black pudding and bacon, which wasn’t too fatty.
For mains, my dining companion went for the meat lasagne (£9.75) which was served with salad garnish, chips and garlic bread.
There was also a goats’ cheese lasagne (£9.50) for non meateaters.
The lasagne was a fair size and the meat was tasty.
Her only complaint was that there was perhaps too much pasta compared to the amount of meat.
The accompanying coleslaw tasted home-made and was delicious.
I went for fish, chips and mushy peas.
Like the lasagne, it was of a good size.
The fish tasted fresh and it wasn’t too greasy.
The batter was light and fluffy, meaning that it wasn’t overpowering and certainly didn’t dominate the taste of the fish.
So far, all okay.
But our final course was a bit of a let down. I was sweet-talked by my partner into sharing the pavlova.
Certainly when it came out, we were both impressed. A sizeable dessert, it was served on a red heart-shaped plate.
And the strawberries were fresh and there was a fair share of them.
But the meringue was rock hard – a disappointment as we both prefer it gooey – and there wasn’t much cream with it.
The service was good, with the staff both attentive and friendly.
JUST PART OF A GREAT DAY OUT
The Black Bull serves evening meals, which is the same as the lunchtime menu.
The pub is open all day in the summer, but visitors should call to check winter opening hours.
The pub is just one aspect of the charming Ford and Etal Estates, which offers a great day out for visitors. After our lunch, we went up to Etal Castle and sat by the River Till. It is a relaxing location and perfect to get away from it all.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Soup of the day, served with crusty bread £4.75
Creamy garlic mushrooms served with crusty bread £4.75
Scampi, served with salad garnish and home-made chips £9.85
Goats cheese lasagne, served with salad, chips and garlic bread £9.75
Roast of the day, served with all the trimmings £9.60
Choice of salads £9.25
Sweet pepper and mushroom stroganoff £9.50
Apple pie or crumble/sticky toffee pudding/chocolate fudge cake, all served with cream, ice-cream or custard each £4.95
OUR RATINGS (out of ten)
Quality of food 7
Vegetarian choice 7
Value for money 7
Children catered for 8
Toilet for disabled No, but was told there is enough space for a wheelchair in the toilets.
Access for disabled 3 (There are a few small steps down into the pub)
OVERALL RATING 7
Verdict: Functional pub grub in a charming setting.
Contact: 01890 820200 or www.ford-and-etal.co.uk