I think we might have discovered a cosy, go-to bolthole that’s both far from the madding crowd, yet in the heart of a vibrant city.
It’s somewhere that we’re sure to revisit again and again, having spent a lovely, relaxing, recharge-the-batteries weekend there a couple of weeks ago.
Sigh! I guess I shouldn’t really spill the beans lest we can’t get booked in next time, and it’s tempting to keep it quiet, but I suppose the rest of you should also be allowed to enjoy the delights of Durham from the comfort of the Kingslodge Inn.
We drove down with the excitement of a couple of days of freedom ahead, mixed with the trepidation of visiting somewhere new.
Durham isn’t the biggest city but it is certainly one of the most picturesque. And it’s not a million miles away.
By car, the Kingslodge Inn was not hard to find and is clearly signposted. By rail, it looked even easier – a few days later, I spotted our little refuge from the train as it passed over the impressive viaduct just south of the station.
We found the quaint, quintessentially British pub at the end of a quite ordinary residential street – it would not have looked out of place in a rural idyll surrounded by green meadows that sweep down to a crystal-clear stream.
And while it is hemmed in by houses and a block of student accommodation on three sides, at the back is a glorious, wooded vale that offers romantic walks for those in love with the countryside.
Standing under the trees on a chilly winter’s day and listening to a veritable chorus of birds drowning out the distant hum of traffic, it is hard to believe the city centre is just 10 minutes’ stroll away.
Inside, our home for the next couple of days looked more than familiar. As part of the Inn Collection Group, it had all the hallmarks of the popular stable of family hotels, restaurants and pubs.
There was a little bit of the Lindisfarne Inn (Beal), a sprinkle of the new Amble Inn, a dash of the Bamburgh Castle Inn, Seahouses, a slice of the Commissioner’s Quay Inn (Blyth) and a big dollop of the Hog’s Head Inn at Alnwick.
In fact, it was like a cocktail of all the Collection’s nine venues, in look, ambience and welcome, which was as warm as anywhere.
Each has a smart, yet rustic feel, with an eclectic collection of furniture, fabrics and textures. Exposed brickwork in alternating patterns, wooden partitions, luxurious carpets – it is a dreamy, cosy combination that you sink into and forget the troubles of your world.
The group has a tried-and-tested, winning formula that bears repeating. It is combined with wholesome, home-cooked pub grub, comfort food, with the odd surprise, and a decent range of ales, gins and other liquid refreshments.
Our breakfast was a decadent treat - although more on the gastronomic offerings in next week’s paper. The 23-room Kingslodge had all the ingredients for a perfect stay – and, for a city, at reasonable prices. In fact, on our second night, we chose the relaxation and ease of the Inn’s gastronomic offering over the overinflated prices of the myriad restaurants in town.
Our ensuite room was basic but snug, plush but not luxurious. Everything you’d expect to find in a hotel room was there, from tea, coffee, biscuits and kettle, to multi-channel television and refreshing shower.
Yes, we could live like kings (or king and queen) for a couple of nights.
Our view was towards the woods at the back
A picturesque beer garden at the front of the pub will be ideal in warmer climes to come.
Durham is a fabulous city, with a fascinating history dictated largely by its geography, the powerful River Wear looping round the high rocky peninsula where a group of monks from Lindisfarne chose to settle with the body of Saint Cuthbert, in AD 995, building a church there. Cuthbert was famed for his miraculous healing powers.
The magnificent cathedral and Norman castle followed, as did many conflicts and wars.
The city itself, like many retail centres, is suffering a different attack these days – from the internet – and the scars are evident, with some empty shops and plenty of charity and vaping outlets.
Its historical importance, tourism offering and student population gives it a distinct advantage over many destinations.
The extensive, bustling, covered market is a modern miracle in today’s economic climate.
A gentle meander round the riverside walk was just what the stress doctor ordered.
Double rooms (including breakfast) cost from £90, based on two sharing. The rates appear generous compared with nearby venues and there are also plenty of offers available.For details, visit https:\\inncollectiongroup.com