This is an unusual Eating Out – it’s more about the place than the food.
And there are several reasons for that – not least that our lunchtime sandwich filled us up and we ran out of time to pop back to try the sweet selection.
It was the day after the longest of the year.
As the sun was shining, the air was warm and the nights were about to start drawing in, albeit slowly, we decided to make the most of it and ventured north.
It is scary that neither of us had visited the uber-haunted Chillingham Castle despite decades of living within striking distance.
I guess that old adage applies – you never really appreciate everything that’s on your doorstep.
The castle doesn’t open until noon, so we had a bit of time to kill to seek the white, noble, wild cattle of Chillingham. We drove through the village, past the quaint church and up the leafy lane to park, before a short walk across a field or two to a gift shop and small exhibition, from where we could see the famous beasts, so decided not to go on the organised tour.
Instead we headed back to the castle just in time for opening.
The 12th century stronghold, which became a fully fortified castle in 1344, is a magnificent sight.
Down the years, it has been visited by royalty, including King Henry III in 1245, as well as Edward I and James I, while Charles I stayed for three nights just before he was imprisoned.
Hunting drew King Edward VIII to Chillingham, and members of today’s Royal family have also visited.
So we were keeping exalted company as we rocked up.
Once inside, there was a certain chill in the air, which had more to do with the extremely thick walls than any spooky goings on.
Those same walls block any wi-fi or mobile phone signal, so it was a case of back to face-to-face conversation – now there’s a novelty!
Our radar had zeroed in on the Medieval Castle Tea Room, which, according to the venue’s website, can be accessed free of charge, even if you are not visiting the castle.
We had planned on scouting around the rest of the ancient building, so paid the £9.50 entrance fee.
Across an atmospheric courtyard enclosed by the imposing structure several storeys high was a spectacular café. It was like walking into a time machine – you are immediately propelled back to Tudor times.
Hunting trophies, in the form of antlers, adorned the stone walls, along with items of armour, weapons, heraldic banners and old paintings.
And you can just imagine minstrels playing in the gallery high above the diners.
A huge, roaring log fire was doing its utmost to take the aforementioned chill off the room, but it would have to graft hard to warm a room which soared to a beamed ceiling at least 20 feet away.
Food has to be ordered at the counter, where as array of cakes, scones greet you in a glowing cabinet.
The rest of the menu is a mixture of homemade standards – soup, a selection of fresh artisan bread, sandwiches, toasties and quiche.
Drinks included Northumberland Tea (£1.70), Herbal Tea Pigs (£2), coffee (£2), squash (50p), hot chocolate (£2), canned drinks (£1.50) and bottled water (£1).
Mrs L took on the bacon and brie sandwich, with redcurrant jelly (£5.75) and a pot of the Northumberland Tea, while I chose a sausage sandwich and coffee. We took our seats and partook in some of that face-to-face conversation malarky!
Luckily, the wait wasn’t lengthy and we were soon tucking into our brunch.
Both sandwiches were made from very thick slices of white bread and were accompanied by a neatly arranged, fresh salad, made up of mixed lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and a lovely slice of orange, some crisps.
The whole experience was delightful and the chunky sarnies set us up nicely for our journey back in time round the eclectic collection of random exhibits in the castle rooms, the torture chamber, the ornate formal garden and the woodland walks and lakes.
AN ADVENTURE FOR CHILDREN TOO
Children are certainly not forgotten at Chilligham’s café.
In fact, they are treated to their own lunch box – ham or cheese sandwich, crisps, chocolate bar and juice, all for £4.
They will also enjoy the history and the tales of torture and ghosts.
The big roaring fire is a real treat, most welcome even in the height of summer.
The service was convivial and efficient. You can certainly immerse yourself in the atmosphere and pretend to be surrounded by Tudor courtiers in their flowing costumes.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Served with bread & butter......£4.95
Bacon, brie & redcurrant jelly......£5.75
Sausage, crispy onion, mustard......£5.75
Ham, tuna mayonnaise or cheese & tomato......£4.50
Cheese & ham, tuna melt, cheese & onion......£5.50
All above (sandwiches, toasties and quiche) served with crisps & salad
Cheese, fruit or cherry scones......£1.50
Star ratings (Out of 10)
Quality of food......8
Use of local food......8
Value for money......8
Access for disabled......very difficult
Verdict: A historic experience not to be missed.
Contact: 01668 2153598 or http://chillingham-castle.com/