There’s one thing pretty much guaranteed in this neck of the woods – winters are going to be a challenge.
Whether it’s the wind whipping off the North Sea, the snow lying deep and crisp and even in the hills, or the freezing temperatures, Northumberland endures some harsh conditions at times.
It is little wonder that tourism is so seasonal, with the majority of visitors flocking in their thousands in the summer months.
Sustaining a year-round business can be a struggle, particularly within the tourism industry.
There is a greater reliance on locals in the winter when the migration back home is complete.
On Holy Island, there is an added problem – the tide. If it weren’t bad enough that the weather can drive people away, businesses have to contend with the ups and downs of sea level.
We discovered this to our cost on a recent trip across the causeway. Having found an eaterie that suited our tastes, we were unable to take full advantage because we had to be off the island by 6pm, ruling out an evening meal.
Instead, we had to make do with lunch and thoughts of what might have been.
Our haven was the Crown and Anchor Inn, a whitewashed jewel next to Lindisfarne Priory and with a stunning view of the castle.
While a biting wind reduced the temperature outside to an uncomfortable level, a roaring real fire inside the public bar kept our shivers at bay, although we still couldn’t quite thaw out enough to remove our coats.
The bar was quite rustic in style, very wooden, with old, worn tables and former church pews as seats.
Nostalgic pictures of islanders adorned the walls and it was generally clean and smartly decorated.
A grand, ornate, golden frame housed an à la carte evening menu that looked imaginative and well-constructed.
We were tempted to check in to the inn for the night just to sample one of the dishes – they sounded delicious.
Beyond the bar was a very comfortable lounge with leather settee and stylish furniture, and beyond that, a small dining area.
I had a pint of Secret Kingdom by Hadrian Border Brewery – it was either that or Tyneside Blonde, admittedly one of my favourite session beers.
However, my choice was equally drinkable, but darker and richer than the Blonde. It had been well kept.
Mrs L ordered her obligatory large red wine.
Our lunch choice extended to just nine dishes – typical pub grub, with a few clues that it was the work of a proficient chef.
Hungry after working up an appetite striding around the island, I plumped for thin and crispy battered haddock ’n’ chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce (£11).
I would not normally choose fish and chips in a pub – that’s what chippies are for and do very well, but I couldn’t resist something from the sea as we were virtually surrounded by it.
Mrs L took on the minute steak, open ciabatta with beef tomato, rocket and fried hen’s egg (£9).
We made our order at the bar and sat back to listen to a commercial radio station being relayed throughout the bar. I would have preferred carefully-selected, relaxing music, but I guess you can’t have everything.
The meals arrived within a few blinks of the eye and both were neatly presented and appealing.
Despite my reservations, the fish and chips were as good as any chippie could produce, with, as described, thin and crispy – and quite pale – batter which encased a decent-sized, fresh fish. The proper hand-cut chips and mushy peas were on a par to make this a thoroughly enjoyable lunch.
Opposite, there were similar mutterings of satisfaction.
A well-cooked steak took centre stage, but fresh rocket and tomato combined tastily with the egg to leave Mrs L wanting more.
Although there were no desserts on the menu, we would have been accommodated had we not been too late with our request and missed the chef.
We agreed that, at some point, when the tide was more favourable, we’d return to sample the evening dishes.
TEMPTING TREATS FOR THE EVENING
The evening menu looks so enticing. Here’s just a flavour: For starters, garlic and chilli tiger prawns, with confit tomatoes on toast (£7); or salt-baked beetroot and goats’ cheese salad, with toasted hazelnuts and kale (£6). For main course, salmon, smoked haddock, fennel and pea pie with a potato gratin top (£13); or partridge breast wrapped in pancetta, with sautéed chestnuts and wild mushrooms (£12). To finish: Chocolate and walnut mille-feuille, with caramel ice-cream (£7). The new owners and their food offering have gone down a storm with islanders, according to one I spoke to.
THE LUNCHTIME MENU DURING OUR VISIT IN FEBRUARY
Thin & crispy battered haddock ’n’ chips, mushy peas & tartare sauce......£11
Viking burger, grilled with Jarlsberg cheese, topped with Norwegian prawns in Marie Rose sauce......£9
House-made fish finger butty on bloomer bread......£7
Minute steak, open ciabatta with beef tomato, rocket and fried hen’s egg......£9
Classic croque monsieur, the best ham and cheese toastie ever......£7
House-made chip butty, with mushy peas......£4
Norwegian prawn and Marie Rose sarnie, open over rocket and toasted bloomer......£7
Smoked salmon and scrambled hen eggs......£6
Red Cheddar and onion sarnie......£5
All with a few house-made chips
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of lunch food......8½
Use of local food......none mentioned on the menu
Value for money......6
Access for disabled......7
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: A great find, we’ll be back.
Food hygiene: The Crown & Anchor has a five-star food hygiene rating from the Food Standards Agency and Northumberland County Council.
Contact: 01289 389215 or http://holyislandcrown.co.uk/