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North Sea Scrolls: The Olde Ship Inn, Seahouses, Northumberland

June 23, 2011 7 comments

Last year, when Kate and I spent a weekend in Northumberland, we saw three ships.  One was The Ship at Low Newton-By-The-Sea, a seaside gastro- and brew-pub beloved of Guardianistas; another was The Ship on Holy Island (Lindisfarne), which would have been a satisfactory place to get stranded after the causeway was enveloped by the tide.  The third was The Olde Ship at Seahouses, and we returned to it last weekend.

Bamburgh is a really very beautiful village on the Northumberland coast.  The enormous and largely intact Norman castle stands on a basalt outcrop overlooking an idyllic village cricket green on one side and a beautiful, enormous beach (when the tide’s out) on the other, peering over to the Farne Islands.  We stayed in a hotel in the village and walked the three and a bit miles down the beach south to Seahouses.

Whereas Bamburgh is lovely, it’s clearly a middle class weekender destination: with delis selling locally-produced biltong and local beer, it seems oddly quiet for such a nice place, which suggests it’s entirely populated by well-off holiday-homers and people who work in the hotels.  Seahouses is a more traditional resort, with a working harbour, ice cream parlours, crazy golf and fish and chip shops.  “Grockleised”, as a friend put it, slightly dismissively, but I would say that it has all of the essential components of a fondly-remembered childhood seaside holiday, including the rain.

It was raining by the time we walked into Seahouses, but I didn’t mind at all as I was looking forward to the pub.  The Olde Ship Inn, with its cod-Olde Englishness, is an awful name for a good pub.  It’s been a licensed premises since 1812; which is some time ago but, I would suggest, a while after people stopped spelling “old” with an “e”.

The pub was busy (as it always seems to be) although we got a seat in the corner.  The public bar is full of the most amazing array of nautical tat: lobster pots; gas lamps; mascots; helms; compasses, barometers; fishtanks; flare guns; model ships; photos of salty tars; and a painting of the interior of the pub itself.  Irish theme pubs, with their road signs and bicycles, look positively restrained and minimalist in comparison.

The beer selection is good too.  There was a needlessly comprehensive selection of mainstream cask bitters that would keep your father happy: Black Sheep; Theakston; Old Speckled Hen; Courage Director’s Bitter; Ruddles County.  However they also had a few local beers that were worth trying.  Farne Island Bitter from Hadrian & Border is a solid and refreshing English-hopped pale ale with a good level of bitterness, just right after a walk on the beach. 

Two beers from High House Farm Brewery were interesting: Auld Hemp had a malty, leathery earthiness and Nel’s Best was a mellow blonde. Finally, Hadrian & Border Gladiator Bitter was an amber beer with a slightly salty smokiness to it.  After a few drinks we decided to get the bus back to Bamburgh to avoid the rain, before a hot shower and out again for dinner.  The rest of the night had a Hadrian & Border Tyneside Blonde and a Mordue Workie Ticket in store.

It all added up to a few good drinks of reasonably local beers for a warm, damp June day in the North East, surrounded by the remnants of Vikings, Normans, Anglo-Saxons, fishermen and Grockles.  I like to think that all of them drank a beer and then looked out on the North Sea from this wonderful beach as some light, salty drizzle fell on their faces; all feeling a little more peaceful to be staring at the edge of the world.

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