St Mary’s Inn opened for business on 1 November 2014 in the former administrative building of St Mary’s Hospital, a couple of miles from Morpeth in Northumberland. In its heyday up to 2,000 patients were treated at the hospital, an asylum that closed in 1996.
You might be tempted to say that any reviewer of this smart bed and breakfast plus gastropub would be mad to pass up an opportunity to pun on the site’s former use?
I visited St Mary’s in May 2015 and was impressed by the food served in the restaurant on the ground floor of a renovated and extended neo-Gothic building. The emphasis is on modern British cuisine made with quality, locally sourced ingredients. Portions are generous and the presentation is good without being pretentious. You can plump for pub grub including pie and mash, fish and chips, as well as grilled meats.
A modern British gastropub
After sharing a portion of potted pork with a delicious tarragon undertone, served alongside pickles and sourdough toast, I looked to the chalkboard specials for my main course. The seared Northumbrian lamb that I ordered was beautifully presented – served with green beans, samphire and gravy – and exquisitely tender. If it’s indicative of the quality of the roast meats served on Sundays then St Mary’s will prove worth stopping by for its three course lunch, costing £21.50.
Impressed by the savoury courses I couldn’t resist the temptation to order and share a sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. If you’re looking for a laid-back place to enjoy a selection of British dishes and savour an impression of local produce then its worthwhile booking a table St Mary’s Inn.
Craft beers and local ales
Staying at the inn gave me an opportunity to sample a couple of the hand-pulled craft beers served at the bar, which stocks more than 40 whiskies and serves around 15 different wines by the glass at any given time. Wylam Brewery, based in the Tyne Valley, bottles St Mary’s Ale for the inn. However, I was drawn to beers from the Anarchy Brew Co, Allendale Brewery and Mordue Brewery – all of which are based in Northumberland and Durham.
The former office building has been converted into a smart, multi-room pub with seven log fires. The parquet flooring and heavy wooden tables give the impression this place has a pedigree beyond the autumn of 2014. On the walls you’ll see framed cartoons, drawn for the pub by David Haldane, whose work appears in the Sunday Times, as well as original paintings by Norman Cornish, depicting the daily life of coalminers. Wire sculptures by Gary Tiplady stand by fireplaces, faithfully depicting the stance of dogs, which, by the way, are welcome in the pub.
St Mary’s Inn is a good addition to the gastronomy scene in north-east England and a cosy base if you’re visiting from further afield.
Rooms at the inn
St Mary’s Inn has 11 sizable guestrooms. Three are categorised as standard and eight as deluxe. All are located on the first floor of the building, which is wheelchair accessible and welcomes dogs in one of the bedrooms.
Kick off your shoes and socks and enjoy the soft feel of the long carpet under your feet as you brew a tea or coffee in the room. Kettles, packets of biscuits and bottled mineral water are provided. You can relax in one of the room’s armchairs with your drink or, if it’s sunny, take it out onto the rooftop courtyard.
The beds, with wrought iron bedsteads, are high yet remarkably comfy. I had a great night’s sleep tucked under the heavy duvet.
Artworks by a Northumbrian artist
My room was modern but decorated with a vintage dresser, chest-of-drawers and wardrobe. The wall opposite the bed held a flat-screen television and seven stylised fish mosaics created by Craster-based artist Julie Smith.
Light, fortunately, was the only thing that flooded the bathroom on the morning – pouring in through the skylight. With grey stonework, a shaving mirror, Villeroy and Boch porcelain and shining Grohe fittings, the room, which had both a bath and rainfall shower had a pleasant, contemporary look. Bottles of Arran Aromatics toiletries were ranged in a wooden box with white facecloths close to a pleasantly scented bergamot and geranium reed diffuser.
Breakfast at St Mary’s
Breakfast is served (from 8.00am to 10.00am on weekdays and until 10.30am on weekends) in an airy, high room with white brickwork and wood ceiling beams. Modern artwork and photos of locally produced foodstuffs adorn the walls.
A buffet is laid out on a table next to the fireplace, on which vintage port boxes and brasses are displayed. You can help yourself to pastries, freshly pressed orange and grapefruit juice, boxed cereals and mineral water. Chopped fruit, cheeses plus ingredients to mix your own muesli are also present.
The inn’s staff serve coffee and tea and take orders for warm dishes, including Craster kippers and a traditional English fry up served with locally made sausages and black pudding. The avocado served on sourdough toast with a poached egg comes highly recommended by the affable manager of St Mary’s Inn, Victor Castro.
A weekend in Northumberland
Staying at St Mary’s Inn places you a five minute drive from Whitehouse Farm Centre (01670 789998; whitehousefarmcentre.co.uk; £9.50 for peak-time adult entry). The 40-acre, family-run farm houses farm animals plus a number of more exotic creatures, including owls, lizards and snakes. It’s aimed at kids but can be fun for inquisitive adults too. Children have opportunities to take tractor rides, race cars indoors, spend time in the soft play den and play outside. You’ll have the chance to feed goats and lambs (if you head here in spring), pet the animals and, if you’re feeling up to it, can even hold a tarantula. Chatting to the centre’s staff also provides insights into sheep farming on Northumberland’s hills.
The inn is located a couple of miles from Morpeth, Northumberland’s county town, where you can shop for provisions for walking and cycling tours or while away time in the smattering cafes and pubs. The chantry building, dating from 1552 and formerly used as a school, hosts the Northumbrian Craft Centre and Morpeth Bagpipe Museum (0773 6865824; morpethbagpipemuseum.org.uk; 9.30am to 5.00pm Monday to Saturday; free to enter). Take a stroll in the town’s Carlisle Park, which holds tennis courts, crown bowling greens and has boats for hire, enabling you to go rowing on the River Wansbeck. The park has a herb garden where you can gain insights into medicinal treatments during medieval times.
If you fancy dining in town then it’s worth knowing that the Morpeth Tandoori (01670 517180; morpethtandoori.co.uk) comes highly recommended by locals. The restaurant, located opposite the Chantry, serves cuisine that it terms as ‘Bengol’ plus a range of Balti style dishes.
Northumberland is peppered with castles dating from the Middle Ages, during which the border region saw intermittent raiding and invasions from Scotland. The county has some of the United Kingdom’s most scenic countryside and draws many visitors to the Roman forts and visitor centres along Hadrian’s Wall. Find out more at Morpeth Tourist Information Centre (01670 623455; visitnorthumberland.com) within the Chantry building.
If you enjoy cycling then ask Victor for details of the 20km and 40km circular routes that start and end at St Mary’s Inn. A group of cyclists departs for rides on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings and welcomes guest riders.
Finding St Mary’s Inn
St Mary’s Inn is at St Mary’s Lane on St Mary’s Park at Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 6BL (01670 293293; stmarysinn.co.uk). Rooms cost between £80 and £140 per night, including breakfast.