From 8 to 14 August 2016 it’s Afternoon Tea Week in the United Kingdom. To mark the occasion I headed into Northumberland and visited St Mary’s Inn at Stannington near Morpeth.
Did the big week make your diary? Maybe you were hungover from IPA Day (7 August)? Or were you simply too focused planning events to mark the concurrent National Allotments Week?
UK Afternoon Tea Week
Of course, you might not have time to squeeze in downtime during Afternoon Tea Week? After all, there’s barely a moment to spare, what with plans to celebrate International Cat Day (8 August), World Lion Day (10 August) and International Left Handers’ Day (13 August).
Fortunately afternoon tea is one of those pleasantries that can be enjoyed at any time of the year. And there’s always time for a cuppa. Remarkably, Britons brew up around 165 million cups of tea every day of the year, according to the Afternoon Tea Week website.
A cup of Earl Grey
After being ushered to a fireside seat in one of the rooms off the main bar I decided to order a cup of Earl Grey. After all, the bergamot-flavoured tea is reputed to have been first blended for a Northumbrian. The family seat of Charles, the second Earl Grey and a former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland, was at Howick Hall, a 35-minute drive further north up the A1 from Morpeth.
St Mary’s Inn, within a neo-Gothic building with a clock tower, also has a history. It opened in its current guise as recently as November 2014. Previously the premises were used as the administrative building for Gateshead’s county asylum, which operated until 1996. As many as 2,000 patients were once cared for at the hospital.
A dog-friendly boozer
As I started tucking into a sarnie I overheard a former nurse talking to a member of the inn’s staff about how much things had changed. She spoke of the spooky noises that echoed down the corridors when she was working nights.
The inn is now an inviting, dog-friendly place to drink and dine. It struck me that the furnishings—such as the stove fireplace, pew-like banquette plus artwork depicting flat-capped mine workers—hinted at times gone by but the room was bright and comfortable.
Coming out of the loo—where black and white photos of the 1962 Blyth Spartans football team are displayed—I was nebbing at the food served on a neighbouring table rather than watching where I was walking.
Momentarily, I thought was about to tread on a pooch. I spotted the figure out of the corner of my eye. Fortunately I was able to take evasive action then noticed it was one of the wire sculptures created by Gary Tiplady. The lifelike floor decorations are placed at various locations around the inn.
An attractively served afternoon tea
The afternoon tea was attractively presented on bespoke wooden boards held within a wrought iron frame. The lower level held a selection of sandwiches, made with white bread, plus three different types of scone. The desserts were on the upper board.
The sandwiches were filled with egg mayonnaise, roast beef and horseradish, tuna mayonnaise, plus ham and pease pudding. For me, the latter was the pick of the bunch due to the thick slice of succulent ham.
An object of scone?
Tucking into the cheddar cheese, spice fruit and blackberry and plain scones prompted a debate on the correct way to pronounce ‘scone’. Should it rhyme with ‘cone’, ‘corn’ or ‘on’? If you have a view why not post a comment? You might help settle that argument.
By the time the discussion subsided both the pot of clotted cream and its neighbour, holding delicious home-style raspberry jam, had been plundered empty.
A rush and sweet surrender
The upper board held four different types of impeccably presented desserts. After munching on the raspberry red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting then devouring a pineapple mint and milk chocolate macaroon I’d satiated my desire for anything sweet.
Before tucking into the lemon balm and mango panacotta or the chocolate and vanilla marshmallow truffle I raised a white serviette in surrender.
Danny, my affable waiter, was kind enough to offer to box it up for me to take home. St Mary’s Inn is, it transpires, does not just welcome dogs, it’s also doggy bag friendly.
Visiting St Mary’s Inn
St Mary’s Inn (tel. +44 1670 293293) is at St Mary’s Park at Stannington near Morpeth in Northumberland. The pub has 11 guestrooms for overnight stays on a bed and breakfast basis. The website displays up-to-date information regarding prices and opening times.