Really get away from it all by escaping to the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an area so remote its star-studded skies have legendary status yet it’s still just an easy three-hour train ride from London. A weekend in wildly beautiful Northumberland offers a better city detox than any spa: think countryside rambles, feasting by the fire and a blissfully patchy mobile signal.
Hidden away near the Derwent Reservoir half an hour from Hadrian’s Wall, the teeny village of Blanchland was once the site of a 12th century abbey, considered suitably secluded to encourage the monks’ devotion to worship. The Grade II-listed stone hotel was the Abbey’s guest house, later owned by the Bishop of Durham, Lord Crewe, before it was finally taken over by the Calcot Collection, known for their luxe Cotswolds’ properties. It’s now a much-loved pitstop for ramblers, local foodies and city dwellers yearning for clean air, with a sign outside promising “cranny craic and top scran, hot brews and muddy shoes”.
Inside, there are flagstone floors, oil paintings, a sculpture made of armour, old church pews and a fireplace so enormous, there’s a rocking chair inside. A jumble of snug public rooms linked by surprise staircases open onto immaculate gardens, which lead to endless patchwork fields and a vast expanse of sky above.
There are 21 rooms made for hunkering down, split between the main building, the old pub across the square and a row of converted cottages around the corner. All are contemporary but just-rustic-enough, with thick wool curtains, stripped wooden floors and a dash of tartan. Some have charming window seats, a telescope for stargazing or a beamed ceiling. Mine is a former miner’s cottage over two floors linked by a spiral staircase, with a clawfoot bath in the bedroom and a log-burner downstairs to warm up on chilly nights. There’s a hot water bottle, a tea tray stocked with chunky mugs and a tea cosy and a stash of local fudge to up the cosy quota.
Come hungry. Meals are hearty, seasonal and always delicious. Start with a full Northumberland breakfast or overnight oats with coconut yoghurt in the airy whitewashed dining room overlooking rolling hills. Afternoon tea is served downstairs in hidden candlelit dining nooks and is unmissable, with huge homemade sausage rolls, slabs of fruit cake and shot glasses of panna cotta. Later, head to the barrel-vaulted Crypt Bar for pre-dinner cocktails, then dine from a short, locally sourced menu that changes daily. Though be warned, the aged parmesan and beer-braised onion tart with parmesan custard may make you want to lick the plate.
Burning off at least some of those calories. There’s cycling, fishing and sailing nearby, but this is a walker’s paradise. The hotel provides maps and wellies, but you only need to turn right out of the front door to reach the windswept wilds of the North Pennine Moors, where there’s nothing but heather, scampering rabbits and gurgling streams for miles.
And after that?
If you’re visiting in winter, a stargazing session is a must. Country park Pow Hill is close by and one of just five designated Dark Sky discovery sites in the Northern Pennines. For a toastier experience, sign up to one of the Lord Crewe Arms’ designated stargazing evenings with fascinating local astronomer Andy Gray. Blankets, hot chocolates and even a warming stew are all provided.
Need to know
Rooms at the Lord Crewe Arms start from £169 per night including breakfast. Book at lordcrewearmsblanchland.co.uk.