Nothing beats a great weekend trip to a country pub for Saturday dinner and a pleasant walk in the countryside the next day.
The Feathers Inn in Hedley on the Hill, Northumberland is one of my favourite country pubs with its stylish cooking and high quality, locally-sourced food… plus an unbeatable location on top of a hillside.
This is everything that a good country pub should be, which perhaps explains why it’s been hoovering up food and drink awards over the last three years.
From Great British Pub and Gastro Pub of the Year to the Good Pub Guide Northumbria Dining Pub of the Year five years running, The Feathers is hard to beat.
It succeeds because it’s a pub with a relaxing, informal atmosphere which serves top-notch cuisine at affordable prices.
The staff are friendly, attentive and knowlegeable without being overbearing.
The atmosphere is rustic, ‘country pub’ style with three smallish dining rooms and a log fire. Intimate but not too overcrowded.
It feels like a country retreat from the hustle and bustle of the world which makes for a remarkably relaxing experience.
Raising a toast
With the weather feeling spring-like, a trip was definitely on the cards this weekend to celebrate Tony’s birthday earlier in the month.
The drive to The Feathers is always an adventure as our camper van zips up a series of steep hills to reach the country inn which commands a hill top site with picturesque views over the Tyne Valley.
Chef Rhian Cradock and his partner Helen Greer are keen on sourcing local produce, which is one of the big attractions of the well-balanced menu at The Feathers.
There’s a great map of food suppliers on the menu which includes the mysteriously-named ‘Andy’, a wild mushroom forager from Newcastle, and the intriguing ‘Fur and Feather Game Foragers’ from Wall near Hexham.
I had visions of them scouring the countryside for the finest mushrooms, deer and game in the dead of night!
Hedley West Riding Farm, Ravensworth Grange Farm and Broomfield Farm provide top quality meat and poultry whilst the delightfully-named Sunny Hill Eggs from Belford provides free-range eggs.
The Feathers is especially proud of its Northumbrian cheeses which are some of the most interesting and distinctive in Britain… and I can strongly recommend its cheese board if you’re not tempted by the excellent puddings!
Also impressive is The Feathers’ wine list which has a strong selection of mid-priced and more expensive bottles from around the world.
We opted for the wine of the week – a South African Barton Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz – a rich and full-bodied red, perfect with steak, lamb and duck dishes.
It’s not a shy, retiring wine – it has an eye-watering 14.5% alcohol – which saw me singing in the aisles of the camper van later in the evening!
The earlier glass of Prosecco didn’t help my sobriety either.
The Feathers always has great beers on hand-pump with the Newcastle Pioneer Bitter from Hadrian Border Brewery and the Mordue Workie Ticket amongst the star attractions.
It’s always a good sign when a pub restaurant has dozens of classic food books stacked around its walls, from Elizabeth David to Fergus Henderson. The Feathers’ menu folded into a foodie paperback book was also a nice touch.
Chef Rhian says his cooking draws on classical and regional French cuisine, and he also takes his inspiration from Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, and Mark Hix.
His love of Mediterranean flavours from Spain, Italy and North Africa also reveals itself in the menu with dishes like duck leg with Spanish sausage and couscous which Tony picked for his main course.
There’s also a retro touch with old-fashioned classics like stews, pies and dumplings alongside contemporary dishes featuring game, meat and poultry.
My main course – a perfectly pink rack of lamb with a Scottish pie, filled with lamb – combined the best of old and new worlds on one plate.
The trouble with The Feathers is that it’s hard to choose from the delicious selection on the menu which had me hovering between a fresh skate dish, the mature rump of Northumbrian beef and the rack of lamb.
My choice was perfect in the end – the rack of lamb was pink and tender, complemented by the light pastry of the Scotch pie and a rich jus. Delicious!
Last time we were here I chose the rose veal, which was excellent, but instantly I regretted not picking the cassoulet of duck or the local roe deer pie when they shot past towards a neighbouring table.
The Feathers excels itself with its starters especially the homemade charcuterie and chicken liver parfait with a mouth-wateringly delicious brioche.
At £8 it’s one of the most expensive starters, but it is so large that I’d recommend sharing this platter between two people.
For this meal Tony picked the brown prawns with toasted bread – sweet and delightful – whilst I opted for the mushroom and duck egg combination. Both clock in at around £14 for the complete dish, a real bargain for such good food.
The duck egg was glorious and worked well with the mix of field mushrooms and more delicate ceps.
Both courses were really nicely presented and a decent size. I felt full but not overfaced, which is always a good thing when you’re drinking a fair amount of wine or beer with the meal.
The desserts looked great – simply plated but immaculately prepared – but we never quite made it to the end of the menu as the main course portions were so generous.
On the next table someone muttered about their gingerbread dessert being a little dry, but the rest of the group poured praise over their puddings. One day I’ll save enough space to have one myself!
At the end of the night we headed back over the car park to the camper van where we stayed the night, with the kind permission of the pub owners.
It’s great being able to stagger back and forth between the van and the inn, and avoid having to get an expensive taxi back into Newcastle late at night.
Visiting The Feathers Inn
Directions: Driving from Newcastle take the road west to Prudhoe and continue through Mickley Square on the A695. Immediately before the sign post marked Stocksfield, turn left up the hill and carry on towards Hedley on a winding road that veers left as it nears the peak.
It’s a 20 minute drive from Newcastle upon Tyne to Hedley on the Hill.
The Feathers is open between 12 noon-23:00 daily between Tuesdays-Sundays. Monday opening is 12 noon-14:30. Food is available at lunchtime and in the evening.
The inn is also geared up to running special events. Easter is their busiest weekend, I’m told, when the pub runs a beer and food festival with over 20 real ales, a farmers’ market and the famous Hedley barrel race.
Why not enter your three-strong team in the Hedley race and roll your barrel uphill – you could win several gallons of ale. But if you’ve seen the steep race course, this could prove to be a real challenge!
At Easter The Feathers has traditional events such as egg jarping, a seasonal barbecue and an Easter bonnet competition.
The pub also has its own Leek Club, one of the oldest in the North East of England. The club organises events throughout the year including dominoes, quiz nights, walking trips, and the famous Leek Show in September.
The Feathers is a short drive from the attractive Derwent Reservoir. Why not go for an afternoon walk to work off lunch or, alternatively, stroll around the reservoir before heading up the road for dinner.
The picturesque village of Blanchland is also a stone’s throw away from The Feathers if you fancy a gentle stroll around the historic centre and church.
Both places – when combined with The Feathers – provide the perfect combination of fine food and countryside walks.