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The Twice Brewed Inn (Hexham, Northumberland)

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Address: Bardon Mill / Hexham / NE47 7AN Northumberland

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      03.04.2012 07:29
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      Pleasant bed and breakfast attached to a pub-restaurant near Hadrian's Wall

      Just over a year ago we stayed in a YHA hostel near to Hadrian's Wall in rural Northumberland. We had committed to eating at the hostel in the evening but before dinner we had a couple of drinks at the pub round the corner. We had seen the menu in the pub and thought the food sounded good and we made a mental note to return sometime in the future. As luck would have it Groupon were offering a good deal on a night's bed and breakfast at the 'Twice Brewed Inn' plus a free welcome drink so we bought one without hesitation.

      The 'Twice Brewed Inn' is situated on the Military Road close to the Vindolanda site and about 15 miles from Hexham to the east and seven miles from Haltwistle to the west. In the summer months the Hadrian's Wall bus service stops just round the corner opposite the Northumberland National Park Visitors' Centre but the rest of the year it's a two and a half mile walk from the village of Bardon Mill which lies just below the A69; otherwise it's car access only and fortunately there is plenty of parking space attached to the property.

      As well as a cosy and friendly pub, there's a separate contemporary restaurant and the 20 guest rooms. There's a beer garden to the rear of the building (and therefore away from the noise of the road) and a comfortable lounge between the bar and the beer garden. The 'Twice Brewed Inn' is a community hub; it's not in a village as such but is the nearest pub for a good number of hamlets and small villages. It holds pub quizzes and is one of the venues for the brilliant South Northumberland Film Project which holds a film night once a month in a different rural venue.

      We went straight to the bar on arrival and were directed to the Bed & Breakfast reception. Another couple was being checked in and the staff member doing that took those guests to their room without having acknowledged us. A telephone then rang and another staff member came to reception and took the call, then walked away when he was finished. We looked at each other in surprise at having been ignored again; as it happens that staff must have thought twice because he stopped in his tracks and asked if we were being attended to.

      We were swiftly checked in and told that there were tables available for dinner should we wish to reserve one. I said we'd like to do that immediately and the staff member asked what time we'd like the table for. I told him 7.30 pm and the staff member acknowledged my request but when he picked up the clipboard with the restaurant bookings attached, he offered 6.45 or 7.15pm. Later when we went to eat at 7.15, we found it very odd that more tables were vacant than taken so I'm not sure why our first request could not be granted.

      All of the bedrooms are on the upper floor so this is not an establishment that it suitable for wheelchair users and people who can walk but have mobility problems may find the steep stairs an issue. The first thing that struck me about the corridors was the ill matched selection of framed prints on the walls; Constable's 'Hay Wain' was placed opposite a bold Kandinsky poster and all of the pictures were hanging on a rather dated coral and white anaglypta. There are two long corridors of rooms leading off the landing, one to the right and one to the left. Each one was behind a windowless fire door and broken up with another windowless door. On two occasions we were almost knocked flying when another guest coming in the opposite direction burst through the door; although fire doors with glass would not look great in this type of property, they'd certainly make the place safer.
      Our room was cosy which is polite speak for small. At home we have a super king-size bed so even a king-size seems small to us; this bed was a regular double or maybe a queen and it seemed minuscule.

      The room had a dressing table and chair but was too small to contain a conventional wardrobe; it had, instead, a short hanging rail under what can be described only as a wooden canopy. All the hangers were attached to the rail which annoyed me a lot because I wanted to hang a top in the bathroom so the creases could be steamed out; besides I couldn't really reach them without assistance.

      The other thing I couldn't reach was the plug for the flat screen television. The television was placed high up on the wall and it was just about possible for two people to watch it from the bed but when in sleep mode the television had a strong blue light which I found bothersome in the night. I didn't want to wake Himself to unplug the television at the socket which was just under the ceiling.

      Hot drinks facilities were laid out nicely on a small coffee table. There were jars of coffee and hot chocolate and a small jar of tea-bags. A chrome thermos was provided for milk, all you had to do was ask downstairs for it to be filled. The kettle made the most terrible racket and took ages to boil. Packets of locally made biscuits were a nice touch and almost made up for the noise of the kettle.

      The spotless en suite was not especially tiny which made it all the more irritating that the shower cubicle was so small. It was hardly possible to pick up the bottle of shampoo from the floor of the cubicle without banging one's head on the shower screen.

      Neither of us had a particularly good night's sleep; I had to get up in the night to turn off the radiator and even after that I nearly broke my neck when I tripped over the bedspread we had earlier thrown to the floor. The mattress was not good and creaked whenever either of us tried to turn over. It was also impossible to turn over without the other person being thrown into the middle of the bed. We were a little worried that road noise might keep us from sleeping as our room was at the front of the building but the double glazing proved very effective (that said, the heavier traffic uses the A69 these days and traffic on the Military Road is a lot lighter than it used to be.

      Before dinner we had a couple of drinks in the pub. A full selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic (hot and cold) drinks is available. The pub always keeps a selection of locally made cask ales including a Twice Brewed Bitter, and also offers a surprisingly diverse selection of international bottled beers (surprising for a traditional pub in the sticks). The atmosphere is always friendly in this pub with the clientele comprising a mixture of ages and locals as well as tourists. This is walking country and therefore there are usually a few hiking types. One thing I've found odd is the choice of music played in the pub; things like Metallica seem wrong for the type of pub, although the music is always at a very low volume.

      After our meal (on which more to come) we'd wished we'd eaten in the bar. There's a decent choice of regular meals and a handful of daily specials which are chalked up on a board. When we visited the specials were a beef goulash, a chicken and vegetable casserole, salmon in a dill sauce and a vegetable lasagne. A couple sitting near us ordered curries which smelled delicious.

      We took our meal in the restaurant. The décor is in complete contrast to the pub with laminate floor and voile panels (depicting Leonardo da Vinci's Seven Ages of Man sketch, which I found an odd choice) breaking up the space to make intimate little corners. Most curious of all was a phrase painted on the wall which my GCSE Latin translated more or less as "I cannot hear, I have banana in my ear". The tables were nicely laid (and I really liked the re-use of Bombay Sapphire bottles for bringing water to the table) but the chairs were a bit out of place, looking more suited to a conference hall.

      The starters were rather limited (tomato and basil soup, a meze plate or hummus and pitta bread) and nothing appealed much but we were both ravenous so we ordered the hummus to share. This was fine but even for one it would have been mean and certainly over-priced at a fiver.

      I might have had any of several main courses which included a cod and chorizo stew, steak or Italian meatballs but in the end I chose the pork belly with black pudding and mashed potato, and Himself chose the steak pie with chips and vegetables of the day.

      The pork belly was one of those dishes that make you feel full as soon as you look at it. The piece of pork belly was immense as was the chunk of black pudding. I would gladly have foregone half of the pork belly to have some vegetables. The pork belly was delicious however; the meat fell away effortlessly and there was lots of it. The black pudding was rather stodgy and heavy while the potato was over-worked and more like a puree than a mash.

      Himself did not approve of his pie. I think he was expected in individual pie with a puff pastry crust but got instead a square from a larger pie that had a short crust top. I loved the filling which was meaty and rich but Himself said it wasn't moist enough to suit him. The chips were a mix of overdone and almost raw while the swede was just cooked and the broccoli had lost much of its green colour and was approaching grey.

      Still, it couldn't have been too bad because he ate all of it and then proceeded to look longingly at my plate. I was glad of the help to finish my main course, particularly as I was sitting opposite the dessert board and had a couple of possibilities in mind. I asked whether the spicy bread pudding contained nuts and was told that there was a possibility of traces. Instead I asked what I could have that would be free of nuts and I took up the suggestion of the toffee banana sundae which I would have placed at the end of my list of preferences but I enjoyed it anyway. Even so I wished I'd just gone for the ice cream which is locally made and included flavours such as double ginger.

      Breakfast was, similarly a combination of highs and lows. Cereal and fruit (mandarin segments or grapefruit) were available on a buffet table, and there were self service toasters with a choice of white or brown bread. Then there was a choice of hot breakfast (a vegetarian plate was available) or any of the items from the hot breakfast on toast, or a continental breakfast, though the latter sounded like little more than croissants and preserves. We both had a hot breakfast, with me ordering the meat free version. This one came with mushrooms which were tasteless and leathery, while both plates suffered from tepid baked beans and soggy hash browns.

      We enjoyed our stay but thought on balance that almost £80 a night for two is a tad over-priced. There is free wi-fi throughout the hotel and pub, and there are two terminals in the reception area, for the use of hotel guests. Other than this there are no additional facilities or services that would justify the cost. It's a pleasant enough place but you can get nicer for the money.

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