IT’S hard to believe that we are staring winter in the face. But here it is. Next month is December and it’s only just under seven weeks until Christmas.
The nights may be drawing in and the weather inclement, but you can guarantee you will always find a warm welcome at the National Trust.
It’s a common misconception that once the October half-term is over and the children are back at school for that long last haul to the start of the festive season, that the National Trust closes up shop and goes into self-imposed hibernation.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Many North East properties are open until at least mid-December. And Wallington at Cambo in Northumberland, is unique in that its grounds are open 365 days a year, with an honesty box operating over the festive season itself for those who like to blow away the Christmas Day cobwebs with a stroll through the woods and walled garden.
Obviously, The Trust hopes lots of people will don their winter coats, scarves and boots over the coming weeks and be lured to its properties. Weather permitting of course.
Exploring the thousands of acres of woods and countryside in the Trust’s care is a hungry business – even for the most stout hearted. Thankfully top quality, seasonal food is always on the menu.
And this year we are making it more affordable than ever for visitors of all ages to tear themselves away from the comfort of their own homes and the excesses of the season to enjoy a day out with a difference.
Starting today, Cragside is running a special Winter Meal Deal. Available until November 25 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes, you can enjoy a warming winter main course, seasonal pudding and a glass of sherry for just £10 (£5 for under 12s, but minus the alcohol, of course) in the Cragside Tea Rooms.
This is the first week of Cragside’s new winter opening hours, which will see the estate on the edge of Rothbury created by the great Victorian Tyneside industrialist and inventor, Lord Armstrong, opening three days a week until December 16.
There will be one-pot comfort food options aplenty to choose from, including perennial favourite cottage pie, the wonderfully named hodge podge pie, mince cobbler and hearty casseroles, all served with winter vegetables and followed by a host of old-fashioned seasonal desserts like apple crumble and suet pudding.
Then afterwards you can sample some of the Lindisfarne Wines on sale at Cragside alongside other local produce, with free tastings, and take advantage of a 10per cent discount in the shop for gifts and treats.
Cragside is a fantastic day out whatever the time of year with its lakes, one of Europe’s largest rock gardens, forest, adventure play area – including a rhododendron labyrinth – and the chance to explore some of the greatest scientific innovations of the Victorian age.
Cragside’s Christmas meals have been a popular festive offering for a number of years now. And between November 30-December 16, the property will again be hosting them on Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes with either a two or three-course option including tea or coffee.
At £19.50 for two courses and £22.50 for three, they represent great value for money. Children can meet Santa and get a free gift too. Pre-booking is essential, however.
Traditional turkey with all the trimmings and Christmas pudding are, of course, firmly at the heart of the menu, which as far as possible is sourced from local suppliers.
But it recognises that not everyone is a fan of turkey and pudding, with a mouth-watering selection of other festive dishes to choose from such as warm Blagdon Blue cheesecake, pork Wellington on a bed of Savoy cabbage and passion fruit panacotta with caramelised clementine.
Wallington and Gibside will be laying on festive feasts accompanied by seasonal cheer in December.
Catering staff at the properties have been working hard to bring diners a tempting selection of festive fare set against what must rank as some of the finest culinary backdrops anywhere.
But it’s not just in the dining room that the National Trust is making a big seasonal effort. You can tantalise your tastebuds in other ways too in the run-up to Christmas.
Gibside now hosts twice monthly food and craft markets. Held on the first and third Saturday of every month between 10am-3pm, the free to attend farmers’ market has built up a reputation for the seasonal and local foods and high quality crafts it offers.
There will be an extra special Festive Food and Craft Market on December 1 with even more stalls laden with tasty seasonal foods and high quality Christmas gifts. And Gibside will be laying on mulled wine and live music too.
To find out more go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/~ local-to-you/north-east/ follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/NorthEastNT or Twitter: @NorthEastNT
Cragside, Rothbury, Northumberland, NE65 7PX, 01669 620333 ext 7, www.nationaltrust.org/cragside; Twitter: @NTCragside; Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cragside
The Winter Meal Deal must be pre-booked and costs £10 (£5 for under-12s) and is available Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes. To book either call the National Trust booking office on 08442 491 895 or go online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside. A customer booking fee of 5pc applies. Normal admission charges apply.
Cragside’s Christmas lunches cost £19.50 for two courses and £22.50 for three (children £11.25 and £9.75 respectively). Winter admission charges apply. Sittings at noon, 12:30pm, 2pm and 2:30pm. To book call the National Trust booking office on 08442 491 895 or go online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside. A customer booking fee of 5pc applies.
Wallington and Gibside will be laying on festive feasts accompanied by seasonal cheer in December
RECIPE: Cottage pie
2lb (990g) diced shin beef, shoulder of pork and lamb
8oz (225g) sliced onion
8oz (225g) sliced carrot
8oz (225g) diced turnip
4 sticks celery
1 ½ pints stock
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 tablespoons pearl barley
Fresh chopped herbs- rosemary, thyme and sage
1lb (450g) sliced potatoes
2oz (50g) grated Northumbrian Cheviot cheese
Season to taste with salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 160C/ 325F/gas mark 3.
In a pan brown the meat and transfer to a casserole dish. Fry off the onions and carrots. Stir in the flour then gradually add the hot stock.
Pour into the casserole dish, add the pearl barley and the herbs and season to taste.
Arrange the potato slices on top, cover with the lid, and cook for 90 minutes.
Remove the lid, sprinkle with the cheese and cook for a further 30 minutes until golden brown.
Serve with curly kale or spiced red cabbage.