About 6 years ago my husband and I, together with a group of similarly foolish people from church, completed a 250 mile bike ride around Northumberland over the course of five days. The route took us from our starting point in Whitburn, along the Tyne valley to Once Brewed, north east to Berwick (Berwick! That is actually Scotland, in footballing terms!), then joined the Coasts and Castles route back south. Day three took us from Alwinton to Berwick (Berwick! I still can’t believe I cycled to Berwick) via Ingram, Ford and Etal, Norham and other Northumbrian gems. For the most part, it was hard, gruelling work. But the highlights, when they came, were wonderful, and often unexpected. One of these was when we happened upon Doddington Farm near Wooler. On the lane outside the farm was a chest freezer filled with cartons of Doddinton Dairy Ice Cream. Next to it was an honesty box. Now any ice cream tastes good at the best of times. But when you have spent two and a half days on a bike, cursing every incline of every hill and getting blisters in unmentionable places, then this ice cream was beyond delicious, an elixir of the Gods, a miraculous nectar from heaven itself.
Since then Doddington Dairy, which also makes award winning cheese, has established itself as luminary on the North East food scene, and so it was fitting that its stall was one of the first ones we came across this weekend at the Tynemouth Food Festival. Tynemouth is a good place for a food festival, for a number of reasons. Every day the North Sea’s fish and seafood are landed just a short way away in North Shields. The village itself sustains a number of delis, cafes, restaurants and speciality food shops, and there are a couple of beaches nearby to power walk along afterwards and burn off the all the excesses that a food festival entails. And although this was the inaugural festival, it did not have the feeling of tentativeness or hesitancy that you might expect from a new event. It was bold and confident, with big names from the region’s restaurants headlining in the demo tent, and a packed programme of other events across the two days.
And what about the food? Cup cakes, chocolates, spicy condiments and exotic meats were all on offer (crocodile, anyone?) but when it came to putting our money where our mouths were, we opted for succulent lamb and beef burgers from the Northumbrian Farmhouse stall. At the Doddington stall our tastebuds were challenged by the prospect of thyme ice cream. Now I like my thyme with rosemary on a nice piece of roast lamb, but in ice cream? I was sceptical, but it worked. In the interests of balance, and because a savoury ice cream must surely require a sweet course to follow, I also had to sample the blackberry and gin sorbet, which was as amazingly zingy as it sounds. We also saw a cooking demonstration from Troy Terrington, head chef at the inimitable Blackfriars restaurant in Newcastle, home of the UK’s oldest dining room. Lamb belly and artisan sourdough were handed around the audience, whose ‘mmmms’ and ‘oooooohs’ were entirely justified.
On our way back through the village we stopped at the Gareth James chocolate shop. On entering you forget that you are in North Tyneside and instead feel as if you have been transported to a Parisian chocolatiers, where intricately crafted truffles and other chocolaty treats are precisely arranged on cool glossy marble slabs. The cinder toffee cobbles we bought tasted like…well I think I used up all my superlatives describing the bike ride ice cream, but let’s just say they were similarly divine.
After our visit, I tried to think of better ways to spend a Sunday morning than mooching about in a windswept seaside village, chatting to stall holders, seeing their pride in their fantastic local produce and sampling their many gastronomic delights. I struggled. The Tynemouth Food Festival was great. Will it be back again next year? Lets hope so!