“ Address: 4/5 Bridge Street / Warkworth / Northumberland / NE65 0XA „
We are very fortunate. Our flat is near enough to towns and cities to have all of the amenities we could possibly need in close proximity but we also have excellent access to the country and to the coast. This is not something we take for granted, but rather we use just about every available opportunity to enjoy the beaches, the coastline and the inland countryside and villages near to us. One of my favourite day trips is an excursion through the Tyne Tunnel, then due North and, as soon as possible, joining the brown-sign-posted "Coastal Route" to take us to the wonderful small towns, villages, castles and bays along the Northumberland coastline - a designated "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". We don't like to set off too early, it is after all meant to be a day of relaxation and not endurance, and we like to avoid queuing at the Tunnel. So this means that by late morning we are likely to have reached the vicinity of Warkworth. Now this is a very happy coincidence. Warkworth is an attractive village. Dominated by its hilltop castle and with its pretty riverside and rows of terraced Georgian houses, it is a very pleasant place to take a break. The major factor though, is the 'need' to have a late morning coffee and tucked behind a gift shop and accessed via a narrow alleyway is a very pretty country cafe - the Court Yard Cafe. I have been coming to this little venue for years - with my parents or with groups of friends. On this occasion, I visited with my husband on one of our occasional day trips.
A little about Warkworth.
Perhaps Warkworth is most likely to appear in tourist handbooks because of its castle. Records indicate that the village has been around since the eighth century and the castle - in its earliest, probably wooden form - was built four centuries later. The castle has a fascinating history and today it is possible to visit the site which is owned by English Heritage. The castle is perched on top of a hill and looks down on a loop in the River Coquet. Even if historic buildings are not your thing, this place is still worth a visit for the sheer scenic beauty of the site.
Warkworth is one of those villages which merits a stroll for its prettiness alone - a visit here in the spring and summer months when plantpots and hanging baskets are in full bloom is a real treat. Parking is available in Dial Place, also known as the market square, only a couple of minutes drive down the hill from the castle (heading North) and from here I would recommend a wander in the art gallery, antique and gift shops. You can even walk to the beach from the village.
How to get to Warkworth - and the cafe.
The A1068 runs right through the centre of Warkworth. Bridge Street is, in fact, a small inhabited section of the A1068. The A1068 road runs between Alnwick, in the north, to meet up with the A1 and the A19 just south of Cramlington. If you want information about visiting Warkworth from further afield I would recommend 'googling it' as my ability to provide directions is rather limited! (Bear in mind there is a village of the same name in New Zealand, so be sure it is the English Warkworth you are reading about!)
As already mentioned, I would recommend parking in Dial Place which lies just off Bridge Street in the village centre, next to St Lawrence Church. Walk out of Dial Place and turn left onto Bridge Street, you will almost immediately see a small gift/craft shop on the other side of the road - Bridge Street Gifts. You need to cross here and walk through the narrow alleyway which is situated at the side of the gift shop and leads to a courtyard garden. (Do take particular care when crossing, as I always find the cars passing through the village can be in a hurry!) Tables and chairs are arranged around the central fountain and this sheltered spot is a perfect place to sit on a warm day. Across the courtyard you see the doors to the cafe.
A visit to Warkworth isn't only for those with cars. A hourly bus service runs between Newcastle and Alnwick and stops in Warkworth village centre. The bus, number 518, leaves from Newcastle's Haymarket bus station and takes approximately one and a half hours to reach Warkworth. This bus service also calls at Alnwick railway station. Further information can be found on the bus company's website: http://www.arrivabus.co.uk/home.aspx
The cafe itself is quite small. I remember counting five tables with four chairs - or it could have been four tables with five chairs - but roughly seating around twenty people. Our table was near to a window looking out to the courtyard whereas the tables positioned at the opposite side had views of a neat and pretty garden. The atmosphere is that of a converted country barn building and one which is adorned with items of crafts and gifts (available for sale) but without a contrived or forced rustic ambience. I have always visited at times when the cafe is just opening for the day and usually in low season, so I have never seen the place completely packed. It is a quiet and relaxing place and the staff have always seemed very happy to chat with the customers.
The fare on offer here is quite typical English country tea shop stuff - with a nod to local tradition and also making use of local suppliers. Cakes and scones are on display in a glass cabinet and a printed menu lists all other available snacks, sandwiches, light meals and drinks. Without exception, it has been late morning when I have visited this cafe so I only have personal experience of the lighter items on the menu - the scones, the cakes, toasted teacake or the "toasties".
On our most recent visit, knowing that we would be having a very late and more substantial lunch, I chose a cheese scone and a filter coffee. The scone was warm enough to make the butter melt but not too hot - it was lovely. The filter coffee was just right - refreshing and with enough of a caffeine boost but still quite mellow. The refill was most welcome. I noticed that decaffeinated coffee was also available along with a selection of Italian style coffees - cappucino, latte, for example. My other half spent quite a while eyeing-up the cakes and settled for a quite generous slice of a fruit and cherry cake - which was declared to be delicious. I had to pick at it of course - purely in the pursuit of research - and it certainly had a 'home-baked' quality about it. My husband is becoming quite fond of drinking tea (but only in Britain as "no-one else can make it properly") and he enjoyed a pot of "normal" tea. Assam and Earl Grey is also available in addition to a choice of infusions - chamomile and peppermint among others. The cafe serves teas supplied by the local tea firm 'Ringtons', a family-run company founded in 1907. I like Rington's products (I'll write about them in more detail another time!) and I do like to know that restaurants and cafes use local suppliers. You can also order hot chocolate - with or without marshmallows - and I can imagine how welcome that would be on a chillier Northumbrian day! The hot drinks range in price from £1.40 to £1.95.
For the warmer days a selection of cold drinks is available, including ginger beer and elderflower presse from the 'Belvoir' organic range. Either of those options would do for me on a hot day! These organic drinks are £1.85 while the other choices - fruit juice, milk, mineral water and tinned drinks are 90p.
For a savoury snack/light lunch you can choose from a list of "toasties" - toasted sandwiches in a choice of bread and served with salad and crisps. The fillings are of the cheese/onion/tomato/ham/tuna varieties - and combinations thereof. These are priced at a fairly modest £3.85. For a slightly more adventurous filling, toasted paninis come with a choice of two fillings - bacon, brie, tomato and chilli chutney or goats cheese, roasted peppers and caramelised onion chutney. Coming back to try one of these paninis is on my "to do" list for this summer. They also come with crisps and salad and are priced at £4.95.
Cold sandwich rolls are also on the menu for £3.85 with choices including ham or cheese with various accompaniments, tuna mayo, chicken mayo, egg mayo or corned beef mayo. Hot bacon or sausage buns are offered at the same price. The soup of the day served with a bread roll might be a good choice on a colder day. (£3.40) Quiche and salad is also available for £3.95.
I spotted one of those nostalgic-looking potato ovens in the counter area and the smell coming from it was very tempting. The jacket potatoes come with hot or cold fillings (£4.65 or £4.40 respectively) which include fairly standard varieties - chilli con carne, tuna mayo, chicken mayo, corned beef mayo, cheese, beans.
Turning to the selection of bakery items - the cakes on display did look very appealing. Cup cakes, brownies, flapjacks and cutting cakes are modestly priced as are the selection of scones. The menu describes the cakes as "quality cakes from local bakers in the region". We were pleased with the quality of the items we tried. If you call in on an afternoon you may be in the mood for a cream tea - a scone with jam and cream and a pot of tea or a cup of coffee. At £3.45 it wouldn't break the bank. Whether you are a local or a visitor to Northumberland, you may like to try a Singin' Hinnie, a traditional North East delicacy, a griddle-cooked fruited scone which is served with butter. The menu states that the Singin' Hinnie serving will suffice for two people (£1.85).
I wondered how easy it would be for wheelchair users to visit this cafe. I had imagined the alley too narrow and the single toilet possibly on the small side to take a wheelchair. I asked the staff about this. Apparently people do come in to the courtyard with wheelchairs - the alley does not appear to pose a problem. If the weather is not so good, then the staff will open up both leaves of the double door and a customer using a wheelchair can access the indoor area of the cafe too. The toilet - which I would describe as basic but very clean - has a wide door which opens outwards. There were no specifically designed grab rails or back supports - so I wondered if this could pose a challenge for people with major disabilities. I was told, however that customers with mobility impairment are able to use the facilities.
Opening times and contact details.
The cafe is open 11am to 4pm from Friday through to Tuesday. It is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The Court Yard Cafe, 4/5 Bridge Street, Warkworth, Northumberland, NE65 0XA Tel: 01665 711444.
This cafe is positioned in a lovely spot - extremely restful and relaxing. The menu offers traditional English country tea shop fare with a few up-to-date additions. It serves good quality, appetising and good value food and drinks and in a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
If there is just one small thing I would change it would be the toilet. I like to have spacious and very well appointed toilet/wash-room facilities in restaurants and cafes but I have to acknowledge that this would be difficult to achieve in such an old structure. However this very minor negative factor does not detract from the enjoyment of a visit to the cafe.
One other thing I should mention - there is a tree in the courtyard and in the tree you will see a gorilla. Not a live gorilla, you understand, more of a fluffy, cuddly chap. I have absolutely no idea why!
I would recommend a visit to this little hidden gem if you are making a trip to Warkworth or need a coffee break when 'doing' the Northumbrian coastal route. You will find filling and good value food at any time of year but if you just happen to get a warm sunny day you will not want to leave!
(NB: This review appears on other sites under the name of ALM1 or The Travelling Geordie)