Eating out: Langdon Beck Hotel, surrounded by spring gentians

Fortunately, the two are easy to combine: at Langdon Beck, seven and a half miles in the wilderness from Middleton-in-Teesdale, there is a rocky outcrop just a few hundred yards from the Langdon Beck Hotel. The hotel supports the hungry and the rocky outcrop houses the rare, unique plants that are a remnant of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.

The Northern Echo: The Langdon Beck Hotel

There were plenty of hangovers at the hotel too: just as we arrived a busload of Dalesmen were returning from a bachelorette party in Blackpool where lots of beer had been drunk – one poor chap estimated he’d had 20 pints and was turning yellow at the prospect of the carvery.

But first, to whet our appetites, we walked down an alley opposite the hotel, through some farm buildings, past a waterfall, across a stream bed and there, behind a dry stone wall, was a hill trampled in steps by the feet of generations of sheep’s feet.


At first glance there didn’t seem to be much on it, but as the eyes adjusted to the darkness and soon began to perceive all sorts of shapes, we began to focus on the small plants that were almost lost under the strawy grass. The bird’s-eye primrose—nearly as valuable as the gentian—was mottled all over, delicate pink heads—with a bright yellow bird’s-eye center—on slender stems to be seen everywhere.

The Northern Echo: Birdseye Primrose

bird’s-eye primrose

There were creamy spring sedges, a single specimen of violet pansy, as well as lousewort, milkweed, speedwell, common shamrock and trailside tinkling bells of drooping water avens. How could an empty field be so full?

It was a gray day, so several gentian trees stretched out beneath them, curled up tightly like umbrellas, with just a hint of the beautiful color inside.

The northern echo: spring gentian

Spring Gentians spotted in the field near the Langdon Beck Hotel

But four shone down from the slope, tiny but brilliant blue rays. They’ve only just opened so they were at their deepest, lushest and most lush – by the time flowering is over in early June they will be sun bleached and have taken on a sort of Manchester City colour.

I last visited the hill 15 years ago when it was covered with hundreds of gentians; Maybe I was early this year; perhaps the weather was too grey; maybe it’s just a bad year; perhaps it is symptomatic of their severe decline.

But we’d spotted them, so after taking photos we headed back to the hotel, with the somber gray outlines of Cronkley’s fur behind it – proper botanists say it’s full of gentians this year, but it’s a long, long walk until then from a carvery is available.

The Northern Echo: The Langdon Beck Hotel

The Victorian hotel has the fabulous feel of a faded country mansion. The landlady retired last May after 17 years and there were fears, particularly among botanists, that it would close. However, new tenants have taken over and run a restaurant which hosts themed curry or American nights and a genuine local pub with doms and darts teams.

On Sunday they hosted two carvery sessions, 12 and 2, in the dining room and hosted the bachelorette party.

There were vegetarian options – a leek fondue or a cheese and onion quiche – but we stuck to the meat.

There were four cuts of meat: beef, pork, lamb and turkey, and Theo, my son and I each had a cut.

Then there were cabbage, carrots, cauliflower cheese, peas, mushy peas and diced beets, along with roast potatoes and creamy mash. There was every conceivable sauce – apple, mint, cranberry, horseradish, mustard – and stuffing, plus a bowl of Yorkshires. Theo, who couldn’t resist, cheekily added a second pudding as he passed.

A good sauce with it.

The Northern Echo: Carvery at Langdon Beck

The Carvery at Langdon Beck

We were hesitant about the amount we could eat, although the sauce was already dripping from the edges of our plates by the time we got back to our table. A nearby farmer had a pile nearly a foot high—china plates don’t groan, but his plate was dented to the breaking point. Certainly it was no more possible for a human stomach to hold that much volume than it was for 20 pints of liquid.

It’s fair to say that nothing was undercooked. The roast potatoes, cut too small for my liking, were all crispy with no white fluff inside and the Yorkshires looked too dark but tasted good. It’s also fair to say that there wasn’t much finesse in the accumulation of the cuts of meat.

But the meat was great. The knife went through all the slabs and none of it was tough. Oddly enough, the turkey was probably the best. I usually think of it as a dry meat, but here it was light and juicy, especially amidst the oomph of the red meat.

This was good, honest, country cooking: the stuff one needs after a busy week of chatter, a long weekend at the bachelor party, or a mile-long botanical expedition across Cronkley Fell in search of exquisite members of the Teesdale Assemblage.

All for £12.95.

The Northern Echo: Rhubarb Crumble and Custard at Langdon Beck

Rhubarb crumble and custard

Our farmer at the next table had no problems with his plate and ordered a rhubarb crumble. All desserts were £4.95, homemade and rich. Theo really enjoyed his crumbles and custard with plenty of rhubarb on the bottom, and my sticky toffee pudding was completely dipped in syrup but had a hint of fruitiness so it didn’t taste too sweet. I enjoyed it.

The Northern Echo: Sticky toffee pudding at Langdon Beck

Sticky toffee pudding

We then had to take a walk along the creek where a dipper dived into the water, swallows cackled between the wires overhead and lapwings performed their aerial acrobatics.

The Northern Echo: The photo exhibition in the field next to the hotel depicts a year in the life of a Teesdale

There is an exhibition of excellent photographs in the paddock next to the hotel (above), by Joanne Coates, capturing a year in the life of a mountain farmer. After a week in the wild surrounded by snow, sheep and a few flowers, you could tell he was going to need a proper carvery to set him up for the lonely days ahead.


Langdon Beck Hotel,
DL12 0XP
phone: 01833 622267

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Food quality: 7
Environment: 7
duty: 8
Value for money: 8

  • The photo exhibition runs until June 4th, when the gentians will be over. Botanical information from the new book Teesdale’s Special Flora by Margaret E. Bradshaw (Natural England)


The Northern Echo: Water Raven

A water raven near the Langdon Beck Hotel Eating out: Langdon Beck Hotel, surrounded by spring gentians

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