IT is the season of the Spring Gentian, the ice flower icon of Teesdale, and so on Sunday, we went into the wilds of the upper dale in search of it and also, of course, in search of Sunday lunch.

Fortunately, the two can be easily combined: at Langdon Beck, seven-and-a-half miles out in the wilds from Middleton-in-Teesdale, there is a rocky outcrop only a few hundred yards from the Langdon Beck Hotel. The hotel supports the hungry and the rocky outcrop supports the rare, unique, plants that are a hangover from the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago.

The Northern Echo: The Langdon Beck Hotel

There were also plenty of hangovers in the hotel: just as we arrived, a busload of dalesmen returned from a stag-do in Blackpool where much beer had been consumed – one poor fellow reckoned he’d consumed 20 pints and turned yellow at the prospect of the carvery.

But first, to build up our appetites, we walked down a lane opposite the hotel, through some farm buildings, past a waterfall, over a trickle of a stream and there, behind a dry stone wall, was a hillock, trampled into tiers by generations of sheep feet.


At first glance, there didn’t appear to be much on it but, just as the eyes grow accustomed to the dark and soon pick up all sorts of shapes, so we began focussing on the small plants almost lost beneath the strawy grass. The bird’s eye primrose – just about as precious as the Gentian – was dotted all over, fragile heads of pink – with a bright yellow bird’s eye centre – on slender stalks were everywhere.

The Northern Echo: Bird's eye primrose

Bird's eye primrose

There was some creamy spring sedge, a solitary specimen of violet mountain pansy plus lousewort, milkwort, speedwell, bird’s-foot trefoil and, by the laneside, jangly bells of drooping water avens. How could an empty field be so full?

It was a grey day, so several Gentians were keeping themselves to themselves, tightly furled like umbrellas with only a hint of the gorgeous colour inside.

The Northern Echo: Spring Gentian

Spring Gentian, as spotted in the field near the Langdon Beck Hotel

But four shone out from the hillside, tiny but brilliant blasts of blue. They’d just opened so they were at their deepest, their richest, their most sumptuous – by the time the flowering season is over in early June, they’ll have been bleached by the sun to a Manchester City sort of a colour.

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

But we had spotted them, so, photographs taken, we headed back to the hotel, with the brooding grey outline of Cronkley Fell behind it – proper botanists say it is alive with Gentians this year, but it is a long, long walk away when a carvery is at hand.

The Northern Echo: The Langdon Beck Hotel

The Victorian hotel has a fabulous air of a faded country retreat. Its landlady retired after 17 years last May, and there was concern, certainly among botanists, that it would close. However, new leaseholders have taken over, and they run a restaurant, doing themed curry or American nights, as well as a real local pub with doms and darts teams.

On Sunday, they were doing two carvery sittings, 12 and two, in the dining room and feeding the stag party.

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

There were four joints on the carvery, beef, pork, lamb and turkey, and Theo, my son, and I had a slab of each.

Then there was cabbage, carrots, cauliflower cheese, peas, mushy peas and diced swede, plus roast potatoes and creamy mash. There was every imaginable sauce – apple, mint, cranberry, horseradish, mustard – and stuffing, plus a bowl of Yorkshires. Theo, unable to resist, cheekily added a second pudding as it he passed.

Plus a good gravy.

The Northern Echo: Carvery at the Langdon Beck

The Langdon Beck carvery

We were conservative in the amount we believed we could consume, although the gravy was dribbling off the sides of our plates by the time we got back to our table. One farmery fellow nearby had a pile nearly a foot high – china plates cannot groan, but his was buckling to breaking point. Surely it was no more possible for one human stomach to accommodate so much bulk than it is for it to find room for 20 pints of liquid.

It is fair to say that nothing was undercooked. The roast potatoes, cut too small for my liking, were all crunch with no white fluffiness inside, and the Yorkshires looked too dark, but tasted fine. It is also fair to say, as the slabs of meat piled up, there was not much finesse.

But the meat was great. The knife slid through all of the slabs, and none of it was chewy. Strange to report, the turkey was probably the best. Usually I consider it a dry meat, but here it was light and succulent, particularly amid the oomph of the red meats.

This was good, honest, country fare: the stuff you need after a hard week’s yackering, or a long weekend’s stag-doing, or a many mile botaneering 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 the Langdon Beck

Rhubarb crumble and custard

Our farmery fellow on the nearby table had made light work of his plateful and ordered a rhubarb crumble. All desserts were £4.95, homemade and substantial. Theo really enjoyed his crumble and custard, with plenty of rhubarb at the bottom, and my sticky toffee pudding was thoroughly steeped in syrup but had a hint of fruitiness so it wasn’t cloying. I enjoyed it.

The Northern Echo: Sticky toffee pudding at the Langdon Beck

Sticky toffee pudding

Afterwards, we needed a walk along the beck, where a white-breasted dipper dunked itself, swallows chattered amid the wires overhead while lapwings performed their aerial acrobatics.

The Northern Echo: The photographic exhibition in the field beside the hotel shows a year in the life of a Teesdale

In the paddock beside the hotel is an exhibition of superb photographs (above), by Joanne Coates, that capture a year in the life of a hill farmer. After a week in the wilds, surrounded by snow and sheep and a few flowers, you could see how he would need a proper carvery to set him up for the lonely days ahead.


Langdon Beck Hotel,
DL12 0XP
Tel01833 622267

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Food quality: 7
Surroundings: 7
Service: 8
Value for money: 8

  • The photographic exhibition runs until June 4 by which time the Gentians will be coming to an end. Botanical information taken from the new book, Teesdale’s Special Flora by Margaret E Bradshaw (Natural England)


The Northern Echo: Water aven

A water aven near the Langdon Beck Hotel