8:01 PM 23rd October 2020
The Cookie Jar - Northumberland’s Smart Cookie
The last time I visited Alnwick was in 1982 with my parents. I remember it well - it was a hot August (which we don’t seem to get anymore) and Dexys Midnight Runners were Number 1 with Come on Eileen. Younger readers might not have a clue what I’m on about but the readers who were around in 1982 will recall that the track was the soundtrack of the summer that year.
Alnwick Castle from the Lion Bridge
I had always intended to go back to Northumberland and in particular Alnwick, so much so that I had kept my original Alnwick Mini Guide (price 25p) from 1982. Armed with the mini guide Michael Portillo style I headed back up north, but this time with my partner as we were going to stay at what is probably one of the best new hotels in the county - The Cookie Jar.
As we approached Alnwick off the A1 the first things to notice were that the German supermarket discounters had arrived on the outskirts of Alnwick, they certainly were not there in 1982 along with a huge British owned supermarket.
Another new addition was Barter Books, one of the biggest second hand book stores in the country.
The Percy Tenentry Column, Alnwick
Arriving in the town proper Percy the lion was still standing proudly on top of the Nelson Column like Percy monument, known locally as Farmers Folly - it was erected to honour the Duke of Northumberland who reduced the rents of tenants during the agricultural depression. The steel railings around the base of the column were new additions to me, whether they are there to protect the column or to safeguard visitors if Percy the lion decides to jump down, is another question!
The only surviving gateway to the town, the Hotspur Tower was just exactly as I remembered it with the huge flowerbeds at the base welcoming everyone to the market town of Alnwick.
If there is one thing that has put Alnwick on the map it is the Harry Potter connection with Alnwick Castle, as two of the Potter films were filmed at the castle. Even the charity shops in the town are connected with Potter, selling first edition copies of the Potter books at £25.00 a throw.
We asked the assistant in the shop who had donated them, perhaps it was the author JK Rowling I suggested? “Could well be” she replied with a knowing smile.
One thing though that was definitely not there in 1982 in its present form was The Cookie Jar. The former Convent of Mercy and adjoining buildings have been transformed into a modern, homely and comfortable retreat by owner Debbie Cook (you can see now where the Cookie name came from). The establishment, I don’t like to call it a hotel because it sounds so impersonal and the Cookie Jar certainly is not impersonal, has already won many coveted awards.
The Chapel Suite The Goswick Room
Over eleven stunning rooms, each with their own name from the local area, feature drench showers, bath tubs, antique furniture with a modern twist added, quality bedding, super king beds, settees where you can watch the huge TV, super fast WiFi, tea and coffee making facilities (fresh milk is kept in small bottles in the fridge downstairs) and a jar of Grandma Cook’s Cookies. If you really want to break the biscuit you could opt to stay in The Chapel, the mother of all Superior’s herself. You might even be lucky enough too to get a room that overlooks the castle.
The Balifgate Bistro
Every Friday and Saturday you can dine in the Balifgate Bistro. Designed in pleasing blues you can expect friendly service and excellent home cooked food. The vegetable soup was thick and tasty, whilst mains of Spinach and Sweet Potato Risotto with Parmesan made the journey up the A1 seem even more worthwhile. Even better too when the cheeseboard comes with a tangy Harrogate Blue!
Terrace and garden
There is a terrace too along with the Cookie Jar garden, one of Alnwick’s best kept secrets. It is a sun trap and a retreat in itself. If the weather does not hold there is a cosy lounge too.
If you want to take your dog there are dog kennels at the bottom of the garden, though if there are shooting parties wanting to stay at the hotel they can also house their dogs there.
After we ate a freshly cooked Northumberland breakfast (the Cookie Jar Granola is highly recommended as are the Craster Kippers) we decided to have a look at the castle from across the River Aln “You better take your car, it’s a steep hill you have to walk down” one of the housekeepers helpfully suggested.
Alnwick Castle and the River Aln
Being from Yorkshire we walked it, we have a lot steeper climbs than that in Yorkshire! The view of the castle from across the River Aln hadn’t changed a bit since 1982, as timeless as ever.
The Cookie Jar certainly takes the biscuit for outstanding dining, beautifully designed with attention to detail throughout our stay. Right now more than ever we need some Cookie-Ness in our lives. I have kept the Cookie Jar leaflet as I know we will go back there, but this time a return visit to Alnwick will definitely be sooner rather than later. Without doubt the best small retreat we have stayed at.
The Cookie Jar, 12 Baliffgate, Alnwick NE66 1LU
Telephone 01665 519465
Things to see when in Alnwick:
The Dirty Bottles
The Dirty Bottles pub
If you are in Alnwick you might like to discover The Dirty Bottles pub. The legend has it that two centuries ago, the innkeeper dropped dead whilst interfering with the bottles in the window. His widow declared that anyone who did likewise would suffer the same fate. As a result the “Dirty Bottles” were sealed between two windows and have been untouched ever since.
The pub has had a recent makeover, it attracts a young crowd and is a world away from The Cookie Jar. The food though is good, try the Chicken Supreme with black pudding mash topped with haggis served with Veg.
As we left I could not believe it when Come on Eileen started to play over the PA system!
The Dirty Bottles, 32 Narrowgate, Alnwick NE66 1JG
Telephone 01665 606193
Alnwick Castle and Gardens
The Cascade, Alnwick Gardens
It did not leave too much to the imagination to turn the castle into Hogwarts for the Harry Potter films. The hilltop site still has its stone keep, ramparts and towers. Due to Covid 19 safety measures certain parts are currently closed and only so many visitors are allowed a day into the State Rooms. Potter Fans can have a go though at “Broomstick Training Lessons”.
The separate Alnwick Garden has a huge cascade The individual gardens have a one way system around the photographic site.