Food: Harrogate – The Royal Baths. Stunning setting with a quality of food to match.

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The Royal Baths Chinese restaurant, Harrogate.

I once reviewed a Chinese restaurant in Blackpool and remember at the time thinking it would be almost impossible to beat. Well, how foolish was I because it has at least been matched!

The Royal Baths Chinese Restaurant has proven that it is possible to eat quality oriental food outside of China, but to find such a gem of an establishment in Harrogate of all places was, quite frankly, remarkable!

The establishment is located in Crescent Road in what was the original Royal Baths building of this spa town. The decor is stunning! Gothic columns, original stained glass, marble flooring, imported authentic Chinese furniture. Just go and have a look, its well worth it even if you don’t eat anything.

Food: The Creagan Inn. A pub with a seaview restaurant on the shores of Loch Creran.

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Creagan Inn is located on the main road so do take care, it can be busy.

Creagan Inn is a delightful pub which sits on the main A828 road between Ballachulish and Oban in the rural coastal area of Appin on the west of Scotland.  It is located in an enviable position on Loch Creran with stunning views across the bay to the hills of Mull in the far distance. The famous Castle Stalker, guarding the entrance to Loch Laich, was the one time home of the Stewarts of Appin and is located around five miles from the Inn.

Originally believed to have been built as a ferryman’s cottage in the 1740s, it is possible that where Loch Creran narrows at this point there may have been a ferry service before the road or even the rail bridge was built.

And, Creagan is a far cry from the days I enjoyed its public bar with the then host Alex Wardlaw on many clay pigeon shoots at Fasnacloich back in the 80s, being completely unrecognisable now, with the exception of the original stone building’s façade.

There’s ample parking with three separate car parks, but I’d urge caution as this is a busy road, particularly in the tourist season, so take care when entering or exiting any of the car parks.

Disabled access is good with ramped or level access throughout the building, as well as a couple of marked disabled bays in one of the car parks.

Inside, it’s basically all open-plan with a mix of table sizes, some of which have lochside views.  There’s also an outdoor dining area, which I can only imagine would be stunning on a summers evening as the sun sets across the Loch Creran.  At the time of our visit it was cold, wet, grey, and in good Scottish parlance, a ‘dreich’ day!

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Sunset on Loch Creran – Copyright: Flickr

Food – Oban: Ee-Usk. Seafood dining at its very best

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Ee-Usk is highly visible with its red roof

Ee-usk is an award-winning seafood restaurant located on the north pier in the seaside town of Oban, on the west coast of Argyll. The name derives from the Gaelic language where ‘iasg’ is the word for fish but is pronounced ee-usk.  Now, I’ll bet few knew that little nugget of information.

The building certainly stands out being housed in a double height glass-fronted, red-roofed building right on the quayside with fantastic views across Oban Bay to Kerrera, Lismore as well as the mountain of Mull on a good day.

It has an unenviable list of suppliers, which includes: Langoustines, courtesy of Jordan Kerr and his brother John who fish the waters and sea lochs surrounding Oban and the nearby islands. Crabs and lobsters are harvested around the rocky coastline of the island of Luing by Neil MacQueen and his family on a daily basis. Neil selects his finest examples for Eeusk and delivers them live to their kitchen. The native blue mussels are farmed in the fresh waters of Loch Leven by James MacLean. James has been supplying mussels to Eeusk for over 14 years. I’m sure you’re getting the idea by now that this is a business which excels at using local produce on its doorstep

We were dining in the evening with a 7pm reservation, made some months earlier, and, I should add at this point, if you’re hoping to get a table in the busier summer months without a reservation, then think again!

Accomm: Harrogate – The Yorkshire Hotel. A fine old building in a great location.

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The Yorkshire Hotel, owned at the time of my visit by the Akkeron hotel group but now run by the HRH Hotel group is an old Victorian style hotel located on Prospect Place right in the heart of Harrogate, which couldn’t be a better location for those visiting this beautiful Yorkshire town. It’s approximately five-minutes walk to the city centre in one direction, and a five-minute walk in the opposite direction to Valley Gardens and the Pump Room. 

My booking was made directly with the hotel reservations unit and was completely fuss-free; in fact, it was one of the easiest bookings I’ve made. Reservations staff were exceptionally helpful with everything that was thrown at them. The hotel has 35 private parking bays located directly outside the front door. Be aware however that these fill up quickly and you may have to use on-street parking instead.

On arrival, check-in was hassle-free and despite an early arrival our room was ready and waiting for us. Located in room 103 on the first floor, a 2-roomed suite was accessed via one of two lifts available. The hotel is disabled friendly, with good open plan areas, wide doors, and all floors accessible. Front of house staff were extremely friendly, offering us maps of the area, marking these with features we asked for, offering ideas for other visits during our stay and providing all relevant information necessary. Please note however that disabled guest using wheelchairs may have to access the hotel via the brasserie/bar in a lane to the rear of the hotel as there are several steps to negotiate at the front doors.

Food – Hexham: The Golden Dragon. Unfortunately, this wasn’t their finest hour!

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The Golden Dragon, nothing special from the outside.

Well, my visit to the Golden Dragon was certainly memorable, but not for the right reasons. A first for me, in that I arrived at 7.00pm and was back in the car at 7.55pm having eaten three courses and had a drink. Given that we could allow 10 minutes wait time for service, that meant we spent 45 minutes eating. I’ve never ever seen such speedy service. Taking into account the tiniest of portion sizes, I was not at all surprised when checking my watch I found we were in and out in less than an hour!

The restaurant is located in the town of Hexham in Northumberland on Battle Hill. This is one of the main streets in the town which is double yellow lined throughout therefore if you are visiting you will have to park elsewhere and walk to this establishment. The restaurant has no private parking.

After eventually finding a parking space on a side street we arrived at the restaurant at 7pm. It is a nondescript little building and unfortunately, the interior was no better. The restaurant was split over two levels and has approximately 20 tables. It really has absolutely no character, being painted in magnolia along with the obligatory Chinese paintings and the plethora of hanging red lanterns. The tables are a mix of blue cotton tablecloths and pink paper ones? As you can see, now we have a mix of pink, red, blue and magnolia as a colour scheme – it’s painful frankly, and I can see no reason why this hasn’t been addressed.

Disabled access is fine off the main street although there is an inner door to negotiate once you are in the main front door. There are dining tables on the lower ground level area next to the bar and ‘reception’ area.

Food – Pathhead: House of Soutra. A great wee cafe located on the A68

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House of Soutra isn’t particularly well signposted on the A68, so be aware.

Travelling home from a recent holiday in Northumberland, I decided to forego the faster, but much more monotonous route of the M6 and A74 (M). And so I found myself on the much more scenic A68 which winds its way from Hexham to Edinburgh.

Having been on the road for a couple of hours I was looking for a place to stop for a cuppa, and, as luck would have it, just at the bottom of Soutra Hill I saw a sign for a café called House of Soutra.

This cafe/restaurant is located off the main road, so you don’t need to detour to reach it – handy if you’re on a tight schedule. It is, as I said, at the foot of Soutra Hill just near Pathhead.  It’s open from 9am to 5pm during the summer season of April until October and 9am to 4pm in the winter months. There’s a large car park with disabled parking also available.

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There’s plenty of space in the car park

The café advertises itself as being mother and baby friendly, and at the time of my visit, there were several mums present with pushchairs.  There are high chairs for little ones plus a super toy corner with kitchen, train set, dolls house, garage, toys for babies and a colouring table. Plenty to keep them entertained while you enjoy your coffee or lunch.

There’s plenty of space and access is disabled friendly with low gradient ramped entry.

The interior is open plan and has ample room to spread out, with several tables providing stunning views over the surrounding fields and distant hill.  If the weather plays ball, then there’s even a nice outdoor seating area.

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You won’t need to worry about space inside either – there’s plenty.

The café offers a selection of teas and coffees, the latter being made by a proper machine, along with a choice of cold drinks located in a chiller cabinet.  Don’t expect the usual culprits of Fanta, Sprite etc – these tend to be much more upmarket bottled thirst quenchers.

It also has an amazing selection of cakes, pies, traybakes and biscuits all of which are homemade. It was also nice to see that they support others too with their use of  Scottish Borders and Lothian’s ingredients being sourced locally.

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Now, that’s what I call a cake display!

If you’re looking for something a little more filling, then hot lunches are available, along with a good selection of sandwiches, flatbreads, paninis, and baked potatoes in addition to a choice of soups.

The friendliness of the staff at the time of my visit was noticeable, as they engaged, and even helped bring drinks to the table for me.

Our choice of the Mars Bar chocolate crispy cake was an inspired one – sticky and gooey, with a good coat of decent chocolate on the top along with some extra wee bits of Mars Bar, but still with a crispness – so moreish!

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It’s a great place to stop off and I fully intend to make a return visit to check out the soups and deli sandwich range.

For more information and a menu, visit the website here.

Food – Northumberland: The Bay Horse Inn. Great home cooked food in a quaint coaching inn.

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The Bay Horse Inn is located on the A68 and is a former coaching inn.

The Bay Horse Inn is a typical olde worlde country coaching inn located on the A68 at West Woodburn near Hexham in Northumberland. It epitomises all that is good about these types of local country public houses, the heart of the community as was evident on the 3 separate occasions I visited.

Their website reads: “The Bay Horse Inn, West Woodburn, is a delightful 18th-century coaching inn built in mellowed sandstone, nestling by a stone bridge over the River Rede in the Cheviot Hills of Northumberland. This is the place to stop on your journey to rest, drink, eat well and relax in a warm friendly, informal atmosphere.” I couldn’t have put it better!

There is plenty of private off-road parking available for diners, those simply stopping off for refreshment, or for those who are staying, as the Inn also offers accommodation. This review will focus on the food and drink as we were staying elsewhere. They are also dog-friendly. Dogs are welcome in the bar and accommodation.

Disabled access is great and from the car park to the front door is on the level. There are no steps to negotiate at the main entry, and internally the open plan areas are all on the level, permitting access to all areas including the toilets.

On first entering you will see the locals seated at the bar, which for some might appear off-putting – what you need to remember is in West Woodburn, the village this Inn is located, it’s one of only two public houses, so it’s their local as well as you’re chosen restaurant. Internally the furnishings and fittings are as one might expect, mahogany beams, lots of old wood, whitewashed walls, pictures of local hunts, horse brasses, plates and assorted bric-a-brac everywhere. Just as it should be for a place like this. Sometimes with this amount of ‘stuff’, you can end up with a dirty and dusty environment. Not so here and it appeared to be well cleaned and looked after.