Driving directly east from Brampton, we came to the county of Northumberland, most of which is, by English standards, wild and empty, especially the Cheviot Hills, which extend into southern Scotland. The tiny village of Blanchland is located at the southern edge of Northumberland on the border of County Durham and has a population of around 135 people. Blanchland Abbey was founded in 1165 for a white-robed order of monks, who had come to this remote corner of northern England to live in prayer and contemplation. Today the former abbot’s lodge is the Lord Crewe Arms, a 21-room hotel that also incorporates the village pub. At the beginning of the 18th century, the land belonged to Lord Nathaniel Crewe, bishop of Durham — the city of Durham, with its stupendous Norman cathedral, lies 30 miles to the southeast — but in 1721 Lord Crewe died, leaving his estate to a trust, set up to provide financial support to schools and colleges, including the University of Oxford. Nowadays the village of Blanchland still belongs to Lord Crewe’s trustees, and all the inhabitants are tenants. As a result of this curious arrangement, Blanchland has hardly changed in the past 296 years, and there are few prettier or more atmospheric villages anywhere in England.
On arrival, we made our way from the parking lot through a lovely walled garden, bright with roses and hydrangeas, that was once a cloister for the monks. Nowadays, in sunny weather, guests sit on wooden benches beneath spreading white umbrellas. The main hotel building comprises a succession of medieval rooms, with beamed ceilings, stone-flagged floors, cavernous fireplaces and stone walls hung with heraldic shields, as well as bloodcurdling displays of axes, swords and spears. The accommodations are located in a number of adjacent cottages as well as the main house. Our room, Jeffries Rake, was on the second floor of a converted cottage and accessed by a private staircase. It came with mushroom-colored walls, beige fitted carpet, heavy lined curtains, a writing desk and a leather armchair. A double bed topped with a white duvet and a tartan rug faced an impressive stone fireplace. Overall, it seemed quiet and cozy. The adjacent bath was well-appointed, with a large tub, a single old-fashioned pedestal sink and an effective walk-in shower. Being rather narrow, however, it was convenient for only one person at a time.