DIPTON MILL INN, HEXHAM
*Written before landlord Geoff Brooker passed away
Draw the definitive English country pub and it would look like the Dipton Mill Inn, near Hexham in Northumberland.
Describe a coaching inn interior and it would be low-ceilinged and solid-beamed with five ales on the bar and a tinkling log fire – much like the Dipton Mill Inn.
Now specify the perfect landlord.
The pint-pulling publican will be rotund and bearded. He’ll be a jolly soul, a slight eccentric who chuckles at his own jokes, draping tales in wit and whimsy. Regular customers have heard the stories before, but that’s half the fun. You couldn’t make Geoff Brooker up.
The Dipton Mill Inn is the quintessential English country pub – ivy-clad, sitting by a stream in the middle of undulating nowhere, skirted by woodland criss-crossed by rambling trails, and surrounded by agricultural acres.
A millrace loops round the building – a 17th century farmhouse – and its enchanting suntrap of a beer garden. There was a corn mill and a fulling mill for the treatment of cloth on this site for four centuries from the 1300s. Licensee records show it has been a pub since 1820.
Beer is exclusively from the landlord’s Hexhamshire microbrewery, based a couple of miles away. On the bar are Devil’s Water (4.1% abv), a fruity, copper-hued best bitter; award-winning Shire Bitter (3.8% abv), an easy drinker with a delicious hop and fruit balance, plus Devil’s Elbow (3.6% abv), and Whapweasel (4.8% abv). Blackhall English Stout (4.0% abv) has proved so popular it has eased Guinness from the counter. All are named after local beauty spots.
Geoff Brooker also brews Old Humbug (5.5% abv), a winter ale he’s considered stocking all year round. “That one’s named after me,” he says.
However, an outlying pub such as Dipton Mill Inn couldn’t survive on liquid alone and the lunchtime chalkboard that includes chicken breast in sherry sauce, lambs’ liver and sausages and three-cheese ploughman’s, accounts for 40% of trade. Mince and dumplings and steak and kidney pie are bestsellers; received wisdom being that these days people rarely cook such staples for themselves. More importantly, everything is home-made by the landlord’s wife (who also compiles the pub’s quiz questions).
Forty-odd years ago, an episode of The Likely Lads was filmed outside – a reshot and reshot sequence with Bob and Terry cycling up and down and using the phone box. It’s not that nothing ever happens here, but people still talk about it.
Hexhamshire Brewery beermats scattered around the pub feature its logo, a Thomas Bewick 18th century woodcut depicting two men in brimmed hats and breeches with a wooden barrel suspended between them. It was quite a while before an elderly visitor pointed out that they weren’t lugging beer, as folks had naturally thought.
“It’s a reference to the local leather tanning industry,” she said. “It’s urine.” People still talk about it.
*Dipton Mill Inn, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 1YA. (01434 606577 www.diptonmill.co.uk)