After a while it gets so muddy and splashy that you can take a country walk, and so for our last outing of the holiday season we took a tarmac walk around Wear in the middle of Durham City.
With the Cathedral towering majestically above our heads on its wooded shores and our warm, dry feet below, this riverside walk is just as satisfying as a day in the soggy Dales, and the entrance into the city by the treetop Kingsgate Bridge is almost as exhilarating as reaching any peak.
We then had dinner at Vennels, a wrapped cafe in the heart of the city – it’s approached by two narrow lanes that start from Saddler Street and converge into a courtyard which has umbrellas, a patio heater, and blankets for those who want to go. have the courage to dine. out in January. In those days of viruses, Sunday, all the tables were taken.
The cafe itself is in a dark 16th-century building, and you line up to place your order and collect your food.
The queue gives you time to contemplate the menu – fabulous and inventive sandwiches, like ham, cheese and caramelized onion and mornay sauce, or roasted beets, feta and garlic mayo; stirring soups like Durham Ham Broth; lots of homemade pies and quiches and a nice range of cakes – and the meaning of the word “vennel”.
Vennel is a Scottish word, found from Aberdeen to Perth and Edinburgh, meaning an alley – perhaps its origin comes from Latin for “vein,” or perhaps, like a ginnel, it comes from a canal. Most of the northeast, from Lindisfarne to Newcastle and Chester-le-Street, uses the word “chare” for its lanes, but south of Bishop Auckland – where there are four chares – the lanes of Darlington, Richmond and Bedale are known as the “wynds”. Durham has two heads: it has a chare, but it is also the only place in England to use “vennels” for its inner city lanes.
” It is a very good choice ; they’re fantastic, âthe cashier told Vennels, waking me from my etymological contemplation, as Theo, my son, ordered a Roadside Steak Burger. He was accompanied by ‘lots of fried onions, dripping with cheese’ (Â£ 8.50), as opposed to his poolside companion who came with ‘sliced ââcheese, raw salad, yellow mustard and ketchup’. Seconds later word came from the kitchen that there were no burgers. Instead, amid copious apologies, he grabbed a Parma ham and Swiss cheese baguette (Â£ 6.50).
My wife Petra had a bowl of spicy sweet potato and red pepper soup plus a ‘stinky stilton scone’ (Â£ 4.50 plus Â£ 2.50), while I chose the more expensive item. on the menu: Vennels’ important picnic (Â£ 12.50).
The upstairs fireplace in the historic Vennels
Rather than braving the outdoors, we hauled our food up the wooden stairs, which creaked like a stormy ship, to the characterful rooms on the first floor where the floors tilted and toppled so that you yourself. felt like you were walking on the deck of this rolling ship. We sat in old chapel chairs with pockets on the backs for hymn books and at tables that still had sewing machine pedals. We contemplated a fascinating mix of bricks, stones, slates, tiles and century-old windows in the buildings that border the vennel.
Theo’s wand (above) was sweet, full and quickly consumed. Petra considered her bowl a good winter soup, with a little spice but she could still taste both the potato and the pepper. (below). His scone had a full-fledged stilton flavor with a pleasant whiff of moldy socks.
my picnic (above) was huge. I had two slices of corned beef and potato pie, a slice of spinach and cheese quiche, a cheddar and onion marmalade bun, plus a hot sausage, a ham roll and a bowl. pickles: sliced ââpickles, a vinegar egg and an onion bigger than a golf ball that defied all attempts to pierce it with a fork. At the first effort, he rolled around the plate; at the second, it bounces off the table. Fearing that he would soon fall to the ground, I pinned him with my fingers and pushed in with my knife, but the medium shot out at Theo’s plate, like a torpedo from his launch tube.
I had chosen the picnic because I couldn’t decide between the pies and the sandwiches, and my indecision was rewarded: a homemade pie, a substantial quiche, plus a touch of sweetness from the marmalade. It was a pickle lover’s paradise, although if I had compiled it I would have been more parsimonious with the pickles and added a flash of mustard for the ham and maybe a dollop of chutney.
Nevertheless, it kept me going all day.
We had the foresight to pick up a few cakes when we were at the counter – the family on the table opposite hadn’t quite reached the end of the queue and was away the entire time I was struggling with my gargantuan picnic – and shared a really good chocolate (Â£ 3.50) (above) and a great gluten-free orange and almond (Â£ 4) (below), which was pudding enough for a cake but retained both of its delicate flavors.
Our bill for three, including drinks, was Â£ 43.20. Queues at Vennels may require a bit of a wait, but the food is fresh, vibrant, and, for a cafe, imaginative, and the historic building is a joy to be in – if you can find it at the end of it. what you call: wynds, chares, alleys, ginnels or vennels.
Food quality: 8
A service: seven
Value for money: 8
Saddlers Court, Saddler Street, Durham DH1 3NP
Call: 0191-375-9635 (no table reservation)