“We’ve been expecting you,” said a jovial chap as he greeted us at the entrance to Crook Hall.
It was a warm welcome which set the scene for an Austen-esque experience of ladylike afternoon tea.
Despite being just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Durham City’s cobbled streets, Crook Hall is a peaceful little oasis of architectural charm and Secret Garden-style grounds.
We’d booked ahead for a sparkling afternoon tea and the venue had indeed been expecting us.
We were led through the pretty-as-a-picture Georgian House to the drawing room, which had been immaculately laid out for our afternoon of genteel grazing.
As a reminder of how close we were to the city, our table offered views of Durham Cathedral and the surrounding skyline.
In front of us, our tea was served in quirky, vintage tea pots and china tea cups and matching saucers.
As we’d gone with the sparkling option, which costs £20 a head and needs to be pre-booked, we also had a glass of champagne each. Soon after we’d poured our first cup, a glass cake stand laden with culinary charms was winging its way to our table.
As afternoon teas are de rigueur at the minute, I’ve had many in the past couple of years, but this offered as good a value for money as any others I’ve had.
The savoury section included a range of delicate sandwiches including tuna and cucumber, salmon and cream cheese and cheese and chutney, as well as mini morsels of prawn mayonnaise encased in pastry.
Fresh and home-made, it made for a perfect light lunch.
We intended to make the lunch last longer, but the piping-hot scones were calling our name and pretty soon after demolishing the first layer, we were tucking into the sweet section.
We smothered the scones in fresh clotted cream, none of that squirty synthetic-tasting rubbish here, and topped it off with strawberry jam and fresh strawberries.
I barely had any room left after the feast, but my friend, who was eating for two, managed to make a commendable indent into the top tier which featured mini meringues, pint-sized eclairs, mince pies and more. As I couldn’t shoehorn my sweet treats in, the waitress boxed them up for me to take home. The price of the afternoon tea also includes entry to the hall and grounds, which usually costs £6.50 for adults.
The house itself is a quaint hotchpotch of architecture: Mediaeval, Jacobean and Georgian.
In true Austen style, we took a turn about the gardens post-lunch.
Despite the trees being a little bare, there were still plenty of charming features and ornaments to catch our eye and we’ve vowed to return in the summer to see the gardens in all their blooming glory.