AFTER a couple of misspent weekends in pubs and clubs, one of my friends decided some fresh air and wholesome grub was what I needed.
And who was I to argue, if it meant I was whisked off to the tranquil setting of Finchale Abbey for the afternoon?
There was a brief flurry of excitement (from me) as we arrived to see two fire engines and a group of firemen dragging a stretcher up one of the steep, wooded hills around the ruined abbey.
Luckily it was only a training exercise, so I was able to ditch my notepad and pen and chill out with flasks of tea on a tiny beach with a meander by the River Wear.
The rain failed to dampen our spirits and we wandered round the 13th century Benedictine priory, skimmed stones on the river and generally put the world to rights.
However, there’s only so much clean living we could handle, so we headed to nearby Chilton Country Pub for some restorative food and drink.
The pub, which we’d passed on the way to the abbey, looked quiet when we pulled up, but happily it was still serving meals.
Its menu is fairly traditional pub food, with steak, stir-fry, mixed grill and salads, with starters around £5 and most mains under a tenner.
I initially went for a sizzling skillet of prawns, chicken and peppers in a sweet chilli sauce, but when my pal chose the same dish, I swapped for belly pork served with black pudding and bubble and squeak.
After administering some discreet cuffs to his head for not understanding the concept of food reviews – different dishes for each diner are a must – we took a seat close to the bar.
Decor in the pub is appropriately countrified and already decked with Christmas decor.
However, my pal was pleased to find Cumberland Ale on draught and happily supped a pint of it while feeding money to the quiz machine.
When our dinners arrived it was quickly agreed I’d made the better choice, with a juicy slab of belly pork layered with a thick ribbon of fat, sat alongside a satisfying dollop of bubble and squeak and a fat disc of black pudding.
The bloke was less happy with his skillet, admitting that he hadn’t read the menu properly and didn’t like peppers. However, he managed to salvage the meal with some complicated re-arrangement and was rewarded with a portion of my belly pork, which we both agreed was sinfully amazing.
A stack of chunky chips, which came with his food, were also given the seal of approval and in the interests of balance, I tasted the skillet, which was tangy and spicy, though the prawns were a little on the small side.
Dessert-wise, we could have tucked into cheesecake, crumbles, pudding and more, but we decided not to undo our attempt at healthy living.
Two main courses and a drink each set me back £22.55. Fresh air and good company – priceless.