FOOD and Gibside’s illustrious history have been linked for centuries.
The Gibside you see today is the eye-catching remnant of coal baron George Bowes’ 18th Century grand design; the spectacular hall now a striking ruin, the magnificent Palladian chapel standing in a tree-lined avenue leading down to the monumental Column of Liberty, the imposing stable block, the historic shrubbery and the wildlife rich woods with their walks.
But George Bowes didn’t stop at these architectural masterpieces.
Country estates like Gibside would once have been self-sufficient. Virtually everything that was eaten or drunk would have been either produced on the estate or brought in from just a handful of miles away.
And food seems to have been very important to the Bowes family. A walled garden growing fruit and vegetables destined for the domestic kitchen was the norm on grand estates, but Gibside’s is large even by the standards of its day.
Running to 3.5 acres this was self-sufficiency on an impressive scale. There was an ice house too. In winter ice would have been collected from the ponds and rivers and packed tightly inside. It could last all year without melting and would have been used not just as an early form of refrigeration but to make homemade ice-cream and sorbets.
Gibside also boasted its own purpose-built glass roofed orangery where citrus fruits would have been grown – not something we associate with the North East.
There was even a Banqueting House (now a holiday home) built on the highest point of the park overlooking the Derwent Valley, where the Bowes family and their guests would retire to for dessert and entertainment when hosting dinners.
Gibside’s parkland and woods would have provided an abundance of in season game.
The Bowes family – ancestors of the Queen – no longer own Gibside which is cared for now by the National Trust.
But food is still very much at the heart of the estate, which stands on the edge of the Tyneside conurbation near Rowlands Gill, a few minutes’ drive from the Metrocentre.
Its motto is a “taste of the country on the edge of the city.”
And one of its missions is to help people reconnect with their food and its producers.
The walled garden has been put back into production with community allotments with seasonal produce also appearing on the menu at the property’s Potting Shed Café which specialises in homemade, locally sourced food.
Until now, part of the walled garden has had to be used as an overflow visitor car park. But this year a new purpose-built all-weather car park will open, meaning the National Trust can plough on with its plans to restore the walled garden to its former glory with community allotments and fruit trees.
Gibside also has an on-site larder shop selling local produce and the property has become well-known for not just its twice-monthly farmers’ market but its weekly Friday night family pub.
Run in conjunction with Wylam Brewery, drinkers who like their real ale to be accompanied by a historic backdrop can relax in the walled garden with funds raised from the pulling of pints going towards its restoration.
Gibside is home to a tenanted farm which can be explored on the recently launched Skyline Walk.
And this school holiday, Gibside is holding its popular Foodie Tuesday events.
In fact, every weekday has a theme. There’s Explorer Mondays, Wildlife Wednesdays, Adventure Thursdays and Fab Fridays. All offer free wild things to do over the holidays.
Foodie Tuesdays are alternating between seed planting and the chance to make your own mini version of the walled garden.
The idea for the latter is to encourage children to think about how the walled garden may have looked in the 1700s, what it is like today and how it might appear when the restoration is completed.
Some of the best elements of the designs made using a seed tray and hopefully lots of imagination may even be included in the final scheme when restoration gets under way next spring.
By involving visitors in this way, the National Trust hopes to create a space that everyone can enjoy.
The seed sowing includes planting out vegetables in the walled garden’s raised beds, while participants will also have the chance to make their own paper pot in which to take home something to grow.
This ties in with the Trust’s latest nationwide campaign, 50 Things to Do Before You’re 11¾, which features ‘plant it, grow it, eat it’ at number 41 on the list.
In addition, every Tuesday during the school holidays visitors will be able to take out a family food trail backpack filled with activities telling Gibside’s culinary story.
It wends its way around the estate’s principal gastronomic locations with the emphasis on seasonality, food miles, Georgian fare versus modern cuisine, the need to support local and healthy eating.
The accent is on enjoyment with lots of things to see and do – there’s even the chance to try your hand at milking Daisy, the very docile and lifelike model cow who lives at the Stables.
It’s set to be a fun-packed foodie summer. But there is an important message behind all this fabulous food fun.
It’s hoped it will encourage people to put high quality, locally grown and sourced produce back on their domestic food menu.
It’s about giving the public a different opportunity to buy local food and support the home-grown economy – literally – as well as getting them to think seasonal as would once have been the norm and inspiring them to gain enjoyment out of growing, harvesting and eating their own fruit and vegetables.
In short, it’s about helping people reconnect with the land.
Gibside’s Farmers’ Market has already shown that given the chance people are interested in buying and supporting local, while the Foodie Tuesdays have proved a hit with young and old alike.
The farmers’ market brings together the Gibside food story in one neat package: a chance for people to not only meet the area’s artisan producers but to discover for themselves why local and seasonal can offer the best value and how initiatives like this are helping support the area’s economy.
Food shapes everything about our lives from our health and well-being to our culture, prosperity and natural environment.
And as Gibside is showing, it is also integral to our past, present and future.
Gibside, near Rowlands Gill, Burnopfield, Gateshead, NE16 6BG,
01207 541820, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gibside
GIBSIDE FOODIE FAVOURITES
Potting Shed Tea Room: Free to visit (it’s outside the pay barrier), the tea room offers tasty meals, snacks and cakes. Inside the pay barrier is the Renwick Coffee and Book Shop based in the Stables’ block. Run by volunteers, it serves a selection of lighter snacks, cakes and drinks.
Sun Down at Gibside Beer Garden and Pub: Every Friday between 6pm-9pm. Relax over a pint of locally brewed Wylam ale or a glass of wine at what is probably Gateshead’s largest beer garden. Free entry.
Gibside Farmers’ Market, 10am-3pm, August 4 and 18: Tasty seasonal produce and high quality crafts on the first and third Saturday of every month. Free to attend.
Foodie Tuesdays: Gibside has wild things to do every week day this summer as well as weekend events until August 31. On alternate Tuesdays plant seeds and step out on a trail, or make your own mini walled garden.