Monday 7 September 2015

Red squirrel at the Earl Grey Tea House

Red squirrel Earl Grey Tea House Howick Hall Gardens Northumberland
Even before I had stepped foot in the Howick Hall Gardens I knew that I had to have a cup of Earl Grey tea at Earl Grey's former home. Once we walked into the Earl Grey Tea House and looked at the menu all plans to just have a brew were swiftly abandoned.
I went for the Northumbrian Rarebit – a warming combination of bread covered in mustard flavoured cheese sauce. Mr JibberJabber has long campaigned for a Pork Pie Ploughman's to be included on more menus and found it here in the guise of the Northumbrian Ploughman's. There was a definite Northumbrian touch to this dish with a range of local cheeses plus a delightfully herby pork pie.
Whilst we waiting for our order to come (and I will mention that the service is a little haphazard) I was admiring the fine appearance of the room. I've been in enough refreshment stops attached to stately homes to realise that they can often be a bit of an afterthought and only serve to make money out of visitors in exchange for overpriced cups of tea and slightly stale scones. There is nothing of the sort here. Back in 1928 this part of the Hall was converted into the kitchen, pantry, larders and store rooms. It was decided in 2003 to turn it back to its original shape when it was ballroom. There's a range of authentic paintings dating back to the time of the 2nd Earl Grey plus some more modern artwork of local scenes. It was something else though that caught my eye...
A family of four were sitting by the oval window which overlooked the lawn. In front of them was a bird table but instead of feathered it was a furred visitor which we all got excited about. It was a red squirrel! I rushed over and asked if they minded that I stood by them to take some photographs. I went back to my table to grab my camera and hoped the red squirrel would still be there when I got back. It was and very happy to be taking advantage of the hospitality on offer which I suspect to be some peanuts. I guess it was stocking up for the winter which is something it likes to do to help see it though the cold months.
Since I had to shoot through the windows they aren't the clearest of photographs but the sight of the red squirrel was worth the admission fee alone. So why did I get so excited about seeing a red squirrel? I've only seen red squirrels twice before and very fleetingly as well. Both times were in the Isle of Wight. One leaped into the trees in the Frontierland section at Blackgang Chine and other was running along the side of the road between Yarmouth and Newport. A mere glimpse of these little cuties so this was a real treat.

Since the introduction of the eastern grey squirrel from America in the 1800s the red squirrel has had a bit of tough time. The grey squirrel is naturally larger so for many years it has been a case of survival of the fittest. Along with an increase in road traffic and the diseases squirrel poxvirus (which doesn't affect greys) and adenovirus there has been a serious decline in red squirrel numbers throughout the UK. The red squirrel has survived in island communities such as the Isle of Wight, Brownsea Island off Poole and Anglesey. In recent years there has been extensive work done in order to establish bigger colonies throughout the UK with Northumberland one area it has been happy to find a safe home in. I hope this is the first of such sightings.


  1. Red squirrels are so lovely, you can see them at Formby - I recommend it is you haven't been already. It's a pine wood run by the NT that then leads onto sand dunes. Amazing place and full of red squirrels.

  2. Wow, a red squirrel. I've not seen one in the wild since I was very little.

  3. I think I've only seen red squirrels when we spent a week in a cabin by the woods in Loch Awe (Scotland). They are such lovely creatures, aren't they? :) #animaltales.

  4. i dont think I've ever seen a red squirrel, but i did see some black ones in Canada earlier this year

  5. Wow, lucky you to see a red squirrel. I love them and we are fortunate enough to have them living here in Normandy in large numbers as there are no greys. I still never tire of seeing them. Thank you for adding this adorable creature to #AnimalTales.


I appreciate your comments. If you have any tips, tricks or tweaks please pass them on!