Tag: Northumberland

Our friend from the South

Our friend from the South

After a week off work entertaining my friend from the South, I can now sit back, relax and reflect on how it went.  I don’t means in terms of my hospitality or ability to entertain for three nights of course, I mean in terms of how I think the North faired on its judgement from the man in the South.
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St Mary’s Lighthouse in the half hour of sun from day one

Day one and I met him at the train station and we got the Metro to ‘The Coast’ as it is named on the Nexus maps (Nexus being the operator of the Metro system).  This caused a little bit of humour on the visitor’s behalf, the idea that there is only one coast that earned the definitive article title.

We dumped the bags and walked the dog through a local park and along the sea front.  The weather wasn’t the best, but it was shorts and hoodie weather for me. The Southern guest was cold and complained that it was colder that it was on Christmas Day in the South.  Bless him. His complaints were, I think, offset a little by the warmth of the fellow dog walkers that we chatted to and exchanged pleasantries with that warmed his heart a little, if not his hands.  He was certainly warmed by his first ever sighting of a previously unknown dog breed to him, the Bedlington terrier.

Bedlington
The dog walked, we set off with my kids for dinner or ‘tea’ as we call it!  We headed to Turknaz for a kebab.  Before all of the Northerners panic and think I’m mad and the Southerners tut and think I’m scummy, this wasn’t a 2am-post-ten-pints kebab, this was a posh kebab.  So posh in fact that they won the best regional kebab award 2018.  
 
We had a lovely meal and he got to know my kids who he was meeting for the first time.  We left full of kebab, hummus and falafel as well as the sickly sweet Baklava and ice cream.

Day two and we headed to the Northumberland coast.  We followed the coastal route from Blyth up to Bamburgh which, ordinarily, would give us amazing views.  However, on this day, the one where I wanted to show off my patch more than any other day, my luck ran out.  There was a fret that sat on the sea all day and capped visibility to no more than 500 metres. However, it turns out that fret is a Northern term that meant nothing to him so let me translate, it is a sea mist that is very localised to about 1 km inland at most.
We stopped at Amble for a break and wandered around the little gift shops that line the walk down to the harbour.
There is the usual tat, cheese, sweets and inspirational messages written on driftwood, but the main take away from the man from the South was the fact that so many people were wearing shorts and/or T-shirts.  I tried to explain that it wasn’t that cold and that people in the North tend to dress for the season, not for the weather it actually is.  He wasn’t having it so, walking past the pensioners enjoying their coffee outside, we went for a coffee indoors.  

We dropped into Spurreli’s Boutique Ice Cream shop and it was rather lovely.  It was confirmed that the prices were more on the Southern end of the scale than North but, as I found out since, it was voted one of the best ice cream parlours in the country so I guess that explains it.

We jumped back in the car and headed back North up the coast.  The mist was so intense that we really didn’t see too much but the castles that suddenly jumped out of the mist were, as always very impressive.  We ploughed on all the way up to Bamburgh then headed inland to Alnwick to see if we could avoid the sea mist.  We had fish and chips that were lovely in the town centre and, once again, had terrific chats with the staff.  What the North East let me down with in terms of weather, the people were certainly making up for it.
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As full as a gun we headed to Barter Books www.barterbooks.co.uk.  It is a second hand book shop in the old train station and is a Mecca for book readers that swarm from miles around.  Personally I find it expensive and over fussy, but the people who love it absolutely love it as the bun fight in the car park seemed to back up.  With the sun peeping through the clouds, it looked as if the fog might be lifting slightly and so we confidently set off again to the coast.  As we headed back down south on the A1068 Coastal Route the sun was shining on the delightful coloured houses at Alnmouth.
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We turned and headed for the sun and had a quick wander along the beach amongst the dunes and golden sands where the sun made a brief but most welcome appearance.  Feeling the cold again, we had to have an emergency warming coffee for the Southerner and were made to feel most welcome at The Village tearooms.

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Alnmouth giving us our daily allowance of sun
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Alnmouth driftwood
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Alan the Alnmouth Snail

It was getting later in the day and we were worn out but it was a lovely village that I had never really explored before, I have marked this down as one to head back to at some point soon, as there seemed to be some lovely independent shops and full of foodie heaven shops.

As we headed back home, I though it might be nice to show off a part of the North East that I love, North Shields fish quay.  We parked up in the harbour car park and took in the sights of the highlights and low lights, walked through the old walls and then watched a fishing boat dock in the fish quay as the huge car transporter, filled with Nissans, passed us on the way out to sea.  The fishermen on the boat, there were two of them, unloaded their catch without once touching the cigarettes hanging out of their mouths.  Their constant endeavour looked like back breaking work, add to that the dangers that these guys faced at sea and it really did look like a hard way to make a living.  

We talked to some people that worked for a charity that rescued seagulls and took them into their care. They were there to collect the scraps of fish from the fisherman to use as food. They told us that the mist we had suffered from all day was in fact a Haar. This is a very localised term, used on the east coast of Britain, to describe a mist that forms between April and September when warm moist air moves over the North Sea and condenses as it cools and is blown back inland.
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The weird thing was that, after we wandered through the fish quay, we bumped into a lady who asked us questions about fishing boats as if we had a single idea what any of the kit or hardware was. We exchanged stories and the little information that we did know and probably chatted for about 15 minutes. She told us all about how the mist was called a Haar. Having never heard the phrase in my life, I heard it from two different and unconnected people in the space of 20 minutes.

We decided to have a quick drink down on the quayside, an area that I had never been to for drinks, only fish and chip takeaways. We stopped at the Salty Sea Dog pub, it was very trendy and hipster.  The focus was on gins (isn’t it everywhere right now?) and real ales and had a Shoreditch hipster feel.  I half expected a penny farthing parking bay outside to be honest.  They did tapas snacks such as Chorizo and scotch eggs and the clientele was mainly smart young females. It was the last thing I was expecting for the building opposite the fish landing site.  I was very pleasantly surprised.

It had been a long day, full of travel and fresh air and I slept like a log.

On the Thursday, myself and my visitor both had other appointments and so we went our own ways and didn’t catch up until the afternoon. We took a trip along the coast and enjoyed a coffee in Cullercoats at Beaches and Cream.


I have always had nothing but good service and food there and so when I looked to get the above link I was surprised to see more than a handful of quite negative reviews.  We were served happily and, yet again, ended up having long conversations with two members of staff and the couple at the table next to us.  It would have been perfect, sitting outside watching the traffic and people pass by, if only there had been blue skies and the sea view.  The Haar, which was still persisting into day three, spoiled the sea view. 

I explained that there was a cafe called ‘The View‘ overlooking King Edwards bay that would have been lovely any other day.  The fact that there would be no view and that the service and food don’t have the best reputation meant we stuck with Beaches and Cream.

My man from the south was very impressed at the aspirational name of The View as we hadn’t seen more than 200 meters out to sea all week! In fact, he was asking in the local shops if we could get postcards of local landmarks that were a bit more honest and showed the Haar and mist rather than the clear blue skies.

Unperturbed, we walked along to the headland between Tynemouth and Cullercoats and, low and behold, the sun burnt through for a half hour and we could just about make out The Grand Hotel and The Priory at Tynemouth and enough sea to appreciate its power and rolling splendour.  It is such a shame that the weather gods didn’t smile on us, but we got a feel for what we could have won at least.  We watched a young man of around 25 years of age leave his partner and baby and decide to walk on the perilously narrow ledge onto the craggy rocks out at sea.  We were both blown away by his stupidity, he was half a slip away from being a dead man at the foot of the rocks some 30 feet below him with waves crashing over his body.  As he made it back, we felt a little cheated and disappointed that we had not seen natural selection in process so we headed home for showers and a change of clothes.

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As a thank you for being his tour guide and driver for the last few days, my friend wanted to take me to 21 for dinner.


This was way smarter than my usual restaurant and I had never been but I was well aware of its reputation of its head chef, the Michelin starred Terry Laybourne.  We were warmly welcomed for drinks at the bar and we were so well looked after, it was like walking into the restaurant on the TV show First Dates.  We were shown to our table and were very politely and professionally served Crab Lasagne with Chive Butter Sauce and for meGran Reserva Iberico Ham and Toasted Tomato Bread for starters.  

Mine was exactly what it said on the tin, two slices of toasted bread topped with tomatoes and a plate of ham.  I am not totally sure that it came out of a tin, but it was fantastically tasty.

For mains, I had Braised Shoulder of Beef with Two Celeries and my guest had Roasted Northumbrian Venison, Salt Baked Beetroot and Fresh Asparagus – Goats Cheese Croquettes.  It was every bit as pretentious and delicious as it sounds.  The beef fell apart and the gravy/jus was simply perfect.  The service was second to none, the staff were on hand but never interfering or in the way.  Perfectly mannered and perfectly drilled on how to look after the customers.

It had cleared into a warm and pleasant evening and so we walked along the Newcastle quayside and over the Millennium bridge.  It was such a pleasant evening and it was so nice to see so many people walking along the quay.  I heard all sorts of languages and saw all ages, sizes and shapes enjoying the warm, calm evening surrounded by the contrasting but beautiful buildings. Newcastle really is a nice city to call home.

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My guest was on the train back to the deep South on the Friday morning and so we just had time for a coffee with mid morning cakes!  We headed into Whitley Bay to try Kith and Kin.

I had been a few times before for breakfast and lunches and it really is quite lovely and quite London.  You know the sort, they sell things that contain halloumi, Chia, Avocado and almond milk and don’t think it’s funny.
Yet again, we were welcomed in with happy faces and warm welcomes.  I asked for a hot chocolate and was asked if I wanted dark, milk or white. They used real chocolate to make the stuff, not powder, and the idea of a white chocolate drink seemed too good to miss.  I wish I had missed it.  It was like drinking liquid milky bar, but more sickly, and by the time I got to the bottom of the cup it was just hot milk. Not the cafe’s fault, mine for a bad choice of overly sickly drink!
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My companion was dropped off at the metro, heading into town to get the train, and I think he was impressed. I’m not sure what he was expecting, nor was I really.  It did make me realise how nice my patch of the country is. There were so many places that I could have taken him to that we didn’t have time for.  There is no shortage of quality in terms of attractions, cafes, restaurants and views.  For every bit that the weather let me down, the famous northern hospitality certainly didn’t let me down….well, I hope it didn’t anyway!
It’s grim up North

It’s grim up North

For those of you that have been reading this blog for a little while, you will know that I have a friend that lives in a generic part of the United Kingdom that I will refer to as ‘down south’.  This pretty much covers the entire area from Lands End in Cornwall right up to the north of York, covering 100% of the dry area between the Irish coast/Atlantic Ocean  and the North Sea.

In response, he would describe anything north of Watford as ‘The North’ and treat us all as one big lump.  I would suggest, therefore, that anywhere between Watford and York be renamed ‘the Midlands’ and we leave it at that.

So, my brave old friend is going to venture North for a few days next week and wants to sample the delights that the North has to offer.  This is an unusual occurrence as I have found in the course of business during the last 20 years, the train from Newcastle to London takes about 25 minutes in the mind of Southerners.  We northerners must be ready to jump on a train and arrive ready and presented for a 9 am meeting, seemingly grateful that we have been given the opportunity to buy a thimble full of coffee for £4 and a £9 falafel (made with dolphin friendly, lint free wraps).

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Conversely ( I think it might be because travelling north is ‘uphill’) any trip up north is deemed to take about five months and has to be considered a journey of proportions akin to the movement from the east to west coast of America back in the gold rush days.  You set off from Kings Cross with a support party of around twenty people and arrive in Newcastle with your fingers crossed that you and half of your team have survived.  Talking all of this drama into account, I was excited to hear from my friend and his desire for adventure.

We have three days to fill and I am looking forward to showing him around.  It is a very difficult balancing act to get right.  I want to impress him and show him some of the beautiful things that we have to offer in the grim north, but I don’t want him to head home too happy.  He may well tell all his friends in the south about what we have tried to hide away from them for so long and trigger a mass movement of travellers and ruin things for us natives.

 

Joking aside, I am really looking forward to catching up with him, taking some time out, and showing off the best that the north east has to offer.  My plan is to spend day one walking from Whitley Bay down to Tynemouth, taking in the views, the sea air, the new promenade and the coffee shops on the coast before stopping for lunch at the critically acclaimed Riley’s Fish Shack.  I don’t like fish, but I am sure that they have something for me!

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Tynemouth Longsands (my own Picture)

Day two and I intend to don the hiking boots and head up to the beautiful Northumberland coast and walk along the perfect golden sands that stretch, uninterrupted, for miles.  Taking in the castles and the wildlife and the olde England tea shoppes on the way.  I intend to take my trusty camera with me and capture the best of the views and hope to share them with you.

The featured image above is from google but is of the beautiful Dunstanburgh castle.

Day three and we head into Newcastle centre to see if we can find something new to explore.  We have reservations at Cafe 21 in the evening and I am looking forward to some fine dining and fine chat while we put the world to rights between us.

http://www.21newcastle.co.uk

I will let you know how my part time job at the north of England tourist board works out!