Regular readers (both of you) might remember that I had a friend stay over a month or two back and I tried to show off the best of the North East of England for him. I wrote up the experience of the week here but, it could be summarised with ‘nice place, poor weather’.
Well, last weekend we had weather that we seldom get down at the coast. Perfect sun and very nearly no clouds at all in the sky. As we walked along the promenade I thought to myself, this deserves a follow up post!
The weather has been great now for the best park fo three week. The grasses are turning brown and the rivers are drying up but it has been a great to live at the coast, plodding in the sea to cool off after a potter along the coast. But Sunday was very hot and a very special day. It was the day that there refurbished dome was opened to the public for the first time.
Anyone of a certain age in the North East remembers whitely bay as a vibrant go to destination on a summers day with fish and chips, bingo, amusements, arcades, fairgrounds, gift shops. Basically, a proper English seaside holiday resort.
Well, about 20 years ago that all ended when the fairground closed down and the majority of the things that one would come to Whitley Bay to see, went. So did the tourists and day trippers and so the downward spiral began.
When I move to the coast 13 years ago, the dome was in the opening stages of being refurbished and I have maybe been in two or three times since to see the progress. The last time was at a Christmas market, I think 2016. The place was freezing cold and stripped back to bare concrete with plaster falling off the walls and ceiling.
Walking along the prom, the sea was every shade of blue and shimmering as if it was encrusted with diamonds as the sun glinted off if. The beach was full, the prom was full and there were a few dozen people in the sea.
The one solitary cloud in the sky looked like a make up removing pad floating in the sky, leaving the sun to penetrate the water so that you could see the rocks and stones deep below. It really was like being on a Mediterranean holiday or, dare I say it, the Caribbean with golden sand. The mods were out on the prom showing off their scooters but I wasn’t envious of their leathers and heavy helmets, just their super cool Vespas.
We reach the dome at a leisurely pace, overtaken by the land train that ferries happy children and not so happy parents back and forth along the prom. There was a Jazz band playing in front and hundreds of folks all milling about looking happy and hot in the sun. The original dome was built in 1910 and the whole place has been renovated with period features so the music was very much in keeping with the day.
As we snaked around the 2 floors and numerous bars and restaurants that now fill the space I am convinced that I was not the only one that was slightly emotional. I couldn’t quite put my finger on how to sum up how or why that was the case. Then I saw the banner that the council had put up explaining, “The heart is back in Whitley Bay”. Like so many other things around this dome, they seem to have got it exactly right.
A chap sitting playing a piano in the centre of the room, with the dome above him with golden features painted on the glorious ceiling was just about the happiest things I’ve seen in a long long time. None of the concession were open, it was just an opportunity to wander around the building and see what was to come, but it was perfect in my eyes.
I cant wait to get back in there and see if the service and quality of the food matches the building itself, I am sure it will and that is only a great thing for Whitley Bay. Build it and they will come back.
Having done our lap, we walked off smiling to get lunch which consisted of chips and ice cream. Well, it was the holidays after all! As we walked with gentle and refreshing North Sea waves tickling our ankles we spotted jelly fish flopping about and so many cute dogs it was hard to take them all in.
I hope that this is the start of a very happy new chapter in the Whitley Bay story.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
I remember the morning very well. The previous night my Dad had passed away and I had woken up to a different world and, quite frankly, I didn’t know where to begin. His death had come out of nowhere and so there was no getting ready for it and I still couldn’t take it all in.
I sat at the bottom of the stairs in shock and looked up to see my running shoes, that I had bought a few weeks before, and thought to myself, ‘why not do a Forrest Gump and go for a run?’ I had maybe been for two or three runs previously and had never managed to get more than a kilometre.
I ran from my home towards St Mary’s lighthouse in Whitley bay. It was maybe 2km away, a little further if the tide was out enabling you to run across the causeway and get across to the lighthouse base.
I ran without thinking, and forgot that I was tired and that my lungs hurt, and ran further than I had ever run in one go. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were running due to the wind that was blowing sand into my face or tears, it didn’t matter.
I got across the causeway and found a place to sit. It perched on a rock and just caught my breath and watched the waves for a while. I will remember what happened next for the rest of my days. An elderly lady, easily in her eighties, was walking her little dog along and stopped right next to me. She put her little frail hand on my head and looked down at me and just said, ‘It’s ok son, everything will be ok’. I guess I was crying.
She smiled at me, walked off, and has probably never thought of that moment again. I have. Kindness, caring for others and taking a moment to make other peoples lives a little easier for no self reward. It meant everything to me.
Why am I sharing this with you today?
Today would have been my fathers birthday and today was the first day in around two months that I have been able to run without pain in my foot. I ran to the lighthouse and although the tide was in and I couldn’t get to the same spot, just for a second I looked over and saw the stone that I had sat on and I thought about that moment and all the way back home I thought about my Dad.
Life does go on, but it will always be a little different, a little harder with a little piece of me missing. I miss you Dad, thank you for being such a huge part in the person that I am today.