Time for a break from the grind of old London town, so Heather and I made the trip north to the land of my birth, with a visit to Newcastle (and the surrounding area!).
We started out early on Saturday for the annoying trek across London to Kings Cross, made more annoying by my new bag being totally rubbish (impossible to pull on its wheels without looking like a hunchback and already falling apart). At least once we made it (with plenty time to spare) we had first class to look forward to, free thanks to rewards stacked up from using East Coast so much!
First class is certainly a more relaxing experience than standard class if it’s first class, then logically this actually means second class but could still use some improvement. The sandwiches may be free but offered a poor selection (neither of which suited poor Heather—proper customer service would have fetched something from the normally reasonably stocked buffet car) and I’m not sure why alcohol (or indeed proper meals) aren’t served at weekends—it’s the same journey as the week!
Still we were more chilled than normally when we arrived though it was still straight to Centurians for a drink on arrival—that’s tradition! They seem to have developed a habit there of going completely over the top on serving bottled cider though, Heather ending up with a glass full of fruit, umbrellas and who knows what. Then it was off just around the corner to the hotel. Conveniently located as it may be I don’t think we’ll be returning to Sleeperz (the Z is presumably important). This post might be filled with observations about the hotel so I’ll just put a list in a footnote1 but the signs were there when the door into the entrance lobby proved to be a nice automatic slidey thing followed immediately by a heavy, not automatic door to get into reception proper (who then proceeded to take an age to find my reservation and hand over a key card I had to immediately go and have redone because it didn’t work—not for the last time!)
At least the view from the hotel window was nice, with trains and a castle what more could we want? Unpacking and relaxing done we headed out into the light summer evening for some food. We wandered a little aimlessly until the lure of China Town drew us. We were careful not to select the same restaurant as last time and the one we ended up in was indeed much nicer. Then it was off to bed to rest for the fun to come.
We woke nice and early and headed to find Heather some breakfast, otherwise she gets grumpy and slow. The Cloister Cafe of St Mary’s, one of Newcastle’s two cathedrals, fitted the bill. It seemed to be a meeting place for the deaf community too, silent conversations going on around our food. We finished in what turned out to be about perfect time to walk up the road to catch the bus, for we were heading back to Beamish.
Our previous trip to Beamish had seen us manage to look at a little over a half of the site and we were determined to see the rest this time. At least the ticket is valid for a year (and allowed us to jump the queues!)
We hopped on a tram straight round to the waggonway, where replicas of a number of early steam locomotives live to give an impression of the many routes from the mines that once cut through the countryside. Today Steam Elephant was giving rides down the short length of track, pulling passengers there and back in authentically recreated carriages.
Having looked around the sheds we waited our turn to squeeze on board. Having been warned to expect a bumpy ride I think for the most part it was smoother going than on the bus to the museum!
Safely conveyed back to the start we walked down the path parallel to the track, enjoying the sunny country air of the Georgian styled landscape. We past by a whim gin, a horse driven device for raising material from mines, and then some lovely horses. There was a church undergoing rebuilding, the walls and roof raised but materials (like the floor flagstones) stacked around the outside. Then it was up the big hill to Pockerley Old Hall, one of the few buildings which actually belongs at Beamish, standing in situ.
Having avoided an over excited yappy dog and found some pigs we ventured inside to discover a fire burning in the kitchen, leaving us feeling sorry for the costumed staff member sat there on such a warm day. In the other part of the house the rooms are laid out in Edwardian style and as we passed through the rooms Heather had great fun checking that the beds were properly authentic in their construction. That seemed to please her though I’m not too sure the birds and animals hanging in the pantry did!
Lunch in Town
After a brief look around the small formal garden it was onto another tram and a return to Beamish’s main town area. As it was about lunch time by then we headed past the brass filled bandstand in the little park and up to the tea shop overlooking it. My corned beef sandwich turned out to be ham, and the minty chocolate thing was disappointing afterwards but at least Heather enjoyed her cherry cola (so much so she sent me to get a second bottle).
Refreshed and refilled we made for the only stop in town we were interested this time around—the sweetie shop of course! While I contained myself to a lolly Heather went for a variety of old style joy. Which gave something to munch on as we headed for the bit we hadn’t had time for last visit, the station and another steam train.
The train on duty was Vulcan, and though we got aboard early by the time it set off things were becoming crowded so Heather and I ended up with our heads hanging out one of the coach windows—not that we were complaining! The track offers a short little journey with the back of Ravensworth Terrace one side and fields the other. It’s still the thrill of steam there and back though!
Carousel and Pub
That left enough time to visit Heather’s favourite carousel, steam powered bouncing round to it’s vintage tune, and a trip to the pub before a tram returned us to the entrance and our bus back to Newcastle (also boarded by the “banker” we’d seen leaving town earlier, still in full costume).
All that walking around left us tired out and hungry, so we went to hunt out food. I went looking for a half remembered Italian restaurant. I’m not sure the one we found was where I was thinking of (it didn’t have a fish tank) but it was nice enough, if empty (Sunday doesn’t seem to be the day for restaurants). What appeared to be the Italian matriarch sat by the door while our attentive waitress seemed to be neither English nor Italian by birth (she spoke English, and some Italian, though she was asking (in English) the kitchen staff how to say some things in Italian…). At some point during our meal a bit of banging suggested they’d fixed the buzzer on the door. The meal was good, and reasonably priced, and sent us to bed happy.
Metro & Whitley Bay
A bright start to our first actual day off work took us out to catch what Heather jokingly referred to as the “Morrisons train”, the black on bright yellow logo of the Metro being reminiscent of the supermarket. Heather’s first Metro journey was one familiar from my childhood, heading off to the coast. We got off at Whitley Bay, which in times gone by was a much more exciting place. Now the boarded off and sorry looking Spanish City stands as a testament to the failings of the town. There seems nothing to welcome, to entice to stay, even once the empty beach has been left and the few shops near the Metro station found (they didn’t even have a thimble for Heather). The promenade above the beach, next to the Spanish City’s sad dome, has been cleaned up, with nice touches such as sandcastle themed benches, but it feels like a town not breathing, waiting for a kiss to bring it back to life. I can only hope it comes soon. So it was we left, abandoning the original plan to walk along the coast and taking a lazier route of hopping on the Metro again to reach Tynemouth.
One of the main reasons for a trip out to the coast was to take Heather to visit Tynemouth Castle and Priory. We headed straight there from the station, the gatehouse and walls looming the far side of the ditch to bar the way out onto the headland. We safely passed through though, and onto wide open expanse beyond, the priory remains towering impressively before us. We explored those remains, including the intact little chapel and graveyard before reaching the cliff edge gun batteries which remind that this headland overlooking the mouth of the Tyne retains strategic importance even now. The magazine stores beneath the battery have been opened up and so far the first time I wandered through them, although this did mean Heather lost me for a moment! Following the cliffs round then took us past more domestic remains of the priory and onto an outlying tower of the castle before reaching the substantial castle remains themselves. To one side is a kitchen, made obviously so by the wide fireplace and ovens beside it. To another the remains of a great hall. After initial reluctance Heather couldn’t bear to let me climb higher alone, only to find we couldn’t get very high anyway. And so back down, and to the little shop of course. Still there were no thimbles but we did acquire a small monk of a ted.
When at the seaside there is only really one thing to eat. So it was that I came to the realisation that for some reason I don’t really do sitting down for fish and chips in a chippy and so we headed for a pub. I’m not sure that was a good choice in the end, given the surprisingly poor quality of the food. One learns.
We took the Metro back to Newcastle round the bit of the loop we hadn’t done on the way out, because that is childhood tradition and, well, why not?
Tuesday saw us heading to one of the places we hadn’t managed to get to before, Bessie Surties house on the riverside. It’s actually two houses in one, originally from the 15/16th century with much reclaimed interiors. The building is used as the regional offices of English Heritage but that unfortunately means that quite a bit of it isn’t open to public viewing (there are display books inside giving tantalising glimpses of what is hidden away in the offices, which is frustrating—how about tours for EH members!) We spent a while looking around what is accessible which at least includes the room with the famous blue paned window, from which legend tells Bessie climbed to elope.
From there we walked across the Swing Bridge opposite, the first time Heather has actually been across it. We timed it perfectly to be able to see the Millennium Bridge winking further down the river. We took the slightly longer way round the far side to avoid Bottle Bank and called in the herigate centre which occupies St Mary’s church these days (not that it was very exciting). Then it was a stop off at the Central for lunch.
We were actually on our way to visit my Dad, and arrived eventually! That took up the morning and quite a bit of the afternoon, leaving us casting around wondering what to do as we walked our way back to the centre of Gateshead. Eventually we decided to take another Metro ride so Heather could have a trip across the bridge into Newcastle (just the Redheugh to go now; or should I start mentioning Scotswood, or Blaydon…)
We found ourselves with not much to do in Newcastle either and so settled into the Old George (which claims to be Newcastle’s oldest pub) for some dinner and to half watch England’s final group game against Costa Rica (0–0). Then it was back to the hotel to prepare for the evening’s fun at one of the main reasons for the trip, the annual fair known as The Hoppings.
All The Fun Of The Fair
The Hoppings is an annual event ingrained in the culture of Newcastle, with memories of visits being common to anyone who grew up there. It had, sadly, been absent the year before so its return this year was a thing to celebrate.
Another Metro ride took us to the short walk to the town moor and the buzzing, busy and large fairground. Neither of us are fans of thrill rides so we weren’t about to rush off onto the big and impressive rides but Heather does have a thing for the win a prize side shows, particularly hook-a-duck. There were so many of those she had to contain herself but we still came away with several cuddly prizes (no goldfish in a bag these days). As we walked up and down the clear ways between rides to take it all in we were just commenting on the lack of waltzers when we came across about three of them in quick succession. But what really excited us were the dodgems which we quickly whizzed around bashing into ourselves (and others) 😉 —apparently dodgems are friendlier up north!
Heather then found another carousel to spin around, though this one wasn’t steam driven and as good as the one at Beamish. She didn’t ride a traditional horse, bouncing around on some sort of bird instead. There was time for a ride around the big wheel, the fair laid out below us with the city surrounding the edge of the moor. Then, surprisingly tired out, we made for bed in order to be up early enough in the morning for the next adventure.
The plan for the day was to go exploring Hadrian’s Wall (mainly to keep Heather happy rather than me). All we had to do was get out of the hotel room, which turned out to be trickier than you might think as I got lost in a t-shirt and Heather spent some time lying on the bed laughing at her feet. We should not be left without adult supervision.
We had planned the trip out quite carefully, comparing train times and bus timetables. Unfortunately on getting off the train at Hexham it transpired that the bus timetable we’d downloaded was complete bollocks. That meant sitting around the station for a longer than was joyful before we could get aboard a bus to take us out through pretty Northumberland.
First stop on our mini wall tour was Chesters Fort. There’re some remains, low walls indicating a barracks and some baths as well as other buildings. I must confess to not being able to get to enthused. Heather was much happier exploring than I, excitedly fulfilling and ambition to be at the wall. At least the view was scenic, with the rolling hills around the fort looking splendid in the sunshine. The northern branch of the Tyne sparkled in its valley. As I occupied myself taking pictures someone wandered up and asked if I spoke English—it turned out they were looking to briefly kidnap somebody to take a family photo. I hope the ones I took turned out okay!
The next stage of our tour by bus took us high up into the hills and on to Vindolanda. We got lunch there though there wasn’t actually much of a selection in the small shop (surely an oversight for something on such a busy walking route). There were some real life archaeologists digging in the mud but that was about the limit of excitement as far as I was concerned. I’m sure Heather found things a lot more interesting but I became quite miserable and was glad to go catch the bus again.
The bus took us back along the route we’d came to the fort in the middle, Housesteads. Personally I found this much more interesting, with the return of more dramatic scenery and the climb up from the entrance to the fort itself offering plenty of interaction with the local sheep. There was also the amusement of watching the American tourists misplace everything on a map and continually mistake farmer’s dry stone walls for the wall. That actual Roman wall was clear to see as well. I could have actually stayed a bit longer, if we weren’t dictated by the bus timetable. As it was we had to head home again.
So like all good things our trip came to an end. Almost. First we left the bags at the hotel (hey, they got something right!) and headed out into Newcastle… to buy a bag. Mine had been really annoying me by falling apart as soon as bought and being too short when wheeled along. We had enough time for a proper look around St Mary’s Cathedral. There was also time to say goodbye to Centurians (till next time!) At least this time first class managed to serve beer, and even sandwiches Heather liked. Soon we would be in London (not before some young girls had managed to delay everything by playing right on the line though… sigh).
Split into several pages: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; or everything on one page.