I grew up in the north east of England right on the coastline of the powerful and menacing North Sea in a small group of interlinked towns that had been the place to holiday once upon a time, by the time I arrived in the world it had sadly declined like so many seaside resorts in Britain. Once I turned 18 I decided to go to university in the nearest major city in the region, Newcastle Upon Tyne. I made this city my home for another 5 years before moving to Harrogate to shack up with the Yorkshireman that is now my husband. During my childhood I spent weekends with family roaming every corner of the Northumberland countryside right up to the Scottish border and spent so much time on the coast and in Newcastle that I was convinced there wasn’t a thing I didn’t know about the area that will always be my home.
Photo credit: Ian Britton
It was therefore a fantastic experience and a real surprise for me to head home recently for a weekend and spend the entire time doing new things and seeing new places. I made a vow at the start of the year to Take 12 Trips in 2014 and so far we’re doing pretty well, what I didn’t expect was to be writing about my home town as one of these experiences less than a month in. We must visit up north once every 6 weeks or so as I still have family in the area and we have a lot of good friends up there too, I swear I could do the 90 minute drive up the A1 blindfolded I’ve done it so many times. This January we were visiting for a friend’s birthday and it was a bitterly cold weekend, the sort of cold that you really only get in Newcastle, but it was sunny with blue skies abound so we had little to complain about.
Just about 10 minutes from where I grew up there is a stately home overlooking the sea called Seaton Delaval Hall that always stood very grandiose behind large gates. When I was very young my aunt and uncle worked in the nearby village and we would drive past this beautiful building all the time, my uncle would tell me about the family that owned the house and my Nan would tell me stories of banquets that had been held there when she was newly married. In fact, her own grandmother had been an upstairs maid for the big house and was married in the church on the grounds.
I have a fascination with all things historical and always longed to have a look inside, the only problem being it was privately owned so it remained a mystery to me the whole time. The house had been damaged by fire and as with so many of these properties in the UK the family just couldn’t manage to keep it running, 2 years ago and just before we left on our RTW trip the property was sadly due to be demolished. By a stroke of luck and 2 weeks before the wrecking balls arrived, the National Trust stepped in and bought it. It’s now open to visitors and the Trust have a number of restoration and interpretation ideas to preserve it for future generations.
We bundled ourselves up and headed out on Saturday morning to get our first glimpse behind the gates. By complete coincidence we arrived on the morning that they were opening the east wing to tours for the very first time in its history, we took places on the first tour and I finally got to see inside the house I’d admired for so long. It was such a strange feeling being on the other side of the gates, I’d always spent so long looking at the house that I hadn’t realised what a lovely view of the sea it had. The architecture is stunning and because the Trust are just starting restoration we’ll get to see how it is managed in the years to come. In a bizarre twist, our tour guide happened to be my first (and favourite) teacher in primary school. It was wonderful to catch up with this amazing woman that I hadn’t seen for 28 years, she still remembered me and the name of my best friend at the time which was pretty incredible.
Now us being us, we are never far from the next good meal so that’s where we headed. Paul will tell you that there isn’t much he doesn’t know about fish and chips, he considers himself a real connoisseur and has always scoffed when I’ve tried to big up north east fish and chips. You would think that since most of the towns along the coast have fishing ports bringing in the freshest of north sea cod and haddock I would have a point. Paul however has always maintained that the best fish and chips are to be found in Harrogate at the famous Graveleys and while these are amazing fish and chips we may have actually topped them on a random visit to Blyth on the coast.
Right on the beach and just behind some gorgeous new brightly coloured beach huts that you would have found everywhere a hundred years ago is a majestic place called Coastline Fish and Chips. Serving the double whammy of extremely good fish and chips at one end of the building and around 150 flavours of ice cream at the other end in Ciccarrelli’s. Somewhere I’d never even heard of despite living there for so long! It takes a lot to get Paul to stop talking but he was absolutely silent when chowing down on his fish and chips with only the muffled sounds of “these are soooo good” every few minutes. The ice cream we had later on wasn’t too bad either! They were so delicious that I dove in without taking a photo, you’ll just have to pay them a visit yourself!
Last up was a night bowling! Now I know you’re probably thinking that I could do that anywhere but this isn’t just some nasty bowling alley smelling of feet and filled with tweens on a Saturday night. Lane 7 in Newcastle is for grown-ups only and combines a restaurant with bowling, table tennis, karaoke and pool tables. It’s interior is really industrial and the lanes are gorgeous, the bbq menu and all of my favourite American beers on tap was just a bonus! After filling ourselves up on burgers and ale we had a great time working off the food with a game on the lanes. We had a brilliant night catching up with lovely people and celebrating our friend’s birthday. By the way, none of these places have paid me to rave about them they’re just great and I‘d love for others to experience them too.
One of the top tips for coping with the feeling of doom and gloom after travel is to get out and play tourist in your own town. I’d always scoffed at this thinking I’d be bored rigid and couldn’t find anything new to experience. It just goes to show that there is always something new out there to interest you and brighten your day. As we drove south again on Sunday afternoon we were gabbing away about the National Trust and debating fish and chips again, it was just the injection of fun we needed to brighten January. A good start to our Take 12 Trips challenge, bring on February!
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