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Centuries before the cowboy and the pioneer pushed westwards towards the Pacific Ocean spurred by the dreams of gold, Britain had its own wild side that stood between civilization and the untamed bad lands to the North. As you may have realised, I have come to love a part of the United States of America and have indeed written several reviews of my travels to Central and South West Florida. I live in an area of England about the same size as that of my vacation land - the ancient land of Northumbria - which is completely off the tourist trail. I thought it could be interesting to consider the sights, food and landmarks that might attract a more discerning adventurer to venture into this - my home. What could be more appropriate to offer Proxam in his new write-off challenge. Admittedly Northumberland is only part of Northumbria, but then the Regions themselves are not well catered for in the travel subsections. However, Tyne and Wear is a relatively Johnny-cum-lately county and it is still within living memory that Whitley Bay was part of Northumberland. I am also an immigrant here, arriving from the softer shires of the East Midlands in 1973. I have spent my training and working life here and two children have been born within its boundaries. Hopefully one day I can claim honorary Geordie-hood!! Northumbria (with Cleveland) is an area in the North East of England some three hundred miles north of London and a hundred or so miles south of Edinburgh. It has a long coastline with rugged cliffs and wild, empty sandy beaches. Inland there are bleak moors and wide rolling hills. The weather is often inclement (frequent rain, cold wind and little sun) but is rarely wild or dangerous. It has four main cities: Newcastle upon Tyne (the regional capital), Durham, Sunderland and Middlesbrough and three major rivers (the Tyne, Wear and Tees). It is served by two regional airports (Newcastle and Teeside) and a sea port (North Shields). There are good road link
s north and south (A1 and A19) and to the west. The area has been steeped in history. It was the last outpost of the Roman empire. Hadrian's Wall was built in the second century as a defence against the marauding Scots. Forts and settlements are still visible at Segedunum (Wallsend), Chesters and Vindolanda. It saw the blossoming of Celtic Christianity with the Venerable Bede (Jarrow), St Aiden (Lindisfarne) and St Cuthbert (Durham). It was ruled and fought over by the Prince Bishops based around Durham in the Middle Ages. The city of Newcastle was founded as an outpost of the Norman conquest in 1090 when the original castle was built in the steep banks of the river Tyne. It was a force in the industrial and post industrial ages. The Romans started mining in the area but it was the abundant seams of surface and deep coal that founded heavy industry, armaments and shipbuilding. It was the birthplace of the railway (running from Stockton to Darlington) and George Stevenson was a local lad. The rivers Tyne and Wear saw many of the major shipyards of the nineteenth and twentieth century that made commercial vessels and warships whose names were famous the world over. There is fierce rivalry between the conurbations around the three main rivers. The Geordies (natives of Tyneside) always try to outplay the Mackams (natives of Wearside) and vice versa. Nowhere is this more acutely expressed than in sport. Each city until recently (Durham excepted) has had a football team playing in the English Premier division. Newcastle lays claim to a senior Rugby Union club (howay the Tigers!!! - LOL!). In the summer Durham can claim a first class cricket side playing at Chester-le-Street. There are major racecourses at Newcastle and further in land where the famous Blaydon races are run. More sedate but no less contested events feature whippet (small greyhounds) racing and growing leeks. So - now we have got you here. Th
e major international hotel chains are we ll represented (Marriott, Holiday Inn, Hilton) as well as smaller local chains and bed and breakfast establishments. There are several local culinary delicacies to try including fish and chips (haddock and cod are locally caught and landed at North Shields); smoked kippers (Craster); crab (Seahouses); pease pudding (a mixture of dripping and mashed peas); sausage and game pie. A variation of the sandwich is the stottie - a flat, round white bread bun into which can be placed a variety of fillings. Newcastle is also the home of Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, responsible amongst other things for Newcastle Brown Ale - which is now advertised locally and in the States as America's favourite beer. (BTW - There is even a taxi running around town at the moment claiming it to be CHINA's favourite ale - such is the power of positive advertising!). I have drawn up a tentative itinerary for a two week stay with very brief notes attached. Obviously the local guide books will give much greater detail. DAY 1. HADRIAN'S WALL. Hadrian's Wall crosses the narrow neck of England from East coast to West, ending on the Solway Firth. The wall itself is best seen from the military road (a minor road built over the route of the original Roman one). There are excavations and museum exhibits at several sites. The terrain is rugged and bleak. It can be cold, wet and exposed so wrap up warm with sound footwear. A recently refurbished and reopened site is the Segedunum camp in Wallsend. This features a museum and occasionally interactive displays of armaments and warfare. DAY 2. DURHAM CITY. Durham is an ancient town built on a bend in the river Wear. It is dominated by a hill atop which sits the Castle and the Cathedral. The bones of St Cuthbert lie buried in the vaults. Narrow streets run below the hill and are worth the effort on foot. The city has recently gained notoriety for int
roducing the first vehicular toll road in the country. A good panoramic view of the city is to be had from the viaduct that carries the East Coast main railway line through Durham station. DAY 3. THE NORTH TYNESIDE COAST. This is my home district. I am the immigrant here and still cannot claim to be a Geordie. The coast is reached from Newcastle by the Metro rapid transit system. Whitley Bay is 'Newcastle by the Sea' and has several strands of golden sands and safe (but cold) bays. The fun fair is the Spanish City - quoted in the song "Tunnel of Love" by Dire Straits - a listed building which has admittedly seen better days and surrounded by inevitable demolition. If you visit on a Saturday or Sunday there is a busy market selling every imaginable collectible, old records and books, bric-a-brac at Tynemouth station. North Shields has its own outlet mall (Royal Quays) which attracts boat loads of visitors from Scandinavia and a Wet'n'Wild water park. DAY 4. A VISIT TO THE MATCH. In the winter choose from one of the Premiership matches where the visitors may be Manchester United, Liverpool or possibly a 'Derby' game. In the summer it's off to the cricket match to see Hampshire, Leicestershire or even the 'Aussies' DAY 5. THE ANCIENT COASTAL FORTRESS. The coast north of the Tyne is littered with ruined and restored castles every ten or so miles. From Dunstanburgh to Bamburgh these ancient piles attract visitors throughout the year. Of particular note is Alnwick Castle which has been fully restored and is still partly lived in by the Percy family. Many films have been made using the castle as a backdrop including the Harry Potter series. Lindisfarne Priory is approached over a causeway that is submerged for part of the day. This is where the medieval illuminated gospels were written. Bamburgh is the site of Grace Darling Museum: a t
estimony to the rescue of the wreck of the ship, th e Forfarshire off the Longstone lighthouse by a young girl and her father in 1838. DAY 6. METROCENTRE. Until recently this was Europe's largest shopping centre. Most major chains have outlets here. There are galleries of speciality shops, a multiplex cinema and a children's play area. There are plenty of opportunities to buy those souvenirs. It is perpetually busy and brash and makes an interesting comparison with mall shopping in the US and on the continent. The only problem with our malls (Eldon Square in Newcastle included) is that they are just too popular and crowded. There is easily enough trade to justify another one. Hey planners - how about Metrocentre II on some of that derelict land just north of the Tyne Tunnel? It would link well with the Royal Quays and the Silverlink. DAY 7. SUNDERLAND AND SOUTH TYNESIDE. Sunderland is a rapidly expanding city. It attracted significant inward investment with the setting up of what has become the most profitable Japanese (Nissan) car plant. After many years of planning (and procrastination) the Metro system has also finally reached the City. Sunderland has a coastline and beaches at Whitburn and Roker. There is the National Glass Museum which features hand blown glass being made by traditional methods. Their football team has recently moved into a new arena - The Stadium of Light. St Bede's church is in Jarrow which is on the approach road to the city. DAY 8. CRAGSIDE AND THE CHEVIOTS. Lord Armstrong, an industrialist and entrepreneur founded the Vickers armament and ship building conglomerate in Newcastle in the late nineteen century. He had built for himself outside Rothbury in the wilds of Northumberland an imposing house standing on the edge of cliff. It was powered by electricity and boasted being the first house in the world to be lit by electric light. Many reig
ning monarchs, presidents and dignitaries came to stay. Their pictures and portraits are now on display. It is now a museum ope n to the public and owned by the National Trust. From here it is an easy drive to appreciate the wild grandeur and loveliness of the Cheviot Hills which run up to the border with Scotland. DAY 9. WASHINGTON. Washington is now partly overgrown by the New Town which sprang up in the 1970s and 1980s. The old town and Old Hall is the ancestral home of George Washington. Nearby is the Washington Wild Fowl Trust inhabited by birds from all over the world. It is one of the main places where the Hawaiian goose has been successfully reared. There are several walks around the ponds, wet lands and into the woods. There are also hides and guided tours. DAY 10. NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE. The river views in the city are world famous mainly for the bridges. There was a bridge across the Tyne from the middle ages which was washed away in a heavy storm. There is a low level bridge that until recently could be opened to allow the passage of shipping. The Tyne bridge was the model for the subsequent Sydney Harbour bridge. Prior to that George Stephenson built a two level bridge that carried the railway across the top and has a road slung underneath within the girders. Newer bridges carry a further loop of the railway, a major road link and the Metro system. In recent years much interest has been generated world wide with the opening of the pedestrian Millenium Eye bridge. The Quayside has been extensively developed and modernised in recent years. A new art gallery has appeared out of a renovated flour mill. A brand new concert hall is rising above the shoreline on the Gateshead side. This activity is in part responsible for Newcastle and Gateshead bidding for the title of European City of Culture in 2008. Newcastle is the site of some of the earliest buildings in the north east incl
uding a six story 'skyscraper' Bessie Surtees house d ating from the sixteen century. Further inland are the Castle, the Cathedral and the grand facades of Grey Street (some of the finest examples Regency architecture) and the surrounding thoroughfares around Grey's monument. The city has its share of pubs, clubs and restaurants (of all nationalities - The Lord of the Manor of Harpole runs an Indian restaurant and there is a thriving Chinatown). If you'd like a great up-to-date account of the fun and joys of this city you could not do better than have a look at Justme's review in CIAO's 'Newcastle In General' Section entitled BigBaz Has Made My Wrists Sore" DAY 11. BEAMISH. An open air museum spread over a vast area and its hall is dedicated to Northumbrian life through the ages. There is a drift mine with a miner's pit village and school, a town street with Co-operative store, music teacher and dentist. Old trams and horse drawn carriages run through the streets. There is an old station with working steam trains and a farm stocked with livestock and ancient farm implements. This still leaves two days of leisure, leaving perhaps day trips to the Lake District, York or Edinburgh. I hope this gives just a brief flavour of Geordie-land. We don't have the natural gift of perpetual sunshine and we weren't blessed with the foresight or favours of a Walt. However, we've been here a very long time and have seen history in the making and passing. If you do visit be sure to look me up. Sithee!
The majority of you will know Northumbria as a place “up there somewhere” in the far off North East of England where we talk funny, and are always wrapped up warm. It is a place that you drive through on your way to Scotland and never give a second thought to. If you are on a train, possibly you may wonder for a moment at the sight of all the wide unpopulated beaches, then drop your nose once again into your book and forget all about it. Let me introduce you to the secret kingdom of Northumbria, and for centuries it was indeed a kingdom in its own right, it was in fact two kingdoms, those of Benicia and Deria and formed in the 7th century. The border wars fought in the 14th to 16th century have left us with more castles than any other English county. If to these are added the numerous “bastles” and pele” towers (fortified towers and buildings) the number grows to several hundred (please don’t ask me to count them.) All are in various states of repair from a pile of stones in the corner of a field to the splendour of Bamburgh castle, which is lived in to this day. Why, you may ask, with all of these miles of golden sands are there none of the usual seaside attractions? The answer is quite simple. It is freezing cold for most of the year. The Northeasterly wind makes it inadvisable to strip off, even in the middle of summer. The upside of this is that it is possible to walk these beaches, and appreciate the unspoilt beauty of the Northumbria coastline. The land gradually rising towards the West and the Cheviot hills, is not a mountain range I will admit, only reaching 2674ft, but hills that hold countless stories of battles long ago between the English and Scottish. Every field seems to hold its own secret with rhymes passed down such as “Flodden for stones and Scotsmen’s bones” which relates to one particular battle in 1513 where an estimated 30,000 Scots were k
illed including twelve earls, fifteen lords, an archbishop and most importantly King James himself. To this day ploughing the field brings up remnants of the battle. There are however very few, if any, signs of any major Scottish success anywhere in Northumbria, this could be due to the fact that the English would tend not to want to remember it, or that the Jocks were crap at fighting…. just joking honest:-) To the South West, the county is bordered by Hadrian’s Wall, with its various forts and fortifications. Built by the Romans to keep out the warlike Northumbrian’s it backs up my theory that all you lot south of the Tyne are a bunch of sissies, for letting a handful of Italians in short skirts walk all over you. Details of all the towns and villages are on the web at http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/VG/default.htm Here are a few of my favourites. •Berwick on Tweed. Berwick has the most complete set of Tudor town walls in Europe. A fact that has made no difference to being stormed by both the Scottish and English at various times in history, with the result that in the past the town has changed hands with some regularity, leaving the locals with a Scottish dialect, football team in Scotland and an English M.P. It is also believed that the town was left out of a peace treaty signed by England and consequently is still at war with Russia. •Lindisfarne. Otherwise known as Holy Island, is the cradle of Christianity in this country, beginning with the coming of Saint Aidan in 635AD and the building of the Priory. Also on the island is the beautiful Lindisfarne castle. The island is accessible by the use of a causeway, and is situated in the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. This is only possible between tides so a strict timetable is advisable if you intend visiting. •Bamburgh. Not only is Bamburgh famous for its spectacular castle, but
also for being the home of Grace Darling. She was a household name in Victorian times because of her bravery in rescuing 9 people from the steamship Forfarshire. On a stormy night in 1838, she accompanied her father in a rowing boat and brought the survivors to safety. Forty crew and passengers drowned before Grace could get to them. Today there is a museum in her honour in the village. •Wooler. Otherwise known as the gateway to the Cheviots, is situated in the parish of Glendale and was the inspiration for Postman Pat in the fictional village of “Greendale”. Author John Cuncliffe worked in Wooler in the 1950’s. It is an ideal centre for exploring the Cheviot hills and a favourite place for walkers who seem a hardier breed than most and tend not to let a little wind and rain spoil their enjoyment. •Alnwick. Pronounced “Annick” and home to the magnificent Alnwick castle, with its statues of soldiers on the battlements, gives the appearance of a fully defended fortress. Alnwick also holds a medieval fair once a year where the whole town joins in. A pub here called the Cross Keys has on display a set of “dirty bottles” in the window, which legend has it are cursed so that anyone attempting to touch them dies on the spot. Any takers? •Chillingham. Here is the home of the famous Chillingham white cattle, the herd of wild cattle that used to roam free, and another marvellous castle. I hope this has given you a taster for Northumbria, still unspoilt by tourism, but only a matter of time before this changes. If you decide to visit, remember don’t leave it too long and remember to wrap up warm.
I couldn’t possibly sum up the whole of Northumberland in a short opinion, but it is one of the most beautiful and rugged counties in the country. It ‘s the final county before Scotland and although it never gets hugely hot and never has the weather ‘typical’ holidaymakers want, but the weather adds to the rugged and picturesque scenery. I want primarily to talk about Hadrians Wall running across Northumberland through to Cumbria, where the Romans kept the Scots out of their newly conquered England. However there is more in Northumberland than this. There are many castles and house, and if you’re a member of both English Heritage and National Trust then you could easily spend two weeks visiting a castle a day for free. I would also like to say that all the accommodation is cheap and of good quality, I’ve been to Northumberland for 20years on the trot. From the youth hostels in the early days on walking the Pennine Way to now where I stay at the Reedsdale Arms near Otterburn. I love history, and the roman era really appeals to me, and there are plenty of forts to visit, especially good if you’re member of English Heritage but it’s still fairly cheap if you’re not. Most are within 30 minutes drive of the towns, Hexham or Newcastle, but there are actually good public transport links. Corbridge, Vindolanda (I don’t know if this is how you spell it) are both Roman forts that have a lot of History, and there’s a wonderful Roman Museum on the main Newcastle – Carlisle Road not far from Vindolanda. Not forgetting Housteads fort, probably the biggest of the lot but maybe gets too busy. You simply can’t miss the wall, and if you’ve got time it’s really fulfilling to walk it. Remember though there are plenty of top houses too, Anwick Castle is beautiful and I love Belsay Hall, Northumberland is a beautiful county full of heritage and I would advise an
yone to visit, however check out some tourist information places because I couldn’t possibly tell you about everywhere to visit. I love the county.
On the boarder with Scotland on the North East side of England Northumberland is a great place to visit. It is a national park, for obvious reasons, there is superb scenery of both country and coast, in fact when driving along many roads you have the sea to one side of you and unspoilt countryside to the other, quite an unusual view. Due to its national park status it is quite underdeveloped and there are lots of towns and small villages, there are very few large areas on inhabitation. One of the large towns that springs to mind is Alnwick, pronounced Anick. Alnwick has a very nice castle which is still inhabited and is open to the public. One thing which Northumberland has vast numbers of is castle, many are ruins but there are also a lot which are not and which are open to the public. In fact you don’t seem to drive much more than 10 minutes without seeing another castle. These were used as defences when England and Scotland were two separate countries. There are also quite large areas of Hadrians Wall still visible with lots of nice walks along them. The food in the area is very good, especially if you like shell fish such as crabs, which are fished locally. In most places you will find some sort of crab dish and crab sandwiches abound, a real must. If you visit Northumberland you must go to Holy Island or Lindisfarne. The Island was inhabited by monks and you can go around the ruins of their priory. They made mead which is an alcoholic drink based on honey and is lovely, you can buy it all over the area. The highlight of Holy Island for me is the Castle. It is no longer inhabited but is in perfect condition and is open to the public. It is a very small castle which was repaired some years ago but the exterior and interior is quite amazing. It is like a real home only very very unusual. The garden was developed by the famous gardener Gertrude Jekyl (sorry I have probably spelt it wrong). The Island is only accessib
le by a causeway at low tide so it is important to check times before going there. People do live on the island and there are some small shops, cafes and pubs but it is a very quiet and pretty place. We stayed in a self catering cottage when we visited and would recommend this to anyone there are a large number available and it allows you to see the local area much better than staying in a hotel. Northumberland is well worth a visit for its beautiful scenery, castles etc.