A Diary from Durham

Yep, yet another school holiday means we’re on our travels again - far far away from sunny Saltdean exploring the North East from our current base at the Caravan Club site just outside Durham. We’ve had a couple of good days out and about, so without further ado, lets get up to date.

Our trip started on Saturday at silly o’clock – although rather later than we’re used to when driving the school buses. The plan was to be at the storage compound at 0630, get ready and be on the road by 0700. There were, as it turns out a couple of problems with this. The first had already been factored in. It was Trev’s 60th birthday party at our local club the afternoon before – which of course meant a considerable amount of ‘research’. A rough calculation suggested we would be safe to drive again at the required time, although on my frequent visits during the night to the loo and the medicine cabinet I began to wonder. The second problem became apparent when we arrived at the storage. Had we bothered to check prior we would have discovered that it didn’t open until 0730. It was decided, after a short and frank exchange of views, to go get some sustenance and return and wait. We hadn’t been back a couple of minutes when the gate opened  - as if by magic, but more likely because someone up at the farmhouse saw us – and we entered and got her ladyship ship shape. It was gratifying to find that the little solar panel had kept the battery topped up, but less so when we discovered we’d left the tool kit at home. The first of a number of things we’d forgotten.

The journey, was long but straightforward, and would have been a doddle had it not been for the events of the previous afternoon. We stopped for bacon sarnies and coffee about 2 hours in then again later on not only for our benefit but to refuel Rosie, our tow car too. Although we never expected to get all the way on one tank, fuel consumption was again disappointing, returning less than 25mpg despite hovering around 55-60 mph all the way. Yes, Patsy 2 is a lot heavier, it became quite windy and we don’t travel light but I had expected a little more. What was also apparent was that we really need to get the CRV’s engine remapped to boost the BHP and torque as the power is lacking somewhat particularly on any sort of incline.

The site was easy to find – just off the A1(M) on the road in to Durham and we were checked in soon after 1430.  We were  the last to arrive and took the last pitch too.  Within half an hour, the legs were down and the kettle was on.

So, what's the site like? Well, seventy or so pitches but the grassed areas were not being used so there were about fifty-five in use, in a rough oval shape with a small annexe and separate storage area bordered largely by trees. It’s not as pretty as some club sites but is very well maintained. There are the expected club facilities, including  a children's play area and the shower block was clean and tidy. The club’s Wi-Fi was available and we took advantage of one of their new packages giving a years access at any site for twenty five quid. Signal strength is excellent but it’s not been particularly quick. As mentioned, the site is close to the A1(M) and, whilst the traffic is just audible we certainly haven’t found it intrusive.

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Anyway, later on, we refuelled at the nearest available eatery – one of the ‘Table Table’ chain of restaurant/bars run by Whitbread. I remember when Whitbread used to brew beer – and in fact my first ever pint was of Whitbread Best – a gassy insipid concoction which may go some way to explaining why I drank lager for the next twenty-five years. Nevertheless, the beer was good – the excellent Black Sheep Bitter being the ale of choice – the double stack burger was better, and the caramel apple crumble was divine.

A breezy but bright morning greeted us as we woke – far to early - and peered out blearily eyed. A short while later we were shaved, showered, fed and on the road for the first sightseeing expedition of the trip.

Whitely Bay was our intended target, traversing the Tyne Tunnel – and forking out £1.60 for the privelidge. Actually it cost us 2 quid because the booths are unmanned and we spotted too late the change machine at the pull in. Oh well. It was bright sunshine when we parked up but any cobwebs were soon banished as we got out of the car. It was very windy and the North Sea looked grey and uninviting, if a little benign. There were plenty of people about though, taking advantage of the great sunshine to get some fresh air. The beaches were wide and shallow and St Mary’s Lighthouse to our left provided a great focal point for lens clicking.

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We paused again a little way up the coast at Blyth before stopping briefly on the way back through at Seaton Sluice.

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In the town centre we had planned to replenish the caffeine levels but found ourselves instead in a discount store. I’m always drawn to these places wherever we are in the country – no doubt due to the word ‘discount’ coupled with my aversion to parting with cash unless it’s for essentials like beer and clothes. Often visits are disappointing, the offering simply being more cheap tat from China. This one however carried a large number of grocery lines and  - unexpectedly – ale. There was a wide range on offer – though oddly, very little from North East breweries, and nothing over £1.50 a bottle. I picked half a dozen that I hadn’t tried – something that’s getting harder and harder.

Back in the car we headed a little further down the coast to Cullercoats. More lens clicking ensued and caffeine and cholesterol reserves were replenished at a cafe on the on the front. The weather was bringing more people out and it was great to see.

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Further down again we planned to stop at Tynemouth – it looked a pretty place and well worth a look around, but we weren’t alone in our thoughts and having searched in vain for a parking space decided to head of, planning to return another time.

We had vague notions of going in to Newcastle for the afternoon, but having made a half-arsed attempt to find somewhere to park, decided to call it a day and head back to Patsy 2.

Monday found us in Durham, having utilised the park and ride service just a short way away from the site. Expectations were high thanks to reviews in various travel books and on websites and it didn’t disappoint. The cathedral is without doubt the focal point and it looms in to view from many angles on a stroll around the city. The castle is there too and the river Wear and it’s lovely bridges ads to the lens clicking opportunities. Add to that the fact that it is extremely clean and tidy, and appears very well kept and you have a place well worthy of a visit.

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Photography was, sadly not permitted inside the cathedral and there were plenty of warning signs dotted around in case people needed reminding, although a leaflet at the counter explained that photography WAS permitted, very occasionally, and yes, you’ve guessed it, for a fee. I tend to see rules as advisory rather than mandatory, but rather than blatantly flout them, decided instead to buy a guide book, with lots of nice pictures. There’s always a way…..

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Having ‘done’ the cathedral we headed out and along the riverbank and back into town, pausing for a baguette and coffee on the way. We perused the town some more, but with feet now aching, decided to head back, calling in first for some er, medicine, at a nearby hostelry.

Tuesday found us back in Durham but only to catch a bus for the hours journey up to Newcastle, which if nothing else gave us the chance to see the Angel of the North. There were a few spots of rain on the way but a heavy shower as the bus pulled in meant a dash to the nearby shopping centre while we waited for it to pass.

We had no real plan of what to see and do, which wasn’t very smart, but we walked across the Tyne Bridge to take in some views of the river below. The Tyne Bridge’s resemblance to the Sydney Harbour Bridge is no coincidence – it was built by the same company. Further along is the worlds first combined road and rail bridge.

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We returned, and loitered around the compact Victorian centre, one feature of which is the statue of, and monument to Charles Earl Grey; advocate of peace and champion of civil rights and behind the Great Reform Act of 1832.

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Only a short walk away was St James Park; home to Newcastle United Football Club – and a head-butting manager. Outside is a statue of Sir Bobby Robson, surely one of the nicest most genuine men in football. Many of the current bunch of overpaid prima donnas strutting their stuff in the Premier League could learn something from him. But they don’t.

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We’d seen nowhere near enough but with aching feet once again slowing progress we decided to call it a day and head back. There was so much more to see and when we return, at some point in the future, will come better prepared. What I saw though, I liked very much. As we made our way to the bus stop, some passing wag made some comment about the return of the ‘Matrix’, referring, presumably, to my coat. At least I think that’s what he said. His accent was so broad it was almost unfathomable – to my East Anglian ears anyway!

Tuesday night, found us in Stockton-on-Tees to meet up with a friend of Trev’s that he hadn’t seen for over 25 years. We had a good meal, a few ales and a mighty good chinwag.

Right, you’re up to date. By the time you read this we will have moved, a little south and west to Doe Park, near Cotherstone for part two of our North East adventure. Look out for another blog soon. Cheers.

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