Sunday, 14 July 2013

Art Deco, Teletubbies, and a bookworm's delight

Northumberland has a coast, a long and glorious one. At least it's glorious if you like big, half-deserted sandy beaches, pretty little harbours, offshore islands with holy connections, and castles right there on the cliffs. And keep between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Amble.

Within that long stretch there is no Bognor Regis, no Margate, no Skegness. In my opinion the only place that lets the side down at all is little Seahouses, which is a sight too gift-shoppy and fish-and-chippy for my liking. Perhaps I'm a snob; but I'm not the only person to say so.

I'm not saying that this is an area free of tourists - very far from it. It's thronged with tourists. But they seem mostly to be the discerning sort who prefer quiet strolls, beautiful views, and watching seals and seabirds. And not the kind that like crowds and the noisy thrills of the fun fair. I'd say this is an area for National Trust and English Heritage members, and for people who like civilised lunches and cream teas. People rather like me.

Here's a chappie with a bike that I got into conversation with, in front of a house in Beadnell that had been built in the Art Deco style:

He was about to embark on a leisurely bike ride down the coast with his wife. I'd wanted to take a picture of the house, saw him there, and just walked up to him and asked. He explained they were only renting, and weren't the owners. And they thought the house was newer than I thought, despite the retro style.

It wasn't the only Art Deco house in Beadnell, which I should explain is just a little way along the coast from Saveloy City, alias Seahouses. Beadnell is most definitely for the well-off, and has a manicured look. Its relationship with Seahouses is very similar to the one that exists between the almost-touching Sussex coastal towns of West Wittering (ineffably posh) and East Wittering (emphatically populist).

Here are two more of the Art Deco houses in upmarket Beadnell:

I really like the clean and curvy Art Deco style, but will admit that most other houses near the seafront in Beadnell are not like this. In fact there was an article in the Northumberland Gazette expressing concern over the intrusion of 'inappropriate housing developments' in positions close to the shore - houses that jarred with the vernacular buildings of this one-time fishing village on a Heritage Coast. Here is the article in question:

As you can see (if you click on the picture to read the article) the local council was having an oblique swipe at the three Art Deco houses shown above; but they were talking chiefly about a Teletubbies-style house that someone wanted to build on the actual shoreline. Kevin McCloud (of Grand Designs fame) would have loved it. But the council's planning officers weren't amused. I'm guessing the proposed house was a bit like this:

You remember the Teletubbies, those endearing little persons on children's TV, in the later 1990s?

My favourite was Laa-Laa, the yellow one. She seemed to have such a sunny disposition. In fact the whole programme was full of sunshine - it was a daft, easy, uplifting thing to watch, that left me with a happy feeling whatever my actual cares and concerns at the time.

Anyway, on with my story. The two people who were staying at the first Art Deco house, and about to ride off on their bikes, tipped me off about a pub that did the best crab sandwiches around - The Joiners Arms at High Newton-by-the-Sea. So off I sped in Fiona, and was in a twinkling sitting down at the front of the pub, enjoying the Teletubbies-like sunshine and a gin-and-tonic:

Then the 'crab sandwich' arrived. It was such a big unwieldy affair that I hardly knew where to start. How could it be eaten elegantly? I was bound to make a mess. My mouth would look like a hamster's. Crab and lettuce would fall into my cleavage. And my vulnerable white top would end up with tomato pips all over it.

The male half of a couple nearby, who had seen the look of bafflement on my face - and then my shooting the monster mouthful with my camera - came over. He asked me whether I'd like him to take a picture of me with the beast. I assented:

Well, all in good fun! I did in fact manage to consume the sandwich, which contained plenty of crab, without covering myself to the elbows in seafoody bits. I'm not quite sure it was really 'Craster crab' however. Craster was the next village on my list. It had a harbour once upon a time renowned for its daily catch of fine crab and other seafood. But it was now a very touristy place, and I was fairly sure there was no massive local fishing industry there. So I did wonder (being a touch cynical about such things) whether the crab really came from a factory on some trading estate in Milton Keynes, Telford or Stoke on Trent. It tasted nice, however, even if it did.

This is a shot of Craster, which certainly looks very pretty around the harbour, although the illusion is spoilt a bit by the ultra busy car park as you approach the village, and by the signs telling you there is positively nowhere to park by the harbour. I couldn't make Fiona go in the official car park, and so we ended up where this shot was taken from, in a very lucky free space:

I then decided to make my way to Alnwick for some ordinary shopping at Sainsbury's, and while there looked for the old railway station, which was now the HQ of a secondhand book firm called Barter Books. No ordinary secondhand bookshop this. It's one of Alnwick's top attractions. It aims to hold a massive stock of books that will tempt the visitor. It certainly looked like a serious secondhand bookshop, with a lot of behind-glass volumes in good condition. The books on the open shelves were interesting too, and there were a lot of them. In fact it was easy to get bewildered by the number of shelves and the none-too-clear shelf labelling. It was like a maze - despite floor plans here and there, it was hard to keep orientated, and I had to ask the way out in the end! Here's a couple of pix to give you a feel for the place:

A secondhand bookshop like no other! Obviously a great place to browse in comfort for an hour or two if the weather is inclement. You can have coffee and something to eat here too. And because it's in an old station, they have large-scale toy trains running around just above head height!

However, I'd fail it on two details. First, although the place had a comprehensive stock, it didn't seem to specialise enough. I tested it on old OS maps of the Borders area: zilch. I tested it on books about Borders railway history: nada. Or at least nothing when I looked - they might have just had a whacky, demented customer who temporarily stripped the shelves of the stuff I'd been looking for. Second, I thought their prices were a little high - but then the nice settees, and all the staff needed, would have to be paid for. This is nothing like the pokey, untidy, run-on-a-shoestring kind of bookshop that I'm used to.

Alnwick is a town of character, and has a famous castle. But access to the castle was not possible while I was there, on account of a Society Wedding with Royals Attending. The Northumberland Gazette again:

Who? Never heard of her. But then I usually don't know anyone who is supposed to be well-known or fashionable. We must live on different planets. I really don't think it matters.


  1. I was looking forward to a review of castle and garden which is new and hugely expensive but I have never seen either. You will have to go back.

  2. I thought the yellow one was you Lucy!

    Shirley Anne x

  3. Yes, there is an uncanny resemblence...



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