Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A day trip to Newcastle 2

Having had my fill of contemporary art at the Baltic, I recrossed the Tyne by the Millennium Bridge and looked for a way to see something of the old business streets on my way back to the central station. The first thing to notice was this 'beach', called Quayside Seaside, created with proper sand and deckchairs and buckets and spades, so that the people of Newcastle could enjoy a seaside experience on the river bank, right in the heart of the city.


Well, it looked quite authentic! The nearby café made me think that the deckchairs might be solely for the use of customers, and not just any passer-by; but possibly I was wrong, and it was really a facility for anybody to use, as a public park would be. The obelisk on the right edge of the photo was a bizarre incongruity. It had absolutely nothing to do with beach frolics and sunbathing.


It marked the spot where John Wesley, the evangelist, gave his first sermon in Newcastle, in 1742. And there was a verse from Isaiah, not the most cheerful and warm-hearted of Old Testament prophets. I think neither Isaiah nor John Wesley would have seen the fun element in deckchairs.

Nineteenth-century Newcastle was much in evidence in these parts, as I saw by simply turning up a side street.


I do like all these solid stone buildings, presumably once the HQs of shipping companies and so forth. The spire visible in the centre of the shot beckoned. It turned out to be a grand city church with a rare oval plan; preserved, but no longer used.


I walked back towards the station. What an interesting collection of commercial buildings!


And here was Newcastle's cathedral, not at all a large structure reaching for the sky as some cathedrals are, but low and seemingly sunk into the slope. But inside it did seem a lot bigger than the exterior suggested, and there was plenty of richly-carved stone.


And brightly-painted monuments...


Out into the street again. I began to notice an awful lot of 'casinos'. Now I think of casinos as places where serious gamblers play games like Roulette and Blackjack and Craps and Texas Hold 'Em - you know, Las Vegas stuff. These places surely couldn't be like that. Perhaps they were just full of gaming machines - one-armed bandits and so forth. I didn't attempt to find out. But I noticed quite a number of men of a certain sort going in and out. So perhaps these 'casinos' were licensed to sell drinks all day, and maybe you could place a bet there. There were also establishments that were much more obviously night clubs. This was one of the more pretentious, called Madame Koo, complete with a large female head in its front window:


Quite why the bar had to be 'hidden' and the disco 'sneaky' eluded me. But then (a) I'm not familiar with any kind of club scene, and (b) for all I know, the nightlife in Newcastle is quite unusual.

Soon I was back at the station. Now I wanted to go underground, and take the Metro out to Whitley Bay on the Yellow Line, via Jesmond, Longbenton and Monkseaton. This was the way down.


And this was the three-zone ticket I bought. Only £5.


Newcastle's Metro is highly reminiscent of Liverpool's. Both look like London's Underground, but simpler. Both have adopted a yellow colour scheme. But neither use London-style tube trains. Liverpool uses regular electric units that once saw commuter service in the South-East. Newcastle uses its own rather angular type of electric railway carriage. This said, the onboard experience is much as it would be in London.

The Metro lines in the city centre run through underground tunnels, and the platform on which you wait for a train is very District Line.


No, not my train. But this is.


Sitting inside, you could be anywhere in the UK that has a metro system.


It took about half an hour to reach Whitley Bay. Only the first mile or so was underground. We soon came out into the sunlight, and it was a gorgeously warm and sunny afternoon in Newcastle's best-known beach resort. The station at Whitley Bay was worth a good long look.


In the resort's heyday, thousands of day-trippers would pass under that arch. But this was 2017, not 1927, and I'd arrived at 3.00pm, well after any morning rush, and before the place would see any commuters coming home. That suited me: I like to do my photography without too many people in the picture. In fact, I nearly had the station to myself. Passing into the entrance hall, I saw these modern mosaics at one end, showing a family on the beach:


Hmm. I was never myself so touchy-feely with my own parents. In fact, I never got used to being lifted and carried, nor being held in any way. It may have been something my parents didn't want to do with their two children - although Dad seemed very happy to have my little brother Wayne up on his shoulders, and Wayne seemed happy to be up there. Look at these pictures of Wayne with Dad in France in 1965, when my little brother was aged nine. I was never like this.


Gosh, Dad's using a Kodak Brownie! 

I don't remember having hugs, and things like that, from either parent. It surely wasn't their fault. Hugs (and touching generally) were something I didn't like when a child, something I would try hard to avoid. I know I was very awkward about it. I am probably responsible for my own lifelong unease with physical intimacy. If you don't learn to love it when young, perhaps you never do learn.  

In adulthood I did become accustomed to conventional kissing when meeting or parting from a friend or family member, but I rarely instigated any embraces myself. Even now, at sixty-five, I will hang back and dodge these things entirely if I can. If that's not an option, then I will kiss and press the flesh with as much gusto as I can. It'll be sincere feeling-wise, but - physically speaking - against my lifelong inclinations. 

Do I need therapy? Probably. Am I going to bother? Nope.

Back to Whitley Bay. There was information about the town's history. It was hard to imagine 100,000 visitors milling around on a Bank Holiday fifty or sixty years ago, from as far afield as Glasgow!


Well, whatever had brought them here in 1955 or 1965 would still be there to look at. Let's go and find it.

Stepping outside the station, I saw the distinctive station clock tower. Worth a snap.


Suddenly, I felt very hungry indeed. I had fruit, but needed something more. Ah! A chippy! A few chips wouldn't do any harm. They would keep me going. Besides, I intended to walk into the town centre, then follow the coast to Cullercoats at least. I needed fuel.


They were very nice chips. Just what I needed. I also munched an apple, and washed it all down with water. Then it was farewell to the station approach, and hello Whitley Bay town centre.


Hmm. If you ignored the vaping shops, the cheap gift shops, and the discount shops, you could see that once upon a time Whitley Bay had possessed comprehensive shopping and entertainment facilities. It had drifted sadly downmarket. This was disappointing. To be sure, it was a whole lot livelier than, say, Withernsea (the forlorn subject of a recent post) but I felt no compulsion to linger. I walked off towards the sea front. Away from the town centre tat, Whitley Bay seemed nicer. And surely the beach would be inviting. Those holidaymakers of the past wouldn't have come unless golden sands awaited them, and a decent promenade, and smart cafés.

Now this was hopeful: a proper dancing school up a side street. Strictly Come Dancing, and all that? I'd heard Bournemouth had a renowned dancing school. Did this mean Whitley Bay was really another Bournemouth?


Let's see the beach.


Would you believe it. They were tarting-up the sea front. In fact railings kept you well away from the diggers and other machinery. A poster explained how the end result of all these upheavals would be a sea front to be proud of. But I'd come here at the wrong moment to see Whitley Bay made gorgeous again.

Still, you could still see how nice the sands were, and that was a lovely bay, curving gracefully over to the lighthouse on the far point. I just needed to come back again in 2019... Meanwhile there was a wide promenade to walk on, which was pleasant enough in the sunshine. I headed for Cullercoats, the next place south along the coast.

Ah, at last, something that looked smart and inviting - a restaurant called Hinnies!


It advertised 'Geordie comfort food' but in fact had a menu that might appeal to a wide range of folk, myself included. 'Hinny' is what Geordie men - that is, Tyneside men - call their sweethearts, when they are not calling them 'pet'. It means roughly the same as 'honey'.

On I walked. By now I was consulting my phone, and wondering about how much more sightseeing I could accomplish before having to catch the train back to Alnmouth. I was determined to see not only Cullercoats, but Tynemouth too. I had already been on my feet for four hours, but the Melford peds were holding up well. Don't worry, I said to myself. Walk as far as Cullercoats station, take the Metro to Tynemouth, have a very quick look, then head back to the city centre. It's doable.

The promenade went all the way to Cullercoats. I passed a series of little bays, backed by red-brick houses. All of it had all seen better days, but it wasn't unattractive, and everything got distinctly nicer as Cullercoats approached. Mind you, some of the beach-level facilities were in a sorry state. I hoped the Grand Seafront Makeover would extend this far before the money ran out.


Information boards drew attention to a more glamorous past.


The low cliffs hereabouts, in between Whitley Bay and Cullercoats, were ablaze with red valerian.


Then suddenly I reached Cullercoats. Another information board explained its historic nature, and I saw a most attractive bay, with a sort of harbour. 


I didn't have the time to go down there. Finding the Metro station had to be my priority. 

So what did I do? Straight away I fell into conversation with a local couple who had walked here from Tynemouth, who assured me that, pleasant though the walk from Whitley Bay to Cullercoats might be, it wasn't a patch on the walk between Tynemouth and Cullercoats. Looking at the greensward ahead, over which they had come with their dog, I was sure they were right. But I had run out of time. 

And then, just a little further along, I had yet another chat, this time with a lady who was, like me, on a day visit. In fact our chat began when we realised we were both taking the same picture. Twenty more minutes passed. I wouldn't have missed these chats for the world, but I now beginning to feel that time was slipping away, and that I would be pushed to get to Alnwick in time for the Slimming World meeting at 7.00pm.

But I might be lucky. It was only just after 4.00pm. Ever the optimist, I decided even now to stick to plan, and not cut out Tynemouth. I found Cullercoats station. It was dozing in the sunshine. I had to wait a bit for a train. I forced myself not to feel impatience.


Gosh, what a lot of stations lay between Tynemouth and the central railway station in Newcastle! I felt a little of the frustration I always feel when having to rely on public transport. If only Fiona were here, ready to go, and not parked back at Alnmouth...

Did I make it back to Alnwick in time? That's for another post.

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