A Sunday stroll and singing in the Saltgrass in Sunderland.

Sunday, 3rd November and the weather had turned wintry again but that was not too much of a problem as I had little planned before a gig in Sunderland that evening. Having had such a wonderful wander round Newcastle the day before, as featured in the previous entry which I do hope you have had a chance to look at, I thought relaxing day locally might be in order.  Day of rest and all that. I know the concept of Sunday as a day of rest is bound up with a belief system I do not subscribe to and that being retired means every day is essentially a day of rest for me but you get the idea.

I suppose it would have been a good opportunity to have gone and had a look at the wonderful St. George’s Church which had been closed during the week and would presumably have been open on a Sunday morning but I just didn’t think of it and instead asked Paul and Sue to recommend a decent local pub for a Sunday lunchtime pint. I had the Punch Bowl and the Lonsdale already marked but I thought I might try somewhere else. They both suggested the Collingwood and gave me detailed directions of how to get there, even walking me part of the way.

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A typical Jesmond street.

Whilst I knew where I was going I deliberately detoured just to get a feel of the place and this led to the image you see above which is of nothing much of interest but was taken purely as it is so typical of that particular part of Jesmond i.e. the part built for workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If you’re interested, which you probably aren’t, it is Clayton Park Square, but even this apparently meaningless image led to a fascinating discovery and confirmation of something I had written earlier.

Looking at the frontages of the properties here they look like typical “two up, two downs” of the period, designed for a family with two or three children, they are certainly not huge. Whilst searching online for something on the history of the road to interest you with I stumbled upon literally pages of entries advertising properties for rent and all obviously aimed at the student market. One of these small homes is advertised as an eight bed residence. Yes, you read that correctly, eight. I know students have always lived in fairly cramped conditions but that is ridiculous. Eight people in one of these, it is madness. I have looked at images of the kitchen in it which looks lovely but more than three people in there would be push, I don’t know how they are allowed to do it. Crazier still is the fact that there is only one bathroom!

For those that do do it, the rewards are huge as the eight bed goes for £2336 ($US 3039) per month, it really is a licence to print money. Intrigued by this I had a look at property prices there and I reckon you could pay off the purchase price in about 12 years. No wonder these property developers get so rich! As for something of interest to tell you, I am sorry but I failed. After too many pages of property to let I just gave up.

Enough of the property speculation market in the NE2 postal district and back to my Sunday ramble. I knew exactly where I was going but there was a bit of an obstacle in my way in the form of the Dun Cow pub. I didn’t see it so much as an obstacle as an opportunity and it was not totally unexpected as Paul had mentioned there was another pub very near the Collingwood and in the event this turned out to be lucky as I shall explain shortly. They really are close to each other and if you look at the image of the back garden of the Dun Cow you will see the Collingwood peeking out from under the right hand tree. I had just managed to do things back to front which is about par for the course for me.

 

The Dun Cow looked like it had been fairly recently refurbed as the interior and exterior didn’t quite match and this s indeed the case. Formerly known as the Brandling pub it was bought over, tarted up and re-opened in 2017 by a company with a small chain of five outlets covering Sunderland and Newcastle. As you can see, it is pretty big which made it feel a touch cavernous as there were only a handful of people in the place which slightly surprised me given the emphasis obviously placed on food. I had been promised a proper Sunday dinner by Sue and so that was not an option for me although the “all the trimmings” roast dinners I saw being served looked lovely. I thought perhaps the Collingwood had attracted all the custom but this was not to be the case as you shall see.

The staff were friendly and my “cider spritzer” was served with a smile and a bit of chat but I suppose the young lady had little else to do as she certainly wasn’t rushed off her feet, it was strange. I had a look at the menu which was comprehensive and not expensive with various specials throughout the week. There is also a varied programme of entertainment which seems to be a feature of this chain. For the twin reasons that I was rationing myself knowing I had gig that night and the fact that the Dun Cow was a little lacking in atmosphere, purely due to the lack of patrons, I decided to make the arduous trek of about 100 yards and check out the Collingwood or “Colly” as it seems to be locally known.

Approaching from the gable end I had no inkling of the horror that was to unfold. Walking round to the front of the building I got a sense of foreboding as the place looked shut. Not permanently closed or derelict but just not open and the sight of the locked front door was indeed a sad one. A quick peek through the window shows that it is a great looking place as Paul had suggested and that only doubled my disappointment not to mention my surprise at how quiet the Dun Cow had been. If the good people of Jesmond weren’t having Sunday lunchtime meal and / or drink here then where were they going. Don’t worry, I’ll answer that question shortly but for the moment it was a couple of images and head on for bit of a walk. Why not? Dinner wasn’t for a while and I was close enough to home.

Rather than retrace my steps, I decided to loop round and go back via the Punch Bowl plus having a look at whatever I might see on the way. What I saw was the Royal Grammar School and a lot of other lovely old buildings converted into either luxury flats, nursing homes or student rabbit hutches. I am firmly of the opinion that only a very small minority of dwellings in Jesmond are actually inhabited by traditional family units and, whilst I know that times change and usually not for the better, I couldn’t help but feel just a little sad. Still there was one surefire cure for incipient melancholy and the Punch Bowl Hotel was reached soon enough.

I have already told you more than enough bout the Punch Bowl and how wonderful it is so I won’t bore you again nor post any of the images I took as I have used most of them in previous entries. Yes, I sometimes cheat and transpose images from one day to another. If only real time travel were that simple! My visit to the Punch Bowl did however clear up the small mystery of where the people of Jesmond eat on a Sunday afternoon, it is here and the place was pretty packed.

Heading home in good time for dinner, we were treated to another fine meal from Sue, she really does know how to cook. After eating, we had a very pleasant digestive period in front of the TV but not for too long as Paul and your humble narrator were gigging again that night. I did tell you at the start of this trip that it was set up to be a busy time, didn’t I? I was loving it.

Not only we gigging again but we were spreading our wings and heading to the metropolis of Sunderland which is only about 15 miles South of Newcastle and this proximity led to a fierce rivalry between the cities. Not least amongst this are football (soccer) matches between Newcastle United aka the Magpies because they play in black and white and Sunderland who play in red and white and have several nicknames, mainly the Black Cats because of the black lions on their crest. At present, League derbies are on hold as Sunderland are languishing in the third tier whilst Newcastle are in the premiership (for the time being anyway!).

Another nickname for supporters of Sunderland are Makems and there are various theories put forward as to the origin of this strange name. The most plausible of these harks back to the days of shipbuilding on the River Wear and is dependent on the local dialect for explanation. The shipmen of Sunderland said that “we makem (make them) and they takem (take them)” which means that they built the ships an then mariners from all over the world came to sail them away. As another of my numerous asides I noticed whilst researching this piece that there is even a Makem Way just across the river Wear from where we were playing and which leads to the football ground, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Despite it’s shortcomings in respect of reliability, I was very impressed by the extent of the Metro which I have spoken so much about and we could have gone all the way to Sunderland on it but it would have been a bit of a trek to the gig from the station and we were coming home lateish so we went by car. Paul knew where the place was but got the satnav going in case of difficulties on the way which turned out to be the case, or perhaps not as you shall see. About halfway through the journey the twatnav as a friend of mine likes to call it, and not without reason, sent us off the main and direct route due to some supposed roadworks.  We drove round in what appeared to be circles for a while until we got back on the road we needed to be on and rolled into Sunderland.

I have never been to Sunderland before and I cannot say that I have really seen it even yet as it was dark and raining but we managed to cross the Wear by the Queen Alexandra Bridge and then sharp left and it seemed like we had entered a film set for some post-Apocalyptic blockbuster. Remember that this was a rainy November night and we suddenly found ourselves on a road (I use the word loosely) with almost non-existent street lighting and barely wide enough for the articulated lorries that must obviously use it. On either side we were surrounded by high fences, spotlights and all the other paraphernalia of a large industrial estate. I know Paul is no mug but I seriously wondered where the Hell he was taking me, it really was desolate. As we were passing the huge Liebherr domestic appliance factory the twatnav chirpily piped up to inform us that we had reached our destination and, sure enough, there it was in front of us, the Saltgrass pub.

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What was this place doing here?

To say that the Saltgrass was incongruous here would be a serious understatement as this lovely looking pub would not have been out of place beside the village green of some Home Counties village. I thought I had somehow strayed into the Twilight Zone.
We went inside where we were greeted by a very friendly young chap who turned out to be the new manager and got ourselves a drink. I was amazed that there was a decent crowd in, most of them watching football and the reason for my amazement was that I did not know how they got there. I hadn’t seen a carpark, there were no vehicles outside and no bus stops that I could see. Just another mystery in this quite mysterious place.

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The not so glamorous side of being a musician.

We were playing in the back room where Ged and Martin were in the process of setting up and where there were precisely no people. The image above shows the procedure and also serves as proof that I was actually there and am not making all of this up as you can see my guitar waiting for me to assault it. I had an awful feeling that we were going to end up playing to an empty space which is a most soul-destroying experience. Believe me, I know. I once had the “pleasure” of playing a gig with a blues outfit I was in at the time and where the band outnumbered the audience five to three but that is another story.

We managed to start bang on time and, lo and behold, some people turned up. Certainly it was not packed but they were a decent crowd and seemed to enjoy it when we got a bit of banter going with them. We knocked out a few requests and, once again, it appeared that a good proportion of them had some sort of Irish heritage which seems to be very common in this area. I think it is to do with an Irish diaspora that came here looking for work in the shipyards and other heavy industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

I do know that there was a regiment in the First World War called the 103rd (Tyneside Irish) Brigade which suffered horribly at the Battle of the Somme. A Brigade is four Battalions so we are talking about somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 men which gives you an idea of how strong an Irish representation there was in the Northeast.

This was my last gig with Shamrock Street and I had thoroughly enjoyed them all. I had played with Paul literally hundreds of times over the years so that was no problem but it is one thing playing pub sessions for the fun of it and playing “proper” gigs, especially when it is in a working band. I know the guys have a bit of a following and I didn’t want their reputation to suffer because they had brought in a dodgy dep (deputising musician i.e. me) but I don’t think I had any major disasters. I can put my hand on my heart now and say that I have played with the wonderful Shamrock Street. One more for my crazy musical CV and thanks very much for having me, lads.

On the way home we basically ignored the satnav and went the way we had been diverted from on the outward journey. We had no problems as the supposed roadworks were not taking place although there was evidence of them being there and we made good time back home and back to my lovely room for the last time. Come the morrow I would be on the move again.

In the next entry I finally get to a town I have wanted to visit for a very long time, get soaking wet and have a pretty good curry so stay tuned and spread the word.

Author: Fergy.

Hello there and welcome to my blog which is the last attempt of a retiree and child of the 50's to overcome advanced technophobia and create a memoir of my rambles having had three commercial travel blog sites pulled from under me in just over a year. A learning curve like Everest! I am rapidly approaching a senior citizen bus pass and realistically I have more days independent travelling behind me than before so I intend to "do it while I still can" and am trying to cram in as much as I can now. Apart from travelling, I love playing music (guitar, vocals and a bit of percussion) as the profile pic suggests and sport, although my active participation is now restricted to the very occasional game of pool. I read voraciously, probably a legacy from my dear late Mother who was a librarian and encouraged me towards books from an early age. I'll read just about anything although I do have a particular interest in military history of all periods. I live alone in fairly central London where I have been for over 30 years since leaving Northern Ireland which was the place of my birth, youth and early manhood. Partially by necessity although more by love of the art I adore cooking and I can and do read recipe books and watch food programmes on TV / online all day. Nothing fancy and none of your nouvelle cuisine nonsense, just hopefully tasty, proper food. To my knowledge, I have not poisoned anyone yet! No doubt other little personal facts about me will emerge during the course of my writings here so stay tuned if you are at all interested.

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