Hallowe’en with a hearty breakfast, a decent walk and a great gig.

It’s almost winter.

Fair warning first, this is another one of my rambles, both literally and in it’s writing form so you might want to grab a drink and make yourself comfy if you feel like doing it all in one hit.  OK, if you’re sorted, let’s get to it.

After the somewhat packed day on the Wednesday, which I hope you have read about in my previous post, there wasn’t too much planned for the Thursday the 31st of October. Hallowe’en, All Hallows Eve if you subscribe to Judeo – Christian mythology or the Eve of Samhain and the last day of Summer if you are a pagan. Given my experience in the raw conditions of North Shields the previous evening Summer was far from my thoughts but it was a clear, bright day if still very cold.

I am actually composing this three days before Xmas 2019 and am once again amazed at the blatant hijacking of a long-standing belief system based on Nature, crops, the seasons and all things natural. I mention Xmas as I had long known that it was merely a means of imposing Christian beliefs onto non-believers by declaring Christ’s birth as the 25th December even though there is absolutely no historical evidence to support this. With my innate curiosity I had to look up the pagan calendar, which has taken a couple of hours and has proved fascinating not to mention explaining to some degree why I m always so far behind in my blog entries!

The first mention of a Christian celebration in late December does not come until 336 AD. Similarly, it was not until 1000 AD that the 2nd of November (not the 1st as it is now) was declared All Souls or All Saints (hallows being an old word for saints) Day was superimposed on the older Samhain festival and mimicked many of the rituals associated with it, especially bonfires.#

Just to add some further confusion to the whole matter, the Romans had not one but two festivals in late October / early November. One was Feralia which commemorates the passing of the dead and the second is the Feast of Pomona, goddess of fruit and trees. Obviously the Romans controlled most of Western Europe for about four centuries and so the Christian Church was effectively tacking on a totally invented festival onto not one but two much older celebrations from different, and often warring, cultures. As final proof of this, All Saints Day was originally on May 13th and not in Northern Hemisphere autumn at all. QED. Right, enough of the history lesson, interesting though it was to research, and back to Fergy in Northumberland.

We had another Working Man’s Club gig in the evening but, with Sue volunteering at the shop again and Paul up to his eyes in work, I was going to be fairly much left to my own devices all day which suited nicely. A bit more looking round Jesmond and maybe a wander into the centre of town would fill the time nicely but Paul had something to show me first. He had mentioned a cafe nearby which he raved about and we took off there for breakfast.

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A great place for breakfast.

cafébar one (no, neither word is capitalised) was small and seemed terribly trendy probably because Jesmond is terribly trendy. It also gets extremely busy and we were lucky to get a recently vacated table on a late November Thursday morning. At one point there were actually people queuing for tables not to mention those sitting outside which I would not have fancied in that freezing cold. The menu is extensive to say the least and bang up to date with all the latest eating fads. There are options for just about every food allergy, intolerance and preference with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free offerings much to the fore. The selection of teas, coffees, herbal infusions and the like made my head swim.

I had a bit of a double take moment when, in the middle of all the superfood porridge and warm rice salads etc. I spied poutine. What, in Jesmond? If you do not know what it is, poutine is the unofficial national dish of Canada and I had sampled a few plates of it on my travels there. It is basically sautéed potatoes topped with cheese and sometimes bacon and then drowned in a homemade gravy. My friend Lynne’s father Ron, a fine cook from Nova Scotia, does a particularly toothsome version.

 

Paul and I are both of a certain age and so a nice, simple full English breakfast each was called for and quickly served up by the very friendly waitress along with the coffee you can see which was effectively a minor work of art. I have long wondered a) how people do this and, more importantly, b) why do they do it? It is very pretty but a bit pointless really. The breakfast, as you can see, was nice and simple as required and also extremely tasty. Paul really was giving me the full culinary tour of Tyneside. Again, it was only whilst I was researching this post today that I found out that they source all their food locally and even name all the suppliers on their website as provided above. Special mention needs to be made of the sausages which were the tastiest I have tasted in many a long year of eating fry-ups so credit to the Amble Butchers in Morpeth, a few miles to the North.

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Aptly named, I thought.

Duly fortified we headed off on our separate missions, Paul to slave over a hot keyboard and I to, well, I wasn’t quite sure. I knew I wanted to have a look round the two large cemeteries a short distance down the road but other than that I had little idea. All I knew was that I would find something to interest me and the first such item was the charming planter you see in the image above.

As you can see, this is the Cradle Well, so named because………. Go on, take a wild guess. Actually, it has given it’s name to this whole part of Jesmond and the frighteningly busy A1058 Coast Road is called the Cradlewell bypass along this section of it’s length. The well is long gone and I am guessing this was once a water trough for animals although it is rather pleasant in it’s present state.

With the images of the well duly captured I headed off at a brisk pace towards the cemeteries and City respectively. It was no day for dawdling and the dubious delights of the bypass certainly didn’t inspire stopping to take in the view.

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Not as bad as it might have been.

The next place of interest I came to was a sight that would normally have depressed me greatly and did at the time although subsequent research has lessened that blow somewhat. It was the remains of the Cradlewell Hotel which looked like it had been closed for quite some time, 2012 to be precise. Since then, plans to turn the upstairs into a bona fide hotel (the premises had been merely a bar for many years) were scuppered by local objections, mainly about parking which is ridiculous in that area. Later plans to convert the building into flats in 2016 foundered on the same rock.

The hotel was opened on the site of an earlier pub of the same name dating to 1833 by Robert Deuchar in 1904 and he is an interesting character with strong local ties. Originally from Scotland, he and his three younger brothers moved to Tyneside in 1861 and opened a pub, the Chancellor’s Head in Newgate Street which is sadly now demolished. They must have been good at the pub game as they went on to own forty of them and breweries in Edinburgh and Newcastle. The side street beside the hotel is even called Deuchar Street! Their Duechars beer, unlike their first pub, exists to this day under the umbrella of the Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh (now part of the Heineken attempt at world domination) and I even have one of their T-shirts in my vast collection.

The reason I was marginally less saddened than I might have been is that Paul and Sue told me that the Cradlewell was well-known as the meeting place for all the gangsters in the City and not at all a good place to visit although I do have a vaguely suicidal tendency to seek out the roughest bars I can find so no doubt curiosity would have got the better of me. I do wish they would do something with it as it really is a bit of an eyesore in an otherwise very attractive area.

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A very fine establishment indeed.

Not 100 yards further on I came upon another “hotel” which could not have been in more direct contrast to the Cradlewell. This is the Punch Bowl Hotel and it is odd! I am not sure how to begin describing it to you so I shall let them do the work themselves with a quote from their excellent website. “Three rooms, specialising in records, doggos, vermouth, craft beers, absinthe, live bands, cinema screenings, theatre, delicious plates of scran, stand up comedy and everything in-between”, and that is just the start as you shall see.

The Hotel has been there even longer than the Cradlewell and dates from the 1870’s although there was an earlier hostelry here. I liked the look of it externally and discovered later that it is Scottish Baronial style. Every day’s a schoolday. I also noted the distinctive blue star device above the door which I instantly recognised as the Scottish and Newcastle Brewery logo, brewers of the world famous Newcastle Brown Ale and now another minor cog in the Heineken machine. Sorry about the age gate on the website, it is a legal requirement by our nanny state.  It’s not as if under 18’s aren’t just going to lie about their age anyway.

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A brand new “old” bar.

I went in to one of the two bars, which is typical of old British pubs and it was very pleasant as it should have been having only very recently been refurbished to the tune of £1 million. Like it’s now decaying companion up the road, the Punch Bowl had lain empty for a few years, 2015 to be precise, until it was bought over by a company called Frank and Bird who had re-opened it in April 2019. F&B, as they style themselves, had performed a similar trick at the Brandling Villa in nearby South Gosford which they took on as a failing / failed venture and which is now one of the top venues in the area.

I said it was odd and it is. Many places try for an eccentric / quirky feel and most don’t manage to pull it off but this place does somehow. I ordered my pint of cider spritzer with an accompanying chat to the very friendly barman who was decent enough to sympathise with my alcohol predicament when I explained about the odd mixture. That was one plus point, friendly staff and on subsequent visits he was not a one off.
The place was pretty quiet at that hour so I had plenty of choice of seats in what is a fairly sizeable room and I naturally plumped for comfy looking Chesterfield sofa beside the real (enclosed) fire which was sadly not alight but the place was certainly warm enough. Chalk up plus points two and three for the seating and heating arrangements.

 

My “table” was, at best guess, made from a goods trolley, possibly at a railway station, with a Monopoly board inlaid, but not just any Monopoly board, it was Russian! Although I have visited the place where Cyrillic script allegedly originated (it is near Ohrid on Macedonia) I do not know the alphabet properly although I find it very similar to the Greek alphabet which I can get by with. Even I know that Mockba translates as Moscow which is where the board represented and I spent some time trying to translate the various locations with limited success as I do not know Moscow at all.
I thought this was just a little curiosity but not so. When I went to the Gents later, the signs for the toilets are in Russian as well. I found out that the upstairs concert area, which features music, poetry, comedy and cinema showings amongst other things is called Bobik which meant nothing to me at the time but which I have now discovered was the name of a dog in the Russian space programme who managed to escape before being blasted into space and certain death. Poor old Laika would have done well to follow Bobik’s lead. There are a few more nods to Russian culture around the place although I still cannot find out what, if any, the connection is to Tyneside.

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I really was not expecting this.

Speaking of the toilets, they are strange as well and I have to preface this paragraph by stating that I am not in the habit of taking pictures in public house toilets but I had to do this and there was nobody else there obviously. The facilities are spotless and rather retro as the cistern of the toilet suggests but what is below the cistern is anything but retro. It is a fully electronically controlled bidet complete with heated seat and inspired, apparently, by the toilets in a Tokyo McDonalds of all things. A bidet in a Gents in a Newcastle boozer? I don’t know what Alan Hull (RIP) would have made of it all.

I know I labour the point but travelling and even moreso writing about it both here and previously elsewhere really does teach me so much. Who would have thought that a simple lunchtime pint in a Geordie boozer would have taught me all about the Russian space programme’s use of dogs (and rabbits) or the sanitary arrangements in Japanese fast food outlets?


The Russian theme is continued on the cover of the menu which depicts a Soviet cosmonaut and it is also a bit zany with liberal use of Geordie vernacular. It is not entitled menu or food but scran which is a local word for grub and has passed into wide use in the armed forces, I use it frequently myself although some visitors might struggle with it. The vegetarian / vegan section is entitled Vegan Arseholes and the children’s menu goes under Your Little Shites. I kid you not (pun intended).

Perhaps the most unusual section of the menu, and one which I have never seen before is the one for Doggos. Yes, they have a dedicated menu for our canine friends and this is in keeping with the pub’s policy of dog-friendliness which I was to witness on a future visit. I had never heard of dog popcorn or ice-cream and how dog beer differs from the human variety is anyone’s guess but they are all on offer, at a price.

 

Hanging from the roof I spied a lovely little model railway set-up which, like the fire, was not in operation that lunchtime. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of what the Punchbowl is like and there was much more to be discovered in the other bar which I was to visit later on in the trip but I shall save that for then and for now we shall head back out into the cold and the noise of the bypass and make for the cemetery.

I love old burial places and the older the better as far as I am concerned but I knew before I went that the two cemeteries on opposite sides of the road were not going to be that old. The history of the area told me as much as virtually nobody had lived here until the middle of the 19th century. Judging by the size of the two graveyards many people not only lived but also died hereabouts in the intervening period. They were both well-tended and I had a bit of a chat with one of the chaps responsible for that as he was doing his sweeping. The memorials were pretty much what I would have expected from the Victorian period onwards and I only had a brief look round and the obligatory image or two.

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Something else I was not expecting.

About the only thing of real interest I discovered was that the little chapel in All Saints cemetery appears to be the meeting place for the local Russian Orthodox congregation of the Parish of St. George, hence the image of the eponymous holy man and his unfortunate draconine victim as pictured above. It always amuses me that George is the patron saint of England, amongst many other places, when he was from modern day Turkey and never actually set foot on the “green and pleasant land”.

Of course I had never previously considered the presence of an Orthodox Christian community in Newcastle but it appears there is one and it is fairly active if it’s Facebook page is to be believed. It seems like everyone has one now.

 

I crossed the road at the pedestrian crossing as doing otherwise would have been exhibiting a death wish which I really do not have, contrary to some people’s belief. The Old Cemetery there was not really that old, dating only to 1836 and so is much similar in it’s appearance to it’s fellow across the road. What is undeniably impressive is the entrance which is to the design of John Dobson who I have mentioned before. He was the man who seems to have virtually single-handedly designed Newcastle, including the wonderful railway station and is fittingly buried here as are other notables like Robert Deuchars who I mentioned earlier and the father of Lord Armstrong of Jesmond Dene fame, himself a noted engineer.

The list of those who have their final resting place here is long, about 25,000 or so and includes the man who invented the clear sticking plaster, the founder of Fenwicks department store which still trades in the city and Miss Muriel Evelyn Robb, the 1902 Wimbledon Ladies Singles Champion. Sadly, Miss Robb did not live long to enjoy her achievement as she died tragically young five years later.
What I found rather sad during my research was that the first interment here on 9th December of that year was Margaret Redford Hoy, the 14-year-old daughter of a Newcastle grocer and her grave was unmarked. I have long thought that all are equal in death and here is a prime example of this poor young lass whose kin could not even afford a headstone lying alongside the great and the good of the City.  OK Fergy, pull yourself together and don’t get maudlin because you still have a lot more places to show your good readers.
I knew that the bypass would lead me right into the centre of the city but I had had about enough of it by then and so I took off on another one of my *happily getting lost” treks. I had seen that there was a rear entrance, considerably less grand than the front and so I headed for that. On the way, I passed the South Lodge which I did not know at the time is a listed building and was originally home to the Superintendent of the Cemetery. I came out directly opposite the Sandyford Social Cluband idly wondered if Paul had sought gigs in there, it would have been walking distance from home for him.
I was working on the not unreasonable assumption that if I kept going downhill I would eventually end up at the river and hence the centre of town eventually so I took a completely random route along back streets which is a favourite pastime of mine. In total contradiction of the old cliche “onward and upward” I was heading very deliberately onward and downward and thoroughly enjoying it. I do hope that is not reflective of my life in general. People think I am crazy for taking pleasure in wandering unremarkable residential streets but I find it invaluable in getting feel for a place and I had not a care in the world, let alone the faintest idea where I was.

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It had to be worth a look.

Eventually I came to a main road which my map now tells me was the A193 if you are interested. I wasn’t then but I was interested in the New Bridge pub across the road which styled itself as a neighbourhood bar which sounded great to me. I have to say it was not what my pre-conceived idea of a Newcastle neighbourhood bar might have been but, then again, what exactly is a neighbourhood bar? Surely by definition surely every urban pub must be in a neighbourhood. Yes, I am rambling again and I shall stop. #

 

The bar was sizeable, modern and empty. I would not have expected much lunchtime trade round here and it looked much more like an evening sort of place with the big screen TVs, pool table and apparently occasional live music. What it also had was something I had never seen in a bar was the huge item you can see in the image which is apparently a shuffleboard. I thought shuffleboard was a game played on the decks of cruise ships but apparently it is becoming popular in bars if you have the room as I have since seen one in newly opened hotel / bar not five minutes walk from my home. I had a bit of a look at the rules and it looks a bit like shove ha’penny on steroids to me.

As I was getting used to in this part of the world, the welcome was very warm and I had a good chat with the two young ladies serving before having a seat and catching up on the sports news on the TV. Pleasant as it was, I knew I still had plenty to see and I was rationing my drinks so I could potentially visit more pubs and there was still a gig in the evening to consider.


Back out the door and a right turn as that was very clearly downhill and fairly steep to boot so I reckoned the Tyne was getting close as indeed it turned out to be. A couple more images here which may appear random but were taken for a reason. The first shows exactly how down I mean by downhill, I wouldn’t like to tackle this in the snow. It serves a double purpose as the buildings on the right, which look to me like a five year old’s attempt at a colouring-in book, are student accommodation. Maybe the bright colours are some sort of homing mechanism for when they roll out of the Student’s Union drunk.

The second image is of a gateway in the same building and shows why it is a student residence. If you look through the gates you see what looks a bit like an advertising hoarding with the logo GBRf on it but is actually part of a rather long freight train which was rumbling past literally feet away from the back wall of the building. Nobody but students would have lived there!
Following my downhill route to it’s logical conclusion I emerged onto the Quayside and the image above is the first of a rather large amount I took featuring the various bridge

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The first of many.

s over the Tyne from every conceivable angle. To avoid the blog turning into Bridge Enthusiasts Monthly I shall post a separate page of nothing but these images which you can skip if cantilever, suspension and cable stayed leave you cold (they are all types of bridges).  OK, I admit I slipped one of the Tyne Bridge in as the header for this page which was taken from about the same spot and I am very fond of because it of the lowering sun.  I work on the principle that if I take enough images I might get one I like every once in a while.

The Quayside has obviously had a few quid spent on it recently like nearby North Shields and it’s Fish Quay which featured in my last post and it is now crammed with upmarket eateries and watering holes. Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking it but again I couldn’t help thinking how different it must be from when it was a busy working quay with it’s attendant bustle, smells and noise.

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A fine old building.

There are still a few old buildings in more or less their original state and I was particularly taken by the old Custom House you can see above which dates to 1766 although it was altered considerably in 1833. Unsurprisingly it is a listed building now in use as barristers chambers. After a bit more Quayside and a lot more bridge imagery I decided to get away from the river again as there was a wind blowing up it that would have cut corn as they so delightfully put it in Northern Ireland.

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An unusual name for a steep climb.

A bit more random wandering and I came upon the wonderfully named Dog Leap Stairs which I decided to climb even though they looked a bit steep. Why? Because they were there, to paraphrase Sir Edmund Hillary. Up I went, blowing a bit as I was still not back to what passes for full fitness even at my age. The stairs themselves are fairly unremarkble and the I have since discovered that even the name is not as exciting as it might have been. I had vague notions of a brave canine having to jump down off them in the course of some heroic act or other but they are merely named for the dogleg in them.  They so get a mention in Dire Straits’ 1978 song ‘Down to the Waterline’ but thn again Mark Knopfler was brought up on Tyneside.

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It doesn’t look like much now.

As is so often the way I found an interesting if visually unimpressive item as I was pausing to catch my breath. The rather forlorn looking stone square is all that remains of the original Anglo-Saxon church which once stood on this site and long predates the nearby Castle. Equally interesting was that neither Paul nor Sue, who are both very well up on local history knew of it’s existence which only goes to prove how easy it is to miss things on your own doorstep. I know I am never done finding things in London in places I have been frequenting for over 30 years.

I had managed to get myself into the road called Black Gate which was rather unimaginatively named for the Black Gate of the Castle which gives the city it’s name. It was built between 1247 and 1250 which is Henry III vintage so it is going back a bit although there have been numerous additions over the centuries from the original functional defensive structure. You can visit the Castle but I didn’t bother as, to be honest, I fancied a bit more exploring.

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I’ll get there later on.

I didn’t have far to go for my next “find” although you could hardly describe it as such for it is hard to miss a bloody great bridge, in this case the High Level Bridge. With a great effort of will I took a quick snap of the lovely looking Bridge Hotel and didn’t go in! That situation was to be rectified later in the trip so I’ll leave the history of the place until then.

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More bridges!

If my walking past an open pub was a demonstration of willpower it was nothing to that I had to exhibit next. It is not called the High Level Bridge for nothing, it is a very long way down and I really do not like heights. What persuaded me was that I knew if I braved it that I could probably get some decent images of the other bridges. Again, I am only going to bore you with one of the images and put the rest in the gallery I shall post later. Despite my absolute terror, I think they were worth it, the sun was more or less shining, the river was flat calm giving some lovely reflections and whilst they were not Terence Donovan I was happy with them.

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A Geordie pub shut in the daytime?

Retreating sharply from the bridge I retraced my steps past the Castle Keep and Castle Garth, again resisting the temptation to go in for a look. I really must do that next time. I was just about ready for another drink now and the Empress Bar came in sight but it was surprisingly not open until the evening. Paul later told me that it wasn’t much of a boozer anyway so it probably wasn’t too much of a loss and investigating it led me to the next point of interest which, as the image shows, is the oddly named Amen Corner.

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I know a band of that name.

Readers of a certain age will immediately associate this with a moderately successful 1960’s pop group featuring Andy Fairweather Low, who is till touring at the age of 71 and Blue Weaver, also still active in the music business at 72 after stints with Strawbs, the Bee Gees and Mott the Hoople amongst others. I wondered if the band were from here but a quick bit of research gave the lie to that notion as the band was named after an event in a Cardiff night club. It also led me to discover that there are Amen Corners all over the place including the City of London which I thought I knew pretty well and lying off a street I know for a fact I have walked along often. I have never seen Amen Corner on that street but I’ll be looking for it now. The name itself and the fact that the two locations in Newcastle and London are close to St.Nicholas’ and St. Paul’s Cathedrals respectively, might explain it. It appears the clergy in nearby St.Nicholas Church were in the habit of processing round the grounds praying and this is where they finished up, hence the Amen.

With that piece of pop nostalgia and clerical trivia more or less sorted out, let’s carry on. I walked up past the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas which dates originally to 1080 although most of the building is 14th century and the tower 15th. It is the most Northerly cathedral in England and I would have liked to visit but kept on walking in search of that elusive pint. Just beside the cathedral is the rather fine statue of Queen Victoria and it is interesting that I took both the images above with my back to a revolting looking 1970’s office block called “One Cathedral Square” which houses the Department of Work and Pensions amongst other things. I have mentioned the appalling T. Dan Smith, corrupt politician (is there any other sort?), convicted criminal and architectural vandal and I would love to blame him for this eyesore but I can’t as it post-dates his destructive time in office. Ir is just another example of the blindness of town planners in the latter half of the last century.


Walking a mere 100 yards or so, I turned into Cloth Market and things were not going to get any better as about half of the lower end seemed to consist of long boarded up premises. I don’t know if this is the result of economic malaise or it is part of a planned redevelopment. I found one particularly poignant example of such a building, not only because it was a closed down pub but also because of an important local musical connection. The image above shows Balmbra’s in it’s last incarnation as a Motown Bar, whatever that might be. I had a look in the rather grimy windows and saw that the place was completely gutted although there was some wonderful tile work still visible on the walls which were totally in keeping with the 1902 date of construction but there had been pub on this site called the Wheatsheaf long before and it is this which has the musical association mentioned for it was here that George Ridley first performed “The Blaydon Races”.
If you have never heard the song, it is a sort of unofficial “national anthem” for Newcastle and the Northeast, supplanted only much later to a degree by Lindisfarne’s “Fog on the Tyne” in the early 1970’s. Much more of them later. Blaydon Races is one of those songs that tests the memory as it has about 108 verses (OK, it has six really) and it always reminds me of “The Rocky Road to Dublin” in the Irish canon, neither of which I can remember in full. Paul does a great rendition of the former and I do try and assist on the chorus which I have mastered. The pub is mentioned in the couplet, “Ah tyuk the ‘bus frae Balmbra’s, an’ she wis heavy laden, away we went alang Collingwood Street, that’s on the road to Blaydon”. Yes, it is in dialect! I wonder what the riders on the horse drawn omnibus would have made of Collingwood Street or the A186 as it is less pleasingly named now.

Yes, I know I am rambling again and I am going to do some more right now. One of the images above shows the sadly padlocked and graffitied door which was taken primarily to illustrate the demise of this once popular establishment but I didn’t pay much attention to the graffiti at the time as I just put it down to the usual mindless vandalism that is endemic just about everywhere in the so-called developed world today.

Amongst what are presumably the initials and barely legible “tags” of the idiots that do this you will see the numbers 420-710, so what is all that about? My readership is small, although I like to think they are an exclusive group, and I know many of them personally. They are fine, upstanding people to a man and woman which is why I am providing this little explanation. For reasons which I can explain but won’t bore you with the term 420 refers to smoking cannabis and 710 refers to cannabis oil which is one of the ways it is taken. Why 710? Turn it upside down and read it. So now you know, every day’s a schoolday, just don’t ask me how I know all this.


Balmbra’s was interesting in it’s way but not much use to me so I kept on walking and luckily didn’t have to go far until I was at the door to Pumphrey’s Bar although I wasn’t there long. I was straight through it and up to the bar to go through the rigmarole of explaining the cider spritzer again. This was a bit more embarrassing here than in some other establishments as it was clearly a “proper pub”. It was full of men (very few women) who were mostly intent on watching the various horse racing meets on the different big screens and constantly checking the Sporting Life and Racing Post and whatever other publications gamblers favour. I know nothing about it as I never gamble and would not even know how to fill out a bookies docket. I can only imagine that in more tolerant times the air would have been blue with cigarette smoke. I managed to find a seat and had a look round what was obviously a fairly old establishment.

Again, it was only subsequent research that unearthed all the secrets of the place and, you’ve guessed it, another interesting story. Pumphrey’s is named for Thomas Pumphrey and, as you can see, it is a very impressive hostelry indeed. This is hardly surprising as it had a £100,000 makeover in 2018 courtesy of the Heritage Lottery Fund and it appears to have been money well spent.

All is not, however, as it appears as the premises here was not the original Pumphrey’s which was elsewhere and it was most certainly not a pub as the business was originally a grocers and coffee and tea dealers founded by George Richardson who was a Quaker and abhorred alcohol. Pumphrey was his nephew and of similar ideas regarding the demon drink and it is only in 1974 that the former grocers, coffee roasters and popular coffee house was converted into a bar.  I do wonder what Messrs. Richardson and Pumphrey’s would make of the “Devil’s buttermilk” being sold in their fine, now listed premises.

The coffee side of the company flourishes with several branches and even a training establishment so, if you do not fancy a pint you can get a decent cup of Java in the coffee shop next door.

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Time to get back to base.

A quick stop into the excellent Army surplus store yielded a DPM (camo) headover which I use as a bandana and that pleased me greatly as I had been looking for one for ages. It is amazing how difficult those things are to find and my previous one was just about on it’s last legs. After that it was back to the Metro and the quick journey to Jesmond because I still had things to do.

As had been the case the previous day, I could have sat indoors that evening and been well content with an interesting and enjoyable day but I was here for a reason and we had another gig that night and so it was a bite to eat and then back to the Tube for the journey to Jarrow and the Alberta Club. As we were approaching Jarrow station I asked Paul if it was far to the venue and he smiled, pointed out the window and said, That’s it”. The club was literally across the road and it’s postal address is Railway Street which gives you an idea.

30 seconds brought us to the club and again I was amazed at how big and well-equipped it was. I wouldn’t like to say which was the larger between it and the Iona we had previously played in, there is not much on it. The Alberta has two bars, one much larger than the other and equipped with pool tables, dartboards and the like and then, to the rear, a sizeable function hall where we were going to do our thing. Honestly, the social clubs round Newcastle really are impressive. I have played in such establishments before but never anything on the sheer physical scale of these.

Here I was in a working man’s club in Jarrow and I could not help but think about the history of the area a bit, as I had been doing since Paul had told me we were playing there. Jarrow sits on the Tyne in Co. Durham and is effectively now part of Newcastle but in years past it was a separate community and is probably famous in most people’s minds for one thing – the Jarrow March.

The March, officially called the Jarrow Crusade, happened in October 1936 and was born out of the massive unemployment in the town (and the region and country generally) which had been caused by the closure of the local Palmer’s Shipyard in 1934. As it was effectively the only local employer of note this was a devastating blow and unemployment peaked in NE England in 1932 at a staggering 28.5%. Even by the time of the march it was 16.8% and unemployment nationally in the ship building industry was 33.3% so it is easy to appreciate the problem. The marchers, or Crusaders as they liked to be known, carried a petition all the way to London for presentation to Parliament asking for the establishment of some form of industry in the town to relieve the situation.

For much of the way, the march was led by Ellen Wilkinson, the firebrand one-time Communist and then Labour MP for Jarrow. She is very well remembered and there is an Ellen Wilkinson House a block of flats) not 20 minutes walk from my home as well as a primary school named for her a little further away in Beckton and a secondary school for girls, also named for her, in West London.

The March / Crusade made it to London, Wilkinson presented the petition, they went back home by train and that was that. They had achieved absolutely nothing but the endeavour is well remembered to this day as a symbol of the hardship of the times.  Coincidentally, in the interim period since I played there and writing this in January 2020 I watched an episode of the excellent Great British Railway Journeys series presented on the BBC by the former Conservative politician Michael Portillo which spent some time dealing with the march and I do recommend it if you can find it online.
When we walked in, we were greeted by a couple of people who had been at the “Fireside” gig in the Iona, it appears the band have a bit of a following. More were to arrive nearer gig time and I was surprised and extremely flattered that several people said hello and called me by name. It was certainly not an arduous gig as a couple of the “turns” were guitarists themselves, and far better than me, so I let them get on with it. There were several of the performers from the previous gig amongst the Iona contingent including Angelina who you see in the image above along with half of me and half of Paul which I should explain.

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Honestly, I did play and I can prove it!

Martin the percussionist wasn’t required for Angelina’s set as she sings mostly slow ballads and so he was sitting out and took a few images on his ‘phone. Why he used monochrome I don’t know but I think it makes a pleasant change and he was concentrating on the main event i.e. the lovely lady singer and so didn’t frame it with my ugly mug fully captured. Frankly, I don’t blame him for that but I have included this as it is probably the only image I have of me playing on the whole trip and it proves that I did knock out a few chords lest you think I am making it all up.

With the gig safely under our belts and the audience apparently well satisfied judging by the comments it was time for the Metro home, a quick brew and off to bed. This really was turning into a brilliant trip and I was loving it.

Just a final word before I sign off. Right at the top of this post I mentioned that it was three days before Xmas as I was composing this and that was indeed true. How I am now looking to publish it on the 18th of January is testament to a) the fact that I have been quite busy, mostly doing things I will eventually have to write about here and b) the grave failing that I have of being able to put things off almost indefinitely. I shall never get caught up at this rate but I’ll try.

In the next post I do something that I normally don’t do and have not done for years plus I have the most amazing tea so stay tuned and spread the word.

I “discover” Jesmond and “rock” North Shields.

I awoke on the Wednesday morning after a great night’s sleep in total silence which I was now becoming used to with my recent stay in Broadstairs. Where I live in London it is a constant cacophany of sirens (I live just off a main road and have a main police station, two fire stations and a major hospital all close to me), road noise, shouting youths and all the other nuisances of urban life but I am so used to it all now that I do not even register it. When I go somewhere quiet I find it very strange for a night or two.
I knew I was going to be left to my own devices most of the day as Paul works from home and was in the middle of a major time-critical project and Sue was going to be working in a local charity shop that afternoon. Well, I am used to looking after myself so that was never going to present problems. I had the Metro system sussed and the world, well Newcastle city and environs, was fairly much my oyster. I wasn’t going to venture too far as I was under orders to be back at 1600 as Paul was planning a trip to North Shields to sort out some details of a forthcoming gig and he was also throwing about the possibility of “a few tunes” somewhere which, with Paul, can mean just about anything but is invariably great fun.

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It never really works, does it?

When I ventured outside for my morning smoke (did I mention before that I am down from 30 a day to three and feeling pretty smug about it?) I decided to try to get bit arty with the camera which I do from time to time and the result is one of the images you see above. They never actually amount to much but I have fun taking them. I was shuffling back and forth trying to line up my shadow dead centre and did not notice a young couple coming up behind me who offered a friendly greeting and a slightly puzzled look. I muttered something about trying to capture shadows and felt like a right idiot. David Bailey I am not.

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A cracking read.

Sue had very kindly given me the run of her extensive library, much of which was devoted to local and regional titles and I seized upon an excellent book called “Jesmond from mines to mansions” by a local historian called Alan Morgan and published by Newcastle City Libraries. OK, it is a pretty niche work and never going to be in the bestsellers list but I do like reading about places whilst I am there and this was perfect. In truth I could happily have sat in the living room wading my way through that library and never gone out of the door but I resisted that temptation. After a bite to eat Sue offered to show me another route up to Jesmond if I wanted a look round and I happily took her up on her offer.

Jesmond is a charming leafy suburb having sprung up on previously agricultural and mining land in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, hence the title of the book I was by now avidly devouring, and we began our walk along Jesmond Dene Road with the Dene on one side and very nice houses on the other. This was the area where the industrial magnates of the Northeast had large estates and where the emerging upper middle class moved out to the suburbs. The process was facilitated by the coming of the railway which now forms part of the Metro system I had ridden the previous day. In many ways I found it reminiscent of Betjeman’s “Metroland”, the suburbs to the North and West of London which were built about the same time and for the same reasons. They were named after the Metropolitan railway which itself has now been incorporated into the London Underground system in much the same way as the railway here has.

On the way we passed by St. Mary’s Chapel but we did so at a rate of knots as Sue is a keen walker and doesn’t hang about when she wants to get somewhere. I marked the spot mentally and shall tell you all about it in a moment. The imposing St. George’s church was another landmark on the route filed for further investigation. We arrived at the charity shop where I was introduced to Sue’s colleague and then had a quick look round. I have rarely seen charity shop like it and I spend a lot of time visiting them. The only other area that I know of which comes close in terms of charity shops is Chelsea, a very posh area in London, where I used to pick up some great bargains. All the clothes in this shop were flash designer labels, looked like they had been worn once if at all and had price tags to match. Fair enough, I am no fashionista but I’ll bet they were still priced at a fraction of what they cost new. I don’t mind that as it is all in aid of St. Oswald’s Hospice, an excellent local charity. Most of the kit here was far flasher than I could ever carry off and there were no books that I fancied so I took off for a look round Jesmond.

I was fairly well orientated by now and made my way easily to the Station or more precisely the Lonsdale Hotel directly beside it and which I had noted the previous day. On the way I passed the Royal British Legion Club where, in addition to the memorial “Lest we forget” bench which are becoming very popular now, there was the excellent carving of a “squaddie” of what I believe is World War Two vintage and apparently carved out of a single tree trunk. I thought it was an excellent piece of work, I wonder how long it took to complete.

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The Lonsdale.

Paul had told me that the Lonsdale was a good place to watch sport and it seemed to be that way inclined with lots of large screens about the place tuned into a sports channel even in the early afternoon. The Lonsdale is part of the Greene King hospitality chain (the largest in the UK) which originated with a brewery in Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk and which I had read recently was being taken over by Hong Kong’s richest family. The deal was actually finalised the day after I was there and I could not help but muse on how many long-established British business are now under foreign control but that is a subject for another time.

 

I noticed that they had a Seniors Menu here which was a concept I found very popular all over this area. Perhaps I just didn’t look for it before but it does not seem to be as prevalent around London and, having recently joined that illustrious band, I am all in favour of the idea. It was the usual pub grub suspects when I checked the menu even though I wasn’t going to eat there. The pub was virtually empty as you would expect on a chilly November Wednesday afternoon but the welcome was warm enough and the lady behind the bar never batted an eyelid when I asked for my odd cider spritzer concoction.
With the pub duly reconnoitred, it was time to go for a mooch round and I could not resist taking the image you see above which quite tickled me. I am guessing the vehicle belongs to a newlywed couple starting off their married life in Jesmond and I can think of a lot worse places to do it.

One thing that struck me very forcefully about Jesmond was the amount of student accommodation hereabouts and Paul and Sue confirmed that it was very popular for that. I suppose the large old dwellings lend themselves to loft conversions and splitting up into multi-occupancy dwellings and I believe it became so prevalent a few year back that it got out of control and the local Council had to introduce all sorts of bylaws regulating parking, loft conversions, landlords and the like. I saw several very large old buildings along Jesmond Road with signs earmarking them for development as student residences. I suspect some property developers are making an absolute killing here. Other large old residences are now serving as hotels, guesthouses and private residential homes for the elderly.

It is strange how things change over time. I read in the book I mentioned above that initially there were no pubs allowed in Jesmond due to the religious and social sensibilities of the landed gentry whose land was sold off at a good price for the development of the area. Presumably they didn’t want the “commoners” rolling round the place drunk and offending their finer feelings. Nowadays Osborne Road is renowned amongst the hipsters of “the Toon” for it’s watering holes and partying. With all the students in the area, there were certainly some sights to be seen the next night on Hallowe’en but that is to get ahead of myself.

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Best of luck to them!

I just had the one pint and then headed back in vaguely the direction I had come to have a closer look round and I hadn’t gone far when I chanced upon the car in the image above and couldn’t resist an image. I am guessing that Mr. and Mrs. Davey are fairly newly-wed and starting married life in Jesmond. It is certainly a fine place to do it and good luck to them.

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Walking back along the aptly named St. George’s Terrace I retraced my steps to the imposing church of the same name, the spire of which dominates the skyline hereabouts. Regrettably, like so many other places of worship it was closed up and I had to content myself with some exterior images which you can see below.

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St. George’s Church, Jesmond.

Like all of Jesmond it is relatively modern, dating to 1888 when it was dedicated and, also like most of Jesmond, it was funded by an industrialist, in this case Charles Mitchell, the business partner of Lord Armstrong who figures so prominently in the story of the area. It was built to the design of one T.R. Spence and unusually for a relatively little known architect it has the distinction of being Grade I listed. This is the highest level of legal architectural protection available to a building and granted only to “buildings of exceptional interest”. Not only did Spence design the building but also much of the stained glass and metalwork. He was involved in the Art Workers’ Guild, was a founder member of the Society of Designers and evidently a very talented man all round.

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St. George’s Church Hall, Jesmond.

The beautiful Church Hall, also by Spence and pictured above, is Grade II listed and I found it very pleasing on the eye. I really would love to go back and have a good look inside.

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A pleasant place to live.

After the Church I deliberately deviated from the route Sue had brought me so I could have a bit more of a look around and after negotiating a few fairly affluent looking residential streets I found myself back on Jesmond Dene Road and approaching the building you can see below which was to both delight and sadden me. As the images show it was the banqueting hall for Sir William (later Lord) Armstrong as the huge house he had nearby was not big enough for the lavish functions he organised. It was built in 1860 – 1862 to the design of John Dobson who basically designed most of central Newcastle including St. Thomas the Martyr Church and the wonderful railway station I have mentioned before. As if that wasn’t enough quality architectural input, additions and a lodge were added in 1869 – 1870 to the design of Norman Shaw, another notable practitioner of the time. Amongst many other buildings he designed the old New Scotland Yard (if that makes sense) for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in central London and which remained police HQ until 1967 when it moved to Broadway. The Broadway building has now been demolished to make way for expensive residential development and the Met police have moved yet again.

 
With this beautiful building in front of me you may well ask why I was saddened and actually this only came later when I started to look into the history of it. Armstrong gifted it to the people of Newcastle in 1883 to be “used for lectures, recitals, concerts, banquets and meetings under the themes of the arts, literature, science or education”. All well and good and relatively recently it served as a temporary home for the Northern Sinfonia until they relocated to the Sage arts centre in Gateshead but it more recently srtill has been left unoccupied and I did read somewhere that it is now a “controlled ruin” whatever that might be. I also read that the Council have applied to the charity Commissioners to change the terms of the original bequest, presumably to allow them to make money by selling it off for development. It appears that local government in Newcastle is still as bad as in the days of T. Dan Smith. Go on, I’ll bet you look him up now if you don’t already know of him, a terrible man. That is what saddens me.

I was heading in the general direction of St. Mary’s, the small ruined chapel we had passed earlier and it was not difficult to find being up a little side road which has, like many other roads here, been thankfully closed to through traffic thereby preventing them from being “rat runs”.

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St. Mary’s chapel, Jesmond.

No, is is not a grand ruin like Rievaulx Abbey in the nearby North York Moors but I found it rather appealing and, as always, found out some interesting facts whilst researching it, like the origin of the name Jesmond for a start. In common with many other places of pilgrimage St. Mary’s is there due to an alleged sighting of the Vrigin Mary, presumably holding the infant Jesus, as the name Jesmond literally means Jesus Mound so now you know as well! The visitation was allegedly in the late 11th century but I am always rather dubious about such “sightings” as it is no coincidence that pilgrims meant money for the local clerics and I am by nature a cynic., especially in matters of religion.

Whatever the truth of the matter many people visited the shrine and a small chapel was erected. At one time it housed religious relics, another aspect of the Judeo-Christian mythology I am very dubious about. If all the claims are to be believed some saints must have been biological freaks judging by the number of alleged body parts that are venerated worldwide. What is not in doubt is that the Church made money and St. Mary’s was once ranked alongside Canterbury and St. Paul’s cathedrals. Pilgrim Street in central Newcastle which just about exists still having been swallowed up by the A186 was where the faithful stayed before trekking up to the chapel. There is also a “holy well” nearby but my attempt to visit that later on was thwarted by a very muddy path and my pristine white training shoes. In fairness, I did not envisage offroad walking when I went to Newcastle.

 

The chapel was naturally deserted and it was very quiet on this autumnal morning which gave the place something or an air of serenity. As the images show, it is obviously still used as a place of religious significance for people although I am sure it has long since been deconsecrated. I found several small makeshift shrines in niches in the walls and, although they were open to the elements and therefore slightly weatherbeaten, I found them somehow quit touching.

The chapel was first documented in 1272 so it was obviously fully functional by then and, whilst it now appears quite inconsequential, it was once part of a much larger complex. As recently as 1896 the Ordnance Survey map shows the remains of a hospital complex about 50 yards away which was initially there to attend to the needs of the many sick pilgrims who visited. Like much else in the area the hospital was obliterated in the housing boom of the late 19th and early 20th century and no trace of it remains.

In the interest of fair reporting I should point out that whilst the site is dated back to shortly after the Norman Conquest, the remains you see today are what is left of the side chapel which dates to the 15th century which is still fairly ancient. In talking to my many North American friends I find this to be something that they invariably remark upon when speaking of Europe in general and the UK in particular. There are literally tens of thousands of such places just waiting to be stumbled upon and all dating to centuries before North America was officially “discovered” even though it is now archaeologically proven that the Vikings were on that continent from the late 10th century. Sorry, Columbus.

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Beautiful but difficult to attribute.

I am a great lover of stained glass and I was rather surprised to find a good example here although it was obvious from the condition of the rest of the remains that it could not possibly be original as a closer examination was to prove. An exhaustive search of the internet, normally reasonably productive, has completely failed to yield any information as to the provenance of this rather attractive piece. I must ask Sue about it as she is bound to know and I shall then amend this post accordingly.

I could happily have wandered aimlessly around Jesmond all day and would have discovered all sorts of things as I did on another walk a few days later but at that time of year there was not much light left and, as I mentioned above, I was on a deadline to get home so I strode out arriving bang on time.

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Not the prettiest building in Jesmond.

After a quick coffee Paul and I grabbed the instruments and saddled up for our trip to North Shields. In Paul’s case the case (I did that on purpose – honestly) was his mandolin case as his banjo weighs a ton.  I know this from personal experience of having lifted it. This is not a problem in the car but we were heading back onto the Metro and the image above shows the functional and not particularly attractive Jesmond Station in the gathering gloom.

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A distinctly chilly Tyneside scene.

About 45 minutes later we emerged at North Shields Metro and it was cold. When I say cold I mean it was Arctic, with biting wind coming in straight off the North Sea. When I played in Sweden and Finland some years ago it was February and March with -26 degrees in Vaasa but it did not feel as cold as it did in Northumberland in early November. We didn’t hang about and strode out for the mercifully short walk to the wonderfully named Magnesia Bank pub.

I was glad to get in out of the cold, especially as we had already passed a couple of decent looking pubs on the way and we entered what was like something out of the twilight zone! It is a huge place, having formerly been a bank as the name suggests, then a social club before being converted to a pub and with only two blokes at the bar and the young barmaid it felt very, very empty. If you are wondering about the Magnesia part of the name, it refers to the nearby Magnesia Stairs and I’ll tell you all about “stairs” in a moment. As well as being very, very empty it was very, very dark.

There were lights on behind the bar and damn few on elsewhere, it really was a bit strange but not unfriendly. One of the guys at the bar left as soon as we came in and the other a short while later. I do hope these facts are not related. Before he went, I had a chat with the second guy who turned out to be from Kilkeel in Northern Ireland and not too far from where my family live. Kilkeel was formerly a thriving fishing port but like so much of the British fishing industry it is now all but finished, primarily due to EU interference. There is still an active fleet in North Shields and this chap “commuted” back and forth to Co. Down to work on the boats here.

With the only other patrons departed the barmaid came over and sat with us for a chat. Well, she had nothing else to do. The reason we were there was that Paul was trying to sort out details of a gig he was playing there the next month but the manageress was not there and, despite a few ‘phone calls from our new friend we didn’t actully get to meet her. It is not surprising Paul was organising a gig there as it seems to be a very music orientated venue if the numerous posters and the online presence are anything to go by. Apparently Liam Fender, brother of the more famous Sam and a musician in his own right, is a regular here and plays gigs in the Maggy Bank as it is apparently known to the locals.

After a couple of drinks we took off from this rather odd place and back into an early evening that seemed to be getting colder if such a thing was possible. I suppose the reason was that we were making our way down to the water’s edge and the wind was coming at us straight off the river, having originated in the Arctic it seemed. There were a few decent sized trawlers alongside although they seemed deserted and I didn’t even take an image which I suppose I should have but I just didn’t want to take my hands out of my pockets!

I did, however, expose my digits to potential frostbite to capture the image above, which is of one of the many “stairs” I mentioned above and which seem prevalent right along the banks of the Tyne. It seems you cannot get to or from the river without either descending or ascending a fairly steep gradient. If I had paid more attention in Geography class in school I could probably tell you about erosion and geological formations and the like which would explain why it is like that here and not in somewhere like London where there isn’t a hill worthy of the name anywhere near the river. I didn’t so I can’t but, take it from me, Newcastle is steep and would certainly keep you fit if you walked a lot there. I thought this image was quite atmospheric for some reason and, by way of context, I have included another image taken the next day of a “stair” in Central Newcastle in daylight.

Like so many other waterfronts, North Shields is getting a bit trendy from what I imagine it was like years ago as a bustling fishing port with all the rough edges that entails. Nowadays it seems to be one cocktail bar / bistro / restaurant after another and in many ways it reminded me of Leith, the port for Edinburgh which is very similar. The fish and chip shop Paul was heading for was a bit further on from the stairs so we moved briskly until we came to the very welcoming (i.e. warm) looking Waterfront “chippy” and what a place that turned out to be. It was ever spotless with the unique smell of a proper fish and chip shop and ever so slightly upmarket but none the worse for that so time for a look at the menu.

The plan was fish and chips. We had just walked past a trawler so no doubt the fish was as fresh as it could be and I do love locally sourced produce, low food miles etc., it was obviously the local delicacy so, almost inevitably, I did not order it! I really am perverse some times, OK most of the time, but I had seen an item on the menu and could not “unsee” it to use a word I do not particularly like as I do not think it is a proper word but it fits the bill here. OK, we were up North but not quite in Scotland but I had spied an item on the menu that I just cannot resist – haggis.

Haggis is one of those things like tripe, liver and Marmite that divides opinion sharply but I absolutely adore it. I know that many of my readers will be aware of it but I am constantly amazed to find that I have readers on this site from places like India, Malaysia, China and all over the place which I find very gratifying and I thank those people. For the benefit of those who may not know, haggis is a traditional Scottish dish made of minced sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, spices and suet and the whole thing encased in the sheep’s stomach lining.  I know it does not sound particularly appetising but believe me it is. The Americans do not agree and it is actually banned there on health grounds – their loss. Whilst I have described the traditional version, there is another type specifically designed for deep frying and it is essentially a long sausage shaped haggis battered and put in the hot oil. You can see what it looks like in the image above.

The lovely waitress told me that it would take about 15 minutes to prepare so it was obviously cooked to order which suits me. I have to apologise to Paul here as he had to sit about waiting for his logical fish and chips and which you can see in the other image above. What can I tell you about the food? I have been lucky enough to have eaten in some very fine restaurants and this, in it’s way, was every bit as satisfying as any of them. It was just delicious and a portion size to satisfy the stoutest (in any sense of the word) trencherman. If I was still writing travel reviews for Virtual Tourist I would be recommending this place highly. Sadly, that is not an option open to me any more but I shall pass this on as a tip if you should ever happen to be in North Shields.

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What a pub.

Had we gone home at that point I would have said I had had a brilliant and interesting day and been very content with it but the travel Gods that I firmly believe in, and who I have mentioned before, were saving the best until last as they often do. Another short walk took us to the Low Lights Tavern on the very appropriately named Brewhouse Bank which looked great from the outside and I instantly fell in love with when we walked in the door.

In case you are wondering about the name, it is nothing theatrical, it refers to one of the two lighthouses along the shore, the Low Light and the High Light which date back to 1727. If I may risk a fairly obvious and pretty poor wordplay here, the Low Lights was to prove to be an absolute highlight of my trip and no mistake.

The Low Lights is the oldest pub in North Shields and, whilst it is only documented as far back as 1836 it is generally reckoned there has been a tavern there for at least 350 years. It is a proper old building and I had to duck to get in the door to access main bar which you can see and two side rooms, both of which have proper open fires, another plus. A quick glance at the blackboard showed the daily specials and by all accounts the food here is excellent. I know they source all their veg from a local farm shop and the fish is straight off the Quay 100 yards away. There are all sorts of curiosities about the place including a poster stating that “Even the Luftwaffe couldn’t close us” which refers to a bombing raid in May 1940. The pub was thankfully unscathed and the bombs fell in the Tyne. I highly doubt the pub was the intended target but it is a nice story.

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I just love an open fire in a pub.

Whilst the fabric of the pub is wonderful, it is not that which makes the Low Light so very special. As always it is the people.  Paul introduced me to the two guys who run the place who were both utterly charming and decent singers when they were finally persuaded! By the time I had got the drinks in, served by wonderfully friendly staff who took my strange cider concoction in their stride admirably, Paul had arranged for us to play and told me to break out the guitar. I should point out that the owners had no idea we were turning up. They knew Paul from previous sessions but had obviously never seen me before. No problem, it was the work of moments to loose the beast and tune it and off we went.

There was no plan and we didn’t have a set idea of how long we would play for or even if we would be thrown out for annoying the locals but no danger of that. We started off with a few of the Irish standard tunes and songs and then it just went into overdrive as one of the owners harangued people into singing so we were effectively the “human jukebox” again. All types of songs, some sung in keys unknown to musicology and a few of which I had never heard before but, as we have done so often before, we managed to cobble some sort of accompaniment together. Naturally, Paul and I were hit with numerous requests and we had a stab at most of them with the Eagles seeming to be particularly popular.

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They even have their own beer.

We had numerous offers of drink from both the owners and the punters and Paul seemed to be enjoying his bitter so I was a bit miffed to be on “short rations” and having to explain to people why I had to decline their wonderful hospitality lest they get offended. I don’t remember what particular bitter Paul was drinking and there was an excellent selection and they even have their own house bitter brewed locally for them. Ridiculous as it sounds, I was still finding playing without drinking a bit of a challenge. I know it is purely in my head but I still feel odd performing without a few pints in me. I’m sure I’ll get over it as I don’t have much option really.

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Paul in full flow.

We met some fantastic people there and there was no shortage of musical talent despite my earlier comment. I lent the guitar a couple of times to several people who all made a very good fist of their chosen numbers. I have included an image of one of them and also the couple who were sitting beside us and who asked us to come and play at their wedding nearby that Saturday. Honestly, I m not making this up, why would I? The groom’s family were all coming over from Ireland and they thought it would be great to have a bit of session before the proper musicians turned up in the evening. We had to regretfully decline as we had other plans made but it was just indicative of the type of evening it was. I just adore gigs like this and I know Paul was loving it as well.

There was one member of the audience who didn’t ask to borrow my guitar although in hindsight I rather wish he had. I somewhat cryptically alluded in my last post to crossing paths with a proper pop star so here is the story. I mentioned Sam Fender earlier in this post and the reason I know he is a bona fide celebrity is that I have not followed popular music since the 1980’s and even I have heard of him, apparently he is hugely popular and winning awards hand over fist. Sadly, I read a few days ago (December 2019) that he had to cancel part of his UK tour due to a throat problem, so get well soon Sam. It was only much later on that Paul told me he had been in the bar and sitting about four feet from me when we were playing.

Whilst I was researching this post some time after the event I was looking for an internet link for the pub and found their facebook page so I just skimmed it to see if there was any mention of us playing. There was no mention as such but merely a couple of “live” clips which I think the owner must have taken and streamed on his ‘phone. One of them has 1,400 views which is far more than I have for anything on my own Youtube channel! Towards the end of the second clip which is not my finest musical moment as I didn’t know what tune Paul was going into (I suspect neither did he when he started the set) I was vamping like Hell to find the key which I eventually did. If you look just beside me towards the door, I believe that is Mr. Fender sitting down but of course I could be wrong, it has been known.

At this point I shall resist the temptation to start name-dropping some of the rich and famous people I have played for and I should hasten to point out that it is nothing to do with any musical talent on my part but by being lucky enough to have played with those that have. If you are really interested, get in touch and I’ll bore you with some stories. Ask me the one about playing for the Russian mafia or the one about the 500 Philippino bikers and the local Governor. Stop it now, Fergy!

I said we had no plan when we went out and we didn’t really but I am quite sure that whatever we had envisaged when we started playing at about 1930 wouldn’t involve playing solid until midnight and thereby missing the last Metro back to Jesmond, which is a bit of a trek, but that is what happened.  With many fond farewells and promises to return and play again some time (we mustn’t have messed up too badly to be asked back) we poured ourselves and the instruments into a cab for home and bed.

This trip had been a complete whirlwind already. I had set foot on the train in London about 36 hours earlier and had seen and done so much already with a lot more planned including two more booked gigs which I was really looking forward to. In the next post I unleash myself on Newcastle, get up close and personal with the many bridges over the Tyne and try to learn Russian from a Monopoly board so stay tuned and spread the word.

Not coals but a guitar to Newcastle.

Hello again to one and all and the beginning of yet another trip which I was hoping would be less eventful than the last one which had only finished the night before. If you have been reading my posts sequentially then you will know that I had arrived back from a somewhat extended visit to Thanet which had deposited me at home just before midnight the previous evening after about two and a half months in Thanet which itself had come after a quick turnaround from a jaunt back to Northern Ireland. I had virtually forgotten what my own flat (apartment) looked like and, if you are interested, it was still as untidy as I remembered it and with the customary heap of mail piled up behind the door.

I was up and about good and early and disposed of the mail which I had walked over the night before. That took about five minutes as a good proportion of it was junk and the rest merely bank statements and the like which were duly filed i.e. thrown on the precariously high pile on my coffee table. I swear that if it ever topples and hits the floor it is liable to register on the Richter scale. I really must get round to sorting it one of these years (I am not joking about that) but not just yet.

With the office work out of the way it was time to pack for my little expedition which consisted of removing the bag of dirty laundry and replacing it with a few clean T-shirts, socks and underwear all of which took another two minutes. I can honestly say that my little rollalong suitcase has not been fully unpacked since the day I bought and first packed it a couple of years ago which probably says something about my lifestyle. A quick shower and I was back out the door a little under 12 hours since I had walked through it. At least I know my home had not burned down, been burgled or flooded which are my major concerns when I am away.

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Yet another chariot awaits.

I wandered to the Tube and wrestled my way onto it. Unless I am flying I use a soft guitar case with straps that you wear like a rucksack which is very convenient but I am 6’5″ and it sits well above my head so I have to do a passable Quasimodo impersonation to get on and off a Tube because of the low doors. It must look quite comical. I arrived at Kings Cross in good time for a change as I usually end up rushing like mad and got my pre-booked seat on a lunchtime departure to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The reserved seat is free and is even required on certain services especially round the mas period but I suppose that is the least they can do at the obscene prices the franchises are allowed to charge on the British rail network although this franchise is unusual as I shall explain below.

An off peak return booked in advance cost me £118 and in the interest of research I have just looked up what an off peak fare for this afternoon. £165 single. Yes, you read that correctly, it is appalling and to make it even more ridiculous the fare to Edinburgh, a further 120 miles is £166. I will never understand the ticketing policy on British railways.

The East Coast service is now operated by the London and Northeastern Railway (LNER) operation which is unusual in that it is Government controlled with all other routes having been franchised out to mostly foreign owned companies with the end of nationalised railways in 1996. It was operated by several different operators, latterly Virgin Trains East Coast who, despite the name, were 90% owned by the Stagecoach group but they handed it back in 2018 amidst huge financial losses. I have to say that it is very unusual for anything bearing Richard Branson’s name not to profit and with the sharp business practices of Stagecoach I was surprised they could not make a go of it.

I would not count myself as a trainspotter nor an “anorak” and you certainly will not find me on a windswept platform somewhere dutifully noting down loco numbers but I do love trains and train travel and take every opportunity to use that mode of transport. I never fly home to Northern Ireland now or to destinations in the nearer parts of continental Europe as I much prefer the vastly more civilised train / ferry options available which I discovered through the fantastic Man in Seat 61 website which I recommend thoroughly for anyone planning rail travel anywhere in the world. I often browse it just for fun when I should really be keeping this blog up to date!

The new franchise has “borrowed” the LNER name from the company that operated the line in the heyday of rail travel from 1923 virtue of the Railways Act 1921 until nationalisation in 1948 and even the name conjures up evocative images of the great days of steam. Just about everyone has heard of the Flying Scotsman which fairly flew between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh but it was the Mallard which also ran the route that has the distinction of holding the world record for the fastest steam powered speed at an incredible 126 mph. I wonder what Robert Stephenson would have made of that.

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It is comfy but it should be at that price!

Today the rolling stock is electric and pretty comfortable and I spent the majority of the journey just looking out the window eventhough I had taken the usual precaution of bringing a book. For good portion of the start of the journey the track follows the route of the canal system which the rilways eventually killed off and which is another great love of mine. I love canals and narrowboats and have crewed for friends who own their own as well as having had several excellent leisure trips, one of which XXXX you can see here if you would like a flavour of life “on the Cut”. It is actually quite logical that the two networks run parallel as both dislike gradients and will take the line of least resistance through the topography.

Three hours later I alighted at the lovely Newcastle station having crossed the River Tyne on one of the several bridges that are going to feature heavily in the imagery in this section of posts and for which I make no apology. At the risk of sounding like some old spaced out hippy, bridges are another thing I love, along with trains, canals, military history, places of worship and places of liquid refreshment and they shall all feature heavily on this trip. I love a lot of things really.

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I arrived safe and sound.

I can actually date the last time I was in Newcastle Station although I have passed through it more times than I can count. It was in 1977 when my parents still harboured notions of me going to University and, along with Queen’s in my home city of Belfast, I had applied to Newcastle and Sheffield and went to both cities to be shown round by students already there. In truth, I already knew there was no way I was going to pass my A levels but it seemed like a good excuse for a jaunt and I recall leaving there on a tortuous train journey to Liverpool to get the boat back to Northern Ireland whilst nursing the hangover from Hell which had been caused by the very sociable nature of my student hosts. I have never drunk Vaux beer since!

As promised, Paul met me at the gate and insisted on taking my case which wasn’t really necessary as I had managed this far but much appreciated. He is a lovely bloke, very considerate and a great friend but he really did seem to be taking rather a lot of care of me and it was only later in the trip that he admitted he thought I was still quite ill and that he was surprised how well I was looking. Again I was a bit surprised at the way people were reacting to me as I felt great. A little weak perhaps but that was all.

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We went down into the adjacent Metro system and Paul gave me a quick rundown on the intricacies of the ticket machine which was simple enough. We were to spend a lot of time on the Metro which is handy but seems to be prone to about as many delays as the London Underground as shall be described in future posts. The image above was taken later as you can see by the fact it is dark, but it will serve to liven up the page as I have very few images for this day.

Paul lives in the lovely (and pretty posh) suburb of Jesmond about which I was to lean much during my stay and he is about equidistant from Jesmond and West Jesmond stations. We alighted at the latter and on exiting I was greatly heartened to see the Lonsdale Hotel bang opposite the station not that pubs were of the same use to me as they had been three months previously but I still have a habit of noting them. We made it to his house in good order and I got settled in which took about two minutes. Guitar case left in the hallway for imminent use, suitcase in the bedroom and I was sorted.

Paul’s wife Sue is a great cook and I should point out here that I do not pick my friends solely on their culinary abilities as I have friends that cannot boil an egg but many of my friends are excellent in the kitchen and so we had a lovely meal and then it was back on the road, well the Metro, and off to Hebburn where we had a gig that night with his band Shamrock Street. I should explain that I have been promising for literally years to come up to visit and play a few sessions or whatever and for various reasons it had never happened. Paul’s regular guitarist was away on holidays and he had asked me if I could come up and sit in for a few engagements. No problem, it would be another few venues and a new city to add to my CV.

The venue in question was the Hebburn Iona Social Club which is typical of Northern “working men’s clubs”. It is huge, very comfortable and the drink is cheap! I really do wonder how pubs compete and, indeed, this may be one of the reasons so many pubs are closing in these days when every penny counts.  Again, the images were taken later as I didn’t stop to take one then.

 

I had not bothered to ask what sort of gig it was but one look at the large function room where we were to play made it obvious that it wasn’t going to be a sit in the corner and play acoustic session. Paul had told me to make sure I brought a lead for my guitar, which I always carry anyway and there was a decent sized PA in the process of being set up by Ged the fiddle and whistle player / vocalist and Martin the logistics guy / percussionist. A quick introduction where I was made most welcome and a quick pint procured, it was time to get set up. In my case the pint was that awful “ciderwater” which is half and half cider and soda water and was necessitated by my continuing medication. Remember that I had never played with these guys but I have done that many times before and it is no problem. By the time it came to starting time we had been joined by a couple of accordianists and so we were a decent sized outfit.

It had been explained to me that it was effectively a singers night and that I would have to be on my toes finding keys as people just took off in whatever key they fancied or, worse still, announced they would be singing in one key and then sang in a completely different one. No problem. As I always say, have capo, will travel! I am not being unkind but I felt like a youngster in there and I am most certainly not a spring chicken any more. Without exaggeration I would suggest the average age of the audience was about 70. I was sitting extreme stage right and was quickly engaged in a wonderful conversation by a trio of “golden age” Geordies who could not have been friendlier and seemed quite amazed that I had travelled all the way from London to play here. With me being the way I am I was flirting outrageously with the two old dears and joking with the man, all of which seemed to cause general hilarity.

Ged had very kindly introduced me as their “special guest” so no pressure then. It turned out to be a great night with an excellent standard of singers and certainly plenty of them, most of whom I even found the keys for eventually. Maybe it is a Northeastern thing but the key of F seemed very popular and the capo stood me in good stead. I really enjoyed myself and it seemed like only minutes until it was time to finish and for Paul and I to get the Metro home. Ged and Martin live nearby and were walking.

A quick coffee and I was off to bed, more than ready for it. I had really hit the ground running and I knew I had a lot more playing to do not to mention a bit of sightseeing no matter what the weather was going to throw at me. In the next post I do some local exploration, eat haggis and play an impromptu gig with a bona fide pop star in the audience. To find out who it was, and as always, stay tuned and spread the word.