As much history as you could want in one day.

Hello folks and welcome back to my latest odyssey about my trip to Newcastle for a weekend meeting my friends from the excellent and now murdered Virtual Tourist website and I shall start this post not with my usual apology but with a bit of a spoiler. This supposed weekend away got slightly extended so there is plenty more to come! In my previous post, which I admit was very sparse, I did promise you that this one would hopefully be a lot more interesting and certainly have a lot more images and I intend to fulfill that promise.

After a relatively peaceful night following the cacophony of the disco downstairs the previous night, I was up and about bright and early (ridiculously early for me) as I had to because we had an early start for our bus trip along the absolutely beautiful Northumbrian coast. I had written that as I had visited the area nearly 40 years ago and fell in love with it. Again, a tip to those who may be visiting UK from overseas and it is go to the Northeast. It is not on the main tourist beat but it is stunningly beautiful and is so crucial to the history of England with many places of interest still there to visit as you shall see in this and subsequent posts.

My home from home in Newcastle.

The first thing I did was wander across the road, just beside the station, to take an image of my hotel for the purposes of this blog. I wanted to show just how grand the Victorian facade is and how it must have impressed the well-heeled Victorians as they exited the station from the London or Edinburgh train. Sadly, I could not get an angle that did not include the awning for the Hilton Hotel which, in stark contrast to the Royal Station, is modern and, frankly, ugly.

The meeting place was a bus stop in Bewick Street, a very short walk away thankfully and there was an interesting juxtaposition there. On one side of the road was St. Mary’s Cathedral and on the other side of the road was the Newcastle Chinese Christian Church (denomination unknown). This indicates how extensive that particular belief system is.

There was also a complete juxtaposition of architectural style. The Chinese Church was based in what appeared to have once been a commercial premises whilst the Cathedral, which I was admiring for it’s architecture, was apparently designed by Augustus Welby Pugin, a famous British architect and designer who is perhaps best known for designing the interior of the Houses of Parliament in London and, probably most notably, the Elizabeth Tower which is so iconic as it houses the bell known as Big Ben which was cast not a mile from where I live.

There was a brief delay as our guide had been held up somewhere but when he arrived, my word did he make an impression. He was dressed in full Viking kit and really looked the part, you’ll see an image shortly. We boarded the ‘bus with everyone greeted in typically cheery Geordie fashion and I have to say that both guide and driver were to prove to be excellent as the day unfolded.

Sarah, with her excellent organisational skills, had chosen very well again and at the risk of becoming repetitive I have to say that the people who undertake to arrange these large events really do deserve a huge amount of praise as it must take a massive amount of planning. I know Sarah had planned this meet for a couple of years previously but obviously the virus had put paid to all that. She had to keep tentatively re-booking venues not knowing if we would even be able to travel or not.

We eventually got out of Newcastle, which proved to be a lot larger than I had thought it to be and headed out North on the A1 towards Bamburgh and it’s magnificent castle. This is a place that is very dear to my heart, not only because I had been there before but also because it is central to a series of books by one of my favourite authors, Bernard Cornwell, the Uhtred of Bebbanburg series. Bebbanburg is the old name for Bamburgh.

Cornwell is so clever as he can write knowledgeably about virtually any period of history and I have read and enjoyed books by him ranging from his take on the raising of Stonehenge through the period of the Anglo Saxons fighting the Vikings (when the above-mentioned Uhtred series is set) and via the American Civil War to probably the culmination of his career which was the Sharpe series.

The Sharpe series ranges from the Battle of Serangipatam in India in 1798 (Sharpe’s Tiger) by way of the Peninsular wars to the battle of Waterloo which would have made a fitting conclusion to the series as his trusted sidekick, Sgt. Harper, retired thereafter but fan pressure prompted him to write one more story about an expedition the two undertook to Chile. Many of the books were turned into a hugely successful TV series with the excellent Sean Bean in the title role.

I thought I had read all Cornwell’s books but I recently discovered one I had not even heard of which was about William Shakespeare’s younger brother in the London theatre in Elizabethan times, it just shows you how versatile the man is. If you have not read him, I strongly recommend you do, you won’t regret it.

Back to our trip, you’ll probably be glad to know. With an excellent running commentary from our guide as to places of interest along the way we pretty soon arrived at the castle and it was every bit as impressive as I remembered it. As the images show, it sits on a large rocky mound (dolerite if you are interested in geology) and was, for centuries, deemed to be impregnable although this was only with the building of a substantial structure after the place had changed hands between the native Britons and immigrant Anglo Saxons three times.

It had originally been a Briton site, presumably picked for it’s obvious strategic values, and was originally called Din Guarie after the Romans departed and is believed to have been founded c.420AD. The Vikings, as we shall see later, were very fond of raiding this part of Britain and sacked the place in 993AD. They were rather good at that sort of thing and their first ever major raid on British soil was in 793 AD on the island of Lindisfarne, visible from here on a clear day and a place we shall be coming to shortly.

After a fairly turbulent time in the Middle Ages when it became the first castle to be defeated by artillery, thereby effectively spelling the end of old style castle building it eventually fell into the hands of the industrialist William Armstrong and, strangely, this brings us back to artillery. As I have said many times before, everything goes round in circles.

Armstrong was famous for very many things, not least having the first house in the world to be powered by hydroelectric power. He had made much of his vast fortune by designing and building armaments, specifically artillery, some of which he perfected due to the exigencies of the Crimean war in the 1850’s. I had never heard of the man until I visited Malta a few years back and visited Fort Rinella where there is an absolutely gargantuan 100 ton gun built by the Armstrong Company. You can see the beast and read about it here.

More recently, just prior to virus house arrest I was lucky enough to have visited Newcastle to dep in my mate’s band and was lucky enough to stay in his lovely home which overlooks Jesmond Dene, a beautiful area on the Ouseburn River which is now a public park but was once Armstrong’s “back garden” as he had built a house further upstream and owned all the land. You can read about that particular excursion here. See what I mean about things going round in circles?

Our Viking guide, complete with mountain boots!

I was fine sitting down on the ‘bus but still feeling terribly weak and exhausted. The driver parked up in the coach / car park and we alighted for what was no more than about a 200 yard walk to a grassed area in front of the castle and by the time we got there I was totally exhausted. The guide who was obviously very knowledgable about the area gave an excellent talk on the history of the castle but it did go on a bit and I was getting more and more tired plus which my leg was hurting badly so when he finished I found a very pleasant bench to sit on looking up at the castle.

The rest of the group were all going to explore inside but that involved a fairly steep climb up the roadway to it which I knew was going to be a non-starter for me never mind climbing up and down all the stairs in the place. I just was not up to it and, more importantly, I did not want to be a hindrance to the rest of the group so I bade them a good trip and sat put, enjoying the magnificent view, breathing in good clean North Sea air and feeling very content if still pretty weak and washed out.

I hate feeling like this as I was extremely fit as a younger man and, even into my late fifties I was happily tramping up to 15 miles a day and loving it, everything just seems to have been drained out of me and I feel so damned useless. I later found out that they do have little golf buggy type things for mobility impaired visitors but a) I didn’t know about it, b) it needed to be booked in advance and c) and probably most importantly I refuse to use all the facilities that are now so helpfully provided for the mobility impaired which I now regrettably have to admit is a category I fall into.

Call it stupid pride or stubbornness, both of which I must admit to but I just won’t use a stick or wheelchairs on public transport etc. although I do admit I will now use the “disabled” toilet in a pub if it saves me a walk upstairs. Stairs and gradients are what really give me trouble and the way I hobble around these days nobody ever questions me. Hence the reason I couldn’t make it to the castle itself but I could at least console myself with the fact that I had seen it before.

Despite my good night’s sleep, I was feeling utterly drained so I limped my way back to the coach, hoping the driver was still there to let me in (although I do actually know how to open a coach door without damage and only if necessary I might add!).

Fortunately the driver was indeed in residence, stretched out over the front seat reading a newspaper and with the door open on what was a fairly decent day. I explained my situation and asked if it was OK if I sat down, a request that was granted with very good grace and a considerate enquiry as to whether I needed any assistance, water or anything else. I mentioned that Sarah had picked well and this guy was an absolute diamond. I headed to the back seat where I had been sitting earlier (old habits die hard), took off my trainers, stretched out full length and promptly went to sleep, not waking until my friends got back maybe two hours later. I felt so much better for it.

The others were all buzzing about how wonderful the castle was and I know this to be true so especially for my American friends whose country wasn’t even founded until over a millennium after this place was first a defensive installation (OK, the present building isn’t that old). I was so happy that they enjoyed it and they said the guide was great. He had told us in the initial talk that he actually knew one of the younger members of the Armstrong family who still own the castle and had stayed there a few times. Knowledge from a guide doesn’t get much more local than that.

Once we were all head-counted and accounted for we were off again for our next stop, Lindisfarne aka Holy Island which I mentioned above as the site of the first Viking raid on British soil. As I also mentioned, it is not far as I told you that you can see it on a good day from the castle.

You have been warned!

We had had to pick our time well ahead of the crossing on the causeway as the island is only accessible by road at certain times of the day. The road is completely covered when the tide comes in and there are plenty of warnings, alongside images of totally submerged cars, one of which you can see above.

Lindisfarne is a massively holy place to followers of the Judeo-Christian belief system as I shall explain in a moment and, as we were traversing the causeway (thankfully completely dry at that point due to good planning) the guide pointed out a line of posts in the fairly sandy bottom of what is twice a day the North Sea. He explained that the ultra religious of that belief system feel it necessary to walk barefoot to the island from the mainland, which can take a couple of hours. I have never felt the need to do any such thing as I am an atheist but, even as a challenge when I was a fit young man, it would be a bit of a slog. Now, I would get about 100 yards, collapse and be drowned by the incoming tide!

Despite all the warnings approximately one vehicle per month gets marooned requiring rescue by the (volunteer) RNLI and the Coastguard. It never fails to amaze me how bloody stupid some people can be. If you want to see our (perfectly safe) crossing of the causeway, you can do so here. Apologies for the slightly jerky filming but it is not exactly the smoothest road in the world.

Again, I had been to Lindisfarne all those years before and, yes, I really am feeling my age now and paying for the excesses of my youth but I remembered it as a wonderfully beautiful place and it certainly has not changed appreciably in the intervening years, I doubt it has much for centuries, it is somehow timeless so let me tell you a little about it.

Lindisfarne is about three miles by 1.5 miles at it’s widest points which makes it broadly comparable to the equally brilliant Lundy Island, which I also thoroughly recommend, and which you can read about here.

The etymology of the place, which fascinates me with my love of toponymy, is completely unclear and still open to much debate. It was anciently called Lindisferana, which may or may not refer to “travellers from Lindsey” (in modern day Lincolnshire, it may be a reference to a pool or stream with “Farne” as in the Farne islands. The truth is that nobody really knows for sure.

The island is currently home to 180 people (2011 figure) and it must be a strange existence being cut off from the mainland for half the day. I can only guess that the inhabitants of working age either work here or from home as there is no way you could hold down a job with regular hours on the mainland bdcause obviously the tides are always changing and your access would similarly be constantly changing. The last store on the island was closed by 2020 (virus presumably) and people have to drive to Berwick-upon-Tweed for supplies now.

I don’t know if there are children on the island although I am guessing there must be at least one or two so they have to be staying with relatives on the mainland or boarding as it is clearly impractical under these circumstances.It is only when you visit here that you start to think about the practicalities of living on a tidal island, beautiful as it is.

The image above is a perfect example as it is, in fact, the Lindisfarne Fire Station. I was told that a number of islanders have been trained by the regular Northumbrian Fire Service as retained (volunteer) firefighters, good for them. I suppose an emergence medical situation would require the services of an air ambulance as there is no Doctor here. Despite the obvious practical difficulties the few islanders I spoke to there seemed very cheery with their lot.

The plan was that the guide was going to conduct a tour of the immediate environs of the main settlement with an optional add-on of a wander further afield for the more energetic members. Obviously any of that was way beyond the scope of my physical abilities so after listening to his very interesting introductory talk about the island I withdrew to the excellent Crown and Anchor pub, one of two I had spotted within about 50 yards of each other. It was to my complete chagrin that I later discovered there was a third pub which I missed, I must be slipping. The plan was that we were going to re-convene at the local winery for a mead tasting at 1430.

I shall now adjourn metaphorically to the very pleasant lounge bar in the Crown and Anchor, which seemed to be doing a roaring trade in food on this Sunday lunchtime, and tell you a little more about the history of Lindisfarne. I shall put in a few images of the island, mostly taken from the back garden of the pub purely to relieve the tedium of my historical discourse which promises to be a long one.

Although the Romans had a large military presence on Hadrian’s Wall nearby to repel the marauding Picts and Scots there were few Roman civilians this far North except thos directly involved in servicing the troops. It was completely unlike the South of England (even if it wasn’t even called England then) where Roman civilians arrived and established fine villas, farms, various manufacturing industries and so on.

After the Romans upped sticks and left in the early 5th century there was somewhat of a power vacuum which was eventually filled in this part of the world by an Anglian king named Ida who established a “kingdom” in 547 AD. The Angles, like the Saxons, Jutes, Danes and others had seen their chance and invaded from mainland Europe with the Angles establishing power base in Norfolk and Lincolnshire, some of which area is still called East Anglia and ultimately led to the name England which was originally Angleland.

There was some fairly token attempt at Briton resistance and some time in the 6th century a Brittonic Force under a warlord called Urien besieged the Angle Theodoric on the island for three days but, as usual, the Britons could not agree amongst themselves and the siege collapsed.

Around 634 AD an Irish monk called Aidan was sent from the monastery at Iona, an island off the West coast of Scotland. Iona was formed by St. Columba and 12 followers in 563 AD. I have long wondered if Columba had some form of Messianic complex as there was him and his 12 “disciples”, does that ring any bells? Whatever his thinking, the monastery at Iona was the origin of the Hiberno-Christian tradition and the monks there were credited with converting the Scots to their brand of Christianity.

When Aidan was dispatched to the Northeast of what is now England, it is not surprising that he picked Lindisfarne to set up his monastery and base of evangelical operations. It was a small island on a fairly rugged coast and relatively isolated, it must have reminded him a lot of Iona. I wonder did he take 12 followers with him.

Aidan must have been a very persuasive orator as he, as Columba had done before with the Scots, is credited with converting the formerly pagan Anglo-Saxons of Northumberland to the same brand of Hiberno-Christianity which had originated at his parent establishment. On his death in 651 he was succeeded as Bishop by a chap called Finan aka Finian and standby for another digression.

When I was a teenager growing up in Belfast in the 70’s we lived in a house with a church directly across the road called St. Finian’s Parish Church and I always wondered who he was and never quite got round to finding out and now I know. Every day is a schoolday writing this blog. Finan was abbot of Lindisfarne / Bishop for ten years until his death and you are probably wondering how a place as small as Lindisfarne became the bishopric. It actually held that position until 735 when it moved to York as it was the principal place of Judeo-Christianity in the area, it really was important.

Perhaps the most interesting of all the leaders on Lindisfarne was Cuthbert who entered monastic life after apparently having a vision on the night Aidan died. After periods in various monasteries he ended up in Lindisfarne as prior in 655 AD. By 684 AD he had been elevated to bishop but resigned to return to his hermitage where he lived in great austerity until he died on 20th March 687 but his story is in many ways just starting here.

Cuthbert was buried on the day of his death but the poor man certainly did not get to “rest in peace”. His remains were later exhumed due to the imminent threat of invading Danes and went on something of a “magical mystery tour” all over the North of England being carried reverentially by monks and finally ending up in Durham. Well, not quite finally as we shall see.

The presence of Cuthbert’s remains effectively led to the founding of the city of Durham and eventually the magnificent cathedral. I have been there and it is another reason why I so strongly recommend visitors to UK to consider the Northeast of England / Southeast of Scotland, it really is a hugely rewarding area.

Poor old Cuthbert still was not going to be left to his rest as he was again moved and re-interred on Lindisfarne. In 875 AD, the Danes took and held Lindisfarne and off he went again, being carried from pillar to post for an amazing seven years after which what was left of his remains again ended up in what was then called the White Church which was the foundation of what is now the Cathedral as I mentioned above.

After his death, many miracles were attributed to the late Cuthbert and even one of our greatest ever kings, Alfred the Great, was said to have been inspired in his massive campaign against the Danes by a vision of him. I should mention that, in the way of the early catholic church who seemed to throw sainthoods round like confetti, that all the monks I have mentioned above were sainted.

In the early 8th century one of the artefacts which is most associated with the island was produced by monks whose names are now lost to history. They are the Lindisfarne Gospels which are now held in the British Library. Although originally written in Latin a vernacular text was added almost three hundred years which gives us the earliest example of the gospels in Old English.

The monastery on the island was declining in influence due to one of the schisms so apparently popular in the Christian church had led to a split between the Hiberno Christians based in places like Iona and Lindisfarne and those favouring the Roman version of the belief system based in Canterbury. Looking now at the amazing Canterbury Cathedral and the ruins on the tiny island of Lindisfarne plus the fact that one sect of the catholic church is now called the Roman Catholic Church, I think you can guess who won that one!

Perhaps the defining moment in the history of the island came in 793 AD, possibly on the 8th June when a major Viking raiding force landed, killed or enslaved all the monks, stole anything of value and generally trashed the place, although they did not remain to establish themselves.

The island had a very minor part in the War of the Roses but the next significant event was the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 when it was shut down and turned into a naval storehouse and by 1613 it passed officially under control of the Crown during the reign of King James I.

After the reformation and it’s declining ecclesiastical importance, the remains of the religious community on Lindisfarne, like so many others, just degenerated slowly into decay and decrepitude. Shortly after Henry VIII closed the place down and it had begun to decay, the ever frugal Northerners decided to use the stone from it to construct a rather magnificent castle which exists to this day.

Although it is not large as castles go, it’s primary function was to guard against Scottish raids South, notably through the first Jacobite rebellion of 1715 when there was fear of a Franco-Spanish fleet arriving somewhere in the Northeast to support the rebels further North.

In the late 19th century the castle was re-designed in the Arts and Crafts style, which was popular at the time, by Edwin Lutyens whose most famous work is probably the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.

Nowadays, the fishing on Lindisfarne is long gone along with the lime burning which was popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Now, the local economy is fairly much solely driven by tourism and it is not hard to see why, the place really is a wonderland.

Enough history and back to the pub. By now I had been joined by Colin, Josephine and Henna. I have known Colin for a long time but I had never met either of the ladies before and they proved to be charming company. They had all decided they didn’t want to go on the longer walk and had retreated here, suits me! We had a drink and a bit of a chat and they decided to have another wander round the place which was my cue to finish my pint and head to the next pub which was no great hardship as it must have been 50 yards door to door!

My next watering hole was the Manor House Hotel and I was a little wary about going in as it looked a little bit posh and I was my usual scruffy self but I need not have worried. I was greeted warmly and parked myself in the corner to imbibe my very well-presented pint in very comfortable surroundings.

I knew I only had time for the one as we had the mead tasting booked and I was certainly not going to be late for anything on this day of all days. The concept of having to get an airlift (the nearest non-emergency chopper is miles away in Cumbria, another place we shall visit on this trip, and it costs and eye-watering amount of money so I was going to be where I was told when I was told.

Thankfully in the main settlement of Lindisfarne nowhere is terribly far from anywhere else and it was only probably 30 yards to the Lindisfarne Winery (more properly named St. Aidan’s Winery) which, apart from the mead for which it is most famous, also now produces beer, gin, spirit liqueurs and rum but we were there for the mead. I was slightly ahead of the game in that I had been here before, tasted mead and thoroughly disliked it whereas many of our group had never even heard of it.

Mead is basically a fermented mix of honey, water and yeast although you can flavour it with all sorts of things. Frankly, I find it obscenely sweet and fairly sickly. I thought that perhaps my palate might have changed over the decades but it hadn’t, I still found it repulsive although the others were tucking into it with apparent relish as the images show. There certainly wasn’t much left to put back in the fridge!

The monks on the island used to produce it in quantity and it is said that the recipe still used by the family who run the place now inherited the recipe which they closely guard. We were told there are less than a handful of people who actually know what it is.

After a relatively short interlude and a chance for some of the party to purchase souvenir items from the shop, it was time to get back on the ‘bus because as Chaucer, a far better writer than I shall ever be, once famously said, “Time and tide wait for no man. I know that round here the tides certainly don’t and I had seen enough pictorial evidence to prove it!

We got back to our start point in Newcastle in good order and all the rest of them headed off to their respective accommodations to freshen up for the evening’s farewell dinner which was usefully in my hotel.

I headed off on my own and hit the first bar I could find which happened to be the Forth which sits in the delightfully named Pink Lane although I have no idea why. The reason for this was not that my alcohol dependency has degenerated to the level where I have to keep drinking but rather, and I am trying not to be indelicate here, there had been no “facilities” on the otherwise wonderful coach.

The Forth is a strange place with lots of nooks and crannies and seems to place a strong emphasis on food. Whilst decorated in a terribly trendy “distressed” style it struck me as being a bit pretentious and with prices to match but it served my purpose.

I said that I had not signed up for the evening meal for reasons as previously stated but I was actually feeling a little peckish (a very good sign for me!) and so I took myself round the corner to the Wetherspoons pub, called the Mile Castle, so named because it was on Hadrian’s Wall which had a castle every mile along it’s length.

One of the meals I can usually manage to eat, in small quantities is breakfast, and I know Wetherspoons do an all day brunch including a small version which was fine by me. Basically the brunch is just their breakfast menu but substituting chips for hash browns after 1130 when they stop serving the breakfast menu. The result, which you can see above, I took to with a will and very tasty it was too, just enough for my sadly limited appetite. After this I headed back to the hotel to refresh myself and meet up with the rest of the gang.

This is as posh as I get.

I have included above an image of the corridor leading to the private dining room my friends were in just to give you an idea of how palatial the place was. I loved the Royal Station Hotel, particularly because it was not ultra-modern and felt like it had a bit of history to it, which I am sure it has, and also because of it’s strong railway connection. I promise you that I do not stay in fancy places like this often but I had got a great deal and it is nice occasionally.

It was a great evening if slightly tinged with sadness as it was the farewell and I had some great chats to old friends and some new ones. During the course of events an announcement was made as it always is at this time and is eagerly awaited, it is the venue of the next Euromeet in 2023 (dates to be confirmed) and is being organised by my good friend Jon in the city of Tromso in Northern Norway. I have to say that I doubt I’ll make it as I played a festival in Norway over 20 years ago and the prices then were crippling so I dread to think what they might be like now. I am not sure that even if I save my pennies I can justify the expense but I am so glad to see that the concept of Virtual Tourist and the Euromeets continues. I hope it never stops.

There were many quite emotional farewells that night which I suppose is hardly surprising after the length of time we had been forced to stay apart. It really did prove to me that the website may be gone but the spirit certainly hasn’t and looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

I retired to my room and there was only one final thing left to do. Lovely as the hotel was, it was my last night booked there so I had to make a plan for the next day. Sarah had asked me at the dinner if I was heading back to London the next morning and I made some sort of non-commmital answer which prompted her to say something along the lines of, “I suppose not then.” She knows me far too well. I was just enjoying my wander round the Northeast far too well and, as a single man with no children to worry about, I could more or less do what I pleased.

After a bit of rummaging about on the internet I came up with the beginnings of a plan, well, as much of a plan as I ever come up with. If you want to know what it was, you’ll have to stay tuned!

A very boring post!

Hello again my friends and once again thanks for sticking with me so long, I keep getting notices from WordPress telling me the site is doing well, I am getting more followers etc. and frankly it still baffles me! Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining.

When I left you last time I had hooked up with my Virtual Tourist friends for the annual Euromeet in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and despite my very limited mobility I was still enjoying being away from home even if it was nowhere near as far as I usually travel but it was a whole lot better than the mind-numbing nothing I had experienced during the Government’s ridiculous and now increasingly discredited policy of house arrest. If you want evidence of this, look at the Swedish experience.

Back to the tale, and I do promise you it turned out to be quite a tale but everything in due course. I alluded in my previous post that very little happened the next day. My friends were going out to something quite energetic which I was never going to be able to do and I did not hold them up so I dipped out of that one.

I knew they were having a meal that evening and I knew where it was. Again, I must sing the praises of Sarah who had organised the whole thing and I make no apologies for doing so. Like Claus, Johnny Gayton, Valentina and others who had previously undertaken the task of the Euromeet I have the utmost respect for anyone with that level of organisational skill, something I certainly do not possess and it is a task I would never have undertaken even when I was in good health. It is a monumental task and I thank them all for doing it, unpaid, as it is just a delight for someone like me to turn up and have everything ready to go.

I mentioned before that my idea of travel Hell is an organised bus trip or a cruise but VT meets are not like that. You just tell the organisers in advance how much or how little you want to do so they can book things like transport and guided tours (often they guide the tours themselves as Euromeets are usually held in places they know well) and so on.

I hadn’t signed up for anything so I had the day to myself which was spent in a few decent pubs I know in Newcastle, and there is no shortage of those alongside some absolute horrors. In truth, I was still feeling quite weak and the lack of sleep the previous night due to the late night revelry hadn’t helped even if I am fairly insomniac anyway. Nothing really to bore my dear readers with.

We are still here!

I did go to the venue of the evening dinner where all my friends were and they informed me the meal had been excellent. I just wish I had the appetite to join them. I was glad to see that my dear old VT friend DAO was there and had displayed the VT flag as you can see above.

I should perhaps take a moment here to explain a few of the quirks ov Virtual Tourist for those who weren’t involved. I spoke of the immense sense of community there and I do not use that term lightly, it was for real as evidenced by the fact we are still going long after the site was murdered.

There were all sorts of strange little customs and one of them was the flags, of which I still have a couple of little ones which I always carried in my jeans pocket. The idea was to display the flag wherever you travelled and there were competitions for the best flag picture. I have some beauties but sadly not on this computer, I might add some when I get home.

DAO, who I have known for years took the whole thing to another level. He is an American, currently resident in UK, and has been to something ludicrous like 120+ countries. Along with Claus I think they are the best travelled men I have ever met. DAO submitted so many flag photos that the management sent him a really big flag (possibly more than one) and he was designated official VT Flag Bearer and I have to say he does a brilliant job of it. He always carries string, Sellotape, Blutack and Heaven knows what else so he can display the flag under any circumstances, the man is seriously organised and you would not believe some of the weird and wonderful places I have seen them. Again, photos of my flag escapades to come when I get home and dig out my flashcards, you want to see the one of the two young Buddhist monks sitting in a wheelbarrow holding it!

Another great feature of VT was the Barney Awards (named after a long dead New Zealand sheep, it’s a long story, don’t ask). Anyway, in one of the early “Barneys” I was thrilled, not to mention flabbergasted, by being named member of the year and the very professional plaque which they mailed me from California still has pride of place on the bookshelf (one of many) in my living room. I have been awarded four medals by Her Majesty the Queen which I cherish them absolutely and wear them very proudly on Remembrance Sunday but the VT plaque is right up there with them.

There is one of these semi-philosophical questions about if your house was on fire what would you save? Easy, my medals, my guitar (well, my favourite one out of many I have and the one that I gig all the time) and my VT plaque. I’d be sorry to lose my old record collection but I could live without just about everything except the three items mentioned.

Oh dear, it has happened again. I started off by telling you that the first part of this post was about a day where I said that little if nothing had happened and that was true but my regular readers will be used to it by now and anyone who has somehow randomly stumbled upon this will either have to bear with it or, and I say this quite openly, go to another travel blog. There are plenty of excellent ones here on WordPress and mostly written in a far less Kerouac style than I seem to adopt.

I just start writing and don’t know where to stop. As anyone who has met me will attest, I write like I talk i.e. far too much and at completely random tangents. I just get into a groove and follow it, sorry if it is not to your liking but at my time of life I really can’t change. I promise you tomorrow is much more interesting.

I was going to run this day into the next as I mentioned in my previous post but it is a long one and I don’t want this turning into a complete War and Peace so I shall leave it here with apologies for the paucity of images. I promise you I did get my camera out of my pocket “tomorrow” so, if you want a look at the stunning Northumbrian coast, stay tuned.

Tremendous Tynemouth.

Hello again and welcome back, this writing thing is getting a bit addictive but I know how my moods can swing and I may go off it as quickly as I re-discovered it so I am, as they say, “making hay while the sun shines”. I do hope the sun continues to shine as it has been doing for the last few days as I am back off to my beloved Broadstairs in the next couple of days. OK, I know Folk Week doesn’t start until early August but I have no objection to making an early start and I have a few things to do down there anyway. Happy days.

I cannot believe nearly a year has passed since the last Folk Week although they do say that time goes quicker as you get older and that has certainly been my experience. Let’s see now if I can advance us a day (or maybe two) closer to the present by describing the first full day of the 2022 Euromeet.

I awoke in my very comfy bed, sluiced my old bones and dressed (rather scruffily as is my way) and headed out to face the day. Sarah had organised for the day a walking trip round Tynemouth which, as the toponymy (a favourite word and subject of mine) suggests is just about where the Tyne river empties into the North Sea. It is only eight miles from the centre of Newcastle and, whilst I had been to and played gigs in places like Jarrow and North Shields (both excellent I should add) I had never been to Tynemouth so it was time to remedy that.

It was an early start but I had been fairly circumspect with my imbibing the previous evening so it was not a problem, I have started much earlier and in far worse states many, many times before. I am never late on parade! The meet was back at the nearby railway station which doubles as the Metro Station which is the equivalent of London’s Tube but so, so much better. Allow me to tell you a little about it.

The Metro is so much better than the London Tube purely by virtue of being newer although much of it is equally ancient which I know sounds odd but here is the story.

The first section of the Metro did not open until 1980 and, like the London Overground (much of which is actually underground and has subsumed the old East London Line which I remember fondly as I lived about five minutes walk from Shadwell Station once and about three minutes from Wapping a little later. Both systems have cleverly re-used old disused branch lines to re-invent a modern urban transport system for the 21st century.

The Metro rolling stock is modern and comfy enough, the stations are clean and tidy and often patrolled by the company’s own security staff (I don’t fancy their job on a Friday or Saturday night). They usually run on schedule which you can certainly not say for the Underground where I live.

The biggest problem with the London Underground system is that it still runs on an infrastructure mostly built in the reign of Queen Victoria and it is naturally falling to pieces. It was never designed to carry the modern rolling stock and numbers of passengers it does, it is basically worn out. Perhaps the Metro will end up like that in decades to come but for now it is great and it is also extensive.

You can go South through Sunderland (the next large settlement and fierce rival of Newcastle in everything, especially football (soccer)), East and North on a loop going through the wonderful seaside town of Whitley Bay which I remember from a brilliant rugby tour about 30 years ago and Northwest to the airport. There is also a spur line going through Hebburn (where I also played a gig) up to South Shields. I do like that system but back now from my musings on the relative merits of British urban transport systems to the tale.

We all met up in good time and Sarah helped us through the intricacies of the ticket machine. OK, she helped me, everyone else seemed to manage it but I cannot deal with technology. We jumped on the train and headed off for Tynemouth, not a huge journey, spent in excellent company chatting and soon we alighted at our destination.

I have to say that Tynemouth station is absolutely stunning and regular readers will know my love for all things railway. The wrought iron alone deserves to be in a Museum were it not holding up the glassed and wonderfully lighted roof of this structure. Unsurprisingly, it is a Grade Two listed building, designed by a chap called William Bell, who was chief architect for the NER (North Eastern Railway, even before it added London to it’s name to become the more recognisable LNER) and was responsible for much work in that area). Honestly, had I not left the station I would not have thought my day wasted, I’ll bet there are people who travel here just to study it. A good start.

The plan for the day was that Sarah was going to lead a walking tour round the town visiting some apparently fascinating historical sites, notably the Priory and Castle. There was no way I could manage a walking tour especially as I did not want to be holding up the others. I had told Sarah that in advance but I have to say, and I know she reads my nonsense here so I am not trying to embarrass her, but she had said right from the start something along the lines of, “don’t worry, just come, it will be great to see you, do as much as you can or as little, it will be fine and we’ll look after you”.

That was some safety blanket I can tell you as I knew they would look after me. It was so much an evocation of the VT spirit, especially their meetings which are still as brilliant as they ever were when the website was going. My friends were going to watch out for me even if I was physically almost incapable of doing so myself. It was almost like being back in the Forces again and honestly, it was a nice, warm feeling.

I bade my friends bon voyage and a good day at the station, having been given the meet time for the return journey although in truth I could have returned easily enough any time I fancied. The day was mine to explore as much of Tynemouth as I could in perhaps a half mile radius of the station. Honestly, that was about the limit of my exploitation of any given location then although it is marginally better now so I headed off in search of what looked like the centre of town.

Naturally, my default situation in situations like this is to find the nearest open pub and I did not have too far to go until I came upon The Priory, which turned out to be an excellent little pub.

I should mention at this point that I am not in the habit of taking images in Gents toilets but I could not resist this one as it was so clever because they had turned empty beer casks into urinals. I have been in many pubs and have never seen anything like it.

I had a couple of pints and had been chatting to a couple of lovely barstaff which only served to remind me of how friendly the North of England was and which I mentioned in the previous post. I was slightly envious of my friends who were tramping round all those lovely old sights / sites as walking and visiting historic buildings were two of my greatest delights before my health took such a nosedive but I wasn’t overly despondent as I was just grateful for any sort of travel, it had been a while. I was in a lovely pub with a pint in front of me, expecting to hook up with my mates later on so it could not be all bad.

It was getting to about lunchtime and, most remarkably given my lack of appetite which I won’t bore you with again, I was getting a little peckish. There was a fairly extensive menu which you can see here if you like but I knew a main meal was just a non-starter, I genuinely cannot remember the last time I ate a decent sized feed, it just doesn’t happen. On a good day I manage to snack two or three times in exceptional circumstances but that is it but there was no shortage of tasty looking options so it was time to choose.

Whilst perusing the menu I noticed two things. Firstly was the size of the portions which seem to get larger the further North you go as I shall demonstrate shortly but as an example, in the Priory they only serve one breakfast on a plate (with a veggie version as is required these days) although they do breakfast rolls, beans on toast etc. It consists of two sausage, two bacon, two hash browns, black pudding, two fried eggs, tomato, beans and a side of toast, that would feed me for a week ! If you go further North into Scotland it becomes even crazier with a standard B&B breakfast probably amounting to the recommended adult daily calorie intake for an adult.

The other thing I noticed was the prices which were so markedly cheaper than in London and this was to be a feature of my whole trip in the North. That gargantuan breakfast I just mentioned cost £7:45 and by way of contrast I offer this. I was perusing a menu in a fairly ordinary café in Broadstairs where I am currently composing this and a standard breakfast of one egg, one bacon, one sausage and one hash brown runs to £7:50 and these are figures from less than three months apart.

In yet another of my numerous and undoubtedly well-known to my loyal regular readers (thanks again folks) digressions I have a piece of travel advice here for people who may read this and who may wish to visit my country as and when travel normalises itself as far as ever it is going to after the virus. I had intended this to be primarily a travel site after the sad demise of Virtual Tourist, with probably a bit of cooking thrown in. Think Tony Bourdain without the talent! Certainly, come to London, it is one of the major cities in the world with such a wealth of history and things to do and see it is untrue. I have loved there for 34 years now and only seen a fraction of it.

Yes, the rest of the tourist trail like York, the Lake District, Edinburgh and Durham are superb, I have visited them all and love them but they are expensive, touristed and usually very crowded. My advice would be to see all of these and the other sights / sites you really want to see there and then go and see some other places. As I found out not three months ago there are so many brilliant and less-well known places where there is also a wealth of history and places you probably have never heard of, that is the joy of travelling. Honestly, do it and you won’t regret it.

I am an absolute fan of everything vaguely pescatorial or relating to seafood generally (sorry, there is no adjective online!) and I also love retro food from my childhood and early adulthood so I ordered the prawn cocktail which I thought would be a fairly good option as I really cannot m. It would be a large wine glass with a couple of chopped lettuce leaves in it, perhaps a thin wedge of two of tomato, a few prawns and hopefully a decent Marie Rose sauce. Wrong.

The image above shows what was served to me, and it was not expensive AND was what could easily have done duty as a main course. I am quite sure the appalling concept of “nouvelle cuisine”, which I detest, never made it to Tyneside, the Geordies would not have stood for it. I had a full plate of mixed leaves and yellow peppers, an unbelievable portion of prawns for a starter, served with a very decent Marie Rose and I took one look at it and wondered how I was going to finish it. Strangely enough for me, it was so tasty I downed the lot.

Yet another digression here of the culinary nature, Marie Rose sauce which I have mentioned above and is one of my favourite cold sauces. Also known as seafood sauce, and many other things including burger sauce although I have never had Marie Rose on a burger, , it is utterly delicious but what exactly is it?

In essence, it is a mixture of mayonnaise and tomatoes of one sort or another with all sorts of things thrown in for good measure. It is widely credited to Fanny Craddock, the doyenne of British TV cooks and the first but, as with so many other recipes, there are all sorts of counter-claims such as the famed British writer Constance Fry as far back as 1956. In South America it is known as salsa (sauce) golf because it was allegedly created by a diner in a golf club bored with eating his prawns with straight mayo. Who knows and, frankly, who cares? It is utterly delicious, open to a myriad interpretations and, frankly, good with just about anything savoury.

Without going into the whole thing, I like to make mine with home-made mayo, a particular Polish tomato ketchup that I have discovered in my local supermarket (sign of the times in London), a good dash of Worcestershire sauce (which must be Lea and Perrins obviously), some form of chilli as I like my food spicy.

I quite like sriracha sauce as it is easy to blend but any chilli you have is good although I to not recommend even the finest chopped fresh ones, it should be a smooth, creamy sauce. A good crack of freshly ground pepper is always good on anything and you are good to go and after that just let your mind go free. A small amount of horseradish is great, mustard (I would use perhaps a lighter one as English will overpower the sauce), just have a field day and find your best combination, there is no “proper” way, it is all good. Let’s be honest, most cooking is as long as you don’t pour custard over the roast beef!

Right, enough digression but I do like talking about cooking and I was “chowing down”, as I believe the Americans say, on my monstrous prawn cocktail and enjoying every mouthful but when I happily finished, I reckoned I should probably see a little more of Tynemouth on my first visit even though I was never going to go far.

As I had no map, no local knowledge and definitely no ability to use the mapping system on my mobile (cell) ‘phone, it was always going to be a fairly random wander which is absolutely my preferred mode of foot travel anyway. The experiences I have had getting totally lost in towns and cities on several continents and they have been some of the best moments of my trips anywhere. I really do recommend it but always with the proviso that you keep your wits about you and don’t be walking into obviously rough neighbourhoods unless you know what you are doing.

As always I was looking left, right, up and down and noticed a couple of interesting things on the way to my next “pit-stop”, the first of which you can see above. It is a simple street sign but it opens up the whole subject of toponymy generally and, in this case a hodonym i.e. street or road names. OK, I am showing off a bit and I had to look that one up but it is a subject that fascinates me.

Ask most young people in the UK what Hotspur refers to and they will probably say Tottenham Hotspur F.C., a football (soccer) club from North London but I happened to know that the word has a much longer history than that. It refers to a Northumbrian nobleman called Sir Henry Percy (20 May 1364 – 21 July 1403) who gained his nickname from the Scots who he was constantly fighting with as they attempted to move South and referred to his swiftness in attack. He was possibly born at Alnwick Castle and Alnwick is a place we shall be visiting eventually in this series if I ever get round to catching up with myself here. I don’t intend to bore you with a complete history of him here but Percy is a fascinating character and I do recommend you look him up. For example he was appointed a Knight of the Garter, which is the highest chivalric order in the UK, at the tender age of 24. He must have been some warrior.

The next thing of interest I came across was what looked like a fairly standard fish and chip shop, of which there are many in the greater Newcastle area and, in my experience of a uniformly excellent quality. My eye was drawn to a blue plaque in the window. For my non UK readers, blue plaques are put up on buildings with some historical significance, normally something along the lines of X was born here or Y lived here. This obviously was not one of the official ones because they are always affixed to external walls but I could not resist a look and what a find.

The image above tells the entire story. Jimi Hendrix, an absolute guitar hero of mine, bought fish and chips here in 1967 and went to eat them on a bench beside the sea. I can fully appreciate the experience. There is something almost magical about eating a nice bit of haddock and chips watching the waves coming in and with the whiff of ozone in your nose, it is great and an experience which I recommend to any visitor to our shores. Well, if it is good enough for Jimi, it is good enough for me.

All this discovering had obviously made me thirsty so it was with great joy that I happened upon the Head of Steam pub which is apparently part of a chain which stretches South and even as far as Wales. The pub was quirky to say the least. It is obviously fairly modern and their website shows that the group has only been going since 1995 with this particular outlet opening in 2014.

It is decked out in fairly standard modern style but the quirk I refer to is that each bench table has a very modern looking toaster on it! Look at the images. They were not museum pieces placed for interest but rather they looked brand spanking new and I have no idea what they were for. I don’t know if they serve breakfasts but are you meant to toast your bread to your own liking? Very strange.

A quick and well-kept pint of cider later I thought it was time to move. I have a reasonably good sense of direction and am generally pretty well orientated, even in a strange place, so I knew I was no more than a few hundred yards from the Metro station which would get me back within 100 yards of my hotel so my mobility was not an issue. Although any sort of distance was not going to be feasible it was so much better than just a few months before where I had struggled to make the small supermarket right across the road from my home.

Small victories.

Again wandering fairly aimlessly but trying to stay within kicking distance of the station (I wasn’t going to push my luck) I set off to find another place of alcoholic refreshment and did not have too far to go. The next port of call was the Cumberland Arms, a fine looking old building which was built in 1898 on the site of an older establishment dating back to 1855. Inside it has obviously been refurbished in modern times but it retains an old-fashioned feel and look, I liked it. Another well-kept and served pint with the usual cheery bit of chat and I was on a mission now.

I sallied forth yet again and I did not have to go far until I saw a sign for the CIU club (I tend to look up as that is where pub signs tend to be!) which I initially discounted. The reason for this is that CIU clubs, like Conservative clubs, Liberal clubs, and many others were strictly for members only. I can only think of one CIU club in London (in Plaistow) and if you don’t have a membership card you won’t get over the door. On my previous trip to Newcastle in October 2019, which you can read about here, I had to be signed into clubs in Hebburn and Jarrow even though I was playing in the band booked as the entertainment for the evening! Strange but true.

Anyway, I happened to be walking past the place in search of a pub when I spotted a poster in the window which, as well as espousing the virtues of the place (they were to prove to be many) it stated quite clearly “non members welcome”. I was astounded but on the principle of nothing ventured nothing gained, I decided to give it a try and what a good decision that proved to be. I always seem to land on my feet when it comes to drinking establishments.

I hobbled my way up the stairs of what I believe was the old Co-op shop and entered one of the most pleasant lounge bars I have ever been in, it was quite palatial but not flashy, just right. I approached the bar and asked the young lady serving if it was indeed correct that I could get a drink there which she confirmed to be the case. Fine, a pint of cider for me. I asked her how much it was and when she told me I was amazed. Because of the vagaries of the almost unfathomable licensing laws in the UK, registered clubs like this pay less tax on alcohol than pubs, don’t ask me why. I have already discussed in previous posts in this series about how inexpensive it was this far North but this really flabbergasted me now. I cannot now remember the exact figure but I know I would not have bought a small borrle of water for it in a London pub.

I had a quick scan round (old situational awareness training as I have spoken of before) and took in a very fine establishment which was showing sport on the very large screen TV and a back room which had not one but two full size billiards tables which both turned out to be in superb condition on a quick inspection later. This suited me down to the ground, especially since there was a decent game of football (soccer) on the TV.

I knew by the time I left that I had missed the meet to get back to Newcastle but I knew the way and had my ticket which Sarah had so helpfully assisted me in getting. I spent a wonderful time there chatting to some locals, who are unfailingly sociable in this part of the world, and some of the bar staff (there were plenty of them on duty and service was quick) and then headed back to the station where I attempted to take an image of a bird flying overhead and failed miserably, as you can see above. I really should learn photography one day.

I got back to my hotel with no drama and I knew the guys were having a meal that night but I had not signed up for it due to my complete inability to eat (I do have to report that at time of writing in July 2022 I am actually managing to eat a little bit more, it must be the sea air!).

By the time I made my room I was feeling exhausted even though I had done absolutely nothing and walked perhaps no more than a mile all day but I think the combination of lack of food and my general debility (is that a proper word?) from my various hospitalisations etc. was taking a toll so I took myself down to the hotel bar. These are not places I normally frequent but the bar in the Royal Station Hotel is very pleasant, the staff are not sniffy towards a scruff like me complete with bandana, earring, long hair and a beard that looks like a sanctuary for small rodents so I didn’t mind paying the little extra. A couple of pints and I considered again the prospect of going to meet my friends as I knew where they were dining in a private room but I decided, in an unusual fit of sense, to just head to bed which I did, looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I should have been so lucky!

I mentioned in the previous post that visitors to this otherwise excellent hotle should ask for a room on an upper floor and here is the reason why. My room (105 I believe) was directly above the function room which doubles as the disco at weekends and Newcastle is very much a party town, much beloved of hen and stag parties, and the disco went on to 0300 with the sound hammering up through the Victorian and obviously not sound-proofed floors. That was bad enough but it got even worse after the DJ shut down. There was drunken shouting clearly audible in the hotel and, as if that was not bad enough, it sounded like there was rape (literally), battle, murder, riot and civil war going on outside. I maybe got to sleep at 0500for a few hours and that was my lot.

This is a very obvious place to break and I shall do so but I would like to make a point before I sign off. People may well read this and say, “What a waste of a day” but I see it differently. Primarily, after virus house arrest and much ill health I had managed to get out of my flat again, I had spent the day in the company of many old friends that I had been unable to meet for several years and I had visited a place I had never been before (albeit in a limited way) which always gives me a thrill. I had met some lovely people which seems to be the default position in the Northeast. I would have loved to have seen the Priory and the Castle etc. but circumstances did not allow and I now have to work round these sorts of occasions, I have to tailor my travelling to suit my much limited abilities.

I’ll be honest, the next day is pretty much of nothing so I shall run it into the day after in the next post which is an absolute beauty where we all went on a coach trip round the Northumberland coast which is such a brilliant place. As always, if you want to find out what happens, stay tuned.

I finally make it to Newcastle.

Hello, hello and welcome back again to my apparently endless bout of writing posts which is surprising even me. After such a period of complete apathy and inactivity on the writing front, I must admit that this new burst of enthusiasm has rather taken me by surprise but I’m not complaining, I always did enjoy this before and am doing so once again.

I have no doubt in my mind as to what has prompted this fit of creativity (if indeed you find my rambling discourses here in any way creative) and that is a trip which began on the 19th of May, 2022, scheduled for four days and which turned into about five weeks over a large swathe of Northern England and was hugely enjoyable, very rewarding and ultimately quite creatively stimulating as my latest flurry of entries here hopefully indicates so please allow me to tell you about it.

The story starts back in 2005, and I do promise you I shall try to be brief here. It was a time when I could barely use the internet (I still struggle!) and I came upon a website called Virtual Tourist which I instantly fell in love with, there was just something about it that appealed to me. There were genuine travellers from all over the world writing what were originally called tips and then reviews dispassionately and objectively, not like the disgraceful charade of today’s travel websites where you have to pay through the nose for a good review and I cite TripAdvisor here, an utterly immoral and disgusting agency who we shall return to shortly.

VT was a small operation and at the height of it’s powers had a total of 12 staff, based in a small office in California. I knew most of them to chat to online if there was a tech problem with the site and I have personally met two of the CEO’s (G and Kimberly) both of whom were delightful, proper travellers themselves and totally invested in what they were doing but, lovely as that was, it was not the main draw of the site. That was the sense of community, a much overused term these days but absolutely appropriate in the circumstances, we really were a tight group, not a clique in any sense but close.

As part of the group mentality of the site, various “meets” were organised by the members themselves all over the world. If you have read my previous website and my five month trip to the Philippines (originally planned as five weeks!) you will know what I mean.

The staff did not get actively involved, with such a small number of them they were far too busy keeping the nuts and bolts of the system together but they were hugely supportive and one or other of them used to turn up to the larger meets whenever possible. A large proportion of my close personal friends are comprised of old VT members so what went wrong? I can tell you in a word, a hated word loaded with deceit, criminal practices and sheer evil and that word is TripAdvisor. Yes, you read that right, the ubiquitous TA with a sticker in every shop, bar and restaurant window on the world, that TA.

TA is run (or was back then) by an terrible man called Steven Kaufer whose aim was very simple. He wanted TA to be the only travel advice website on the internet, a position he or his successors have damn nearly achieved now, giving them a dangerous monopoly to extort money from businesses worldwide. Extortion is what they excel at, a good review (as written mostly by their American based staff who have never set foot in the establishment), is determined by how much you pay. I know I have seen reviews of mine copied verbatim from VT, without attribution, on TA. That was in the days when I still looked at it, I will never give them the traffic any more. Why? I’ll tell you.

TA bought over a number of sites and I do not blame the three “originals” of VT, two of whom I have met, for selling out as they were having serious amounts of money thrown at them and I mean multi millions of $$$. Good for them, they had grafted so hard to create something so wonderful, they deserved some recompense for it.

The problem was with the duplicity of TA. They promised us the Earth, everything would be fine, all 12 jobs were secure, we could get on with our thing and they would not interfere. As usual, Kaufer lied (well, I believe he was trained as a lawyer so lying comes naturally to him). In early 2017 the staff turned up to the VT office in California to be met by security guards who told them to clear their desks (escorted by said thugs), go home and their employment was terminated forthwith. The news was passed to the members and I was actually online with Kimberly and a few others as they literally pulled the plugs on the computers and the lights went out on VT, or did they?

No. Kaufer could use his vast dishonestly acquired wealth to buy up and kill a website (as he did with Travelpod and several others and continues to do in his quest for world travel writing domination) but he had seriously underestimated the strength of the VT spirit. Members set up groups on various media platforms, notably Facebook although I do not subscribe to any of them as I find that style of communication but is not to my taste, just a personal opinion. VT, however, lives on as you will see later in this post if I can stop myself rambling! Incredibly, we are even attracting new members to a community born out of long dead website that has not existed for over five years. I think that says it all really.

One of the highlights of the VT calendar was the Euromeet, an annual event usually held in late May in a different town or city somewhere on that Continent. I have been to a few and they are always brilliant. They are completely organised on a voluntary basis by members and, whilst the VT staff did not get involved (too much else to do) they were very supportive, sent loads of promo gear to distribute and usually one of them would turn up as I mentioned above.

Picture the scene. I remember sitting on a ‘bus in Macedonia (I refuse to call it North Macedonia, that is another conceit of the Federal States of E aka the EU at the behest of the Greeks (bankrupted by the aforesaid Federal States!) with the CEO (Giampiero Ambrosi aka G) after a few very sociable beers outside what looked like a simple farmhouse in a village in the middle of who knows where but actually doubled as the local grocery store and off-licence and he was asking me what I liked about the site and what I didn’t. Can you do that with Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates, I think not. VT really was something else.

Right, back to the story after that ramble. All those paragraphs with never a photo to lighten the load and, to be honest, there are only a very few to come. I had done the London – Newcastle trip so often I had loads of images of King’s Cross, videos of entering and leaving Peterborough and York stations etc. that I didn’t think I needed any more, nothing had changed.

Due to my mobility issues and the woeful lack of accessible platform access at my local station (as previously described here), I had ordered a cab to King’s Cross and he got me there in good time and good order. I managed to negotiate the station without disaster, bloody mess or fuss and see here if you need explanation of that) and settled in with a book for the very comfortable journey to the Northeast. It was a journey in so many senses of the word.

I did manage one quick image in King’s Cross, a statue of Sir Nigel Gresley, one of the finest railway locomotive engineers of this or any other age. Perhaps his finest hour was designing the Mallard which, to this day, holds the record as the fastest steam loco ever, a feat that is unlikely to be challenged in these days of electric and diesel.

I made the train in good time to my pre-booked seat (comfy, legroom at the table seat I had requested, back to travel as I prefer, aisle seat as I don’t like annoying people getting in and out, powerpoint for my computer, ideal).

I decided to take myself off to the buffet car for a can of breakfast, my usual pint of breakfast being merely an illusion on trains as there is no draught and ordered a cider from the choice of one i.e. Somersby as you can see above. I went to hand over a £10 note in payment (frankly, I was not expecting much change out of a fiver for a can that costs about a quid in the supermarket but they play on their monopoly position. The young lady behind the counter very apologetically said, “Sorry, we don’t take cash, card only”. What? Yet another instance of institutions hiding behind the general excuse of the Chinese virus to make life easier for themselves. Card payments mean no cash to count at the end of a trip, everything done by computer, far greater control by bosses etc. etc. it just suits the globalisation effort.

Purchased eventually.

I still had the crisp new £10 note in my hand with Her Majesty’s face upwards and I decided to make a joke out of it although in broader terms it is no joking matter. I said, looking down, “So sorry Ma’am, it appears your face on a piece of paper is no longer acceptable as legal currency in the country you rule, you have been replaced by foreign bankers”, replaced it in my wallet and substituted it with a debit card from a foreign owned bank. What has my country become? If you read on (and don’t die of boredom first) you will find that this was not my only experience of this odious practice on this trip. How long until we are all forced into having cards which can be easily monitored and where the commission demanded by said overseas entities is added to the price of our purchases.

The young lady smiled, at least I think she did but it was difficult to tell behind the now not legally required face mask she was wearing. I have read that very small children form a lot of their views of the world from the facial expressions of adults around them, how will that be impacted in years to come when all they saw in infancy was a face mask?

Having landed in Newcastle (surprisingly right on time and without me ever leaving the ground) I felt strangely at home. I have never lived there nor spent any significant amounts of time in the city but, on my occasional visits I always feel very comfortable there and welcome. It is a very friendly city, much moreso than London, and this was a trait I was to find on this run in towns and cities all over the North. I don’t know what it is, and it is true in small villages up to major cities but it seems the further you get from the capital, the friendlier people get. There will be numerous examples of this in posts to come.

The very first thing to do was something of a ritual for me when I get the train into Newcastle. Directly across the road from the main entrance of the station is an excellent Nicholson’s pub called the Victoria Comet which sounds like it should be the name of some old steam locomotive but isn’t There were originally two adjacent pubs called the Victoria and the Comet and so, when they merged, the name was obvious.

As I walked across Neville Street to the pub I was following in famous cinematic footsteps and which is the major reason I always go here first. I was treading the same path as the famous actor Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Jr. (OK, Michael Caine to you and me) as he appears in one of the opening scenes of one of my favourite films ever. Caine plays a London hard man gangster who travels back to Newcastle to investigate the mysterious death of his brother. OK, after over 50 years it looks a bit dated now but then, so do I!

I had booked into stay at the Royal Station Hotel which, as the name suggests, was no more than about 200 yards from the railway station entrance so even with my very restricted mobility I could manage that OK. I suspect it was one of the many railway hotels owned and operated by the railway companies who were trying to provide a complete travelling experience way back before even my grandparents (all born in the 19th century) had uttered their first cry.

To be honest, at standard / walk-up rates it would have been way out of my budget but I got a last minute deal at a very decent price that I could afford. Yes, I am a happy man in a hostel in a room full of snoring, farting hairy males (even females in these days of mixed dorms) but it is nice to have a little luxury now and again.

The hotel was just what I was expecting, an impressive building with a typical Victorian facade which is now Grade 1 listed, and opened by the Queen who bears the name of the era in 1850. Were it not for our current monarch who has reigned for over seven decades (and long may she continue), Victoria was relatively young then and eventually this country’s longest-serving monarch overseeing an age, perhaps Britain’s glory days, when industry and entrepreneurship were King to her Queenly reign. Naturally the military played a huge part as well.

Having been checked in by a charming young lady who obviously didn’t have English as a first language, which is usual in tertiary industries in the UK these days, I was allocated a room on the first floor (105 as I recall) and thankfully there was a lift (elevator) so I didn’t have to negotiate the beautiful ornamental stairs to that level. I have included an image of the spectacular chandelier above the said stairway just to give you an idea of the opulence of the place.

The building is a gem and well deserving of it’s protected Grade 1 status but just ask for a room above the first floor for reasons I shall explain in a future post! It seems I was in good company as Jane Russell, Laurence Olivier, Laurel and Hardy, Dame Vera Lynn, Richard Burton and Muhammad Ali have all checked in here. Fine by me, I’d share a room with any of them for varying reasons.

There I was in “the Toon” as Geordies pronounce the word town in their quaint and fairly impenetrable accent and despite the fact that it has been a city incorporated since 1882 but I suppose folk memory goes back longer than that. I was a happy man as I lay down on my very comfy bed for a quick rest. I was happy because I had actually made it this far without bloody mishap and a hospital bed, I was glad I was at another VT Euromeet and going to meet some dear old friends that I hadn’t seen for far too long, glad that we were metaphorically throwing sand in the eyes of Kaufer and his evil empire who thought they had killed us off ut, if anything, had driven us closer together. Yes, it was a happy Fergy who lay on that bed and then got up to have a wander.

When I say a wander, it is a fairly loose term. I am now extremely conscious of my physical limitations and I knew I could not move far but I didn’t need to. I know the area near the station and hotel fairly well and I knew there was everything I needed within a distance that was achievable in my condition.

At this point I should explain how VT meets work, specifically the larger ones like Euromeets. The organiser(s) will arrange day drips and excursions to places of interest and then there is a communal meal every evening. The great thing about a VT meet is that it is totally non-prescriptive, you can sign up for as much or as little as you want and nobody will think the less of you if you decide to just go and explore by yourself and eat in some little back street joint you have discovered that day. It is not the concept of a coach trip or cruise (both my ideas of travel Hell) where it is, “breakfast at 0730, on the bus by 0800, Museum X at 0830, back on the ‘bus at 0930 etc. etc. That sort of trip appals me beyond belief although I would never decry those who regularly do them and enjoy them, it is just a matter of personal taste.

VT is a much different beast and I heard a very experienced member remarking once on another Euromeet that trying to organise VT members was like trying to herd cats, how very true. By their very nature, VT people tend to be fairly independent travellers and like to do their own thing, which is perfect for me. Also, I had not signed up for any of the meals, convivial as they would have been, but with my complete lack of appetite and gastric ability it would have been a waste of the chef’s talent, the waiting staff’s time and my money and I hate sending food back to the kitchen as it suggests it was not up to scratch. It would have been a waste of the chef’s talents, waiting staff’s time and my money, so why bother? I hate food waste with a passion and do everything in my power to avoid it. Meals with my friends really made no sense so I arranged to meet them for post-prandial drinks.

Actually, my first evening was not a problem as there was no meal and everyone was meeting in the City Tavern for registration which is nearly not as far as it may seem towards regimentation. It just gave Sarah a chance to work out who had turned up, who was going where, how much they had to pay (she was still out of pocket to ‘bus companies, tour guides etc.) and then we could just sit down and have a drink and a catch-up after what seemed like an absolute eternity due to the Chinese virus and what a catch-up it turned out to be.

People had come from literally all over the world and I think everyone had had more or less similar experiences, just to varying degrees dependent upon the attitude of their respective Governments, none of whom had a clue what they were doing. How could they have when the situation was unprecedented in world history? The virus was truly a pandemic affecting everyone and probably unparalleled since the great Spanish ‘flu pandemic at the end of and just after the First World War.

It is amazing to think that, despite the appalling death toll in that hideous conflict, more people probably died globally from the ‘flu shortly thereafter. It was actually nothing to do with Spain at all, the name was invented to avoid censorship laws. Because Spain was neutral in both World Wars, even if Hitler’s Condor Legion had practiced what was later to be called blitzkrieg during the appalling Civil War of the mid 1930’s in that country. There were massive reporting restrictions from the censors involving any nation involved in World War 1 and then concerning the pandemic but Spain was exempt because they had not been involved in the fighting. Thus do modern mis-Governments function.

I have already described how close the old VT crew are and even the one or two people who seem to have “discovered” us since the demise of the site and the several partners who were there seemed to be so happy, it seemed like we had waited so long for this. It was indeed a joyous evening which slipped by all too soon and I was so glad I had taken the time and made the effort to get here by working out my travel plans in detail to avoid walking, planned a hotel close by the station etc. etc. This is the complete antithesis of how I have travelled all my life which was pretty much by the seat of my pants. I swear I have flown into cities on other continents mid-afternoon without even knowing where I am going to stay that night. It always worked out OK but sadly is no longer an option. I suppose that is what getting old does for you.

I think this would be a suitable place to take a break as I collapse onto my comfy be for a quick chapter of my book and off to the land of nod. This latest adventure, which does take some twists and turns, has loads left in it yet so if you are vaguely interested then stay tuned.


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