After a relaxing, but rather expensive, night in the County Hotel and a hearty breakfast we left Durham in the early morning and made our way towards Newcastle and the North East coast.
It was rather overcast when we emerged from the northern exit of the Tyne Tunnel and paid our £1.60 toll and disappointed by this we made our way to the small town/village of Tynemouth.
At Kim’s insistence we parked the car in a residential area and I worried about being clamped and then walked along the promenade to the ruins of a Priory on a craggy and windswept headland where by all accounts the queens of Edward I (Eleanor of Castile) and Edward II (Isabella (the She Wolf) of France) stayed in while their husbands were away campaigning in Scotland. King Edward III considered it to be one of the strongest castles in the Northern Marches but not much of it remains today following its abandonment during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.
It remains in an imposing location however set on a headland separating two magnificent sandy beaches, to the north King Edward’s bay and to the south Longsands, an expanse of fine sand which in 2013 was voted one of the best beaches in the country by users of TripAdvisor who voted the beach the UK’s fourth favourite beach beaten only by Rhossili Bay in Wales, Woolacombe Beach in North Devon and Porthminster Beach at St Ives, Cornwall. The beach was also voted the twelfth best in Europe.
Beyond the Priory and commanding the attention of all shipping on the Tyne is the giant memorial to Lord Cuthbert Collingwood, Nelson’s second-in-command at Trafalgar, who completed the victory after Nelson was killed on board HMS Victory. Collingwood is largely forgotten in the wake of Nelson’s tsunami of hero worship but his column in Tynemouth stands as tall and as proud as that of his boss in Trafalgar Square.
Travelling north the next village is Cullercoats where a crescent of sand shaped like a Saracen’s sword was once a fishing village and a home to impressionist artists but is now a rather run down day trippers magnet for people from the city.
Everywhere I go seems to have a story to tell. The most interesting fact about the place is its association with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) because following disasters in the mid nineteenth century and loss of life at Cullercoats the Duke of Northumberland financed a competition for a standard design of a lifeboat. The winner was a large self-righting boat that had a narrow beam and was much longer with higher end-boxes containing air-cases designed to self-right when capsized.
The sea was calm today and we sat on the sand outside the lifeboat station but no one was called into action in the hour or so that we spent there.
Further along the coast was Whitley Bay which has a fine beach and a funfair and entertainment centre called Spanish City which was popularised in the Dire Straits song Tunnel of Love but which is closed now and undergoing extensive renovation. We stopped for a while at St Mary’s Island where there is a redundant lighthouse and rock pools where children fish for crabs with small nets just as I used to fifty years ago give or take a year 0r so.
Our next destination was Edinburgh in Scotland and we were travelling there by train so we left the car in Whitley Bay and made our way to the city of Newcastle on the metro. I had never been to Newcastle and a short stop of about an hour is not enough time to make a valid or considered judgement so I think I need a return trip to fully appreciate it.
The only thing that I really wanted to see was the Earl Grey Monument in the centre of the city. Earl Grey is mostly remembered for the Great Reform Act of 1832 which began the franchise reform process which led ultimately to universal suffrage and an improvement in democratic representation but whilst I appreciate that of course I like Earl Grey best for his tea.
Earl Grey is my favourite tea, a tea that according to tradition was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey to suit the water at Howick Hall, the family seat in Northumberland, using bergamot to offset the preponderance of lime in the local water. Lady Grey used it to entertain in London as a political hostess and it proved so popular that she was asked if it could be sold to others, which is how Twinings came to market it as a brand
The tea is blended with citrus bergamot which is commercially farmed in Calabria in southern Italy, where more than 80% of the world’s product is grown. And this is a precious commodity because it takes one hundred bergamot oranges to yield about three ounces (85 grams) of bergamot oil which means that maintaining a supply is challenging.
It is important to only choose Twinings Earl Grey because many other varieties use substitute cheaper ingredients. You can’t trust anyone these days it seems!
After paying respects to Earl Grey we made our way to the train station…