I have always hated caravans. I remember how horrible they were when I was a boy and we used to have family holidays in a tin box without any modern facilities but now, after a few modern caravan holidays I have become a real enthusiast, a zealot even, rather like someone who has gone through a rapid religious conversion and has become a serious pain in the arse and this time, after banging on about it I persuaded Kim to join me to a holiday park in Whitley Bay in Northumberland.
It was my birthday and we began the weekend by driving north late on a Thursday afternoon and staying at a Premier Inn Hotel in Bishop Auckland. Premier Inn Hotels are my favourite and at £30 for a room for a night, that, in my book awarded them another couple of gold stars.
After a night out at a pub/restaurant we woke early the next day and drove straight to the town centre for a Wetherspoon breakfast.
The pub is called the Stanley Jefferson to commemorate the fact that Stanley Jefferson once lived in Bishop Auckland and attended the Grammar School there. Stanley Who I hear you ask? Well, Stanley Jefferson is better known to everyone as Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame. There is a statue of him nearby on the site of a theatre that was once owned by his parents, long since gone of course.
I remember Laurel and Hardy from Saturday Morning Pictures at the Granada Cinema in Rugby where I lived as a boy. They were my favourites then and they remain my favourites now. Surely there has never been a finer comedy double act in entertainment history? In the UK there are a seriously talentless pair of chumps called Ant and Dec who for some reason known only to the morons that vote for them, regularly win comedy duo awards but take my word for it these are dwarfs in the land of comedy giants like Stan and Ollie!
After a brisk walk around the town centre we left Bishop Auckland and County Durham and made our way north to Tyneside.
It was rather overcast when we emerged from the northern exit of the Tyne Tunnel and paid our £1.70 toll and disappointed by this we made our way to the small town/village of Tynemouth.
At Kim’s insistence (to avoid car parking charges) we left 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 the while their husbands were away campaigning in Scotland. King Edward III considered it to be one of the strongest fortresses 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 the world’s largest travel site TripAdvisor.
They voted the beach the UK’s fourth favourite 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. I am not sure if all the people who voted have ever been to Europe however!
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 equally as tall and as proud as that of his boss in Trafalgar Square.
Travelling north the next village is Cullercoats where a crescent of caramel sand shaped like a Saracen’s sword was once a fishing village and a hundred years ago home to several 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 larger self-righting boat that had a narrow beam and was much longer with higher end-boxes containing the air-cases tested 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 featured 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, just long enough to kill some time until our caravan was ready for us at four o’clock, 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 or so.
We checked in and I have to confess that I was a little disappointed. I had been spoiled a couple of months previously in an especially fine caravan in Great Yarmouth but where that was a gold star van this was only bronze but I am told by my travelling pal Dai that caravan allocation on these sites is always a bit of a lottery!