The sands – a Tyneside Road Trip
a Tyneside Road Trip It may be no Route 66 or Pacific Highway but the Tyneside coastal road has all the elements of a classic road trip the likes of ‘Thelma and Louise’ and ‘The Hangover’ boys would be proud of – beaches, surfing, obscure characters and a good old bit of letting your hair down.
ith a distinct lack of potential wind whipped-hair in my nonsoft top, non-sunroof VW Polo, but complete with le iPod, wine gums and a trusty Sat Nav (maps became obsolete during my students days) my friend and I hit the open road for a day out at many a beach.
Picture the scene – a lighthouse and cottage stand isolated on a rocky island in the North Sea. Waves crash all around in the October chill. Then, as the water slowly recedes, a causeway emerges from the depths allowing crossing to the historic St. Mary’s Island: less than 30 minutes from Newcastle we had encountered a place straight from the movie screen and history books! The island in the northern limits of Whitley Bay has a pretty dramatic past with tales of monks, smugglers,
cholera, hangings, shipwrecks and eviction of the Ewan residents and the beloved family pet: a pig. For a couple of quid we visited the island and climbed the 137 steps of the lighthouse complete with incredible views down the Bay. However, we made sure to get back to mainland quickly as being stranded in the North Sea wasn’t the most appealing prospect! One beach down, many to go...
We rolled down the
road towards the centre of the Tyneside family holiday area, Whitley Bay. Entering Whitley Bay after the serenity of St. Mary’s Island was like stepping straight into a nightclub from a stint in the spa. Being coined as a British seaside resort conjures images of Blackpool or Great Yarmouth with their rickety fairgrounds and casino/ nightclub/amusement
arcade lined promenades. Whitley Bay seemed different, yes there were lights, noises, entertainment venues and children, but the seafront park had one distinct difference; the Spanish City Dome – the piece de resistance of the promenade. Once a dance hall, the Dome is in the process of rejuvenation and is now used as a museum and interactive centre. It is to Whitley Bay what Ant and Dec are to Newcastle and the Eyjafjallajokull volcano is to Iceland – not a nuisance, a contemporary icon. After a dose of culture, a walk along the beach and the joy of fresh British sea air it was time to lunch. At the coast in North East England there is no option other than ice cream and fish and chips; however the former was a little optimistic for October. A recommendation from a cheery local pointed
by Vicki Dacker
us in the direction of Rendezvous cafe on Northern Promenade. The fish and chips were incredible: no wonder the ‘caf’ has been there since the 1930s. Word has it that the nightlife is also a local institution but we didn’t have time to stick around and witness the great and good of Whitley in their fineries; we had another beach to reach...
On to Tynemouth we
ventured, a few minutes down the road, full to the brim but defiant with leftover chips in hand. Longsands beach stretches proudly from the Cullercoats edge of Whitley Bay to the Grand Hotel – half a mile of surfing joy hosting the UK Pro Surf Tour every year. Arriving mid afternoon brave enthusiasts took to the water with varying levels of success. One group of surfers turned out to be the Newcastle Uni-
versity Surf Society who seemed to be having a lot of laughs in the freezing water – Newcastle students sure are tough! We politely declined to join their lesson and instead took a seat in the comfort and more importantly warmth of the lovely beach cafe, Robinson Crusoe’s. Despite the dusty grey skies, the sunshine was creeping through, reminding us of warmer climes.
Willie was never reunited with his master but the kind and friendly nature of the locals kept the dog fed and sheltered when he wasn’t searching or guiding people about the towns. The locals became so fond of this faithful companion that when Willie passed away the town taxidermist displayed the dog in the pub – a constant reminder of friendship and devotion.
Inspired by the surfers
By the end of the day,
we decided it was time for some sport and Lost World crazy golf fitted our sporting capabilities perfectly. Eighteen holes of crocodiles, dinosaurs and luck kept us laughing as we managed to lose not one but two balls to the cheekily positioned water features. We decided a trip on the boat lake or outdoor ice rink to follow was not a great idea considering our previous waterbased misfortune.
Dusk was slowly creep-
ing in and so we decided it was time to wave farewell to the coast and return to the city. On our way through the town centre of Tynemouth we passed by King Edward’s Bay beach with Priory Castle perched atop the looming cliffs. Continuing on up the pub and shop filled high street we kept an eye out for the Turks Head Hotel where local icon Wandering Willie is kept. The tale of Willie is one of sadness but also loyalty and kindness. Willie, the sheepdog, wandered North Shields, Tynemouth and South Shields (yes, using the ferry) for many years in the late 19th century in search of his lost owner.
upon reaching North Shields, the Tyneside coast (and the wee car) had done us proud. We had witnessed gorgeous scenery, seen a fair few belly flops off surf boards, met many a peculiar fellow and heard some poignant tales of the past. They may have at times been difficult to understand but the locals of the coastal towns reminded me why Geordies are renowned for their friendliness....and unashamed ability to talk for Britain! Our road trip was less eventful than the regular on-screen road-tripper with teeth, friends and sanity intact (Hangover boys take note) but it was great to get out of the city and visit the local area – admittedly something many students fail to do. Plus there’s always the ease of jumping on the metro in the quest for sand, sea and sun (?). Even better, if a road or rail trip down the coast does not fulfil your adventure needs then you can always jump on a ferry at North Shields and take Amsterdam and Europe by storm!
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