|Playing with the big buoys|
It wasn’t the brightest of days for a foray down to our fascinating and varied coast at the North Shields fishing port. However, friends from Australia were only here for a limited length of time and waiting for a fine day in this part of the world is a bit like waiting for Newcastle United to top the premiere league. Actually, that’s even more of a long shot come to think of it. So even though it was a bit grey and a bit rainy there was still lots of fun to be had. We saw a cyclist dipping the wheels of his bicycle into the sea which is apparently what you do when you have completed the coast to coast (C2C) cycle route. The popularity of cycling is going from strength to strength in England and there are lots of cycle ways and routes to test the mettle of those for whom Lycra shorts and unattractive head ware pose no deterrent.
|Fish tail Way marker
We stopped for a lovely lunch at the Staithes House pub where pan fried Pollack was consumed and just around the corner we marvelled at Taylor’s fish emporium. Their claim to fame is that the fish go from quay to the shop counter within ten minutes.
|Fast fish food|
They certainly had a creative and colourful display of fish on offer and I was impressed with the way the fish man – who may have been Mr Taylor himself – came round and poked each deceased piece of seafood to identify them all for me. Halibut, Salmon, Mackerel, Herring, Plaice, Lemon Sole, Pollack, Cod (ugly,) Monk fish (very ugly) lobster, and a lot of substantially sized prawns. They also had some more exotic specimens such as Barramundi, but that had been flown over from Australia.
|A shoal of has-been herrings|
I do like eating fish but not touching it or cooking, it so I’m obviously not an ideal punter for a fresh fish shop. The fish quay is much smaller than it used to be but although fish stocks are greatly depleted they don’t seem to have entirely fished out the North Sea yet. North Shields Fish Quay is reinventing itself as a rather trendy spot for all kinds of eateries from fish and chip classics and good cheap Italians to more sophisticated bistro type restaurants. All were pretty busy on the day we were there even though it was midweek.
|You shall have a fishy on a little dishy|
Our next stop was the Volunteer Life Brigade Watch House Museum. A living memory of the first ever Volunteer Life Brigade created. Looking rather intriguing if a little dilapidated we attempted to gain entry to the museum as it did seem to be within the advertised opening hours. The entrance appeared to be at the back of the building but all was as quiet as the Marie Celeste. Next to the door we were presented with two bells, Bell A and Bell B. In a somewhat cryptic instruction posted alongside the brace of bells, it read ‘Ring Bell A for admittance. If no reply at Bell A, ring Bell B.’ Very Alice in Wonderland. We tried Bell A – no response, then Bell B. No response either, although after about 10 minutes a rather elderly ginger cat came wandering slowly out of the adjacent cottage.
|Which bell to press?|
It’s a shame really because apparently the Brigade Watch House Museum is packed full of fascinating and unique artifacts of the Brigade’s history including the Ship’s Bell from one of the Shipwrecks that led to the creation of the Brigade. Well we saw the ship’s cat and a rather pretty little lifeboat outside anyway.
|Half hearted museum|
Of course lifeboat volunteers have played a vital part in the safety of those at sea over many years around dangerous and rocky coasts. For centuries the mouth of the Tyne was a place of shifting sandbanks and dangerous rocks. Most feared of all were the notorious Black Midden rocks.
According to local folklore, these rocks were thrown there by the devil in an attempt to curb the wealthy sea trade of Newcastle, something which was never achieved.
Usually covered at high tide, the Black Middens have been responsible for many shipwrecks and over the years have caused the death by drowning of hundreds of mariners and their passengers.
During three days of blizzards and storms in 1864, the Black Middens claimed five ships and 34 lives.
It was mainly because of these rocks which we could see as we strolled along the shore (they are now overlooked by Admiral Lord Collingwood’s monument,) that the formation of the first ever Volunteer Life Brigade service was established here at Tynemouth in 1864.
|Volunteer lifeboat – looking good|
We next explored a little bit further up through Cullercoats and Whitley Bay. These once thriving seaside towns are trying very hard to revive themselves but still have areas which look rundown and in need of a face lift. Although still very popular for the day visitor, not many folk come here for a full holiday anymore and so hotels that may have been busy in days gone by have not always weathered well. One such is the High Point Hotel, it’s been boarded up for years and does beg the question. If that’s the High Point – I wonder what the low point looks like…
|Bit of a misnomer|
In a failed attempt to find a short cut back to the Quay, we came across a suitcase with its contents spilled down the bankside. Was this the discarded results of a petty theft? Or another piece of ill advised public art? Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference when the Arts Council gets involved.
|An open and shut case|
Things which are getting more popular at the North East coast despite the chilly depths of the North Sea, include all kinds of water sports – in particular surfing, kite surfing and it would appear, diving. However you do need to think twice before you get into your wetsuit in too devil-may-care a manner at the side of the road, as you may cause offence to bashful residents. The sign next to the car park reads ‘Divers Please use discretion when undressing.’ Time to examine the CCTV footage I think..
|What do dressed crab wear?|