Life behind the lens of a North East photographer

Helen Gildersleeve speaks to award winning North East photographer Chris Booth to find out about his life behind the camera and his passion for the region.

Flying Scotsman and Royal Border Bridge, Berwick upon Tweed. Photo: Chris Booth
Flying Scotsman and Royal Border Bridge, Berwick upon Tweed. Photo: Chris Booth

Esteemed American photographer, Ansel Adams once famously said: “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” In our fast paced and image focused world, good photography has become more potent than ever, with the average human seeing up to 4,000 images daily.

Darlington based Chris Booth has an extensive background in press photography and has worked for some of the North’s leading newspapers and magazines. With more than 12 years’ experience at The Northern Echo, Darlington & Stockton Times and Living magazine, his lens has captured everyone from pop stars to politicians, royalty to rogues and lots of beaming brides.

Photographer Chris Booth
Photographer Chris Booth

How did you get into photography?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a serious profession while growing up and it wasn’t until I was about 24 that I thought about being a photographer. I had always enjoyed taking pictures as a youth, and enjoyed having a go on my dad’s Canon T70 when given the chance. He was quite a keen amateur as was his father before him. In addition, I always had a keen interest in travel and politics and made usage of the fact that my sister worked on a newspaper to get my first bit of work experience as a press photographer on the Keighley News in West Yorkshire near to where I grew up. From there I successfully applied to get on the NCTJ photography course at Norton College in Sheffield from where I gained my first staff photographer position on the Scarborough Evening News.

Actress at Kynren, Bishop Auckland. Photo: Chris Booth
Actress at Kynren, Bishop Auckland. Photo: Chris Booth

What images are you most proud of?

This is a hard question to answer as I cover a wide array of subject matter and find it hard to compare or rank one against the other. I feel extremely fortunate enough to have covered the whole of the London2012 Olympics on behalf of The Northern Echo, and I believe I made the most of the 2 weeks I spent down in the capital. From this period to name but a few, I captured images of the iconic opening ceremony, Usain Bolt crossing the finish line in the 100m final and Kat Copeland becoming the first EVER woman from the North East to win a gold medal in her rowing event.

Beach bathers, Redcar. Photo: Chris Booth
Beach bathers, Redcar. Photo: Chris Booth

Where do you think is the most photogenic area of the North East?

I don’t think there is one particular area or place in the North East which is best for photos, rather there is a wealth of choice of many places. Clearly there are popular locations known to many such as Newcastle quayside, Durham Cathedral, Gunnerside in North Yorkshire, Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, much of the coastline including Robin Hood’s Bay, Staithes, Whitby, Seaham Harbour. The list goes on, however as primarily a news photographer, if I am photographing a landscape there needs to be a news element involved such as extreme weather conditions or an event going on at that location.

Do you have any tips for taking a great local photograph?

It always helps to know a location well – to know for example how the sun might fall on a landmark at different times of day and where the sun sets and rises in relation to that landmark. Patience and enthusiasm are two more important characteristics especially for landscape photography. I would also encourage creativity – looking at different angles photographically on a subject matter and possibly trying to take a picture in a way that hasn’t been done before. This isn’t easy however.

Wolsingham Show, Weardale, County Durham. Photo: Chris Booth
Wolsingham Show, Weardale, County Durham. Photo: Chris Booth

What do you think makes the North East so great an inspiration for photographers?

I think the North East has an amazing amount of subject matter from iconic buildings in urban areas to beautiful yet wild landscapes both inland and along the rugged coastline. It’s difficult not to be inspired by such a wealth of choice!

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If you’re a talented photographer, artist, crafts person, poet, musician, film maker or performer based in the North East and would like to be considered for a feature on the England’s North East website we’d love to hear from you. Please contact us here 

Brewing up a Great North East Book

Award-winning beer writer ALASTAIR GILMOUR has just published The Great North East Brewery Guide, a book that celebrates the region’s proud tradition of brewing and those who contribute to its fine reputation for great beer. Those people are what make the drinks we enjoy so special, he writes…

People talk about gardeners having “green fingers” but it’s a description that could readily be applied to brewers. Leek-growers rear their plants like their children, dahlia experts talk to their blooms, and carrots don’t perform unless their rosettes are fondled regularly.

NEBreweryGuide

It’s the same with beer, it has to be treated with devotion at every stage. Brew it from the finest ingredients possible on the best equipment available with heaps of inventive muscle and brains and the results will speak for themselves. Craft brewers are fanatical about their choice of hops, the malt they order, the mashing-in regime, the conditioning, the ageing and attention to every detail. It’s what makes great beer – and here in the North East of England we have some of the most inventive, knowledgeable and skilful brewers in the nation, working on gleaming kit that wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie.

Our breweries range from cramped units such as shipping containers to huge and impressive structures lined with Italian marble. The process of making beer is much the same in all of them but honesty and flamboyance come out at the other end – and that’s beer’s beauty. The region’s brewers are a dedicated lot, a set of charismatic people with individual traits that influence the beer they brew. And we don’t half brew good beer here – which is what The Great North East Brewery Guide celebrates.

Latest figures tell us that there are now more than 2,000 breweries operating in the UK, taking growth rate over the past five years to 64%. The North East has enjoyed a similar percentage rise in craft brewery start-ups, many of them by former home-brewers inspired by a public demand for adventurous flavours and the realisation that now is the time.

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We’re all reaping the benefit of better quality beer and more choice, plus the altruistic notion that we’re in our small way contributing to a fiercely independent movement and doing our bit in the growth of the local economy.

Beer can be as simple or as sophisticated as we wish it to be. Breweries produce it, but never forget, it’s people who make it and people who drink it. Cheers!

ALASTAIR GILMOUR is a freelance writer who previously worked for The Journal and The Northern Echo. His work has also featured in national and international media, such as The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, The Observer, Prague Post, Brewers’ Guardian, Eastern Airways in-flight magazine, Food & Travel magazine and – once – The Church Times. He founded and edits Cheers, an award-winning pub and drinks publication (www.cheersnortheast.co.uk), as well as having contributed to several books.

The Great North East Brewery Guide is published by Offstone Publishing.

Follow Alastair on Twitter @CheersPal

The past is a wonderful place to visit but it’s not a place to permanently stay

DAVID SIMPSON reflects on finding a balance between looking back and looking forward in defining the future of North East England

The Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland
The Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland

I love history and especially northern history and I love nostalgia too. Old Photos and memories are wonderful to share and enjoy but I’m not one of those “everything was so much better in the past” types. The past is simply part of a journey; an eventful journey that brought us where we are today. It teaches us what we may achieve and features important lessons too, but that does not mean we should be limited by our past. In fact for me, the present is everything.

Some may say the “past is not important”. Now, I don’t hold with that view either. Just try going for a job interview or writing a CV without saying anything about your past. It would be pretty hard to do because to some extent your past defines you and what you can do, or at least it defines you as you are now. You will almost certainly fail if you have nothing to say about your past but you will also fail if you have no vision of your future.

The same goes for regions, cities and towns that are marketing and presenting their best attributes to the world. An ability to look back to the past with pride but build with a vision towards the future was one of the most impressive aspects of Sunderland’s recent City of Culture bid. It was one of the great reasons why, despite missing out on that title, it has been such a massive success for the city and for the region too.

That past is simply part of a never ending journey of often surprising events and opportunities. The past is merely the early chapter or chapters in an exiting book that is being continuously written. There will be wonderful twists and turns and new highlights as the story grows with each new event and opportunity.

I still love the past though, and like thousands upon thousands of people up and down the land I love to reminisce and look back, occasionally. Being from Durham I often visit a Facebook group called ‘Old Photographs and Memories of Durham‘ one of many such groups that feature compelling black and white snaps of towns and cities up and down the land that are passionately followed by locals and exiles.

It does frustrate me though sometimes, when I hear people who want everything to stay the way it was, who wish to go back or who wish for things to remain unchanged forever, like Miss Havisham in her wedding gown. Now even if it was possible for everything to stay exactly the same as it always was, where would the joy be in that?

Tyneside Pride : Who is a Geordie?

DAVID SIMPSON explores the origins of the word ‘Geordie’ and the changes in its meaning over two centuries.

The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne

So who or what is a ‘Geordie’?

‘Geordie’ is the name given to the natives of Tyneside or at least that’s what the term has come to mean today but what is the origin of this word?

Well to put it simply in one sentence: Geordie is a nickname for someone called George. That’s just about the only thing we can say with certainty in regard to its use in North East England.

How Geordie came to be associated with Tyneside has a number of different theories and it’s worth exploring a few of them here. Just don’t expect a definitive answer that’s all.

In the 1700s, just as today, ‘Geordie’ was the prevalent pet form of the name ‘George’ among the Scots and the people of the far north of England and since there was a succession of four ruling kings called George from 1714 to 1830, it was a very familiar name. Its use and adoption may very probably reflected the opinions and feelings of the populace towards their ruling monarch at any given time.

My personal favourite theory for why Newcastle in particular came to be the home of the ‘Geordie’ is linked to the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 when the town closed its gates to the Jacobite army that had mustered strong support across Northumberland.

The Jacobites, named from ‘Jacobus’ a Latin form of James, wanted to place James Stuart, the Catholic ‘Old Pretender’ on the throne. Newcastle had other ideas however and declared its support for the reigning King, ‘Geordie’ : King George I, the German Protestant, who couldn’t speak a word of English.

This is a neat and very satisfying explanation perpetuated by writers and historians during the later half of the twentieth century – myself included. Even the late Bill Griffiths in his wonderful thoroughly researched ‘Dictionary of North East Dialect’ (2004) examines the origins for different definitions of ‘Geordie’ but can only point to an article in The Northern Echo newspaper (August 1997) to support the Jacobite theory.

Now, I have to confess straight away and say that I was in fact the enthusiastic young author of that particular newspaper article. I was merely repeating a theory that had more than once been thrown around by late twentieth century writers such as David Bean. In  his book ‘Tyneside : a biography’ Bean admittedly added a cautious element of doubt to his colourful explanation with the phrase: “Or so it is guessed”. He then went on to make the familiar suggestion that it came from the use of Stephenson’s Geordie lamp.

David Bean's explanation of 'Geordie' from Tyneside : A Biography (1971)
David Bean’s explanation of ‘Geordie’ from Tyneside : a biography (1971)

Go back more than half a dozen  decades earlier to the nineteenth century and you will find a legion of writers and researchers who left no stone unturned in their quest to explore and explain every facet of local culture and dialect. Not one of these – as far as I know – makes any mention of a link between George I and ‘Geordie Newcastle’. In fact as a written record it is not until the last decade of the nineteenth century that we get any reliable evidence that ‘Geordie’ was specifically associated with Tyneside. It does seem though that it was a name given by outsiders.

In 1892 Richard Oliver Heslop’s, two-volume tome entitled ‘Northumberland Words’ was published. This work formed the basis for late twentieth century Geordie publications like Cecil Geeson’s ‘Northumberland and Durham Word Book’ (1969) and Frank Graham’s ‘Geordie Dictionary’ (1974 and 1987). In one of the shortest entries in his glossary, Heslop explains that ‘Geordy’ is the name by which Tynesiders are known outside the district.

The use of the word ‘outside’ is curious because it suggests the term was not yet accepted onTyneside itself or at least not accepted by the middle class audience at which Heslop presumably aimed his work. Heslop said that ‘Geordy’ is also the term for a Tyne ship and for George Stephenson’s miners’ safety lamp. However, it is in Heslop’s accompanying cross reference to the related term ‘Cranky’ that we find a clear indication of the earlier meaning of ‘Geordie’.

Miners' safety lamps showing the inventions of Humphy Davy and George Stephenson
Miners’ safety lamps showing the inventions of Humphry Davy and George Stephenson

Heslop reveals that ‘Cranky’ or ‘Bob Cranky’ was the popular old term for a miner in the region and cites its use in a phrase from a local song dating from 1804. Heslop says the phrase was in later times replaced by ‘Geordy’.

A linguist, Katie Wales, concurred on the association between Geordies and miners and pointed to an early use of ‘Geordie’ as a reference to miners in local ballads and songs from as early as 1793. The use of the term in this respect will have been reinforced by local miners adopting George Stephenson’s safety lamp (invented 1815) which they nicknamed the ‘Geordie’ or ‘Geordy’ if we are to use Heslop’s spelling.

Explanations for 'Geordy' and 'Cranky' in Richard Heslop's 'Northumberland Words' 1892
Explanations for ‘Geordy’ and ‘Cranky’ in Richard Heslop’s ‘Northumberland Words’ 1892

Heslop, who was of course writing for a Northumberland and Tyneside readership gives an early link between the miners of Tyneside and the term ‘Geordie’ as he says “the men who went from the lower Tyneside to work at the pits in South Tynedale were always called ‘Geordies’ by the people there.” The date at which the Tyneside connection to ‘Geordie’ came into being in South Tynedale is not clear.

Almost half a century earlier, in 1847, John Brockett’s two volume ‘Glossary of North Country Words’ published in Newcastle upon Tyne opted for the spelling ‘Geordie’ which he describes “as a very common name among the pitmen” and showed that it was a form of address between them. He further confirmed that “the pitmen have given the name of ‘Geordie’ to Mr. Stephenson’s lamp in contra-diction to the Davy, or Sir Humphrey Davy’s Lamp”. Brockett made no mention of Newcastle or Tyneside in relation to the term Geordie.

From Brockett's Glossary of North Country Words 1847
From Brockett’s Glossary of North Country Words 1847

Most of the evidence from the Victorian era points to ‘Geordie’ being a widely used for term for miners in the region. However, another source, J.P Robson’s ‘Songs of the Bards of the Tyne’ (1849) said that it was used as a word for ‘rustics’.

The first occurrence of the word ‘Geordie’ in ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’ is in 1866 as ‘Jordies’  and is defined as “the sailors belonging to the ports on the north-eastern coast of England”. Of course, this may have been the south country or London understanding of the term. London, remember was constantly visited by sailors from the North East coast as part of the coal trade.

Only three years later, in 1869, John Camden Hotten, a London bibliophile and expert on ‘slang’ contradicted the Oxford Dictionary stating that Geordie was a “general term in Northumberland and Durham for a pitman or coal-miner.” He stated that that the origin was not known and that the term had been in use for more than a century. The degree of certainty in Hotten’s statement is not known but it places the origin of ‘Geordie’ when defined as a ‘miner’ back before 1769.

There is, however, an early reference linking the term ‘Geordie’ specifically to Tyneside in relation to shipping. This occurs in the Sunderland section of William Fordyce’s ‘History of County Durham’ (1857). Here Fordyce mentions that a “recent periodical supplies us with the curious information that mariners term a vessel from the Tyne a Geordie and from the Wear a Jamie.” It’s a tantalising link back to the Jacobite theory but there’s no evidence to suggest that Sunderland had been particularly pro-Jacobite.

On the same page in relation to shipbuilding, Fordyce makes the remark that “it was derisively said that the Sunderland shipbuilders could either make a ship or build one” as the quality of the workmanship was seemingly regulated by price on Wearside. This was possibly an early origin for the term ‘Mac n’ Tac’ (later ‘Mackem’), used by outsiders in reference to Sunderland that perhaps regained prominence around the 1960s but seemingly was not familiar to Wearsiders until around the 1980s when the insult was enthusiastically adopted and became a badge of honour in much the same way that the ‘Geordie’ insult was adopted on Tyneside.

The Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland
The Wearmouth Bridge, Sunderland

On further investigation it becomes clear that ‘Geordie’ seems to have originated as an insult for a miner (and perhaps a mariner). At the very least it was a patronising term and seems to have been a byword for a fool. Frank Graham suggested that the word originally literally meant ‘fool’ and linked it to the madness of King George III who reigned from 1760-1820.

Supporting the view that Geordie meant ‘fool’, Graham cited a quote that came from the famed music hall comedian, Billy Purvis in 1823 spoken at the Newcastle Races on the Town Moor that year. Billy slated a pitman who had left his wife and sold his furniture to become a performing clown and rival to Purvis. In the quote Purvis said the pitman was a genuine fool unlike Purvis himself, who was merely acting the clown to earn a living:

“Noo, yor a fair doon reet feul, not an artificial feul like Billy Purvis! Thous a real Geordie!”

Billy Purvis, Newcastle Music Hall Comedian
Billy Purvis, Newcastle Music Hall Comedian

‘Geordie’, as a slightly patronising term for a pitman was still widely used in the late nineteenth century.

From 1887 to 1891, a popular Newcastle-based publication called ‘The Monthly Chronicle of North Country Lore and Legend’ explored the heritage and culture of Northumberland, Newcastle and occasionally County Durham with a middle class readership in mind. Generally this publication is full of wonderful informative articles and illustrations but its pages also include countless features on local ‘North Country Wit and Humour’ usually featuring ‘Geordie’ who is almost always depicted as a generic pitman and a bit of a fool. In these features the pitman or ‘Geordie’ includes miners from as far south as Castle Eden near the Durham coast.

A typical observation of a 'Geordie' miner from the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Legend, this example from March 1887
A typical observation of a ‘Geordie’ miner from the Monthly Chronicle of North Country Legend, this example from March 1887

Frank Graham held the view that the middle classes of Newcastle once feared the miners and patronised them with the term ‘Geordie’ but over time, during the twentieth century it became a more friendly accepted term that was widely adopted across the region.

Graham was himself a rather colourful character. He was the Newcastle-based author and publisher of hundreds of small scholarly books for the general reader mostly featuring Northumberland history. Born in Sunderland, he was a noted Communist who had voluntarily fought in the Spanish Civil War against the Fascists.

In addition to his Geordie Dictionary, Graham was perhaps best-known as the publisher in 1969 of the tongue-in cheek ‘Larn Yarsel’ Geordie’ written by the humour writer and art teacher Scott Dobson of Blyth. At around this time Geordie was primarily associated with Tyneside but still often widely used in a broad sense for all people across the region in Northumberland and Durham. It was, it seems only in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps in part due to increasing football rivalry, that ‘Geordie’ became much more exclusively associated with the people of the lower Tyne.

Our online  Geordie Dictionary from our roots and dialect page

Geordie phrases poster print from Tangled Worm

From local fun run to the world’s best half marathon

This year’s Great North Run is fast approaching. HELEN GILDERSLEEVE  finds out some interesting facts and regales her own experiences of the iconic North East event.

Great North Run
The Great North Run. Photo: © Chris Booth www.chrisbooth.photos/

It isn’t called the world’s most famous half marathon for no reason.

The run was originally devised by Tynesider and former Olympic 10,000 metre bronze medallist and BBC Sport commentator Brendan Foster. The first Great North Run which was advertised as a ‘local fun run’ began on 28 June 1981, when 12,000 runners participated.

Fast forward three decades and the number of participants had risen to 47,000 with this year’s event boasting a record 57,000 runners who will pound across the iconic Tyne Bridge to South Shields sea front.

Nothing quite prepares you for this event and it’s so much more than just ‘going for a run’. I’m about to (hopefully) complete my fifth this year and I can’t wait.

Standing at the start line and looking ahead at the sea of coloured tops and eccentric fancy dress is nothing short of amazing. How they get 57,000 people on the central motorway each year in an orderly fashion always astounds me.

Every single person has their own story for competing, and most are extremely touching. It’s hard not to get emotional seeing the huge variety of charity runners and signs on people’s vests emblazoning messages like ‘for you mum’ and ‘in memory of ….’. Each year sees millions of pounds being raised for hundreds of different charities. It’s a moment where people come as one and the atmosphere is simply magical.

Once the start gun goes off at 10.40am and the sea of runners ascend across the town flyover amidst chanting and the echoes of pounding feet, there’s no greater sight than the masses of people and shouts of support greeting you as you run across the Tyne Bridge with the Red Arrows flying overhead.

Great North Run and Tyne Bridge
Crossing the Tyne Bridge at the Great North Run. Photo: © Chris Booth www.chrisbooth.photos/

Throughout the 13.1 mile course the support from local people is astonishing; they come out in their thousands to give support and many give runners home baked goodies, biscuits and fruit to boost energy. One particularly warm year I got blasted by a child with a Super Soaker and I’ve never been more grateful.

Nothing is more welcome than the sight of the sea when you head into the last mile at South Shields, I’ve witnessed people limping, crawling, carrying one another and crying at this point.

As you bear left and run the final mile with the North Sea on your right, the finish line is in sight and all you want to do is stop/cry/collapse as you can’t feel your legs anymore, but the masses of people cheer you on and push you to the end. These people will never understand how much the runners appreciate them.

You FINALLY get to the end and as you sprint through that famous finish arch, the feeling cannot be explained. Nor can the taste of that first sip of a beer.

And it’s over for another year!

Great North Run
Running for fun and great causes too, The Great North Run. Photo: © Chris Booth www.chrisbooth.photos/

Five things you probably didn’t know about the Great North Run:

  • Previous runners include: former England and Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sting and Newcastle’s own TV presenters Ant & Dec.
  • In 2014 the 34th Great North Run had 57,000 participants and celebrated the 1 millionth runner to cross the finish line, and was the first to have a British man win in 29 years.
  • If all the Great North Runners stood head to toe, their combined height would be ten times the height of Mount Everest.
  • About 18 miles of cloth is used to make Great North Run souvenir T-shirts.
  • Paul Gascoigne once pushed a wheelchair athlete all the way round the Great North Run circuit.

The Great North Run 2017 Newcastle upon Tyne to South Shields, takes place on Sunday 10 September. Live coverage on BBC 1 from 9.30-13.30

Thanks to Chris Booth of www.chrisbooth.photos/ for the images of the Great North Run.

From whisky and flour to an unbeatable music hub

The Cluny: HELEN GILDERSLEEVE explores the history behind the popular Ouseburn Valley venue.

The Cluny 2 venue, Ousburn, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Cluny 2 venue, Ouseburn, Newcastle upon Tyne

Even rare pub goers in the region will have heard of or paid a visit to The Cluny in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley. Priding itself as being one of the North East’s premium music hot spots, The Cluny has been hosting bands from across the globe since the turn of the century in 1999.

Once the home of a bottling plant for a Scotch whisky called the Cluny, this is now a post-industrial bar with separate music rooms that thinks like a pub and doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. You want an affordable, decent band night with a variety of beers and tasty pub grub (they even do chips and gravy in a baguette)? Look no further. This is the Cluny’s major USP and the reason behind its popularity across the region.

The Cluny, Newcastle
The Cluny, Newcastle upon Tyne

The Cluny’s raison d’être is music – from the moment you step inside the industrial brick walls are adorned with posters advertising forthcoming bands from The Monkey Junk Blues Club to Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and a 20 year anniversary celebration of Radiohead’s OK Computer, where fans and musicians come together to perform. It hosts over 400 gigs a year, all of which are well attended.

The Dualers on stage at The Cluny, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Dualers on stage at The Cluny, Newcastle upon Tyne

Whatever your musical taste, the Cluny is bound to have something that appeals and this is the beauty of the place- in a world full of trends and pigeonholed venues, the Cluny doesn’t have a specific clientele nor does it judge or care. I last went in wearing sports gear whilst sitting next to folk all glammed up from the races.

Artists performing here range from the known to the completely unknown and eclectic. Notable acts that have graced its stages include Mumford & Sons, Arctic Monkeys, Seasick Steve, The Futureheads, Duffy and Glasvegas. Solange Knowles, younger sister of global phenomenon Beyonce, kicked off her first UK tour here in 2008.

Pre 2009 saw the Cluny having just one music area, until a golden opportunity arose when it took over the running of the adjacent former Round Theatre, which went into liquidation in 2008. This theatre style, 160 capacity period venue was re-branded as the Cluny 2 and the rest is history.

The bar at The Cluny
Bar at The Cluny, Newcastle upon Tyne

If you’re like me and are always intrigued by the history of quirky venues like this, I did a bit of digging and discovered it is housed in a former flax spinning mill which opened in 1848. It then re-opened as a steam powered flour mill in 1860 before taking its namesake from when it became a whisky bottling plant decades later.

It’s fair to say 36 Lime Street is continuing its history and putting a quirky building to great use great use once again.

thecluny.com/gigs/

Twitter: @thecluny

 

 

Cyclist’s Paradise:  Keeping fit and enjoying the region’s landscapes

DAVID SIMPSON shares his passion for cycling as he explores old railway routes and scenery across the North East from the saddle of his trusty mountain bike

Lydgetts junction cycle hub near Consett. Photo: David Simpson
Lydgetts junction cycle hub near Consett. Photo: David Simpson

Cycling and especially mountain biking is one of the best ways to see our region. Taking in the wonderful varied scenery of our beloved North East from the cyclist’s saddle is one of life’s great pleasures.  Travel from village to village, town to town and watch the delightful changes in the region’s rolling scenery mile by mile. Head along rural riverside routes into industrial heartlands, take in lovely country roads or try out the course of a former railway route at your own leisurely pace. Simply marvellous!

Sure, you can do some of these things from the comfort of your car but can you take a break without the headache of finding a parking space and can you go ‘off road’, away from all the traffic? Cycling is great because you always feel that you’re part of the outdoors, rather than just passing through within the confines of a wheeled metal box. That feeling of being part of the scenery is something that you never quite get from inside the car, even when the window is wound right down.

Scenery near Sunderland
Scenery from a recent Durham to Sunderland cycle ride. Photo: David Simpson.

Best of all though, cycling keeps you fit, in both mind and body. Mentally, I’m at my sharpest and happiest when I’ve been doing lots of cycling and it’s really invigorating. Walking, running or team sports might work for you but it’s cycling for me. It works well with my lifestyle and interests: my love for history, for taking photographs and a passion for the region’s varied landscapes makes cycling the perfect fit.

Now let’s be clear, I’m not one of the Lycra brigade. No, no, no, when I’m out cycling, I prefer skinny, stretchy jeans, old trainers, a long-sleeved shirt plus a jumper or fleece in the backpack just in case it gets too chilly. That’s more my scene. Purists might frown on this but that doesn’t bother me, though I should say a helmet is always a must. Taking something high-viz too if you’re going to be out in the twilight could also be wise and don’t forget a spare bottle of water or squash and a snack to keep you going if you feel peckish en route.

C2C Cycle route. Photo: David Simpson
The C2C Cycle route. Photo: David Simpson

No, it’s not about the streamlined look or the speed for me. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the thrill of the racing bike fraternity whizzing through the blurry countryside constantly improving on their best times, clocking up mile after mile on twisty roads and climbing hills with endless motor cars for company. There’s plenty of great scope for that activity across the region and I am sure the exertion is exhilarating but it’s not really for me.

I’ll often ride more than thirty or forty miles a time on the mountain bike but sometimes I’ll just go for twenty or a modest ten or perhaps even six or seven miles just to get out of the house. The more miles you do though the easier the distances become. I don’t mind cycling on the road some of the time but more often than not I head off along one of those superb off-the-road cycle paths that crisscross our region.

Many of these routes are the legacy of Dr Beeching, the man who closed so many railways back in the sixties, but that was due to the burgeoning growth of the motorists. I don’t suppose Beeching ever envisaged the growth in popularity of cycling though many of the cycle ways he has unwittingly created, from old railway routes, provide ideal and relatively easy going paths that often stretch for many miles. It all makes sense: those routes were designed for steam locomotives that wanted to avoid steep hills and take the easiest routes. All good news for leisurely cyclists like me.

Former railway station at Lanchester in County Durham. Photo: David Simpson
Former railway station at Lanchester in County Durham. Photo: David Simpson

Old railway routes converted into long-distance paths are one of the great gems of our region’s countryside and are great ways to get out and about in the North East. In recent rides I’ve headed out in various directions using a village near Durham City as a base. The other week I cycled from Durham into Sunderland through lovely countryside with views of the sea along the way.

Surprisingly, much of the track through Sunderland itself encompasses fields, trees, parks and even a lake. Except for the occasional glimpse of a block of flats nearby, you barely notice you’re in an urban environment until you eventually emerge in the city centre and then after crossing a couple of main roads at pedestrian crossings you head over the Wearmouth Bridge and back into the countryside along the banks of the River Wear – though I took a brief diversion to the river mouth first just to see the sea.

Cycling by the River Wear at Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson
Cycling by the River Wear at Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson

In County Durham there are pathway ‘hubs’ that provide good centres for exploring various walking and cycle routes where railways once ran. Broompark, just west of Durham City is one such hub. There’s parking there and a picnic area too, so you can take your bike along on the car then make your way by bike along a choice of three routes. I’ve tried all three. One heads along the pretty wooded valley of the little River Deerness to Esh Winning and on towards a place called Stanley Crook and another heads north along the Browney valley to Lanchester and then on towards Consett. The third heads south to Bishop Auckland culminating in a good view of the Bishop of Durham’s home town that can be reached across the Newton Cap Viaduct.

Perhaps the major hub for cyclists in the North East is Lydgetts Junction at Consett, arguably the central hub for all North East cycle paths. Here routes head out to Newcastle and Tynemouth, south into Durham, east to Sunderland and west all the way to Cumbria via the splendid Hownsgill viaduct.

Sculpture on C2C Cycle route near Lydgetts Junction, Consett. Photo: David Simpson
Sculpture on C2C Cycle route near Lydgetts Junction, Consett. Photo: David Simpson

It’s always good to combine parts of routes and even improvise with a bit of research beforehand. Recently, I headed out from my village base east of Durham City to join the Deerness route at Broompark but then left its course at Esh Winning to make the steep climb by local roads through Quebec and Cornsay Colliery to lovely Lanchester. There, joining the Lanchester Valley route to Consett I joined  the C2C route at Lydgetts Junction –  with its impressive art installation sculptures along the way – as I continued through Leadgate, Stanley, Beamish and Pelton where I improvised in a descent into Chester-le-Street on my way back to my village base completing about 44 miles.

Souter Lighthouse
Souter Lighthouse is one of the many beautiful features on the coastal route between the Tyne and Wear. Photo: David Simpson

Many routes link in with the longer-distance coast-to-coast cycle paths like the C2C (sea to sea) route I have mentioned. This route links the coastal Cumbrian towns of Whitehaven, Workington and St Bees to Sunderland, South Shields and Tynemouth. An alternative cross-Pennine route is the W2W (Walney to Wear) route linking Walney in southern Cumbria to Sunderland, part of which we followed on our recent ride from Durham to Sunderland.

The great thing is, you don’t have to stray far from the cities to enjoy great cycle rides. There are good cycle rides around Stockton and Hartlepool into the fringes of the County Durham countryside for example and in Tyne and Wear there’s a particularly enjoyable coastal ride from the mouth of the Tyne to the mouth of the Wear – and back.

You can cycle along the bank of the River Tyne all the way to Wylam and then back along the other side of the river and once you’re back at the beginning there’s no extra charge for taking cycles across the Shields ferry to reach the other side.

Bicycles are welcome on the Shields Ferry. Photo: David Simpson
Bicycles are welcome on the Shields Ferry. Photo: David Simpson

Superb cycling can be found in Northumberland too, often with the Cheviots serving as a wonderful backdrop with some routes taking in coastal areas and castles. A cycling friend of mine recently tried out a circular route from Wooler across to Holy Island which looks appealing.

In North Yorkshire the Vale of York and Vale of Mowbray around Thirsk and Northallerton offer relatively gentle cycling with gradual climbs into the Yorkshire Dales to the west or challenging cycling in the North York Moors to the east.

Sustrans provide a useful zoomable map of all the major cycle routes in the region (see the links below) but it’s also worth checking out the region’s woods and forests that can appeal to thrill-seekers or those who just want to take a cycling stroll. Hamsterley and Kielder for example have superb mountain biking trails to explore.

Out and about. Scenery near Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson
Out and about on the bike. Scenery near Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson

Whatever kind of cycling you do, it’s always enjoyable to keep a record of your routes, speeds and distances mile by mile, to see how much you’ve ascended and descended and how many calories you’ve burned. It’s a satisfying way to round off a good cycle ride. You can post the details on social media too and it’s a good way to log your progress and share with others.

That’s all part of the fun and can be facilitated by downloading great route-tracking GPS apps like Endomondo, Strava or Mapmyride to your mobile phone. It’s always good to review your times and distances, when you get back to base, and to check your best and slowest lap, though often, I find, I’ve lost more than an hour or so stopping to take photos or admire the beautiful views along the way. I’m certainly not going to complain about that.

Tyne Bridge. Photo: David Simpson
Tyne Bridge. Photo: David Simpson

Update!

We’ve been out on the bike again (the day after this blog) this time from Consett to Newcastle and back (38 miles) taking in the Derwent valley and Tyne riverside with Lydgett’s junction as our starting base. Another lovely route. Check out our sunny day of cycling photos of the Derwent Valley here and of Newcastle-Gateshead here.

Useful links

Railway-paths in County Durham  (for cyclists, walkers, runners, horse riders and wheelchair users) with downloadable pdfs of maps and route features.

Sustrans C2C Cycle Route  and other routes throughout the North East of England.

Cycle Routes in Northumberland from Cycle Northumberland

Cycle friendly cafes: englandsnortheast.co.uk/2016/08/21/many-reasons-get-yer-bike/ a blog by Helen Gildersleeve

www.cycle-route.com Has an astonishing  choice of suggested cycle routes. Select by nation and county for an extensive list of routes with map details.

Kielder Forest Mountain Bike Trails: www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/OverviewA0panel.pdf/$file/OverviewA0panel.pdf

Hamsterley Forest Cycle Trails: www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/nee-hamsterley-cycle-trails.pdf/$file/nee-hamsterley-cycle-trails.pdf

Cyclists on the Shields ferry: www.nexus.org.uk/ferry/guide-ferry  Large groups of cyclists should contact the ferry in advance.

GPS Cycling apps

Endomondo: www.endomondo.com/

Strava: www.strava.com/

Mapmyride: www.mapmyride.com/app/

Cathedral’s Treasures are the ‘Tutankhamun of the North-East’

JONATHAN JONES  visits the wonderful relics of St Cuthbert that are finally back on display at Durham Cathedral in a superb new setting that drew audible gasps at the official unveiling.

St Cuthbert's Cross: Treasures of St Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral
St Cuthbert’s Cross: Treasures of St Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral

Anglo-Saxon artefacts, dating back more than 1,300 years, and belonging to monk, bishop and hermit, St Cuthbert, have gone back on display in Durham Cathedral.he relics, including the coffin in which St Cuthbert’s body was carried from Lindisfarne, to its final resting place on the site of Durham Cathedral, and the gold cross he wore around his neck, are the centrepiece of The Treasures of St Cuthbert, which opened to the public at the weekend.

The relics were described as the “Tutankhamun” of the North-East, by cultural historian and Anglo-Saxon specialist, Dr Janina Ramirez at the official launch of the exhibition.

Dr Janina Ramirez and an of Durham, The Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett
Dr Janina Ramirez and the Dean of Durham, The Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett

She admitted that the excitement of seeing the relics, back in their rightful home, in a purpose-built exhibition inside Durham Cathedral, had made her unable to sleep the previous night.

The ornately carved coffin, featuring runic and Latin inscriptions, is rightfully, the centrepiece of the exhibition, and is regarded as the most important surviving relic from before the time of the Norman Conquest.

Images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, apostles and archangels are still visible on the incredibly preserved oak fragments, and brought audible gasps from the clergy, scholars, officials and journalists gathered to witness them for the first time in their new home, in a specially developed exhibition space inside the cathedral.

The coffin of St Cuthbert forms the centrepiece of the permanent exhibition in the cathedral's great kitchen
The coffin of St Cuthbert forms the centrepiece of the permanent exhibition in Durham Cathedral’s Great Kitchen.

Dr Ramirez said: “Some people think that there is a time in the history of Western Europe when the lights went out – when the civilisation and refinement of the Roman Empire was replaced by a Dark Age, visible to us only through a glass darkly; through scraps of archaeology, fragments of enigmatic text, and the bones of early medieval people, who walked a thousand four hundred years before us.

“But the Cuthbert Treasures fly in the face of this theory: from the complex, visual riddles engraved across the oldest surviving example of wood carving on Cuthbert’s coffin, to the gold and garnet splendour of his pectoral cross; from the continental elegance of the ceremonial comb, to the remarkable examples of Opus Anglicanum, recognised at the time as the best embroidery in the known world, the Cuthbert Treasures bring colour, depth and drama to the so-called Dark Ages.”

She continued: “At their very heart lies a unique individual who was both Anglo-Saxon warrior, and early Christian Bishop. His connection to the North East means we can walk in the footsteps of arguably England’s most important saint.”

The exhibits are housed in the Great Kitchen, which has been transformed into a world-class exhibition space, following a year of environmental monitoring, to ensure the relics are kept in the right conditions to ensure their continued longevity.

Comb, thought to have belonged to St Cuthbert
Anglo-Saxon comb, thought to have belonged to St Cuthbert

The project has seen the construction of purpose built exhibition and gallery space in the Cathedral, with access to the treasures themselves being monitored at all times. Indeed, access to the space itself, felt more like entering the Star Ship Enterprise, than the stone walls of the Cathedral.

Visitors were beckoned into a chamber, through which they could see the artefacts beyond another door. Once the environment was stabilised, the inner door opened, granting access to view the fabulous treasures, in glass cases that only enhance their true beauty.

The relics of St Cuthbert, previously on display in the Cathedral’s undercroft, have been in storage for the past six years, during the main phase of the project.

The creation of this space, marks the completion of the Cathedral’s £10.9million investment in the Open Treasure project. The project has been generously supported by a £3.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Speaking at the launch, Jim Cokill, Member of the North-East Committee for the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “A place of worship for thousands and a spectacular attraction drawing visitor from near and far to the city, Durham Cathedral is a heritage treasure in the North East. The Treasures of St Cuthbert and the Open Treasures Exhibition will not only boost the Cathedral’s continuing popularity but will also keep its visitors at the heart of heritage.”

The Conyers flachion, a medieval sword used in a ceremony for newly appointed Bishops of Durham is another highlight of the exhibition.
The Conyers Falchion, a medieval sword, used in a ceremony for newly appointed Bishops of Durham, is another highlight of the exhibition.

But perhaps the final word should go to the Dean of Durham, The Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett. He said: “It is very fitting that the final jewel in the crown of Open Treasure is centred on St Cuthbert, in whose honour Durham Cathedral was built.

“The launch of the Treasures of St Cuthbert on permanent display in their new home marks a new phase in the life of Durham Cathedral and its exhibition experience Open Treasure.”

Among the Treasures of St Cuthbert on display are:

  • St Cuthbert’s wooden coffin, widely regarded as the most important example of Pre-Conquest woodwork, and finely engraved with linear images, Latin lettering and Anglo-Saxon runes
  • St Cuthbert’s pectoral cross, a 7th century gold and garnet cross designed to be worn on a chain around his neck.
  • St Cuthbert’s portable altar, used to support his missionary work in the North East. It is believed to be the oldest surviving portable altar, dating from 660AD.
  • The original Sanctuary door knocker, dating from the 12th Century, and one of Durham’s most enduring symbols. Originally attached to the North Door of Durham Cathedral, those who had committed a crime could rap on the door knocker and be given 37 days of sanctuary, during which time they could reconcile with their enemies, or plan their escape.

The Treasures of St Cuthbert are now on permanent display within Open Treasure in the Great Kitchen, one of only two surviving medieval monastic kitchens in the UK. Tickets cost from £2.50 – £7.50, and are available online and from the visitor desk at Durham Cathedral. For more information visit www.durhamcathedral.co.uk, or telephone 0191 386 4266.

Crafting The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Beer blogger, PAUL WHITE doffs his cap to the entrepreneurial spirit of the region’s micro-brewers as he visits a new micro-pub and beer shop in Bishop Auckland.

Caps off to the region's micro brewers, photo: Paul White

One of the interesting by-products of the craft beer boom of recent years has been the entrepreneurial spirit it has unleashed in people.

Perhaps it is the relatability of the product, alongside a clamour from punters, that has made people feel more comfortable taking a leap and setting up a micro-brewery or bottle shop.

Whatever the cause, it’s great to see.

What’s really pleasing is how this has taken off in my home region, North East England. This week, I called in at the opening day of a brand new beer shop/micro-pub, Caps Off, in Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

Making use of a unit attached to the town’s train station, three young entrepreneurs have gone from selling beer on market stalls to opening their own place.

And it’s not just bottles. Caps Off has keg and cask beer, too, as well as gins and ciders.

All of this and they are focusing strongly on local producers. Local entrepreneurs supporting others in their local market is something to be applauded.

Alongside a selection from Brewdog – a smart move, as it will give newbies a brand they recognise, from which they can move on to trying the local ales – are beers from Rocket TownSonnet 43Allendale BreweryWylam Brewery and more, mostly from across the North East.

This is something that’s pretty much brand new to Bishop Auckland, which sadly lost its local Black Paw Brewery earlier this year, so it’s a brave move in a town where pub footfall has dropped considerably in the last couple of decades.

By selling bottles for consumption on site, or to take away, and mixing it with the opportunity to have a pint from the keg or cask as well, it stands a chance, because it caters to both the pub and home drinker markets.

Caps Off is open from Wednesdays to Sundays, 11am to 10pm.

*This blog originally appeared on poetsdaypint.weebly.com

A Festival of Innovation

The NWG Innovation Festival comes to the region in July. Guest blogger NIGEL WATSON, Director of Information Services, at Northumbrian Water Group looks ahead to the exciting  problem-solving tasks set to challenge some of the most talented innovators in business.

Nigel Watson, Director of Information Services, Northumbrian Water Group
Nigel Watson, Director of Information Services, Northumbrian Water Group

The North East has a proud history of innovation, from being the birthplace of the railways to the region that sparked such inventions as the friction match.

Now, some of the best-known names in business are descending upon the North East to explore how innovative thinking can be applied to environmental and social problems, with the aim of benefiting customers and communities.

Flooding, water leakage, infrastructure and even the teenager’s bedroom of the future will all come under the microscope during week-long “sprints”, with a range of industry and academic experts, and members of the public all dedicating their brain power and experience to the task at hand.

These “sprints”, which take design thinking developed by the likes of Google and apply them to a particular subject for a dedicated amount of time, will take place in Newcastle Racecourse’s marquee village as part of Northumbrian Water’s first ever Innovation Festival.

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We’re very aware that such problems aren’t surmountable by one company alone, so we are collaborating with some important partners. The festival is supported by IBM, BT, Microsoft, Reece Innovation, Ordnance Survey and CGI, with each of these companies leading a sprint throughout the week, from July 10 to 14.

Set in a festival environment designed to bring people together and be creative, we want to come up with, and develop the best new ideas. By getting our customers involved, we want them to be at the heart of this innovation – and to ultimately benefit from it.

We’re expecting 400 people each day, with around 300 of those actually getting involved in the sprints and a hackathon – where analytical experts led by Microsoft will delve into large volumes of data on leakage to see what lessons can be learned.

The sprint sessions will be sandwiched between yoga and mindfulness on the mornings and a range of entertainment on the evenings, including live comedy, music, inspirational talks, and even a pub quiz. At the end of it all, we will be converting one of the main tents into comic book heaven and hosting a special ball in support of the global charity, WaterAid.

The big questions under consideration during the week are:

 ‘Rain, Hail or Shine’: How can we reduce flooding? Led by headline sponsor IBM

  • ‘Keep It Flowing’: What do we know about leakage from water pipes and how can we fix it? Led by NWG and headline sponsor Microsoft, alongside a Microsoft-led Hackathon of data relating to leakage.
  • ‘Preparing for the Future’: How do we upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st Century effectively and affordably? Led by headline sponsor Reece Innovation
  • ‘Tomorrow’s World’: What will living and working look like in 2030? Led by headline sponsor CGI
  • ‘How Green is Your City?’: What can businesses do to improve the environment in the North East? Led by headline sponsor Ordnance Survey
  • ‘21st Century Reach’: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network business? Led by headline sponsor BT

The NWG Innovation Festival is  delivered in association with Newcastle University, Genesys, Interserve, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys and Unify.

People can find out more about what’s taking place at the NWG Innovation Festival, and how they can get involved at innovationfestival.org

For further media information, call 0191 3015678.

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