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.

Reconnecting with the great outdoors

PAUL WHITE pays homage to the region’s scenery and explores the beautiful Low Barns Nature Reserve in the Wear Valley of County Durham.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

In the last year or so, I’ve reconnected with my love of the outdoors.

I remember when I was a kid, I had books galore on things like birds and could recognise many breeds and even some of their calls. I’d spend my weekends and holidays exploring the area in and around my uncle’s farm and any sunny day would be spent out and about.

That sort of thing was probably lost to football and girls and, to be fair, not that I was that good as far as either were concerned (all together now, “aww”).

Then life got busier as I got older and, as much as I enjoy a nice walk, other things got in the way.

But since starting to work with Northumbrian Water a year back, I’ve found new connections with the great outdoors. I won’t go into too much detail about the great work the company does for the environment, but suffice to say, I’ve learned to find time to just put my walking boots on and get outside more.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

Having had the need to visit Low Barns Nature Reserve at Witton-le-Wear a few weeks back for a whistle-stop tour, I decided to go back and take a more leisurely look around.

The site is one of many run by Durham Wildlife Trust and I had vague recollections of primary school trips there, but, despite it being only around five miles from home, I hadn’t been back since.

I’d certainly been missing out on this wonderfully tranquil place. From the reed beds (which are on the site of an old sewage treatment works – how’s that for a stunning change of use?) to the banks of the Wear, it has so much to enjoy.

The great outdoors in North East England
Photo: Paul White

And the peacefulness is incredible. Needless to say, we signed up as members of the Trust on the spot and will be planning on visiting as many of the other sites around the North East as we can.

Between that and spending Easter weekend in beautiful Weardale, as well as recent trips to Kielder Water & Forest Park, I can safely say I’m hooked once more on the beauty of the North East.

Our region truly is stunning and not one of us can say we have explored and seen it all. So get out there and find those places that really inspire you with natural beauty.

Laughter is just the tonic

Last weekend saw the second instalment of Jason Cook’s Comedy Club at Wylam Brewery’s Palace of Arts. HELEN GILDERSLEEVE caught up with some of the stars of the show.

Wylam2
Wylam Brewery

Another sold out evening where ales were flowing gave the distinctive and airy venue a buzzing atmosphere. The evening was compered flawlessly by popular Hebburn actor and Geordie Rat Pack member, Steffen Peddie, who had the audience in stitches with his accounts of him monumentally peeing someone off at the Tyne Tunnel change machine, explaining why Slimming World coaches are evil and the highs (and lows) of memory foam mattresses.

steffenpeddie
Compere Steffen Peddie

First up was local lad, John Fothergill, who entertained us all with his dry and sarcastic accounts of life in London as a Geordie. A regular at the Comedy Store, Fothergill’s style is original as he moves from embarrassing sexual revelations to mocking his rural upbringing in Crawcrook.

John Fothergill
John Fothergill

Next on stage was Steve Day who brought a totally unique performance and shared witty observations of being a deaf man in a hearing world. He claims to be the only deaf comedian, and if there are others he hasn’t heard of them. Steve wasn’t born deaf but lost his hearing when he was a teenager, he explains: “I was about 18. They don’t know the cause, something that used to frustrate me, but I’ve learned to look forward not backwards”. His rants are enjoyable; especially a story about a Paralympics event he attended that showed Boris Johnson’s true colours. He educates the audience to the hilarity of deaf person snobbery, claiming people who were born deaf believe they are superior to him which he simply rolls his eyes at. Being a deaf comedian is great anyway he claims in conclusion, because you can never hear if anybody is heckling.

Steve Day
Steve Day

Headliner of the night was Edinburgh dwelling Canadian funny man, Tom Stade. Relatively famous on the comedy circuit, Stade has appeared on the likes of Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Live at the Apollo as well as The Comedy Store and various comedy festivals.

He literally bounds onto the stage with endless energy and his performance was met with raucous laughter almost immediately. It’s impossible not to find this man funny.

His observations of quirky British habits were cleverly delivered, ranging from our obsession with buying flights for £29.95 regardless of the destination to his confusion of how we happily spend £3 on lattes (and physically demonstrated how we get sexually molested financially by coffee chains) yet are obsessed with Primark bargains and are all tight arses. British TV is also the butt of many jokes as he asks the simple question of why people would go on Cash in the Attic. The highlight of his set had to be his impressions of coffee chain adverts if they existed including “Starbucks is where you can meet a new friend” and “Nero is where you go when the others are closed”.

Tom Stade with Helen Gildersleeve
Tom Stade with Helen Gildersleeve

I caught up with him after the show quickly and it’s apparent his magnetic energy isn’t just a stage act. He told us how he simply loves what he does and can’t understand how all these young folk want photos with him as he’s uncool and doesn’t even know what Snapchat is. Its ok Tom, I don’t either. But thanks for the photo.

The 350 strong crowd left the brewery in better spirits than when they arrived, and not just from the tasty beer on tap. I think this event has already become a regular calendar filler for many locals and it’s clear Cook skilfully selects the slickest of comedians and the range is always eclectic, varied and well, funny. I can’t wait for the next one.

Jason Cook

www.jasonlovescomedy.com

www.wylambrewery.co.uk

Listed Buildings Heritage in North East England

Did you know Newcastle has one of England’s highest concentrations of listed buildings?  Guest blogger, JOHN MURPHY explores the North East’s building heritage and the risks historic buildings face in rural areas.

We join John Murphy and Lycetts, providers of insurance for listed buildings in an exploration of the region’s listed buildings.

sandhill
Sandhill, Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: David Simpson 

In Britain, Listed Buildings form the backbone of some of our most famous cities – whether found prominently on high streets serving as banks or offices, or tucked away in quiet streets as ornate homes.

Grade I and II listed buildings are beautiful, historical structures that have decades (and sometimes centuries) of character. They are prestigious, eye-catching and come with their own rules for builders and occupiers.

The North East, in particular, has one of the best concentrations of listed buildings in the UK with many in Newcastle upon Tyne. The North East enjoys a far higher concentration of Grade I and II* listed buildings than other regions.

Newcastle, in particular has the following:

  • Grade I – The national average for concentrations of Grade I buildings (which are of exceptional interest) is 2.5% throughout England. In Newcastle upon Tyne, that number is as high as 7%.
  • Grade II* buildings are deemed to be of more than special interest and in England Grade II* accounts for around 5.5% of all list entries. Newcastle, astonishingly, enjoys almost quadruple the national average at 20%.
  • Grade II (without the *) are buildings of special interest that make up the remaining 92% of listed buildings in England and in Newcastle that figure is 73%.

Grainger Town, the historic heart of the city centre, enjoys one of the highest concentrations of listed buildings in the entire country. Of its 450 buildings, 244 are listed – with 29 Grade I and 49 Grade II*.

GreyMonument
Grey’s Monument, Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: David Simpson

All work on these buildings is protected by the planning authority, with English Heritage involved for any Grade I and II* buildings. Some of the most famous structures in the city fall under this protection. For example, the popular landmark Grey’s Monument is Grade I listed.

Unfortunately, despite this protection, listed buildings are at risk due to a lack of investment and damage from both vandalism and wear and tear. The Heritage at Risk register monitors buildings of historical significance that are at risk and unfortunately, the North East is in crisis – nationally the ratio is 3.8% and the North East has 6.2%.

BlackfriarsNewcastle
Blackfriars, Newcastle upon Tyne. Photo: David Simpson

What is causing this risk? How can the region remedy it?

One of the biggest risks the region encountered was urban decay in Newcastle City Centre during the early 1990s. The area experienced decay as private investor’s moved out of listed buildings, which were being classified as both ‘at risk’ and ‘vulnerable.’

However, a programme of development and enhancement was started by Newcastle City Council and English Heritage. Thanks to both government and private investment through the late 90s and early 2000s, the area was revamped and now stands as one of the best examples of listed buildings in the country.

Now, the more rural areas are by far the most at risk – with 30 buildings in Northumberland listed on the heritage risk list. 24 from County Durham are at risk. Compared to more urban areas, it’s clear buildings in those areas are more vulnerable. Just five buildings in Newcastle upon Tyne and six in Gateshead are on the heritage risk list – clearly illustrating that their more central location has given access to better funding and repair work.

SundQuaysideExchange3
Quayside Exchange, Sunderland. Photo: David Simpson

Crime is one of the biggest risks to listed buildings, especially in rural areas where surveillance and protection isn’t readily available. A national survey found that 70,000 buildings were harmed in 2011, mainly due to metal theft.

However, in rural areas in the North East, such as Northumberland, the main threats to buildings seem to be erosion and plant growth. Perhaps the region as a whole needs to turn its attention to the more rural areas, especially as Northumberland grows as a visitor attraction. The historical buildings of the past must be preserved as the future nears.

Sources:

http://www.securitynewsdesk.com/thousands-listed-buildings-damaged-crime-english-heritage/

https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/planning-and-buildings/conservation-heritage-and-urban-design/listed-buildings

https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/sites/default/files/wwwfileroot/planning-and-buildings/conservation_heritage_and_urban_design/listed_building_guide_v.08.pdf

Review: Hops and hysterics at Wylam Brewery

HELEN GILDERSLEEVE attends the debut of Jason Cook’s Comedy Club on a Saturday evening. A sell out event that proved hops and hysterics are truly a winning combo.

Jason Cook's Comedy Club
Jason Cook’s Comedy Club

It isn’t long since the popular Wylam Brewery Palace of Arts opened its grand doors less than a year ago. Since then the brewery has hosted many successful events, quickly becoming a venue etched firmly in the social calendars of many locals.

Around 350 laugh seekers headed to the brewery on what was a freezing, depressing night and it’s fair to say it was definitely worth the trip.

Cook, writer of the popular Hebburn series on BBC 2 invited a trio of comedians including local lads Gavin Webster and Carl Hutchinson as well as Canadian headliner Phil Nichol.

The Wylam Brewery in Newcastle's Exhibition Park
The Wylam Brewery in Newcastle’s Exhibition Park

The night was compered flawlessly by Cook who dropped in comical anecdotes throughout of kinky mishaps with In the Night Garden toys and mocking phone users in the audience.

Gavin Webster
Gavin Webster

First up on stage was special guest Gavin Webster who had everyone in fits with his account of Geordies being so hard they single-handedly stopped anyone attacking Hadrian’s Wall and beyond. His hilarious take on the Glasweigan accent also went down a storm.

Carl Hutchinson
Carl Hutchinson

Next up was the mightily-pee’d-off-with-life-and-everything-it-entails Carl Hutchinson. Sharing his witty accounts of why he despises vegetarians right down to an account of why he’d strategically jump off a bridge in rush hour and give Games of Thrones spoilers to the general public, Hutchinson is definitely one to watch on the national comedy scene.

Surprise guest of the night was Canadian, London dwelling, funny man Phil Nichol. Who one can only describe as completely off his rocker. In the best way possible.

Phil Nichol
Phil Nichol

His act started off lightly with some great comparisons between Canadians and Cockneys, then quickly transcended into a potty-mouthed, guitar playing frenzy. Songs were littered with below the belt blinders and material that would make your mother blush. His act ended with him stripping half naked and being carried through the crowd by a guest he’d befriended. Not a single person could have kept straight-faced if they tried.

Cook certainly exceeded all expectations for his first stab at a gig here and it’s easy to see that the next shows will be definite sell outs. The Wylam beer fresh from keg to cup was an added bonus, I was a particular fan of the aptly named Keep Taking the Plsner.

If it’s laughs you’re after in a unique venue then you should definitely come along to the next one; a superb evening out.

The next comedy club is on 1 April and features Tom Stade and John Fothergill. Tickets can be purchased here: www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/268761

@wylambrewery

@jasonmarkcook

@philnichol

@CPHutchinson

@Thegavinwebster

“I’ll boo your team, but drink your beer.”

Sunderland fan and beer blogger PAUL WHITE swallows his pride, a glass of Shearer and a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale but does it leave a bitter taste?

Shearer and Newcastle Brown Ale
Shearer and Newcastle Brown Ae. Photo: Paul White

Well, my football team, Sunderland, got hammered and my fantasy league side had a pretty low-scoring day. Our rival football team, Newcastle, won. Ireland won in the rugby (that’s a good thing in our house). All round, yesterday was a pretty mixed bag, in terms of sports.

So, what better way to wind down than with a couple of beers, and I thought I would look at the relationship between beer and sport. In particular, beers that one might associate with a rival team. In my case, that means Newcastle United.

I guess the question I’m asking myself is, should you ever be put off a good beer because its association with the “other side” of a sporting rivalry leaves a bitter taste before the first drop has been tasted? Or, is it tantamount to a chance to get one over on the opposition: “I’ll boo your team, but drink your beer.” I’m sure other analogies can be found.

Now, Tyneside has its fair share of excellent breweries, but I have gone for one beer that is indelibly associated with the football team, and one that is, well, only linked by virtue of an unfortunate name.

Let’s start with that one and ease myself into it.

Shearer, from Black Sheep, is actually named in honour of sheep shearers, as opposed to being a tribute to Alan. Still, I thought twice, only half-heartedly, about whether I could bring myself to drink a beer that carries the name of the hero – legend, even – for those up the road.

As far as I recall, despite being the all-time Premier League goalscoring record holder, Shearer the player only ever scored three times against Sunderland (Gary Rowell managed that many against Newcastle in one game).He is also very fair about Sunderland in his punditry on Match of the Day, even quite vocal in his praise on the rare occasion it is warranted (not tonight, definitely not tonight). Plus, you have to admire a player who will choose to reject a move to a big club where he might achieve his true potential in order to fulfil the dream of joining the team he supported from childhood*.

So, actually, I don’t have any issue with the man himself, and as I take my first taste of the beer, I realise that I can put the loose link to Newcastle to one side and enjoy a really fresh, citrusy, pale ale. It’s probably more a summer ale, being so light and fruity, rather than a drink for a cold February night with a good chance of waking up to a snowy scene in the morning.

This is probably lighter than anything I’ve tasted from Black Sheep and I’ve had pretty much everything they’ve had on offer in the last five years or so. It goes down really well and you could drink it all afternoon on a good beer garden day, especially as it’s a nice steady 4.1%. Probably not in a Sunderland beer garden, though.

So, yes, this very loosely affiliated beer is a winner, but I won’t be shouting its name in bars any time soon.

broon

Now, onto the second of the beers. Newcastle Brown Ale takes me back to the days when the iconic Blue Star adorned not only the label of its bottles, but also the shirts of Newcastle United. However, it’s also a beer I’ve enjoyed many times in the past, as far afield as New York. As someone who is proud of the North East as a whole, it’s great to see a beer from the region finding its way into bars around the world.

However, as I’ve historically considered it a strong beer, I’ve often only turned to Newcastle Brown Ale once I’ve been well into a night out. Nowadays, 4.7% doesn’t seem that strong, with many of the beers on the market going much higher.

In reality, it is probably my North East roots and the cultural identity that Newcastle Brown Ale has, stretching much further than the association with the football team, that make me feel more than comfortable about enjoying a bottle of Dog.

The nickname alone says something about life in the North East in days gone by, with “I’m gannin’ to see a man about a Dog” often being an excuse to get out of the house and down to the pub.

There’s something about Newcastle Brown Ale that makes it far more a part of the North East than purely being a Newcastle United-related drink. And that’s before I even talk about the beer itself. Few beers achieve such iconic status without being good. Dog is good. Very good.

Smooth and full of flavour and aroma, one can forgive the fact it’s now brewed in Yorkshire if it means keeping a great beer alive.

Having enjoyed bottles of Sunderland’s Double Maxim and Guinness Original XX last Saturday, while Sunderland were enjoying their 0-4 smash and grab raid at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park and Ireland were narrowly being beaten by Scotland in an RBS Six Nations classic, I can say that great beers go with sport and it’s nice to have that association. However, why deny your tastebuds a treat simply because of sporting allegiances?

*Tongue firmly in cheek. You won’t get many footballers making that sort of choice these days.

This blog post originally appeared on www.poetsdaypint.weebly.com

 

Taking a step back in time in Newcastle

HELEN GILDERSLEEVE checks out Newcastle’s vintage clothing shops and speaks to the owners of two of the city’s favourite retro stores that sell popular fashions from times past.

TheYestSociety3

It’s always fun to look back nostalgically at the bygone eras, making it easy to see why vintage clothing has had a recent popularity spike. Due to the success of genre films and shows like the Great Gatsby, La La Land, Downton Abbey and Mad Men, or maybe people just wanting a change from generic high street land, it seems retro rags are here to stay (although I’m still freaked out that my teenage wardrobe is now classed as retro).

Vintage clothing has a quality that transcends time and it’s easy to get a hold of some quirky buys right on your doorstep. I spoke to the owners of two of the city’s favourite retro shops: Flip on Westgate Road and The Yesterday Society in the Grainger Market.

Flip (104 Westgate Road)

flipstorenewcastle

Importing genuine American clothing makes Flip’s style stand out from any other vintage shops. Owner, Nick Woods, took over the business from his father who founded the shop 40 years ago making it Newcastle’s longest standing retro clothes store. Flip has been importing clothes from across the pond since 1978 and has built a strong reputation locally amongst young and old.

Overhead speakers coax customers into the shop with bassy electronica, rhythm and blues and Americana rock. The entrance is a narrow, poster-adorned corridor which works as an acoustic funnel.

On entering the store, everything at Flip has its own appropriate section; not one shirt was out of place nor a crease apparent in any of the Levi 501 jeans. The Springsteen vibe meant there were even sections for cowboy bootlace ‘bolo’ ties and original Ball Mason jars- perfect for moonshine quaffing.

Flip1

Nick said every time he receives a shipment from the USA, it’s incredibly exciting as he has no idea what he will get. Most recently he found retro American style metal signs, which went for sale on their eBay shop. Overall, Flip has a clear identity and is well worth visiting for a step back in time and to find something a little different.

Tell us a bit about Flip and what you sell?

We’ve been in business since 1978, we’ve been importing genuine American clothing ever since and have built a strong identity and reputation in the North East. We sell shirts, coats, leather jackets, retro signs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, denim and lots more pieces of classic Americana.

Flip, in Newcastle's Westgate Road
Flip, in Newcastle’s Westgate Road

What sells the best?

This tends to change all the time but we’ve noticed US printed sweatshirts, denim jackets and flannel shirts always seem to do consistently well.

Do you think Newcastle has a good selection of vintage stores?

Right now there’s only a few as there’s been some recent vintage clothing shop closures. We tend to help each other out by sending trade to each other if we don’t stock certain items customers are looking for.

Why do you think vintage clothes have made a recent comeback?

I think vintage clothing has always been in demand but at the moment we’ve noticed a lot more of the younger crowd taking a keener interest. A lot of people realise that classics never go out of fashion and it’s always good to see people embrace mixing the old with the new. I’d like to think another reason is that vintage has a positive environmental impact. You’re actively recycling whenever you buy vintage.

 

The Yesterday Society (Grainger Market)

TheYestSoc1

Neatly tucked away in Newcastle’s 180-year old Grainger Market alongside book and food stalls, The Yesterday Society is easily missed. It may have a limited amount of clothes with it being a small space but with good pricing and a great selection of old school items, they certainly make up for it with quality. It’s like a Pandora’s Box of unique and quirky items; the stall is tastefully adorned and reminiscent of a backstage theatre in bygone Hollywood.

The owner, Rachael, is an enthusiast of all things vintage. Her range is imaginatively selected and updated daily. Vintage gowns and hats, shell suits, 80s shirts and shoes and accessories sold alongside each other in a visual array of colour. Rachael also stocks vintage children’s clothes, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. Dedicated customers can apply for a loyalty card scheme to. Bonus!

How did you’re the Yesterday Society come about?

I have always loved vintage and The Yesterday Society came about when I was working at the Tyneside Cinema as FOH. In my induction session, I met future friend and business partner Rosie Skett. Rosie was a fine art student at Newcastle Uni and we hit it off straight away. We worked at the Tyneside happily, but on one particularly boring bar shift we got to talking about our dream jobs, both agreeing that owning a vintage shop would be up there.

As anyone who knows me will admit I’m pretty laid back and would never have got around to doing it, but luckily Rosie was on the ball and went on her dinner break to look at the vacant units in the Grainger Market. One being Unit 9, the now home of The Yesterday Society.

From that point, everything seemingly fell into place we created a business plan, came up with a name after numerous suggestions (cat’s pyjamas anyone?), applied for finance, secured the unit, found suppliers and two months after that initial conversation in the Tyneside Bar we opened the doors to The Yesterday Society on 31st August 2013.

What inspires you?

I would say my love of vintage and retro clothes was my main inspiration in opening the shop. I love fashions of the past and to stand out from the crowd, and with vintage you can pretty much guarantee you will never see anyone wearing the same outfit. The ethical side of wearing vintage is a big thing for me too. I was brought up with very ‘waste not want not’ ideals and the current “throw away fashion” society does nothing for me. I would much rather recycle and revive a vintage piece that had history and life of its own previously than to just buy something new off the hanger.

The Yesterday Society, Grainger Market, Newcastle
The Yesterday Society, Grainger Market, Newcastle

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a Newcastle lass through and through and was raised in Walker. I believe my love of vintage and flamboyant clothes can be attributed to my mam who took me on shopping trips to treasure troves like Attica as a kid and was known to overdress for any occasion. I have always loved looking different and standing out from the crowd, this has taken many guises from goth on “Hippy Green” to super girly all pink outfits.

It was at Northumbria Uni while studying for a degree in Human Geography that I found my true style wearing vintage and mixing a variety of decades in one outfit. I’m not going to lie there was a couple of questionable outfits. Once walking into a lecture with a mate Jess and over hearing someone comment “what the hell are they wearing now”! But hey everyone makes mistakes.

To complete my degree, I managed to write my Human Geography dissertation on identity creation through vintage clothes, this fuelled my love of vintage and allowed me to go shopping while doing my research.

Who is your fashion hero/heroine?

I take inspiration from many different places and people. But the two people probably highest on the list would be David Bowie and Iris Apfel. Both display extremely unique styles and multiple looks sometimes in one outfit. Iris has a great eye, and to me always looks fabulous, something I aspire to do especially when I’m her age. Bowie made each style his own and always looked great.

Do you think Newcastle has a decent amount of vintage stockists?

That’s a tricky one, I believe that in terms of vintage shops Newcastle is behind other cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow, especially for a city with such a big student population. However, living in Newcastle all my life I have come to realise that vintage shops in the city tend to come and go a lot. The majority of vintage shops I included in my dissertation in 2009 (other than Retro and Flip) have all closed down. Newcastle does also host a lot of events from traveling vintage fairs.

 

Flip on Twitter: @FlipVintage

www.flipvintage.com

The Yesterday Society on Twitter: @theyesterdaysoc

theyesterdaysociety.co.uk

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