Our first day’s travelling was limited to getting us from London to Tynemouth via Newcastle.
As with most fields of human endeavour, there is a good deal of discussion regarding the ‘best’ and ‘correct’ way to walk Hadrian’s Wall. Some attempt to do it in three days, others argue the importance of arriving a day early in order to begin the walk first thing in the morning and others argue that the Wall should be walked from West to East on account of the prevailing winds. As this was our first walking holiday, we decided to do the Wall in seven days and we decided to walk it from East to West because walking into Newcastle’s industrial landscape might prove more depressing than triumphal. Obviously, your mileage may vary but that of the Wall does not.
The trip up to Newcastle was smooth by the standards of British railways and the hours flew by as we read, dozed and chatted to the astonishingly outgoing couple sat next to us on the train. We arrived at Newcastle and got a taxi to Tynemouth driven by an insane control-freak Geordie who drove incredibly quickly and insisted upon getting out of the cab at the lights in order to give directions to other drivers. I was too terrified to ask how he knew where the other drivers were headed.
We stayed overnight at The Grand Hotel in Tynemouth. Initial impressions were not exactly brilliant as we found ourselves booked into one of the hotel’s smoking rooms. The stench of cigarettes was so overwhelming that I half expected to find a small casino operating out of our bathroom. Mercifully, the receptionist proved extraordinarily helpful and instantly upgraded us to a much nicer and much less smelly room. No need for complaints or other displays of Bourgeois-Fu. From then on, the evening went swimmingly.
Tynemouth itself is a lovely town. One suspects that, at some point in the past, it may have been a seaside resort as the town sits perched above some lovely sandy beaches and features a number of sea-side attractions including an aquarium, mini-golf and a toy museum that gave off the same waves of nostalgia, grief and abandonment that tend to characterize most toy museums. Clearly, toys are meant to be played with and the second you place them in a museum, a switch is flicked from ‘cute’ and ‘loved’ to ‘dusty’ and ‘creepy’. However, possibly because it was the end of the season or possibly because time and fashion have moved on, Tynemouth’s seaside feel is decidedly post-hoc. As though the town had been built in anticipation of a great influx of tourists that never came. This sense of fading grandeur somehow intertwines with an equally tangible sense of upward mobility as fashionably designed and painstakingly manicured gardens suggest that Tynemouth is in the process of re-inventing itself from Edwardian holiday destination to wealthy suburb of Newcastle.
This impression of money in pursuit of class was compounded in the hotel bar where we awaited our guide. As we sat and drank diet coke, travelling salesmen knocked back Courvoisier and a trip to the bar resulted in the Sheep being chatted up by a corpulent, bearded man who spoke of having to spend over £1000 a year on spectacles. Which is, admittedly, braggable.
When I say “Guide”, I mean Gary from Hadrian’s Wall Ltd. Since the Wall path opened up a few years ago, a number of baggage courier services have opened allowing walkers to move from stopping point to stopping point without having to worry about their baggage. Hadrian’s Wall Ltd is a small independent company who offer baggage courier services and double as a travel agent thereby handling all of the logistical elements of a walking holiday. They offer a number of packages but we decided for the most luxurious one as we had never been on a walking holiday before and guessed (correctly as it turned out) that we would need all the pampering we could handle after a day’s walking. Gary was late to our meeting but he was very engaging when he did turn up and he gave us some useful advice on what to see and what to expect from the walk. However, the impact of his teachings was undeniably diminished by the fact that The Sheep is anally retentive and had spent ages working out distances and plotting where we should stop for lunch. In this case, we had done some of the preparatory leg-work ourselves but it is great to know that Hadrian’s Wall Ltd even go so far as to suggest where their clients might want to stop for lunch. That is a full service and I warmly recommend them to anyone looking to walk the Wall.
Our meeting with Gary concluded, we ventured out into Tynemouth for dinner and opted to make the most of the Northern seaside ambience by having a proper fish supper (with mushy peas). I must admit, I was tempted by the thought of a battered cheeseburger but I opted instead for something a bit more reasonable. Marshalls is a proper chip shop and the food there is delicious.
A post-supper walk along the coast took us to the mouth of the Tyne where medieval and industrial ruins sit side-by-side in equal but rival splendour.
All in all, I’m glad that we decided to stay overnight in Tynemouth as it really is a very pleasant place indeed. Most towns by the city benefit from the sense of space and openness loaned them by the oceanic expanses but Tynemouth’s combination of faded glamour, upward mobility and unpretentious quirkiness completely won me over.
For those of you who may have stumbled across this post, here are all of the posts in the series:
Day One: Tynemouth
Day Two: Tynemouth to Harlow Hill
Day Three: Harlow Hill to Chollerford
Day Four: Chollerford to Saughy Rigg
Day Five: Saughy Rigg to Gilsland
Day Six: Gilsland to Lanercost
Day Seven: Lanercost to Carlisle
Day Eight: Carlisle to Bowness-on-Solway