As challenges go, it was a bit silly: take The Journal’s list of 100 reasons of why it’s great up North and see how many could be done in one day.
Thanks to the halfwit who compiled the list and included a plaque on the Sydney Harbour Bridge (me), it wasn’t even possible. Besides, it’s obviously better to savour our list properly, take weeks or even months to experience the region at its best.
But a challenge is a challenge and I am, essentially, quite a silly man. Driving round the North East seemed like a good day to spend a day at work, particularly when there was the promise of ice cream at the end of it.
So it was I set out to cross off as many items on The Journal’s list as possible, getting off to an audacious start when I secured the front seat on the Metro on the way into the office. I was eight when the Metro was first launched and would fight my brother and cousins to sit up front with the driver (generally we compromised after a while and all four of us would cram on to the seat).
Thirty-four years later, that thrill hasn’t faded: one down, 99 to go.
Being no fool, I brought along sustenance for my trip in the form of Rolos, on our list because they are made at Nestle’s factory in Fawdon, Newcastle (2). I also had entertainment and put the very wonderful Prefab Sprout album Crimson Red on the stereo (75 on The Journal’s list, 3 on mine). I set off and passed Newcastle Racecourse (not counting it as it’s not quite Plate Day yet), then headed north to Northumberlandia (4).
The Lady of the North has won admirers from around the world since it was it opened two years ago, and there was a decent number of cars in the car park when I arrived.
On my way to the top of her head – being a gentleman and pushed for time, it seemed right to leave the body until later – I passed a number of hardy walkers, some people having a leisurely stroll and a very jolly couple who hadn’t made it past the first bench. They all seemed rather charmed by the reclining goddess and I was too, but the wind was rather taken out of my sails when I headed next to Woodhorn Museum to see the Pitmen Paintings – and found that it’s shut on Mondays.
At this point, I realised that my original plans for the Northumberland leg of my challenge – to Alnwick, first for a browse at Barter Books and maybe to run into the Duchess; to Craster for a kipper; a castle at Bamburgh or Warkworth – were hopelessly naÏve. With lunchtime approaching, I headed back into Tyneside, cheered myself up with a ham and pease pudding stottie (5), then took in the urban paradise that is Jesmond Dene (6).
Though terrific in its own right, the Dene is on our list as part of the legacy left to the region by Lord Armstrong, which also includes Bamburgh Castle, the Lit and Phil, the RVI and the institutions that became Newcastle University (shame about the arms dealing, really).
Newcastle City Library was next (7), and then I went down down to the Quayside where the collection of bridges over the Tyne (8), the Sage (9) and the Baltic (10) put me in double figures.
When The Journal held a poll last year to find the landmark that people most associated with the North East, the Angel of the North was chosen – by some distance – by people from both in the region and elsewhere in the country.
I got there mid-afternoon (making it reason number 11) to find it thronging with dog walkers, families on days out and a couple in a convertible.
Best of all was a group of students from India who took turns to take pictures of each other jumping up and down with the Angel as a backdrop.
Every time I drive past Antony Gormley’s sculpture, or see it from the train, my spirits are lifted: Monday was no different.
From there I drove past Nissan (12) and discovered how difficult it is to photograph from the A19, all to a soundtrack of Lindisfarne (13), Sting (14) and Lauren Laverne’s former band Kenickie (15). (Actually it’s Lauren’s radio show that’s on our list, but it was close enough).
Seaham hadn’t been on my original list of destinations, but I was persuaded to go there by a colleague to see the Tommy sculpture on the seafront (16). Ray Lonsdale’s artwork – the subject of a fund-raising campaign in the town to keep it there permanently – is genuinely impressive and, despite its newness, well worthy of its place on our 100 reasons. I crossed the road to the Lickety Split ice cream parlour, where I had a marzipan and chocolate double cone (17) and vowed to come back for the sundaes I’d enviously watched being prepared.
My last port of call was Durham, specifically the walk from castle to cathedral that marks what must be one of the best graduation ceremonies in the country (18). All the way up to Palace Green I passed attractive young people dumping bags in their parents’ cars and hugging other attractive young people. It was the end of term, and from their accents, my guess wass that most of them would be heading south. The poor things.
After eight hours and just over 150 miles, I only managed 18 of our 100 reasons. That is a pretty poor show, but it made me think that there are 82 still to do. Later this week, I will have gone to the Hoppings and in a few months’ time (hopefully) completed the Great North Run. I might even go back to Woodhorn when it’s actually open.
My day taking in the best of the North East barely scratched the surface. I didn’t get very far into Northumberland, didn’t go to Teesside or North or South Tyneside at all and just skirted Sunderland.
I missed out Hadrian’s Wall, the Northumberland National Park and didn’t go to a single beach. Shame on me.
But even my slapdash spin around the North East gave me some fun new experiences and reminded me of places I’ll never tire of visiting.
And the ice cream was excellent.
Click on the pages below to read the 100 Reasons Why It's Great Up North - 2014 - supplement in full, or CLICK HERE, to open in a new window.