Positive thinking

Now here's a positive thought: go on holiday in the North-East next year.

Now here's a positive thought: go on holiday in the North-East next year. For those of you that have sweltered this summer in the heat of Spain or the forest fires of Halkidiki, why not take a look on your doorstep to discover something about the place you live?

Tourism in North-East England is a growing business, but how much do we know about our region and how many hidden gems remain unseen by the majority of our local population? When I first moved here over 17 years ago, my partner and I made a point of discovering a new place every weekend. Tynemouth, Derwent Reservoir, Kielder, Saltburn, Warkworth Castle and even Seaton Delaval which, for those who haven't discovered it, has the best ice cream north of Italy.

I have been fortunate enough to travel widely and was once trekking through the Amazon in Ecuador after a visit to the Galapagos Islands. I met two Americans who asked where I was from. "Oh, Newcastle," they said, "near the Farne Islands" which they talked about as the best place in the world for birdlife.

Despite our enthusiasm to see the region, we had to admit that we had never been, but we now go annually on the boat from Seahouses to witness the remarkable sight of thousands of puffins and guillemots nesting just a few miles from our coastline. The Farne Islands is as close to nature as you will ever get, but for those who don't take to the sea Washington Wildfowl Centre is a haven for migrating birds and the banks of the Tyne in Dunston are a sight to behold at low tide as the flocks of waders skate over the mud flats.

I suspect that only a fraction of our residents have ever set foot in the castle which gave our regional capital its name. It's one of my favourite locations in the region, a great place to take the family and visitors. With its twisty steps to the panorama of NewcastleGateshead, it is cheaper than going to the gym for exercise! Climbing to the roof of Durham Cathedral is another healthy experience for the thighs, and following this with a rowing boat on the River Wear will sort the arms and shoulder muscles out too. Other landmarks that we see on our skyline but rarely visit are Penshaw Monument, Roseberry Topping, Windy Nook and of course the Cheviots, each of which provide a unique bird's eye view of our urban and rural landscapes.

When it comes to heritage and museums, the list of hidden gems is endless - Belsay Hall, Cragside, Wallington, Beamish and Bede's World are all popular - but check out the Heritage Open Days that started this week. They'll take you into many historic buildings in Tyne and Wear, and why not try some out of town locations such as the wonderful Kilhope Mine in Weardale, the eccentric Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle or the Marsden Grotto and Souter Lighthouse in South Tyneside?

I am a huge admirer of what has been achieved at The Alnwick Garden, and with over 500,000 visitors a year I'm not alone, but how many Journal readers have also been to Howick Hall Gardens near Craster? This eclectic garden is home to one of the best tea rooms in the North of England. Word of mouth about the attractions of the region is the single most important source of advertising to new tourists. Existing visitors and most importantly our own residents are our best route to promoting the North-East. Think positively and tell a friend about a hidden gem near where you live.

Andrew Dixon is Chief Executive of the NewcastleGateshead Initiative

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