Kate Fox: Things we could pick up from the North East's Scandinavian tourists

Journal columnist Kate Fox on why we should point tourists towards our hidden delights such as Billingham (which is like Nice)

Hit Danish TV show The Killing
Hit Danish TV show The Killing

The Chancellor mentioned Agincourt more than the North East in his budget speech and the North East isn’t even on the Northern Powerhouse Map in his green book.

But still at least we get three hundred thousand pounds to spend on encouraging tourists from Scandinavia to come here.

Never mind devolving, Scandinavia is clearly the place we should be looking towards.

My knowledge of it is gleaned mainly from two poetry trips to Finland, copious watching of “The Killing”, “The Bridge” and “Arne Dahl” and reading Moomins author Tove Jansson’s biography.

Here are some things we could pick up from Scandinavian tourists to the North East:

Tips on knitwear

They are clearly excellent at knitwear. Sofie Grabol’s iconic jumper lives on after The Killing’s dead bodies. Britain’s equivalent knitwear king is Giles Brandreth. Need I say more?

Being good at murders

Recent Nordic culture suggests that murder is big over there. Their murders are often inventive and take a cinematically picturesque time to solve. Okay, maybe it’s not so much the murders but the dramas about them.

We’ve been attempting to emulate their slowly unfolding thrillers but have only managed the annoying second series of Broadchurch which made even David Tennant’s maddest fans go off him a bit.

We also have Brenda Blethyn attempting the Dick Van Dyke of Geordie accents in “Vera” which contains as much elegant narrative tension as an episode of the “Teletubbies”.

Excellent at recycling and equality

Scandinavian countries are consistently top of worldwide league tables for things like happiness, women in positions of power, free education and paternity leave. When I went to Finland I noticed things I rarely see here like as many female councillors in an election leaflet as men (and many of them young) and female artists being the main exhibitors in national galleries.


Despite jokes about Norway’s “Null points” Scandinavia have consistently done much better than the UK in recent years and this year’s must-see entry is Finland’s group of punks with learning disabilities. For some reason we use Eurovision to pretend that our popular culture is as exciting as an episode of “Pebble Mill” rather than the world-inspirer it actually is.

Snow clearing and general warmth

When it snows, Scandinavians do not abandon all their daily activities. Life carries on as normal and they clear the snow away without fuss. Also, their toasty-warm hotels and B and Bs do not regard it as a badge of honour to see how cold they can make it in winter without their guests being unable to leave because they’ve been frozen to their beds.

Of course there is much that Scandinavian tourists will be able to take away in return from their visits here. Friendly people, stunning scenery, cheaper goods and a relatively temperate climate.

I suppose the £300k will go on highlighting the usual features - the beaches, castles, city nightlife, the Angel, Baltic etc.

But the Scandinavians do have an eye for the quirky and I’ve been reminded this week that the North East still has surprises.

One of my discoveries was the coal industry’s old waggonways that thread through Tyneside. Horse and pedestrian friendly paths that provide a haven from traffic noise and a different, greener perspective on the urban and suburban landscape.

The other was Billingham which, despite 17 years working in the North East I had never previously visited.

The Forum and the Family sculpture were almost shocking in their sixties strangeness and idealism and even just a short time with a writers group uncovered amazing stories of ex-ICI managers pruning other people’s roses to try give themselves a purpose in life, a town that was the inspiration for Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Dusty Springfield getting thrown out of the once-glitzy Billingham Arms for having a woman in her room.

One Billingham resident told me with the utmost conviction that she thought the town centre was beautiful and very similar to Nice.

It reminded me that this region is always surprising in a way that quirky Scandinavians will love.

To make anything cool it’s usually better to let people think they have discovered it for themselves.

But if you see any tall blonde people with maps and eager expressions, think about pointing them somewhere off the beaten track as well as to the obvious tourist traps. From Chopwell (once known as Little Moscow) to Peterlee’s Victor Passmore sculpture or the Byker Wall, it might be the subtler gems that will catch their discriminating design eyes.


David Whetstone
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