48 hours near Newcastle-upon-Tyne!
Possibly not the most obvious place to go with your campervan, but we are here for a reason, and we decided to explore the area in Buzzbee. We arrived on the Sunday of May Bank Holiday weekend, and wanted to find places that might not be too crowded. Our first stop was the North East Land and Air Museum (NELSAM), on an industrial estate just outside Sunderland! It was only small, but at a modest £3.50 pp admission for over 60's, it was a bargain. Their prize exhibit is a Vulcan bomber.
Just walking around it gives an impression of it's size, and the vast expanse of wing. We have seen Vulcans fly many times over the years. They are always the star of any airshow, and it is sad to think the remaining few will probably never fly again.
In the hangers they have a variety of aircraft, tanks and military vehicles and trams and buses, plus memorabilia from the airfield and it's RAF personnel. Highlights included an Argentine Pucara A522, a WW1 monoplane and various 1940's and 50's jets.
One curiosity that caught my eye was this lifeboat, which was used from 1943, and carried under modified bombers like Lancasters, ready to be dropped to airmen in trouble in the sea. It had a mast, sails and an engine!
Another was this amphibious ammunition trolley, which was designed by one Alec Issigonis, who went on to become the much celebrated designer of the Mini car.
Next we headed to the coast and the Souter Lighthouse (National Trust).
From here, paths follow the cliffs north and south, revealing gnarled weathered cliffs with stacks and arches, all perfect for seabirds to nest. We had a great walk here, although, in contrast with the warm sun at the air museum, the sea mist was hugging the coast.
A few miles north is South Shields at the mouth of the River Tyne, obviously an elegant resort in its day. Here we found Arbeia Roman Fort. These buildings are a reconstruction of the fort which guarded the entrance to the Tyne.
Next we headed inland to drive through the Tyne tunnel and a short 15 minute drive to our Caravan and Motorhome campsite at Old Hartley. On the cliffs, the site does slope a little, but this gives excellent views of the North Sea and St Mary's island, connected to the mainland by a causeway at low tide.
Well... it gives excellent views when the mist isn't rolling in, which it was when we arrived. However, at 8.30pm, it suddenly lifted. We decided to have an evening walk along the cliffs, and were rewarded with a nice sunset behind the site.
Day 2 we woke to blue skies. We wanted to visit Seaton Delavel Hall, but it was fully booked due to the bank holiday, so we walked from the site along the cliffs to Seaton Sluice. What a fascinating little place.
Now a quiet backwater, it had a very busy history starting in 1660 when the Delavel family lined the natural harbour with stone walls and added sluice gates. It was a port for coal, and salt, and bottles, made in the dockside bottle works, also built in 1660. In 1777, 177 ships visited the port. At it's peak, 1,747,416 bottles left from here. The enterprising family also built a brewery here, presumably to fill some of the bottles. The channels create several little islands.
Sandy island is made up entirely of ballast offloaded from ships that needed it when they sailed back from London empty after dropping off their coal. Rocky island is tiny, and was used for salt evaporation. In 1901, 63 people lived there in just a few houses, with no electricity or gas, one water tap, and toilet waste was removed once a week in buckets! We do not know how lucky we are!
Following the walk, we had a timeslot at the Stephenson Railway Museum in Walls End in the city. George and Robert Stephenson were born and lived their lives in this area, and are the fathers of the railway system. This little museum was amazing value, and the ticket price of £5 for over 60's included a 30 minute train ride, pulled by a steam locomotive.
Chris was very happy! In the engine sheds they have Billy, the forerunner to Stephenson's Rocket, and also designed by him, plus other engines, and railway items, with informative displays.
From here we headed a few miles north to Belsay Hall, castle and Gardens (English Heritage). The castle was started in the 13th century by the Middleton family, and, although a partial ruin, can be explored, including climbing the Pele tower for lovely views.
The Hall was built in 1807 by Sir Charles Monck, who was fascinated by Greece and it's history, and this is obvious from it's design. It is exactly 100 feet square and has lots of Doric columns.
It must have been wonderful in it's day, but after WW2 the family could not afford the upkeep and in 1962 they sold the contents and moved away. Dry rot took hold, and it was taken into the guardianship of the state in 1980. It can be explored but is an empty shell. The stone to build the hall came from quarries on the land, and the Belsay gardens were laid out in these quarries.
They are delightful, and at this time of year, full of flowering rhododendrons and azaleas. As an aside, the cafe serves excellent cake too!
Our final adventure on this busy day was at Amble, on the Northumbrian coast.
We had booked a one hour evening trip on Dave's Puffin Cruises, going out to Coquet island, a renowned bird reserve. We set off in a very calm harbour, but a reef near the island saw it getting increasingly choppy. Dave's words where "It's going to get a bit nautical in a minute". That meant 'hang on tight it's going to be pretty rough!'. It was, but my travel pills worked well.
There were seabirds everywhere, and although it is forbidden to land, the boat got close enough for us to clearly see guillemot, common and arctic terns, lots of puffins, and the rare Roseate terns.
90% of the world population nest here each year, so rspb wardens live on the island and keep a 24 hour watch on the nests.
It was a great day... and tomorrow we start our next adventure in the North east!
If you are in Northumberland, we also have a 10milesfrom page centred around Alnwick with lots more ideas!
Why not sign up to the website and find out when new blogs are posted!