A Tale of Two Cities

After surviving the entry into 2019 we headed north from York up the A1 to Durham where we spent just over a week. The primary reason for the visit was to catch up with some of Annie’s family who hail from the nearby village of Murton, but we also wanted to take a trip into the great city itself as it’s been many years since we last visited. 

Having been virtually imprisoned on the last site by the thoroughbred nags it was a real pleasure to be able to walk from site, along the River Wear (or at least the banks of it) into Durham on a glorious, if a little chilly day. 

Durham Cathedral seen over a misty River Wear
The more popular view of the Cathedral

To say it was the last Friday of the Christmas and New Year holiday there were surprisingly few people about and the whole place had a lovely calm and quiet feel about it which meant we could  mooch about freely and Jack wasn’t constantly tripping people up as he darted about sniffing his way along.

A surprisingly empty Market Square in Durham

The following day was family catch-up time and first up was a visit to see Annie’s sister June and brother-in-law George at their new house in Murton where they’ve recently returned after spending years cast adrift in the southern wilderness (Sussex)

A lovely and relaxing day was triumphed by June’s gift of a couple of her amazing home-made pheasant and ham pies which we can attest to being absolutely superb! When it comes to culinary expertise our June can certainly give silver-coiffed baking narcissist Paul Hollywood a good run for his money. 

The biggest surprise of the trip came a couple of days later when we visited the coastal town of Seaham which is within walking distance of Murton and just a few miles south of Sunderland. In Annie’s childhood, when living in Murton, Seaham was the sort of place where you’d exit a pub via the window and often with considerably fewer teeth than you possessed on entry.

Now though, after a period of massive  redevelopment, the seafront down by the harbour is home to a number of upmarket bars, bistros and restaurants. The Terrace is home to Ray Lonsdale’s “Tommy” sculpture depicting a World War One soldier sitting forlornly on a packing case. Although only supposed to be a temporary installation, it caught the minds and hearts of the many visitors to the town and after raising over £72,000 the 2.90m, 1200kg figure is now a permanent installation. 

Ray Lonsdale’s “Tommy” Sculpture looking toward Seaham Harbour
Frontal view of “Tommy”

I couldn’t help thinking as I stood by Tommy that, had he been there during WWII, and if the Germans had mounted an invasion onto that stretch of coastline they’d have taken one look at the size of Tommy and realise that they’d seriously underestimated how big the British soldiers were!

After leaving Durham the next destination was supposed to be a return to York but we had to make a slight diversion via the unlikely town of Bridlington. The reason for this was because both of the York sites were full! We have been constantly amazed how many sites are fully booked – at weekends particularly – in January!! Do folks not work anymore? 

But, diversion as it was, Bridlington proved to be a great site. Recently refurbished, the pitches were spacious and the washblock spotlessly clean (very important!) There were some good walks directly from the site, Flamborough Head one way and Bridlington the other. 

Bridlington itself though has the faded glory of a once popular, probably upmarket seaside town that’s slightly had its day and has now succumbed to the inevitable seaside staples of tacky fairground, sense-numbing amusement arcades and an abundance of artery-clogging takeaways and fish & chips shops. 

Bridlington in all its (faded) glory!

However, the all-pervading smell of fish & chips did its trick and before we knew it we were ensconced on a bench overlooking the sea enjoying a styrofoam tub of quite superb haddock & chips. A seagull stood eyeing up a possible feast but surprisingly made no move to invade. As we finished every last morsel leaving not a scrap it simply shrugged and flew off. A polite seagull, whatever next?

Bridlington beach with fairground in the distance

Although Bridlington may have lost its former charm the nearby, and unfortunately named, town of Sewerby was lovely, boasting Sewerby Hall as its main attraction. It was a refreshing surprise to walk around the abundant grounds, with Jack, and without having to fork out a small fortune just to do so (are you listening English Heritage?!). Entry to the house did incur a small charge but I’m ok with that as everything else was freely available for all to enjoy. 

Sewerby Hall
Part of the gardens at Sewerby Hall

So with Bridlington in the rear-view mirrors, once again York was in our sights, although this time we would be staying at the Rowntree Park Caravan & Motorhome Club site which is right in the city centre and alongside the river. That’s the good bit: that York is literally 5 minutes walk away. The site itself though was a disappointment. Little more than a carpark, it has virtually no grass, the pitches feel cramped, is always very busy and can be prone to flooding at times of excessive rainfall. Apparently it’s not unheard of for a chap in a boat to come tapping at your window with a suggestion that it might be prudent to move on before being carried off downstream. Thankfully that didn’t happen whilst we were there. 

The walk into York from the campsite
One of York’s many old streets
Beautifully preserved Tudor buildings

York, like Durham, is a fabulous city dominated by a magnificent cathedral. Although not a religious person I do find cathedral architecture staggeringly beautiful, so a double delight was in order here. Annie contemplated a visit for Evensong but then remembered that in October 2018 a two year restoration project for the organ began involving its complete dismantling and removal. Even though the cathedral is acoustically brilliant, a bloke on a Casio keyboard (or whatever is actually being used as the stunt-organ) just wouldn’t have quite the same effect. 

The Cathedral (or Minster) seen from the rear. (Because the front was covered by a school trip!)

Overall, the Rowntree Park site at York proved its worth and we can understand why it’s so popular as it’s just so convenient to access the city, as we did on several occasions. That said, I don’t think we’ll return any time soon. 

I hear rain is on the way…

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