A Diary of a coach trip around the north East of England in August.
I thought it was going to be an easy 5 day coach holiday; after all we weren’t being picked up by the coach until 9.30am.
The old man who was the coach driver the looked well past retirement age and initially seemed phased by the simple instructions on his piece of paper with his passengers names and seat numbers on, but then seemed OK as he took our small brown case off us and told us to sit in seats 14/15 on the driver’s side, as we climbed aboard the mainly empty 56 seater coach as almost everyone had got off to use the loo at the bus station; on our seats were an umbrella and some papers so I put them on the next seat and sat down, when the driver came on the coach moments later I asked him if he had told us the correct number seats to sit in, his bald pate wrinkled into worried lines, looked down at his paper and confirmed we were in the right seats so I gave him the umbrella and papers to give to the people when they came back on the coach, he looked distinctly uncomfortable and asked if I wanted another seat, I said ‘no’ and told him all he had to do was explain the mistake to the other people who were returning with others, as we spoke, forming a queue behind him.
An old man in a blue top looked at our seats then the seats behind and he said “You are in our seats.” I explained that the driver had made a mistake and go and see him, he wasn’t happy I could see that but as he was eye to with me and I was sat down and he was stood, he turned and spoke to the driver, who appeared to embrace the policy of cover one mistake with another; eventually the aggrieved chap with his sister sat where they should have been from the start and the coach pulled off on its way to its final pickup in Peterborough where only four more people were getting on making only 33 in total, so the coach should empty and fill relatively quickly all week.
Apparently our hotel in Newcastle wasn’t expecting us until 4.30pm because our driver was making good time up the A1 with no hold ups and our fellow passengers were back on time so we were well in front for time, so our driver who, it transpired owned the coach and worked it with his son, fitted in a second stop on the way up north; we had mixed weather, a little sun when we started then a little more cloud and it ended up with torrential rain as we entered Gateshead, but the angels took pity on us and when we pulled into the car park for our third and final break at the Angel of the North it stopped raining and cleared up a little so we could take pictures of the metal lady who according to the information boards could withstand winds of up to 100 mile per hour, I wondered whether they take her down if they are expecting winds stronger than that!
Later in Newcastle we could see our hotel rising from the side of the road, a great cream and red brick monolithic building covered in square windows sitting near to an enormous green cone laying on its side live with technology, the hotel has the benefit of having a courtyard in its centre to drive into; no sooner had the coach stopped there, than the previously nice smiling benign fellow passengers turned into vicious warriors intent on getting off the coach first at any cost, so disembarkation descended into unholy pushing and shoving with elbow’s flying walking sticks raised in threat for those that had them.
Luckily Florie and I have been on a few of these types of trips and we have a well rehearsed plan, staying out of the initial rush so as not to get injured, then Mo slips straight off the coach and into the hotel reception to get the room keys whilst I go out and round the coach and approach the cases being unloaded from the other side, I got our case and quietly slipped into reception where Florie with keys in hand is pressing the button for the lift and we vanish in it like mist in a gale. As we went up to the fourth floor she explained that she had already chosen our meal for this evening from a menu she was given; our room was large with a double and a single bed in it but few surfaces, it had one long table with the only draw in the room under it and that had the hair dryer in it whilst a small open plan wardrobe stood agape behind the door with ten hangers waiting use; Florie emptied our case using all the hangers and every surface then we took a rest, I remember years ago wondering why people wanted a rest after sitting in a coach or train all day, but now I’m older I know the answer.
We went down to reception early in order to get a drink, I stopped off at reception to register my credit card to charge drinks to the room, a task that the hotel was unable to accomplish after wasting ten minutes trying, a bit irked I strode hopeful into the bar area where there were only three people stood at the bar I stood next to the man being served a pint of lager, the bartender had just got the glass to the pump when it instantly filled with white foam that expanded down the side of the glass filled the drip tray and continued down out of view, I could see from the look on the bartenders face, he wished he had come into the bar when he came on duty and tried all the pumps BEFORE the punters came in for their drinks, he told the punter he would take his drink across when it was ready, and grabbed another glass pulled the shiny chrome tap at the top and the same thing happened again, he gave that up and turned to the two women together to my right, we were the only three at the bar then, they asked for two glasses of rose spritzer, nice and easy yes, this took him nearly eight minutes to accomplish and he dropped two measures of wine in the process. When the girls left he went back to his pint of larger which by now had reduced to an eighth of a glass of yellow splodge in the bottom of the glass, he flipped the chrome tap at the top of the pump and more foam emerged filling the glass as before, he persevered until actual fluid emerged from the tap then he took out his special tool and scraped it across the top of the glass to give a straight top of foam then he took it to the customer at his table, the bar had started to fill by this time as it was taking him nearly 15 minutes to serve 3 drinks! He came back behind the bar and asked the now full bar who was next (Obviously not a professional, who would remember who was next.) “A glass of red wine.” I shouted before anyone else could step in, this whole process had taken over 15 minutes and cost £8.70 and made us late for dinner, oh joy, we were stopping here for four nights.
We thought we were last into dinner and sat at the only available table, where a waitress immediately came and told us the menu we had chosen from earlier was the wrong one and could we make a choice from this new one that she handed to us, the choice was not as good as the earlier one so Florie didn’t have a starter off this one, but after just waiting 25 minutes for very little I was not best pleased.
Right after the waitress had left us to ask everyone else what they wanted for dinner another couple came into the restaurant and joined us at our table as there were no other seats left, they were Ted and Alice, Ted was a thin quiet man while Alice was noisy and busy growing into her prosperity at every opportunity, they were in their eighties, Alice was not a tall woman so she increased her stature by growing sideways which she was succeeding at, but her knees could not take that much success in one body and so she had a hospital crutch which was conspicuous by its presence, when the meal arrived it was passable, but nothing to write home about, so I will say no more about it, both Ted and Alice had healthy appetites and cleared their plates at every course, which was more than we did, Florie and Alice had lots to talk about and were the last to leave the restaurant that night.
Beamish living museum of the north. – Tuesday 21st.Our coach drew away from our legal sounding hotel at 9.30am taking us to Beamish that lay about 25 minutes drive way; as we arrived there it stopped raining but stayed cloudy most of the day.
Beamish itself is set in a beautiful valley with lots of old established trees around fields with livestock in, and dotted here and there around the valley a 1940’s Farm, an old Railway Station, a 1900’s Town, a 1820’s Old Hall and an 1820’ railway; joining all these together is a tram and roadway with old trams and buses to transport you between, in the centre of all of this is an old coal mine that was a working mine and is now the centre of this living museum. We went down the mine and were given information by men who had worked the pit many years before, everywhere we went all the staff were in period costume and all played their part in making it a real experience in every sense of the word. We walked down to the pit first and were moved by the cramped conditions the miners had to work in and learning how much pay they received and how they lived in close communities; we went in their homes and met their wives, it was all so real. Next we walked up to the 1940’s Farm and visited all the buildings containing the goods and machinery of that period; I hate to admit that a good deal of the things that I saw around this I recognised from things in my youth when I would visit farms near where we lived.
The weather was improving slightly with little bursts of sun occasionally, we caught the old tram to the next stop on the route, the 1900’s Town, a street in reality but authentic in every respect, a Co-op shop, an old bicycle shop, a drapers, a bank, a pub, houses of the period containing the old contents from that period, it was all so real, it was noon by this time and the town was full of families the children all excited running around with ice creams asking their parents every question imaginable.
We continued down to the old railway station and took a short ride on the steam train that left every 20 minutes, it was a short ride but very nice, again the children were all enjoying the experience. We caught another tram and went to the 1820’s Old Hall, a short walk from the tram stop to the top of the hill, this too had furniture of the period in it, and a farm area at the rear.
Then round the front a lovely garden set out overlooking a picturesque valley; about half a mile away we could see another steam train only this time from the 1820 period we walked round to it and took a short ride.
They did not have suspension on those early trains so a short ride was fine for me; our last tram ride was back to the entrance buildings and the new and up to date gift shop and cafe were waiting for everyone, we got a drink to kill time as our leaving time on the coach was to be 4pm and it was only 2pm now. We had spent four hours walking round the whole area, I cannot walk far so frequent sit downs were my lot and the tram rides but I can see how real walkers would enjoy a longer time on their feet and less time in the trams; I loved the whole day it didn’t rain, it was beautiful there and full of interesting things to do so I can recommend it wholeheartedly. We got back on the coach at 3.15pm and most people were on by 3.40 but at 4pm when we were supposed to be leaving one couple were not to be seen, we waited until 4.10 when the driver, urged on by all the passengers, went to look for them, he found them sat killing time drinking tea, they thought they should return at 5pm! From then on they were referred to as the 5 o’clock people; as I have mentioned I recognised a good deal of the household goods in the living museum – so I came away thinking I must count as a living museum piece – I’m just worried about what happens when the government get even more short of money and takes my living museum funding away?
Tonight we were to have salmon fishcakes for dinner, when they arrived they were the size of small saucers and we each had two, I did find a tiny piece of salmon in mine, I don’t think Florie found any in hers; by the time I had ploughed through the first one I couldn’t face the other so I left it.
Ted and Alice had enjoyed fish and chips at lunchtime at Beamish but that did not dent their appetite they still ate three courses and finished every crumb, including an extra portion of cheese and biscuits that Ted didn’t get last night.
Durham delights – Wednesday 22nd.
Durham is only 30 miles drive from our Newcastle hotel and the journey was trouble free as it was just past rush hour; we were dropped next to the river opposite a large development the other side of the river. We were only a short walk from the town centre; we went to it through Durham Market Hall a lovely covered market with stalls selling interesting items at reasonable prices, see below for photo of Hall.
The exit from the market is right in the town square where the sun was shining on a busy area; Florie spied a branch of her favourite shop and that signalled a few hours of retail therapy, luckily the town has seats in the middle of the shopping areas where men can go to sit before losing the will to live in the never ending dress shops, we fitted in a coffee stop before we climbed the steep road up to the cathedral and its beautiful square surrounded by lovely well maintained buildings.
We paid our donation to the Cathedral and went in for a look; the interior is impressive if a little dark, I thought it was a lovely old place with some impressive stained glass windows, it was quite peaceful given how many people were there, we ended up in the cellar and exited that way which left us the wrong side of the cathedral and it took about ten minutes to walk back to the street we came up, by which time, my ankle was painful and kept giving way under me, we had been walking or standing for 2 hours by now so we went into a local hostelry just on noon.
A pint of lager a tonic with lemon and a bag of peanuts later and we left refreshed to return to our quest for that elusive bargain that resides in one shop in every town; by 2pm my ankle was giving up again as was my will to live when we entered the town centre once more.
I hobbled into ‘The Market Town’, a comfortable friendly pub with good beer and food where we killed an hour and a half. Whilst I supped my beer I reflected on our visit, the town is compact and pleasant to visit with friendly people 80 of whom give up their time freely to greet and help visitors to get around their town, the whole place is neat and tidy free of litter and sit each side of the River Wear of which you get great views, from different vantage points.
It is a town I look forward to returning to one day. We arrived we were given leaflets of things to do in the area; but not having arranged anything in advance and not being a walker we didn’t go to the many things on offer in and around the town.
Back at the hotel the dinners hadn’t improved from the day before, however our table companions cleared their plates grumbling about it all the way through, lucky for Florie and me we didn’t put weight on with what little we ate.
Hartlepool Harbour – Thursday 23rd.This morning 50 minutes drive took us to Jackson’s Dock in Hartlepool where Europe’s Oldest Floating Warship is moored under cold overcast skies; £8 each to get in, they have built excellent lifelike exhibitions around the magnificent ship Trincomalee which is the centrepiece in the dock.
The buildings are a good Georgian representation of a quayside, each one of the buildings contains audio and visual information housed in a lifelike exhibit, a tailor’s shop, a sword maker, a tavern, a printer’s and more, all centred around what was needed by the ship and its crew. As nice as the museum was, it only took us an hour to go round, so here we were at 11.45am all done and we were due to leave at 3.30pm! It is possible that Hartlepool has many things to offer but we were unaware of them maybe we should taken the time to have planned our visit before we left home. Jackson’s Dock was surrounded by water on one side and a large out of town retail park on the other, you know the type Boot’s, Argos, Curry’s, Asda and tucked behind one of the buildings we saw it; our saviour, Frankie & Benny’s, a bar and food out of the wind and rain (that has kept trying all morning), I was nicely accosted by an attractive young waitress when I went in and got a beer while I waited for Florie to catch up from a quick sojourn round the shops then we were handed over to a positive non helpful waitress to order our small lunchtime meal, small because when we return to the hotel we will have another mediocre meal this evening. Regrettably it took two attempts to serve up a small plate of hot food, but it was rectified quickly and it tasted really good, we returned to our waiting coach via an M&S cafe where we had a decaf coffee.
Going home – Friday 24th.I thought getting down to breakfast early (6.50am) would increase our chances of getting a croissant this morning, how wrong I was, although the staff were just finishing laying out the food there were no croissants again, I don’t have them at home, but I treat myself on holiday. Efficient, we were all done and back in our room by 7.15 and getting our daily depression from the morning news; Florie had packed the case last night, it lays open awaiting our sponge bag on the spare bed as I write this, we will be down at the coach at 8.45am ready for our journey home.
The area around the hotel.
The hotel is in a quadrangle block with a single drive in entrance the whole block consists of two office blocks and blocks of what could be expensive flats, on my walk one evening, my exit was onto an old road with old original shops pubs and clubs on the other side of it, I walked to my right into a new area called Queens Square where the big green cone is, this I walked round anticlockwise and found it was a science park it then morphs into a large round office block belonging to the NHS Biomedicine East Wing; if you exit one way from here a couple of hundred yards and you are at the Metro Radio Arena, leave in another direction one hundred yards and you are at Central Station and beyond there, shops, the whole of this area is about quarter of a mile from the river so it’s a quite handy place to stay. I don’t know where our coach was parked but one night that and other coaches were subject to diesel theft, also the driver told us that there had been a big fight down on the waterfront one night, I’ll tell you one thing about all the places we visited we didn’t find many that could cope with decaffeinated coffee I don’t know why I thought we could get it anywhere.
It looks lovely inside and out, the reception area is big with a big bar and restaurant off it and the lifts are plentiful and quick they even have perfume in reception to mask any food smells, the room we had was big with a double and a single bed in it and the bathroom was big with a bath (hurrah) in the low style of American baths only half as deep as English baths, there was only one drawer everything else were surfaces, so it catered for one night stays, on the surface everything looked good but when you looked down the carpet hadn’t been cleaned lately there were nail clippings left there and they were still there when we left; there was triple glazing but you do need it that near the road, there is no air conditioning in the room only a radiator under the window if you’re cold, or open the window if you’re hot, then you get the noise. The Wi-Fi is blisteringly fast at nearly 80mbps and the staff are friendly and willing to help if possible but the systems in the hotel let them down, this doesn’t show when you only stop for one night or maybe two but it does when you are there for more. The evening meal that I haven’t liked is not off the hotel’s main menu we had a special menu for coach parties; but cold plates for hot food isn’t good at breakfast there was no orange juice one morning no croissants for two mornings the staff as willing and friendly as they were did not know what to do some of the time and this from a hotel who are hoping to attain 5 stars – I don’t think so.
The coach and its passengers.
The coach itself was quite new made by some obscure country it looked OK but was small if you were six foot tall with legs to match I had to sit with legs akimbo the whole way and unable to move very much, the man in front of us was one of those who slam back in their seats trying to make it recline by sheer force and he kept doing that every day all day; small things like the clock that faces all the passengers was wrong time and date, which summarised the general attitude of the driver, I was surprised to find that the doddery old driver actually owned the coach and he and his son ran the company, he progressed through the week to a lively old fella who went in a gay bar one night and then down into town on another he liked the blue jokes and had quite a rapport with a number of frisky old women, the ones with dyed blond hair and a lot to say, the type you like to have with you in a rough bar you could feel they could cope with anything the night could throw at them, in the main it was a good bunch of people, we have travelled with worse.
Summary of the week.
This week has been quite good, given that it was a cheap 5 day holiday with half board, the best bit was Beamish an excellent living museum laid out in a beautiful valley even in the cloudy conditions it was a great experience that caters for all the family. The days that followed lacked the focus that Beamish gave but Durham was a lovely place to visit its clean with friendly people, Hartlepool’s Trincomalee museum was excellent but it was not an all day experience, although the weather was not good all week I think it was a good week overall.