I did think about calling this “What I did on my holidays”, but its a bit more than just recounting our travels to the north-east.
I would encourage everyone to head north-east for their next holiday, even if one of the biggest plus points of our 10 days was the peace and quiet of almost everywhere we went (such as the Yorkshire Sculpture Park below).
The over-riding impression of our road trip north – avoiding motorways and dual carriageways whenever possible – was the quality of life.
And yet our trip coincided with claims by a right-wing think-tank that those living in the north should abandon their homes and move south.
The fact it was such a stupid suggestion aside, we didn’t see too much evidence of why Policy Exchange would come to such a conclusion. There seemed plenty of evidence of prosperity and plans for the future, albeit mixed with social and economic issues. But these issues are impacting on the whole country, not just one extended region.
What was really interesting was the reaction of those living and working in the region – they simply shrugged their shoulders, laughed at the silliness of southerners and went about their everyday lives. A good lesson in treating ignorance with the contempt it deserves, rather than rising to the bait.
Anyway, back to the trip and our first stop-over was at YSP.
In truth the reality didn’t meet expectation. Certainly the work of Sophie Ryder, Helen Escobedo, James Turrell and Nigel Hall made the visit worthwhile, but the park felt a little under-populated in terms of exhibitions.
Maybe that was because we’d been left in little doubt that large swathes of the park were off-limits to us by one over-officiousness of one staff member.
We booked a motorised scooter for Rachel to get around the park and whereas the man who fetched it for us was helpful. Yet one of his colleagues literally barked a set of “do not’s” at us from behind the reception desk that left us wondering if there was anything we could actually do with the scooter and any exhibitions we were actually allowed to visit.
To make matters worse she informed us we weren’t allowed to travel to the other side of the park to visit one of the gallery spaces as the scooter’s battery life wasn’t big enough, but she didn’t tell us that we could take a free shuttle bus instead. We were told plenty of “you can’t go there’s”, just not enough “but you could do this instead’s”.
Still, I came away a big fan of Crossing (Horizontal) and Kiss, Deer Shelter and Ryder’s human-hare hybrids.
On to the North-East and our base in County Durham. Rachel is getting around to uploading all sorts of photographs of our trips – from Barnard Castle to Seaton Carew (home to the infamous disappearing canoeist) and the Angel of the North to the surfers at Saltburn-by-Sea.
Also making an appearance will be Owen, the carrot-crunching old stager who occupied the field behind our cottage and spent his days eating grass, bewitching Rachel and ignoring the bunny rabbits hopping around his patch.
What was great – but surprising – was the lack of people.
It reached comical proportions when we stopped at one country hotel outside Barnard Castle – the Jersey Farm – and I went in to see if they were serving food. Despite wandering around for a good few minutes through reception, bar, restaurant, resident’s lounge and calling out, I saw no-one.
It was the Marie Celeste of County Durham hotels and I felt sufficiently spooked to jump straight back in the car and drive away as quickly as possible. I still don’t know where everyone had gone and I’m not sure I want to to find out.
Indeed, I spent most of the week wondering where everywhere else had gone.
Stunning countryside and coast, yet open roads, half-empty pubs and cafes and a feeling of space I haven’t felt in this country for quite some time.
Admittedly the weather wasn’t great, but reports suggest the UK’s usual suspects – the South-West, Lake District et al – were still seeing good numbers of visitors.
The places we did visit and eat in provided a fantastic level of service, surpassing the experience of those same usual suspects.
We certainly plan to return, next time heading north of Newcastle.
Our journey back included a night in Hebdon Bridge and a visit to the David Hockney galleries at Saltaire, on the outskirts of Bradford, followed by a meandering route through Dales and Peaks towards home. Once again, there was plenty to recommend in the north.
Maybe Policy Exchange had a point, but just got their soundbite-friendly conclusion slightly askew.
It isn’t that the people of the north should abandon their homes, it is more like the rest of us have abandoned their region.
Its time to hit the north.