Mr Bell On The North East Coast


Recently I took a trip up to the north east of England to visit family, they live on the coast in a place called Whitley Bay, an old seaside town that these days has quite honestly passed its best. I was born and brought up there and I have many happy memories from my childhood. Although Whitley Bay itself may not be that great anymore it still has a beautiful coastline and hopefully in this post I’ll show you that.

The weather was very kind to me the few days I was there and although it was cold the sun was shining which made it a great time to get out and about.

The headland overlooking St Mary’s Island and its lighthouse is known as Curry’s Point, it’s been called that since 1739 when Michael Curry murdered the landlord of the Three Horse Shoes Inn at Hartley, a village to the north of Whitley Bay. He was executed at the Westgate in Newcastle Upon Tyne and his body was later hung from a gibbet on the headland as a warning to others. Across the causeway which is revealed at low tide is St Mary’s Island. First lit in 1898, the lighthouse is now a visitor centre.

One of my favourite places in Whitley Bay is the old fashioned Rendezvous Cafe on the promenade, it’s been there as long as I can remember and hasn’t changed since I was a kid. It’s a family run place and still has a real 50’s / 60’s look to it, with its large arched windows it’s a great place to stop for a coffee and sit for a while admiring views of the beach.

Above the promenade is a large area of open space known as the Links. This popular recreation area was, during the 19th century strewn with colliery heaps and ironstone workings which had become overgrown with gorse. It was Whitley Bay Golf Club who cleared the site and made it what we see today.

The Cenotaph sits at the southern end of the Links and is the site of the towns Remembrance Day services. Standing just across the road is the large unmistakable dome of the former Empress Ballroom. The Grade II listed building, which is in a rather sorry state, formed the centrepiece of the Spanish City fairground. I used to spend many hours here at weekends with my friends going on rides like the waltzer, twister and the octopus, such fun times. The fairground is sadly no longer there and the area is currently under redevelopment.

On the promenade opposite is a newish art installation called the “Sandcastles”. These metal sandcastles double as a seating area from where you can get shelter and enjoy the views.

I’m now on the main promenade in Whitley Bay and below is the lower central promenade which was built in 1924. The Rex Hotel sits proudly on the corner of South Parade and was once the towns largest hotel, sadly now closed. This area is the heart of Whitley Bay’s fading nightclub hub. The Esplanade provides a direct link between the towns railway station and the seafront and it was from this point that proposals were put forward to build a pier in 1908 but the scheme never got off the ground.

The Rockcliffe area of the town is where the first promenade was built in 1893. At its southern end is the old Table Rocks tidal swimming pool which was created from a natural inlet in the rock formations. The pool was formally developed in 1894 and extended further in 1896. It’s now no longer in use but can still be seen at low tide.

Brown’s Bay is just around the corner and was the scene of many shipwrecks. At the end of the headland is the site of the former Cullercoats Radio Station known as Marconi Point, it’s now a private house.

Cullercoats is a small fishing village and while it was never really a tourist destination it gained fame in the late 18th century as an artists colony. It attracted home grown artists such as Jobling, Emmerson, Birkett Foster and Horton. In 1881, Winslow Homer arrived from America, one of the leading water colourists of his generation he stayed in Cullercoats for 20 months and produced nearly 150 watercolours during that period.

The oldest house in Cullercoats is Cliff House built in 1768 while nearby is the pretty Watch House a local landmark since 1879. It was once the lookout post for the Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade.

The Life Boat is now housed in a building on the beach of Cullercoats Bay. The small but pretty bay is enclosed by its two small piers and is a favourite spot during the warmer summer weather for families with young children.

Tynemouth Longsands in my opinion is the best beach in the area. It’s now one of the country’s leading surfing destinations but if that’s not your thing it’s a beautiful beach to just walk along with coffee shops at either end where you can stop and take a break.

Towering over the beach at the northern end is St George’s Church, built in 1884 by the 6th Duke of Northumberland in memory of his father, George Algernon Percy.

Tynemouth Park which was first laid out in 1893 sits on the seafront overlooking the beach. It’s another place that brings back a lot of memories for me. I used to go there with my grandad and fish and watch all the model boats being sailed on the lake.

At the most southerly end of the Longsands on the promenade, stands the stylish Grand Hotel. It was built in 1872 as a summer residence for the Duke of Northumberland but was converted into a hotel some 5 years later.

King Edward’s Bay sits at the bottom of some high cliffs but if you can manage the walk down – and back up – there’s a great little restaurant there called Riley’s Fish Shack.

Dominating the landscape is the impressive Tynemouth Castle and the ruins of the 7th century Priory. Built by the monks of Holy Island and sacked by the Danes the Priory is the burial place of three kings, Oswin, King of Deira, Osred, King of Northumbria and Malcolm III King of Scotland.

Tynemouth Village is a lovely place to explore with its pretty high street filled with quaint shops, bars, restaurants and coffee shops and its fine buildings.

At the bottom of the bank leading down to the sea from Tynemouth Village is the tiny cove of Prior’s Haven with the dominant Tynemouth Pier to its left side.

Overlooking all of this and the mouth of the River Tyne is the huge statue of Admiral Lord Collingwood, Nelson’s second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar. The Portland Stone statue stands on a John Dobson designed sandstone pedestal and was installed in 1845. There are some impressive views from the pedestal.

The promenade below the statue heads upstream passing the notorious Black Middens rocks, a major hazard to ships entering and leaving the Tyne.

The promenade ends at a small crescent of sandy beach before becoming the Fish Quay at North Shields.

The Fish Quay is an area that is steeped in history, today it still operates as a “fish quay” and you can still buy fresh fish and seafood as it arrives off the fishing boats. There are also several restaurants on the quay as well as some places where you can get excellent fish and chips and that’s where I’m going right now.

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