The children are back at school. My oldest finds herself in her final year of primary school – where on earth did that time go? And life is quickly settling back into the old routine again. But before the school holidays become too much of a distant memory, I thought I’d bring you a few highlights of our summer break up in the North East.
I’ve been chomping at the bit to take my family up there for several years now, keen to revisit lots of the places I so loved growing up there. But, to date, sunny, beach holidays have always won out – until this year, when I finally managed to get my way.
It’s a long drive from the South West to the North East but well worth the effort. I’d forgotten quite how beautiful the region is and how varied the countryside. From the craggy, purple-heather cloaked hillsides and lush green pine forests to the vast, serene, sandy beaches. Just breathtaking.
Our week in the North East started with a couple of days in County Durham, where I lived from the ages of about five to seven. I have extremely fond memories of visiting Beamish Open Air Museum when I was little. I was even on the local TV news there. I can’t remember what the occasion was but my class got to dress up in old fashioned clothes (I loved all those petticoats) and play with the toys of the era, like spinning tops and hoops. My first taste of fame and I loved it.
Beamish is incredible. It’s just like going back in time and finding yourself in a real life, rural, coal mining community, predominantly set in the Edwardian era.
We had a taste of wartime Britain, trying on gas masks, learning to knit for the troops and contributing to a special remembrance tapestry to be exhibited in the local church.
We experienced school life in Edwardian times and I relived my childhood experience there showing my girls how to run with a hoop. Jessie was horrified by the Edwardian style punishment doled out by the teacher.
We explored the turn-of-the century pit village, taking a look in the tiny miner’s cottages and were impressed with the mammoth leeks and cabbages in the back gardens. The kids were not so impressed by the thought of having to use an outdoor privy though. The smell of coal smoke permeating everything (as well as the outdoor loo – yes we still had an outdoor loo in the early 80s) took me right back to growing up in Quaking Houses, a coal mining village not so far away in South Moor.
We wandered around the colliery and, donning our hard hats, and ventured down the drift mine to get some sense of the harshness of life for miners in the 1900s. I’m not normally claustrophobic but it was a real relief to see the light of day again.
And we ended our day in the 1900s town, crammed with such amazing period detail and even genuine houses and shops relocated from other parts of the region, such as the Co-op Store from Annfield Plain and homes from Ravensworth Terrace, which originally stood in Gateshead. I clearly remember being terrified as a child by my visit to the dentist’s house at Beamish and I felt exactly the same returning as an adult, particularly hearing the gory tales and shocking facts such as one-in-five people back then would have died as a result of their dentistry treatment.
By the time we got to The Sun Inn, a real traditional pub moved here from Bishop Auckland, we were all completely exhausted. Boy, did that taste of creamy Beamish Hall ale hit the spot! There’s an awful lot to see at Beamish in just one day, and we didn’t manage to pack everything in. However your ticket does allow you as many visits as you like for 12 months. If we lived closer, we’d be back again and again.
Beamish has grown massively since I was last there over 30 years ago as a child, but it hasn’t been spoiled by this growth, and all the magical qualities I first fell in love with it for are still there. I’d say it’s a definitely must-visit if you live or are visiting the north of England.
Find out more at www.beamish.org.uk.