It wasn’t quite a last minute deal, more 80th minute or 85th minute if you want to use a football analogy.
I had some Annual Leave to use up, so booked a three day block Monday to Wednesday on the last week of the month, and then try to find somewhere to go.
That’s the third year in a row now, I think this might officially be a tradition.
In 2020, it was with the intention of basing myself in Bray to head to Dublin and try to blag a ticket for a Euro 2020 Last 16 match.
As we all know, we were all in Lockdown by this point. My hotel cancelled on me, not that there was any football to go to anyway, I was tempted to just go to Bray anyway but the decision was made for me.
Fast forward a year, and i’ll try again.
This time, Dublin lost it’s hosting rights for Euro 2021.
No football, no problem, I can still go to try for a relaxing break by the sea.
Except, my vaccination jab was scheduled for this week (I got a second date when I booked my first whether I wanted it or not) and there was no way out.
So, I rescheduled my Bray trip to August and went to North Down Coastal Walk and Blackhead Path, making the most of the warm weather.
2022, third time lucky for a late June trip to Bray?
And Bray Wanderers were playing a home match on the Monday night as well.
Not for £600 for two nights in a hotel. I decided to give that one a miss.
It’s like i’m destined never to go to Bray for a few days in late June, especially if it involves going to a football match.
So I looked around for a cheap deal, and got flights to Newcastle for £60 and a hotel in Newcastle Quays for £120 for two nights at two weeks notice.
I’d been looking at this trip for a while so why not go for it?
I could use Newcastle as a base to check out York (one hour away) and maybe sneak a trip to Durham (fifteen minutes away) while I was there, depending how things went.
It had been a while since I was in Newcastle, a couple of decades let’s just say. All I remember from the trip is being driven past St James Park and visiting Metro Centre.
Not much lead-in time, but still a lot of excitement as I headed to Belfast International Airport for the relatively civilised departure time of 9.55am, which was full of Culchies, reminding me why I usually travel at 7 or 8am.
Newcastle Airport was straightforward to navigate, straight onto a Metro system which has you in the City Centre in just over twenty minutes.
My hotel was in Newcastle Quays, which I assumed would be close to the City Centre.
It was, ish, but not as close as I hoped it would be.
If I ever do visit Newcastle again, i’ll definitely look for somewhere closer to Central Station.
Despite the not ideal location, the hotel room had a bath.
When you live in a house that only has a shower, this feels like a luxury.
I wasn’t going to spend three days in the bath, Newcastle needed exploring, off I went into the City Centre, taking in Eldon Square.
The highlight for me, was Grainger Market. I absolutely loved it.
No matter where I turned, I seemed to stumble into some independent store I absolutely loved.
Stumbling into things seemed to be a bit of a theme.
I went walking and saw a sign for a shop called Back Page Football.
I’d seen this online and wanted to visit it.
I wasn’t looking for it but was happy to stumble upon it.
It is a football shop. Everything you want, shirts, books, DVDs, programmes, etc.
I found it a bit pricey, especially the programmes, so I left it, but it was nice to have a browse.
From there, I could see St James Park, so it was rude not to have a look.
There was a crowd of people there to welcome Sven Botman, who was rumoured to be signing for Newcastle.
He eventually signed on the Friday night. I hope they weren’t camping out for four days.
From there, it was back on the Metro to visit Jesmond Dene.
As a result of Lockdown I, i’ve gotten really into Hillwalks and Forest Walks.
Now, when I travel somewhere, I make an effort to go for such a stroll.
Making use of the internet, I settled on Jesmond Dene for my stroll.
Not really a hill, but a flat woodland area with some great views and photo opportunities, similar to Colinton.
It’s not the easiest place to find, very little signposting from Jesmond Metro Station, although I found my way back no problem.
One of those places where it becomes easier to find the more times you go.
When I did get there, it was worth it, taking in my surroundings.
There were quite a few doggies going for swims, some of whom splashed me when they were drying themselves.
By the time I arrived, it was teatime, so my visit was going to be timebound a I would need to get back to Jesmond Metro Station, have something to eat and get a bit of rest in my hotel room.
I had planned for twenty minutes out and then, obviously, twenty minutes back.
That escalated to thirty out and then thirty back. I was glad I did.
I did intend of sitting in my hotel room watching TV and not moving, but with it still bright and being right beside Gateshead Millennium Bridge, I decided to head out and hope to get some sunset photos of Tyneside.
The photos were not, I didn’t get the red skies I was hoping for though.
Tuesday was set aside for a day trip to York. It would have been rude not to as it was only an hour away, especially as I had never been to York before.
Newcastle and York having done Edinburgh and Glasgow the previous month, you probably think i’m trying to work my way along the East Coast Mainline.
Doncaster next then.
What did shock me was the price of the train, over £30 for two one hour journeys.
I was probably a bit naive not to book online. It’s a cultural thing. I’m so used to just walking up and purchasing a ticket.
The thing is, I didn’t want to commit to a timeslot. I might have wanted a lie-in on the Tuesday, or I might have fancied a bit of time in Newcastle City Centre before heading to York.
I’m just flabbergasted by over £30 for travelling the distance between Belfast and Ballymena.
Train travel in England is a totally different experience.
Once you see a Burger King on a platform, Great Victoria Street isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Compare the two main stations to any city in England and you start to feel embarrassed.
There are even pubs at train stations.
Some people wouldn’t make it to the platform for Coleraine away if they had that in Northern Ireland.
I headed straight to York Walls when I arrived in York.
To be honest, I found York Walls to be a bit underwhelming.
At least Derry’s Walls, you can see most of the city.
York’s offering was not as spectacular.
Having realised I would just be walking around in a circle, I decided to get off and take in the delights of York City Centre, starting with The Shambles.
As well as The Shambles, I also took in Bootham Bar and Goodramgate.
York as a city is very pricey. It feels like most shops you go into, are designed too get as many pennies as they could out of Tourists, of which there was a lot.
The place was rammed, which surprised me as it was a Tuesday.
Nothing big happens on a Tuesday, I thought it would be off-peak.
Nope, the city was rammed with busloads at both ends of the age scale, Pensioners on coach trips and Schoolkids on school trips.
I’m sure the Schoolkids will have enjoyed the Museum Of Chocolate. Yes, an actual thing.
Yorkie is named after the city, which is also the birthplace of Kitkat.
As a result, York refers to itself as The City Of Chocolate.
And now you’re dreaming of an actual City Of Chocolate, like Homer in that episode of The Simpsons when Springfield Power Plant gets sold to a German company.
Despite the pricey nature of a lot of the shops and attractions, I definitely would go back to York.
Tempted to make a weekend of it, use it as a base to explore North Yorkshire such as North York Moor and Dalby Forest, as well as doing some of the things I didn’t get a chance to do in York due to only having one day to visit, such as walking the canal and going on a boat trip along the canal. Or finish of walking along York Walls.
And, of course, a trip to a match at the LNER Stadium, if there was one on.
The problem is, York isn’t the easiest place to get to from Northern Ireland.
It doesn’t have an airport, so you have to fly somewhere else and then make your way to a train station from there.
Manchester Airport has a direct train service, but that is two hours away.
It looks like the best bet would be to fly to Newcastle, get the Metro into Newcastle City Centre and get a train from there.
I’m genuinely surprised there isn’t a direct bus service from Newcastle, Doncaster/Sheffield or Leeds/Bradford.
After a lovely day of weather, it got dull and dark when I arrived back in Newcastle, so there would be no trying to get sunset photos for a second successive night.
Wednesday would be my last day, so I decided to turn my double header into a triple header by heading to Durham.
It was only fifteen minutes away, so why not?
Although £8 for thirty minutes on a train seemed a bit excessive.
I got off the train and headed down the hill to the City Centre and had a choice, left or right.
Right won, and it led me up a street full of charity shops. Naturally I had a look.
I even scooped a bargain, a Radio 1 25th Anniversary mug for £3.
From there, I headed to Wharton Park, which was a nice walk, very green and serene.
I couldn’t help but think i’d made the wrong decision, so I headed back to see what would have awaited me if if I had taken the option to go left.
From there, I headed to Walkergate and Durham Market, a very enjoyable stroll.
If I was hoping things would be a bit quieter after York the day before, I picked a bad day as the city was packed due to graduation ceremonies.
I’d managed to wrap up Durham in a morning, which was handy as I headed back to Newcastle at lunchtime, so I could take in a final bit of the city before getting ready to head to Newcastle Airport.
I was toying with the idea of going to Gateshead International Stadium (it has a Metro Stop beside it) during my final hours on Tyneside.
It would have been rude not to visit a football ground that was easy to get to, but I didn’t have the time.
I was also tempted to visit Barnard Castle, but my eyesight was perfectly fine, so I didn’t need to.
So, it was time to head from, from Newcastle Airport, which is possibly the shittest airport i’ve ever been to.
An impressive achievement considering i’m a regular user of Manchester Airport.
Where do you start?
Lack of seats, lack of shops, vending machines that don’t give change.
It didn’t even have a Water Refill Station that I had become used to at LNER’s Hubs at Newcastle, York and Durham.
And to top it off, I got stung for £24 when boarding because the wheels on my suitcase were deemed to make it too big for cabin baggage.
Despite the fact it didn’t happen in Belfast, or indeed any other time i’ve brought the bag onto the plane.
To make things worse, it was the smallest bag on the carousel when I went to pick it up.
The delay caused by having to collect my baggage meant I narrowly missed a bus and had to wait over twenty minutes for the next one.
A bit of a shit end to an otherwise enjoyable trip.
I definitely do plan on taking in Newcastle and York again, more likely York.
St James Park Photo Album
Tyneside Sunsets Photo Album
York Walls Photo Album
Wharton Park Photo Album
Durham Photo Album