The world may be going to hell in a hand basket but a journey through parts of England in July served as a timely reminder that this is still a green and pleasant land.
Landing in the early morning at Heathrow afforded us an opportunity to do some essential housekeeping in Central London based on the splendid Coach & Horses Inn on Kew Green.
An excellent brunch in the bar set us up for the day. This is a welcoming, character-ful hotel with staff to match. The breakfast buffet would grace any of the best London hotels.
Then we set off up the A1 through the Midlands to Yorkshire, God’s county.
We left the A1 after 70 miles worth of roadworks and struck inland from Richmond to the village of Aysgarth and the warm welcome of the gloriously situated and elegantly furnished Stow House B&B.
The views of the bay from the bedroom window were simply stunning as the soft green velvet of the rolling Yorkshire moors filled the landscape.
Breakfast gave a choice of a “full English” with locally made sausages but it was the wide bowl of soft summer berries from which to help oneself that impressed me most.
Then on to Tyne Mouth. When people learned that we were going to spend a week in Newcastle their immediate response was “why?”
The primary purpose was to attend the Mouth of the Tyne Jazz Festival. Centering ourselves on Tynemouth’s splendid Grand Hotel which provides delicious locally cured kippers and haddock, we visited pubs and clubs featuring the Dixieland jazz bands of Brian Bennett’s “Vieux Carré” and the “CCC” of John Hallams performing at lunch time and evening sessions.
Another insightful delight was a riverboat trip on the ferry from the mouth of the Tyne to Newcastle and back with “CCC” rivalling the Showboat of Captain Andy.
The festival culminated in a series of jazz bands playing one-and-a-half-hour stints from a temporary stage erected on the Tynemouth headland.
Families gathered on the grass and the audience comprised all age ranges. The applause and expressions of delight, including those from children enthralled at the live performances, prove just how popular are these accomplished musicians and this style of music.
One night we were privileged to listen to an evening of outstanding jazz at the Black Bear Pub at Bladon, immortalized by the eponymous ”Bladon Races”.
Steve Andrews, Roly Veitch, Jim McBriarty and Roy Cansdale were joined by Colin Aitcheson, Franco Valussi (both featured musicians at Hong Kong’s Ned Kelly’s) and Red Pellini for the quality of performance that Ronnie Scott’s would die for.
One of the most noticeable features of this part of England is the genuine warmth of the Geordies. Where else do total strangers wish you a smiling “Good morning” when they pass you in the street?
Before my first visit to Newcastle, I imagined a depressed wasteland peopled by distressed families whose livelihoods had vanished with the closure of the coal mines and shipyards. I could not have been more wrong.
The city’s Victorian buildings and its superb railway station give it a classic image but the striking modern architecture and structures like the Millenium Bridge are the outward signs of a thriving community.
Tynemouth’s seafront esplanade is dominated by a graceful curved Nash style terrace of houses and the Grand Hotel itself was once the home of the Duke of Northumberland.
Both sunsets and dawns were stunning.
Newcastle University has the reputation of being the “party uni” of England.
Andy Murray won Wimbledon, Chris Froome won the Tour de France again, Lewis Hamilton won the German Grand Prix and the West End’s stage version of Harry Potter was a theatrical tour de force.
One has but to look to find evidence that stories of England being all washed up are mythical.
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