Tuesday, 3 July 2012

A Little Piece Of The Caucasus In Tynemouth

What is Tynemouth best feature?

A lovely beach - Longsands Beach, where nutters or enthusiasts, depending on which side of the fence you stand, brave all weathers in search of some of the best surfing waters in the UK? Great views? The mouth of the River Tyne?  The historic Priory and Castle? Admiral Lord Collingwood's monument? The Black Middens - the half hidden rocks in the Tyne which claimed many lives from shipwrecks in stormy weather?

Or maybe it is the Grand Hotel, once a summer residence of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, with it's tunnel to the outdoor bathing pool so that guests could have private use of the pool at nightime? Or the derelict open-air pool itself, where the council have tried to make it look slightly less derelict by dumping a load of rocks in it? The King's School? The visit of Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1854?

Or the number of old pubs, including the Turk's Head, with the stuffed dog above the bar? The sad tale of Wondering Willie, a sheepdog who became separated from his master in 1873, remained on one spot on the quayside hoping he would come back for seven years, before dying and being stuffed by the brewers who owned the pub.

Possibly the best is Tynemouth Station. The magnificent glass and wrought iron structure, designed by architect William Bell and opened in 1882 had been threatened with closure and/or partial demolition for many years and was placed on the English Heritage 'at risk' register in 2007. But recently there has been an about u-turn and yesterday saw the re-opening of the station following a £3.6 million restoration and re-development plan.

It is spectacular.Not even the gawdy yellow of the Metro livery and signs could detract from the magnificance of the building. Princess Anne did the station proud. Thousands came to the event. There was plenty to show off, not just the architecture. The accoustics were excellent and given a good testing by the local brass band. The local schools came out in force.

But the very best was the sight I saw on the way to the opening. It was a sign that an important visitor was soon to come. It was three workmen in high visibility clothing, hurriedly sloshing grey paint onto the bridge close to the station. They were working hard. The Royal entourage could not be far away.

It is funny how you notice these things. I have a trip to Gerogia to thank for that. My honeymoon, in fact, all those years ago. As we were being driven along one of Georgia's few main highways, all traffic was pushed onto the verge by the Police. As we waited, a team of road menders rushed through filling the potholes. Shortly afterwards a convoy of bulletproofed, blackened windowed limousines containing the then President, Eduard Shevardznadze swept past before the steam from the hot tar had dissipated.

'Oh yes, for sure, every Georgian wants the President to visit their village,' said our driver. 'It is the only time our roads get fixed.'

I wonder if the inhabitants of Tynemouth were willing Princess Anne to come back soon?

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