Written by Kaylyn Lu
I’ve been meaning to explore more of England (and Europe) while I’m here, and yet, I’ve hardly left Durham in the last 5 months. And when I say hardly left, what I really mean is that — apart from a few days in London — I haven’t left at all.
So, when I saw the email from St John’s about a free trip to the seaside, I leapt at the opportunity. Even the word, ‘seaside,’ felt incredibly English to me. It wasn’t a ‘beach day,’ as one might term a day at the Jersey shore, but a ‘day at the seaside.’ How perfectly marvellous.
My friends and I all signed up for the trip, and I marked the date, March 5, on my calendar; I could hardly wait.
On the morning of the trip, we walked down to the Students’ Union, where we were told we’d be departing from. We boarded the coach a few minutes before 9:30 AM, and soon enough, we were off.
I gazed out the window as we drove through the English countryside. It felt vaguely reminiscent of my arrival in Durham — I (once again) marveled at the sheep, much to my friends’ entertainment.
I got my first glimpse of the sea about 40 minutes later. As an American, stepping off the coach from the left side was mildly unsettling (that’s where the driver’s meant to sit!). I took a deep breath; the air was noticeably less salty than any of the beaches I’d been to in the states.
Still, stepping onto the sand was a pleasant sensation — the sound of waves crashing, the smell of salt (however subtle). Instead of flip flops, I opted for my sturdiest boots. It proved to be a good decision.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I run an amateur photography Instagram account alongside this newsletter. As you might imagine, I tend to take a fair amount of pictures, especially on an outing like this.
Luckily, I wasn’t alone that day — my friend Samara brought her film camera (a proper, 35mm SLR one), so I didn’t feel too bad when I stopped to take a picture every 5 seconds. At least I wasn’t the only one.
There were quite a few things to see in Tynemouth. In fact, for a beach day, a sizable portion of the day was actually spent off the beach.
I suppose a recurring theme, when it comes to the UK, is that it really does have a surplus of culture. Even a small, unsuspecting seaside town like Tynemouth boasts a 2,000-year history. And to think, my family and I marvel at the (merely) 300-year-old ‘historical’ sights each time we visit Boston.
Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors and a former Chancellor of Durham University, expressed a similar sentiment.
“It sometimes occurs to me that the British have more heritage than is good for them. In a country where there is so astonishingly much of everything, it is easy to look on it as a kind of inexhaustible resource.”― Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island
From the beach, Veronica, Luke (a fellow American), and I chose to navigate the rocks to make our way toward the lighthouse. Edie and Samara, quite sensibly, chose to walk the path instead. We agreed to meet near the castle.
After a perilous 30 minutes (coastal rocks, as it turns out, can be rather slippery), we made it. We visited Tynemouth Castle and Priory, saw the lighthouse, and explored the town.
We got extraordinarily lucky with the weather, I have to say; a gusty, overcast morning soon turned into a beautiful blue (albeit still windy) afternoon. Speaking of afternoon, it was nearly half twelve — time to start thinking about lunch.
Lunch at the pub
After evaluating our options (i.e. walking up and down Front Street), we chose The Priory, a local pub. Somehow, I had never been to a pub until that day; the experience was every bit as charming as I’d envisioned.
Pubs have a pleasant, low-key sort of ambience — locals (some accompanied by their dogs) sit around dimly-lit tables, their background chatter contributing to the warm, convivial atmosphere. A handful of TVs cycle through an assortment of quintessentially British (and largely alcohol-related) jokes, as well as an occasional advert for the weekly pub quiz.
I ordered the scampi and chips, which proved to be delicious. We stayed at the pub for longer than intended; I suspect the bitter cold wind outside played a role.
Pictures can be misleading — in reality, there was nothing I wanted more than a pair of gloves and a cup of hot chocolate (the latter wish was soon granted).
The rest of the afternoon
By the time we left the pub, it was past two o’clock — the coach would depart at 3:30 PM. We (slowly) made our way back to the beach, our progress hindered by the fact that the lighting had improved. This, of course, meant that Samara and I had to stop and take more pictures.
The sea was freezing cold, but that didn’t stop Veronica from rolling up her trousers and going for a paddle. The rest of us watched, inwardly (and outwardly) shivering.
We managed to find a hot chocolate stand, and I thrilled at the prospect of a hot beverage. They also sold ice cream, but it didn’t seem to be a popular choice that day — I can’t imagine why.
We consumed the drinks as we made our way back to the coach; I, of course, managed to burn my tongue on the first sip.
On the way back to Durham, I used the remainder of my phone battery sorting through pictures from throughout the day; I’d somehow managed to collect over 600 of them.
All in all, I had a lovely time at Tynemouth. Now that I know how easy it is to travel within the northeast, even just for a day trip, I’ve decided to make an effort to do it more often. With any luck, I’ll be able to write to you about similar adventures soon.
This post was originally published on Knovel on 16 March 2022