Monday, 5 July 2010

Castles, Kippers, Angels and Boots

So I find myself once more travelling North, this time in the company of my friends Mitch and Ian from Three S Films.
We are heading to the North East to film the third in our series ‘A Brush with the Landscape’, and we are all excited.
Mitch is testing me on my historical Northumbrian knowledge while Ian chatters about his beloved mountain bike and scrutinises the road map.
I ignore the backseat road map directions and instead follow the SatNav… recalculating, recalculating, recalculating…
After nine hours of driving we stop to film the opening sequence at the Angel of the North. Beautiful in design and at twenty metres tall and fifty four metres in span, majestic in size. The Angel courted controversy in 1998 when the sculpture was clothed in a Newcastle United football shirt bearing the name of Newcastles football legend Alan Shearer.
After half an hour Police arrived and undressed the Angel.
Still loved and loathed in equal measure the Angel has been voted Britains favourite sculpture and re-named locally The Gateshead Flasher.
Either way, Antony Gormleys masterpiece makes a strikingly iconic welcome to the North East.
This is an area that I am getting to know well, I love the bridges and streets of Newcastle and I have a growing and deep fondness for the wilds of Norhumberland, the huge, spotless beaches, the countless dramatic castles, the windswept coast roads and most of all a fondness for the people.
While at the Angel, children congregate around, fascinated by what we are filming, “We’re filming the opening sequence for the new James Bond film”, I tell them, “I’m taking over from Daniel Craig”, I add; the children scurry off to tell their mums.
A couple of hours further up the coast we finally arrive, tired but buoyant at Seahouses and our chosen pub for the trip The Olde Ship, and what a fantastic choice. The pub is a veritable treasure trove of nauticalia, artefacts from every age of marine history. There are lanterns, models, brass instruments, floats, pots, name plaques, paintings, and ephemera of all kinds propped, hung, squeezed and squashed into every available space.
For a Newlyn boy this is heaven.
We eat well and sample a few pints of the local beers deciding on which will become THE beer of the trip, unanimously we decide on the Farne Ale.

Over breakfast the next day we hatch our daily plan of action and decide that our first filming location should be Beadnell. This tiny village a couple of miles south of Seahouses on the shores of Beadnell Bay gazes south over a two mile long, blue flag beach to the skeletal remains of Dunstanburgh castle.
The cute harbour has an entrance so tiny that only the handful of local Cobles can gain access.
I make a large charcoal drawing of the boats, lobster pots and the massive lime kilns that crown the quayside and consider just how peaceful a place this is.
While chatting to the Parish Council Chairman I discover that over half of the village is now in the ownership of holiday home occupants, and that this is putting tremendous pressure on youngsters from the area.
I am then introduced to the last working fisherman in Beadnell who tells me that he is netting for trout, ‘The problem is though, if I catch any Salmon, I’m not allowed to land it before June, so I am forced to throw them back, dead or alive, now where is the sense in that?”
Before leaving I meet a retired fisherman, he is 85 but looks twice that, with the weather worn, brown, crinkled face that holds a lifetime of experience and memories. Born and brought up in the village, he had seen at close hand the many changes over the years.
“Aye, the beach was once full of Cobles, there were boots as far as y’can see man, boot it all started to goo wrong, and I’ll tell you who was responsible”, he whispered confidentially, “It was that Mrs Thatcher, she was responsible for the loss of the boots”.

Pondering the situation that is repeated all over the English coast we drive the quiet, windswept, sandy coast road, with huge marram covered dunes on our left and fields of intense lemon yellow rape to our right, searching for an access point to the beach below Dunstanburgh castle.
Now Dunstaburgh, although Northumberland’s largest castle, is the only uninhabited, ruined castle and that just makes it even more romantic.
I choose a viewpoint high on a dune above the beach, trying to avoid any stray balls from the adjacent golf course. I paint the stunning view as a small watercolour and recount to the camera the story of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who after rebelling against his Uncle James, King of England was beheaded.
The twist to the story is that King James being particularly annoyed with his nephew hired a YTS executioner on work experience who after the first chop found that he needed to chop again, and again, and again, in fact eleven times in all.
But never let gorey stories put you off your food!
When on the Northumberland coast, however far you need to travel, you must, must make a pilgrimage to the small, scruffy harbour of Craster to sample the kippers.
I queued at a stall for my Kipper in a roll behind a Geordie coach driver who told me where (and where not) to go in Newcastle “Ayeman, the girls down the Bigg Market are right up for it and forward too, they just wanna take you home, and then in the morning kick y’ out – it’s everymans dream man!

I munched on my smokey, fishy delight while watching gulls wheeling and screeching overhead.

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