For most of the last year, our worlds have become smaller as we’ve stayed in own homes, venturing out only for our state-sanctioned daily exercise.
However necessary, the various local and national lockdowns of the last year have narrowed all of our horizons and left most of us thoroughly tired of walking the same streets.
But with the vaccination programme speeding ahead and most lockdowns beginning to lift, now could be the time for us all to re-discover the North East.
For all the frustrations of the last year, lockdown has also helped many of us to forge a closer relationship with our immediate neighbourhoods. Without our daily commute to city centres, many people are noticing their own streets more closely than ever before.
As part of our ongoing Passionate People, Passionate Places campaign – and while making sure we maintain all the social distancing measures needed to keep the virus under control – we have compiled 50 ways that we can all re-connect with our great region.
1. The North East has some of the best beaches in the country. Getting back to the coast, perhaps even dipping a toe or two into the North Sea is just what we need.
2. The region also has some of the UK’s finest countryside, and there are hundreds of square miles to be explored in the Northumberland National Park – last year voted National Park of the Year and home of the Northumberland Dark Skies Forest.
3. We also have two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty at the North Pennines (also a Unesco Global Geopark) and the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
4. Other areas of wonderful countryside in our region are also waiting to be explored, including the Cleveland Hills and the Durham Dales.
5. If it’s views you’re after – or a bit of a climb – getting to the top of Roseberry Topping or Cheviot is never a bad thing.
6. High Force, in County Durham, is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the UK. Less well known is Hareshaw Linn, at Bellingham, Northumberland, but it is equally well worth seeking out.
7. The North East contains some of the best walks in the UK, with four designated National Trails. It takes some stamina (and probably a country free from lockdowns) to tackle the 268-mile Pennine Way but some of its finest stretches can be found in Northumberland and Durham.
8. The Hadrian’s Wall path from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway sparks reminders of the time when this region was the end of the Roman Empire, with its middle section having the best preserved stretches of the Wall as well as the endlessly photographed Sycamore Gap.
9. (2022 marks the 1,900th anniversary of construction starting on Hadrian’s Wall and plans have been announced for a festival to celebrate the occasion).
10. The Cleveland Way offers spectacular views of Teesside and the North Yorks Moors, as well as some of the most dramatic coastline in England.
11. The region’s newest National Trail is the England Coast Path and a new section from Amble to Bamburgh will open soon to add to earlier sections on the route through Northumberland.
12. But you don’t have to go out of town to get close to the natural environment. The Go Jauntly app allows people to find the nature on your doorstep, even if you live in a town or city.
13. Parks like Jesmond Dene, Mowbray Park and Darlington’s South Park offer hundreds of acres of beautiful landscapes to be enjoyed in our urban areas.
14. …and many people are eagerly awaiting the re-opening of city farms at Ouseburn and Newham Grange.
15. You don’t have to be a fanatical birdwatcher to enjoy the birdlife of the North East, from the curlews of the Northumberland National Park to puffins on the Farne Islands, kittiwakes on the Tyne and the little tern at Crimdon Dene.
16. Nature reserves abound in our communities like Big Waters, Saltholme, Rainton Meadows or Castle Eden Dene.
17. Walking doesn’t have to be a rural pursuit. The Black Path from Middlesbrough to Redcar offers an insight into the area’s industrial heritage (and the landscape that inspired Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner). The riversides of Newcastle and Gateshead and the Durham peninsula offer spectacular walks that take in magnificent architecture, centuries of history and probably the odd rower.
18. Kielder Forest, Hamsterley Forest and Great Ayton offer great cycling routes for people of all abilities.
19 …and there are few better places to surf in the UK than Tynemouth and Saltburn.
20. Reminders of our heritage are all around us, not least in the castles, churches and historic buildings that count among some of the best in the region. As well as Durham Cathedral or Hexham Abbey, church lovers could also check out Lindisfarne Priory, Sunderland Minster or St Paul’s Monastery at Jarrow.
21. Most of us will know the wonders of Bamburgh and Raby castles but there are dozens of lesser known castles and historic buildings waiting to be discovered in the North East, such as Dilston and Brancepeth.
22. National Trust sites such as Cragside and Wallington offer a glimpse into our recent past, but the North East’s historic buildings don’t end there. The railways brought magnificent structures such as the Royal Border Bridge and the Hownsgill Viaduct, and there also lesser known gems like the Hermitage at Warkworth.
23. The Angel of the North is probably the best known public art in the UK, and draws thousands of visitors every year to ‘do the Angel’. But there are many other great pieces of art around the region, including the Apollo Pavillion, Temenos and Northumberlandia.
24. Public art of a different kind has been springing up over the last year with murals being painted on offices, industrial units and houses. A number of examples can be found around the North East.
25. After a year in which almost all of our big setpiece events were cancelled, 2021 offers the possibilities of people coming together again. The Durham Miners’ Gala has, unfortunately, been postponed again, but the Hoppings funfair in Newcastle will take place in a new time slot in August.
26. Fingers are crossed too for the return of the Lumiere festival to Durham in November. The UK’s largest light festival has drawn huge crowds to the city every two years since 2009 and transforms the city into a magical place in the depths of winter.
27. Antony Gormley’s place in North East culture was cemented by the Angel of the North but his earlier Field for the British Isles work – featuring thousands of tiny clay sculptures – will be returning to the region with a show at Sunderland’s Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art.
28. Art of a much earlier period will also be returning to the North East next year when the Lindisfarne Gospels are shown at Newcastle’s Laing Art Gallery.
29. Fingers are crossed for the return of summer concerts, including the Live From Times Square events in Newcastle in August and Tom Jones at Darlington Arena. Venues like the Sage Gateshead, Middlesbrough Town Hall, Newcastle’s City Hall and the Gala Theatre at Durham are advertising live gigs which would see audiences return within months.
30. After a year of cancellations, panto is returning to venues including the Theatre Royal in Newcastle and the Sunderland Empire – oh yes it is (hopefully).
31. The region’s newest venue – the Globe in Stockton – has opened, and though over budget and much-delayed, it is a stunning restoration of a much-loved building.
32. Museums and other cultural venues are re-opening around the region with rich pickings both in their established collections and special exhibitions for this summer.
33. Anyone missing the North East’s trademark humour could do worse than checking out Harry Pearson’s books on the region’s football scene, the Far Corner and its sequel The Farther Corner. The latter contains a joke on page 17 that is alone worthy of Nobel Prize…
34. …other great books that can take us back into North East life while we are in lockdown include Apples by Teesside novellist Richard Milward or Dan Jackson’s The Northumbrians.
35. Getting out with friends and family is central to life in the region and our region’s hospitality sector has been hard hit by the pandemic. Now that it is safe to do so, our pubs, restaurants, cafes and nightclub need us to use them…
36…among them could be the region’s newest Michelin-starred restaurant Hjem. The Northumberland restaurant has been described as “the sort of restaurant that makes me remember why I love this job” by Sunday Times restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin.
37. Newcastle’s House of Tides has also retained its Michelin star while the Raby Hunt near Darlington now has two Michelin stars.
38. There are plenty of other great places to eat around the region, with the Michelin Guide also praising The Restaurant, Cook House, The Patricia, Bistro 46, 21, Broad Chare, Route, Trakol, Haveli, Staith House, the Feathers Inn, Finbarrs, the Rat Inn, Muse, the Bay Horse, The Orangery, Chadwick’s Inn, Judge’s Country House, the Potted Lobster, and Number 20.
39. Many of our favourite restaurants are still offering takeaways to both keep business going and remind us of the great food they offer…
40. Beer gardens are back, and you won’t get a better view than the one you get sat outside the Free Trade Inn.
41. The summer should also give us a chance to sample some of the ice creams on offer at the many great ice cream parlours around the region…
42. …and after a tough 12 months of various local and national lockdowns, the region’s many great independent stores have never needed our support as much.
43. The North East’s football teams haven’t exactly been reliable sources of joy in recent years, but last week saw crowds back inside St James’ Park and the Stadium of Light, while the region’s other stadia should open in some form at least for the new season.
44. Tickets have gone on sale for Durham Cricket Club’s 2021 season and international cricket will return to Chester-le-Street when England take on Sri Lanka in a one-day international at the end of June…
45. …teams like the Newcastle Falcons and the Eagles basketball team are also welcoming back fans…
46 …and racing has returned for some key meetings around the region this summer.
47. Participation sport has been among the first things to return, starting with hundreds of youth football teams around the region.
48. The popular Parkrun series is aiming to return in June. Before lockdown the event had runs at Alnwick, Druridge Bay, Morpeth, Newbiggin, Blyth, Whitley Bay, Hexham, Prudhoe, Rising Sun, Newcastle, South Shields, Gibside, Blackhill, Chester-le-Street, Sunderland, Durham, Horden, Spennymoor, Hartlepool, Sedgefield, Shildon, Darlington, Redcar, Middlesbrough – a number have already confirmed their return.
49. Hopes are high that the Great North Run will return later this year in some form. Last year’s event would have been its 40th and its return would put the North East back on the public stage, give people the chance to experience the singular thrill of crossing the South Shields finish line and boost hundreds of charities that benefit from runners’ fundraising.
50. Charities in the region have arguably suffered more than any other organisation during the pandemic, many of them seeing rising demands for their service while the ability to fundraise has disappeared. Charity shops are full of the items people have discarded during lockdown clear-outs and fundraising activities are returning for us to support.