Out There: Not just any old port in a storm

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OUR friends in the North East of England are lucky people indeed.

The coastline which reaches all the way from the Scottish Borders and down past Newcastle has a savage beauty all of its own.

For a change of scene last weekend my husband Mark drove us all the way to South Shields where the majestic River Tyne flows into the North Sea.

South Shields has six miles of coastline and three miles of river frontage, dominated by the massive piers at the mouth of the Tyne. I’m informed that these are best viewed from the Lawe Top, which also houses two replicas of cannon captured from the Russians during the Crimean War (the originals having been melted during World War II).

We parked near some trendy beach-front bars and made our way along the beautifully landscaped promenade to the Port of Tyne. An enormous barge was being towed out to sea (see above) so we stopped to take some photographs.

I got chatting to a man standing near me who said he’d worked on the barge for several months. He said the barge was being towed back to Norway and that it had cost £90,000 a day to operate. Used for erecting wind turbines at sea, he said the vessel was extremely unstable in stormy weather.

Several of his former colleagues were standing on the barge and waving as it was towed out of the harbour. I felt a pang of fear for them as they disappeared out of sight.

The town of South Shields slopes gently from the Cleadon Hills down to the river. The Cleadon Hills are made conspicuous by the Victorian water pumping station (opened in 1860 to improve sanitation) and a now derelict windmill which can be seen from many miles away and also out at sea. I’d expected the area to be very industrialised but it was rather beautiful and untainted by over-development.

The town has extensive beaches including sand dunes as well as dramatic Magnesian Limestone cliffs with grassy areas above known as The Leas, which cover three miles of this coastline and are protected by the National Trust. Marsden Bay, with its famous Marsden Rock, is home to one of the largest seabird colonies in Britain.

We ended the day with a delicious meal at the cool and friendly Sand Dancer pub. I can highly recommend it for its hip atmosphere and views of the golden sandy beach.