Saturday, 31 December 2016

Lovely things to do #7: Take a wintery wander along Whitburn Cliffs

The intermission between Christmas and the New Year has been characterised by some first-rate climatic conditions; it's been as mild as supermarket cheddar, and even when it's been a bit chilly it's been as bright as an annoyingly precocious child. We've tried to make the most of it by squeezing in a couple of #lovelythingstodo, including the trip to the coast I will henceforth relate. Our normal brine-tinged haunts include Tynemouth, South Shields and the Northumberland coast up around Amble and Alnmouth. Where could we go for a change? I know: Sunderland!

I must confess to being one of life's Sunderland non-appreciators. This is mostly due to football-based bigotry, but also due to a healthy dose of objective recognition that, considering how many people live there, it's just a bit rubbish. The "city" centre feels ridiculously low-rise, as if nobody has explained to them how to build anything more than three storeys tall, or as if they don't want to get too close to the sun in case their wings melt or something. But, in this season of good will, positivity and renewal, I'm here to say nice things about Sunderland. Or, at least Whitburn, which is close enough to Sunderland for the compliments I'm about to pay it to bleed into Mackemland too, by a sort of positivity-based osmosis.

I should like to start by commending the pricing strategy of Whitburn Bents car park. With a plethora of spaces available at 1p per minute, or £1 for all day (I shit thee not) there's really very little, if indeed any incentive to park illegally. We got out the car and started walking north. At about 11am the sun hung languidly to the south, casting a rather lovely light over the sea and cliffs.

After a bit we got to a section of the cliff path that had been half-heartedly cordoned off due to some non-specified peril. We checked with a bloke who was out walking his dogs who said he'd lived there for twenty years and had no idea what the problem was. Neither, apparently, did any of the numerous mountain bikers or ramblers we encountered once we'd climbed through the fence into the danger zone. I should probably seek to indemnify myself against any future litigiousness by recommending that you yourself stay well away from this area. In fact, I definitely will, right now: Stay well away from this area!

If, out of some mad devil-may-care attitude you did press on, you might come across some interesting bird life, including Lapwings, Redshank and Golden Plover. There were great flocks of the latter, which alighted and then landed again in the fields next to the path as we walked along, which was a bit of a treat. They're bonny little things, which you can't quite tell from this picture. I'll maybe get a posh zoomy camera one of these days.

Plover lover
Coastal fauna
We turned back on ourselves a little way short of Souter lighthouse at a bunker/viewpoint thing at which I took the opportunity to scour the horizon for yet more wildlife/ dorty jormans. There was none of the latter, thanks goodness. We've walked from South Shields to Souter Lighthouse before, which is also nice, although runs closer to a busy road than doing it this way around.

Coast clear
On the way back, as we staggered towards the dirty great ball of burning gas that will one day consume our descendents, assuming they haven't already consigned themselves to the history books (metaphorical history books of course, being as there'd be no-one around to write them) by kicking the shit out of the planet a bit too hard, it looked a bit like someone had just dropped an A-Bomb on Sunderland and that the Stadium of Light had a new and grim reason for being so named. I swiftly banished any thoughts that this might actually be a good idea, reasoning that the fallout would seriously and deleteriously impact the health of our home-grown veg, not to mention the fact that there wouldn't any longer be a football team in the region for me to thank my lucky stars I don't support.

Before jumping into the car and heading back to the correct side of the Tyne we paid our first ever trip to Latimers Seafood Deli and Cafe, which I've been meaning to do for years. They've got a cracking range of fresh, frozen and cooked fish and come heartily recommended.

All the fishes
We picked up some very pretty red mullet which I later turned into fried red mullet on pistachio risotto. Sounds a bit mad, but it works pretty well. Anyway, it's a Tom Aikens recipe. Are you saying Tom Aikens doesn't know what he's on about? Well, you're a braver soul than me. Say that to his face, I dare you!

Thou shalt have a fishy
These words are the last I'll upload to this blog in this year. 2016! What a time we've had, eh? If there's one thing I've learned it's that you can't rely on celebrities who you admire and whose body of work you respect not to drop dead in an unexpected and needlessly upsetting fashion. This being the case, it's up to the rest of us to just sort of soldier on, making the most of what scarce time we get before our own personal A-bombs detonate, by filling our days with #lovelythingstodo. See you on the other side.

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