Our third housesitting assignment was in South Shields, England, a coastal town at the mouth of the River Tyne in north-east England where the river meets the North Sea. The town is situated five miles from both Newcastle and Sunderland, each of which is among the ten biggest cities by population in the United Kingdom. The house in which we stayed for our three weeks was situated on top of a hill overlooking both the mouth of the Tyne and the North Sea, making it quite a unique and beautiful location.
One of the biggest attractions to South Shields is the Arbeia Roman Fort, built there around AD 160 to help supply Roman soldiers along Hadrian’s Wall which ends just two miles away from the city. Hadrians’s wall stretches 80 miles east to west and was built to protect the Romans who controlled Britain from barbarians. Later, the fort was abandoned as the Roman Empire declined in the 4th century AD. The fort fell into disrepair for many years until some structures were rebuilt and made into a modern museum and tourist attraction. Unfortunately for us, the fort is closed during the winter so we were only able to view the structure from outside the locked gate.
Our first day in the city we took a quick ferry from South Shields across the Tyne to North Shields and Tynemouth, an area which up until World War II was a very popular vacation spot. On the day we arrived, there was an open-air market that took place in the Tynemouth station filled with all sorts of interesting home-made knickknacks and other interesting treasures. After perusing the market to our hearts’ desires (or until we froze our asses off, you choose), we made our way into the little city of Tynemouth to get some lunch, first stopping at the ruined remains of the once beautiful Tynemouth Castle and Priory. The castle sits right on a rocky headline that overlooks the Tynemouth Pier and the North Sea. Though ruined, there was a certain haunting beauty to the 13th-century castle, helped by its location overlooking the turbulent waters of the North Sea below.
While in South Shields we celebrated my 26th birthday. To celebrate the occasion we went out for the day to a local entertainment center where we enjoyed lunch, a few games of bowling, and some games in the arcade. Later, we had a nice dinner down the road playing card games and just enjoying each others company. The whole day was a low-key affair but as always, Lauren and I had an amazing time just hanging out and being us.
Later in our stay, we took a day trip to Newcastle since it was so close to where we were staying. Newcastle was one of the most important cities in Britain during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its location on the Tyne – which gives it the official name of Newcastle upon Tyne – had long been one of the major hubs of shipbuilding in the United Kingdom until World War II when competition forced the industry there to eventually die.
In our short time in Newcastle, we tried to cram in as much as we could see. We were dropped off at the bottom of Grey Street, which has recently been voted one of the prettiest streets in Britain. At the top of the street surrounded by a small Christmas market is a monument to Earl Charles Grey who helped to launch modern democracy in Britain. Nearby the market sits Grainger town, the historical center of the city and home to the world famous and very popular Grainger Market. After exploring these historical sights we made our way over to St.James’s Park, home of Newcastle United F.C. from the English Premier League before stopping for lunch.
Newcastle’s name comes, unsurprisingly, from the castle that used to sit in the middle of the oldest part of the city but has since dwindled down to just its keep and gate. The original castle was built in the 2nd century AD around the same time as Hadrian’s Wall which it formed part of. The castle sits nearby the three main bridges in Newcastle which allow people to cross the Tyne to reach Gateshead to the south, the most famous one being the Tyne Bridge. After seeing the castle we spent some well-deserved time sampling some local beers at a bar nearby.
Before heading home we stopped by a bar to get some food to eat. Being a Saturday in a party town, the bar we stopped in had many people going out for a good time. Like our time partying in Spain, we got a first-hand look at English party culture, but on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Whereas the nights out we experienced in Spain didn’t really get started till after 1am, the bar we walked into at 6pm was straight out of Animal House. We saw more death-defying drunken stumbles and broken glasses than I had ever seen by that time of night. It was a really interesting juxtaposition of the differing party cultures between the two countries.
All-in-all, Newcastle was way different and much nicer of a city than I expected. The city for me had always had a reputation as a rough and tumble industrial town only worth going to if you wanted to party. However, aside from clearly being a great party destination, both the historical district of the city and its other popular hangout spots were actually quite charming and at times beautiful. I found it very similar to Edinburgh in a lot of aspects and I find it a very worth-while place to travel (especially if you want to party!).
As far as South Shields goes, the time we spent there really allowed us to really enjoy the city and all it had to offer. It has a wholesome, laid-back small town feeling that we definitely grew to love, not to mention home to the best fish and chips I had ever had the pleasure of eating. We spent a lot of time at a little bar at the top of the hill that we loved so much that we ended up quickly becoming regulars there. We even ended up making friends with some of the locals, though I am going to pretend our best friend wasn’t the bartender at The Harbour Lights. Besides the incredibly friendly people, we both loved the scenery and all of the city’s quirks. I would gladly go back there to housesit for Heather and Geoff again.
Next up, country number 22, Wales!