Those who followed our journey to Europe the first time around may find the first destination of our trip familiar. If not, I can almost guarantee you have never heard of South Shields. The small blue-collar town, which grew exponentially due to coal-mining and shipbuilding during Victorian times, lies in the north east of England along the North Sea nearby Newcastle. So why South Shields and why again? The truth is, our time we spent in South Shields at the end of 2017 was easily the most relaxing period of our nine-month long grand adventure. Those three weeks were spent watching four beautiful long haired cats for our wonderful and eccentric hosts Geoff and Heather in their equally eccentric home, a large portion of which was spent in their exceptionally comfortable sitting room with its massive windows overlooking the pier which stretches out into the North Sea.
The title of this post started off as a question I posed to myself to be answered as I wrote. However, as I began to write, those two questions sat at the top of the page, never fully answered or elaborated upon. Eventually I began to realize just how well these two questions frame our little love affair with South Shields. Why South Shields and why again are without fail the first two questions locals asked upon hearing our American accents and are always accompanied by an incredulous look and a knowing yet polite smile. Maybe Americans really are that stupid they seem to be thinking. Of all the places in the world, why would they come to this place where nothing ever really happens? These questions, however, say a lot about the town and the locals alike. The town itself is what all smaller towns in my opinion should strive to be: unassuming, charming, and wonderfully quaint. The locals of South Shields are all that and more: self-depreciating, friendly, and polite enough to not call us stupid Americans to our faces. But that is exactly why we love South Shields as much as we do, they don’t find anything special about themselves or where they live, so much so that once you convince them you are not being facetious, they want to become your best friend. It is an endearing quality that sets small towns like South Shields apart.
Before we departed Columbus, we checked into our flight and started our customary practice of getting a little tipsy for our flight as we waited to board, stopping at the Land Grant Brewing Company’s bar in the airport next to our gate. As we sat there, three or four beers later, I was struck by an idea that only beer and a sense of adventure could combine to convince me to try: Let’s see what kind of perks we can get on our long flight if we bribe our stewardesses with treats.
This idea was originally given to me by Lauren’s stepdad David and was left churning in my mind for a future date from the first moment he mentioned it to me a long ago. For our little experiment, I decided on the combination of Starbursts and mini Resee’s cups so that there was one chocolate snack and one fruity snack, both of which are individually wrapped (a recommendation I got after a quick Google search on the process). I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of tangible benefits, but to our surprise, as we waited on the tarmac for takeoff, one of the stewardesses dropped us each off a glass of champagne. As our flight progressed, several stewardesses stopped by to give thanks and I am reasonably certain that the copious amounts of free alcohol they gave us throughout the flight far exceeded the amount of alcohol per person they are allowed to dish out. The genuine gratitude, and of course the free alcohol, easily made our 6$ candy purchase worthwhile. That is definitely something I will be doing in the future when I fly.
After our many hours of traveling, the last of which was marked by a bout of deliriousness which only a flight across several time zones could ever truly cause, we were finally welcomed with open arms by Heather and Geoff in South Shields outside the train station.
Being the angel she is, in preparation for our arrival, Heather had prepared for us a magnificent traditional British Sunday roast consisting of roasted pork, crusted chicken, steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding – a crusty pastry which we would call a popover in the United States – all topped off with a healthy portion of brown gravy. After, our stomachs fit to bursting, we trekked up stairs to take a wonderful three-hour nap, waking up well after the sun had crept over the horizon.
When we last visited South Shields there was a pub called Harbour Lights that we became regulars at. Unfortunately, for some reason in the past year it had shut down so we were forced to find a new one. After striking out at The Marine, we settled on The Pier (are you seeing the theme yet?). There, we struck up a conversation with the bartender, Sean, who we would eventually discover is a huge Spurs supporter like me. That alone was enough to establish both a friendship and a new local watering hole for us. We made plans to re-visit our friend a few days later as Tottenham took on Chelsea in the Premier League (a match I would rather forget). That first night, the alcohol gave us the perfect amount of tiredness that allowed us to go back to bed easily and we spent much of the next day sleeping in.
One of the most exciting things for me about coming back to South Shields was a visit to Colman’s Fish and Chips. The shop is a haven for fish lovers, catering to both those who would like to sit in and relax, as well as those wanting to take their fried fish away, all sourced with fresh fish caught daily just outside it’s front doors in the North Sea. I arrived for lunch to find a line out the door, just as I had remembered it from my last trip. After placing my order I waited with baited (har har) anticipation as the chef cooked my haddock to order. Ten minutes later, I found myself eagerly walking up the Lawe Rd. hill toward Geoff and Heather’s, my haddock and chips gripped tightly in my arms. Though I kept telling myself to take a picture of my fabulous fish and chips, I was so excited to dig in, however, that by the time I remembered to take a picture, I was more than half way through my meal. I hope that at least tells you just how damn good it is. The light, crispy, tempura-like batter complimented the slightly sweeter haddock – in comparison to cod – with the combination mixing with creamy Heinz mayonnaise to make the perfect storm of deliciousness, the taste itself making the trip to South Shields worth it.
With South Shield’s proximity to Newcastle and my love for the football, soccer for you uncultured American swines (just kidding of course), we decided the next night to travel into the city to witness Newcastle United F.C. taking on Burnley F.C. in the Sporting Direct Stadium. We pregamed the match, of course, stopping for a few pints at the Bridge Hotel and later the Newcastle Tap. We arrived at the stadium in perfect time to see the match, taking the 140 steps up to the top section to where our seats were. After making the admittedly exhausting walk to the upper deck, we drank a few ciders as we watched our fellow match-goers struggle up the stairs while we offered them a few encouraging words.
The game itself was everything we could have asked for, with the home team benefiting from a screamer by Fabian Schar and a goal by “one of their own” Sean Longstaff to end Burnley’s unbeaten run by a score of 2-nil. As a Spurs fan, seeing Burnley play directly after a win against Tottenham made me all too happy to root with the home supporters against them. Newcastle’s two goals where supported by an impressive performance by former MLS star Miguel Almiron. I was also extremely excited to get to see former Tottenham LEGEND/giant Peter Crouch in the flesh again. These factors, combined with the beautiful weather on the night, made for an amazing match day experience for Lauren and I.
Our last day in the north of England was spent relaxing in the house in preparation for the fast-paced hustle and bustle of London. It was a good thing we had a low-stress last day as the next morning was marked by an hour-long whirlwind of panic and terror as disaster nearly struck in the form of two separate train breakdowns. Luckily, we were able to find an Uber and got through the tiny airport’s security just in time to make the queue onto the plane.
As I stated earlier, I have a very special relationship with South Shields and this trip definitely helped to strengthen those positive feelings towards the town and the people that reside there. Geoff and Heather as always did everything to make our trip all the more special. I look forward to seeing them and their quaint little town more in the future as we make South Shields a staple of future European adventures. This is the second time that we have visited South Shields and yet there are still so many things we need to go back and see. Till then, I will just have to dream about Colman’s fish and chips and my seemingly never-ending quest to find the same meal of a similar quantity that doesn’t require me to fly a thousand miles to eat!