I CALL THIS ONE STRUBARB

Its been a couple of days since I last wrote but as we have been so busy well into the evenings I have not had the energy since being back in the UK.  This morning I find myself looking out from my bedroom window southward into an overcast but as yet dry morning. Not much happens in this very small Lake District town in the National Park.

On Sunday we touched down in the UK at Newcastle International Airport. We quickly rented a car and were off to the coast so I could do a bit of tour guiding around my first home and many of the sights in the area. We first stopped in for fish and chips in North Sheilds and sat overlooking the mouth of the Tyne River as ferry boats were leaving back towards Holland.  The weather was perfect so we sat there for 45 minutes in the sun.

From there it was a drive along the coast to the north thru Tynemouth, Cullercoats, and Whitley Bay. We weren’t the only ones soaking up the evening sun as the roads were busy and the walkers filled the coastal paths.. Once we could clearly see St. Mary’s lighthouse we pulled off the road and walked down to photograph it as the sun set.

After a while the travel of the day began to catch up so we decided to pop in to the pub just around the corner from my old family home in the village of Cullercoats. The Sandpiper has never changed on the outside since 1972, but inside it has been redecorated into a super cool casual yet quite uncharacteristicly hip lounge feel. The chairs are covered in floral prints and most of the accouterments are in the color of sandstone.  We each had a half a pint and vowed to return.  A quick spin by the old house and then into Newcastle and the Holiday Inn Express in the center of the city.

For a Sunday evening I could not get over the thousands of students out on the streets. Apparently Newcastle has become one of the country’s favorite college towns.  Three large campuses interwoven throughout the city overwhelms all other businesses to be seen.    We got to sleep early and then early to rise. We were up, had our free breakfast and gone.  We headed over the Tyne Bridge and set sail for a little village where my grandparents lived to survey any change and wander the beach.  Job done and then we walked about the little shops. Thankfully this place has not changed one iota because it is a very pretty and quaint.

More driving and looking about and then back into Newcastle to have dinner with friends. Now it must be said that I had asked earlier in the day if we could have an Indian meal as it is my favourite and where I live good South Asian restaurants are rare.

We met our friends at the Bodega pub for a few real ales and then pushed on to a place thirty yards from the HIE. I believe AKBARS is a chain of restaurants in the north of England. Most of their dishes are Pakistani in spice origin which little did I know continues to effect you in a weird way 36 hours later.  Oh my babaji was that hot. The yogurt accompanyment was unable to do its job. The Tiger beer was also useless.  On fire people.  When I asked the waiter how you ever get used to this he replied with his hands up in the air and his head moving from side to side ” oh sir I do not eat this food. This is Pakistani and I am from Bangladesh. We do not eat such spicy food. I recommend a Bangladeshi restaurant for you sir”.

Well that advice was just a little tardy in our current sweaty state so we plod on and devour the flames like a fire eating side show freak at the carnival.  The thing was the meal was excellent. It tested your metal but was excellent none the less.  We bid farewell to our friends who graciously treated us and promised to return next year to repay the favour.   It was awesome to spend that time together. Guts churning but happy it was straight to bed for early to rise.

After breakfast we loaded the car and left westward to Cumbria through the Tyne valley.  The highway follows Emporer Hadrian’s wall built in Roman conquest times to keep the angry Scots from entering without going through passport control.

There are well preserved stretches of the wall visible from the highway as well as Roman forts.  The sights and sounds don’t stop with the Romans.  We made a great decision to visit the town of Hexam. It is a stunning place near to perfect in every way. I could live  here as well.  The town center is built around an abbey that can be dated back to the first century A.D.

We met an elderly man inside who was a keen historian and volunteer who regaled us with many very interesting facts. I really could go on forever as he and this place were fantastic.  We left the abbey and wandered the tight back streets to mail a postcard and enjoy market day in the town square.

From Hexam we continued to Carlisle where Angus toured the university while I sat in the sun. Gus was suitably impressed and came away with lots of information.  We had a drive around Carlisle and then pushed on 31 miles south to the Lake District and our next AirBnB operated by Jan from South Africa.

Jan told me that he met his local wife when her family emigrated to his country 40 years ago. They had been wanting to move back for many years and when the opportunity knocked they bought two listed GrII houses next door to each other. One they BnB and the other they live in.  He took me in and immediately you could tell you were in a home built in the 17th century. Every doorway was small and the stairs narrow. But all that to say it was excellent.

Two of its best features were that it was less than 5 minutes from the Bitter End and Swann pubs.  We spent a couple of hours chatting to the bartender while enjoying the locally brewed Jennings bitter. Great host and very chatty.

At the Swann is where it got hyper British. In the snug next to our table sat a dozen blue haired coffin dodgers all having a pint or cup of tea while discussing the virtues of the right crackers to have when one is sampling different chutneys. Of course tonight was the night that the local gardners guild was having a little best of show competition to judge the best chutney in the village.

Gripping stuff yet clearly very serious given the general conversation. They soon had me convinced.  Until Tom took the floor to introduce his entry for 2016. Ladies and gents, I call this one Strubarb.  I have painstakingly blended the sweetest of seasonal strawberries and rhubarb to make this.

A deafening hush came upon the room.  What was this abomination, this isn’t cricket old boy. This is a traditional group, we don’t go in for Strubarb. Sorry old man, not this year. Tom snatched his jar and crackers and stormed off. Serious group, serious chutney.  It was good to know chutney is still chutney.

To end the night was a walk to the late night chippy for the obligatory beer mop. Haddock and chips twice please. Order filled and back to Jan’s place.  BBC ten o’clock news, devour and sleep!

Cheers!

Mark

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