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The Black Bridge

High above the River Wansbeck soars this imposing black bridge, the North Seaton Railway Viaduct, better known as—erm—The Black Bridge.

Work began on its construction in 1925, replacing a wooden bridge built for the Blyth and Tyne Railway in 1859. Until Dr Beeching’s axe fell sixty years ago, trains carrying passengers regularly crossed the viaduct. Freight trains have continued to use the viaduct ever since, albeit in ever-dwindling numbers since the closure of the nearby collieries, with only five freight trains per day in recent times.

Later this year, with the re-opening of the Northumberland line, passenger trains will once again trundle across the bridge, one every half hour in each direction. I’m sure I’ll be along for the ride at some point.

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Summer is here

The first weekend of summer took Wendy and I for a walk along the spectacular coastal footpath between South Shields and Sunderland. We stopped for some lunch at the unique Marsden Grotto, carved from the cliff face.

The last time we did this walk, we were soaked to the skin by lashing rain, but nevertheless enjoyed ourselves. Repeating it in glorious sunshine was a treat.

Our route from South Shields Metro station to Sunderland Metro station was 10.7 miles in all. I dare say it won’t be long until we tackle it again.

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The end of the line

I was sorry to learn yesterday that Midnight Trains, a company promising ‘luxury hotels on rails’ connecting European cities, has admitted defeat… though I quite liked their whimsically melancholy animation.

For the last few years, I have enjoyed their weekly newsletter about their progress setting up the service. They have talked often of the difficulty of setting up a new international train company, but I had hoped (and perhaps assumed) that the strength of their vision would see them through.

Wendy and I have often reflected that we’d love to be able to board a night train in Newcastle and wake up in—or on our way to—any number of European cities. I’ve written before about how I’m particularly attracted to the more luxurious end of the spectrum. The en suites with showers in the new(ish) Caledonian Sleeper rolling stock played a big part in my decision to give it a go.

Wendy and I both believe, as I wrote then, that ‘there’s something ineffably luxurious about spending time in the act of travelling rather than rushing from place to place’. We recently reflected that a recent trip had felt less relaxing as a result of hopping on a point-to-point flight rather than giving ourselves time to ease into the journey.

I’m sorry that Midnight Trains has hit the buffers before it really got going, but I’m pleased to see the continued re-growth of European sleepers—and it surely won’t be long until I’m back on board.

This post was filed under: Travel, .

Time changes in Durham

I’ve visited Durham Cathedral many times over the years, and it’s where I matriculated as a Durham student in 2003. Yet, only in the last few days have I made my first ascent of the 325 steps to the top of the central tower.

I’ve always found it hard to imagine time in the context of Durham Cathedral. Bits of it are nearly 1,000 years old, which is a span that boggles my mind. The scale and grandeur of the structure also challenges my preconceptions of the technology of a millennium ago.

The tower I climbed is over 500 years old, and while the narrow spiral staircases felt like it, it’s still astonishing to contemplate that age—and in how many people’s footsteps I was treading.

On emerging at the top, the view is breathtaking. Particularly prominent to the East is HMP Durham, which I’ve previously visited in a professional capacity.

I also find the timeline HMP Durham mind-boggling, but in the opposite direction: young men were still being hanged at the prison gallows in my parents’ lifetime—an act of the state that seems unimaginable today.

It’s truly discombobulating to stand at the top of a very tall building and contemplate how little has changed over a millennium, and yet how much has changed in a lifetime.

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Miniature bonsai

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the time Wendy and I visited the spectacular Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego, which—among many other attributes—boasted an incredible collection of bonsai trees.

By sheer coincidence, as I tidied a wardrobe yesterday, this 10cm miniature plastic bonsai from IKEA fell out and hit my head. It’s not quite the same, is it?

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Belsay Hall

In 2009, I completed a geriatrics rotation, during which I helped with clinics on the Belsay Day Unit at what was then the Newcastle General Hospital.

It’s only taken 15 years to get around to visiting Belsay itself—and specifically, Belsay Hall.

Built a couple of hundred years ago, and recently restored, it was an unusual and rather interesting experience to visit an old hall which hasn’t been stuffed full of period furniture; it feels more like its decay has been arrested, rather than like it has been restored to a version of its former glory.

The handmade wallpaper may be peeling from the walls in places, but it felt like a hall with real character. The Grade I listed quarry gardens were also spectacular.

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What a combo!

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More Morpeth

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