Travel: Northeast England

Photos taken variously in Fountains Abbey (Yorkshire), Newcastle, South Shields and Holy Island

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London on a budget

London has a well-deserved reputation for being an expensive place and, as an impoverished student, this can be offputting when planning a day out. However, as my friends and I discovered over the summer, it is still possible to do and see plenty without bankrupting yourself. Here is an account of how we spent – and how much we spent on – one packed day out:

Borough Market

Swordfish

We wandered around here first thing in the morning, when it was lively and bustling and everything was fresh. The food was fairly pricey but almost all the stalls offered free samples; consequently I tried a dazzling variety of mustard, bread and vinegar! Although we didn’t actually buy anything here, it was fun just to soak up the atmosphere and look at all the weird and wonderful food varieties. Of particular note was the fish stall (see above) where they seemed to be selling a giant starfish and the man behind the counter was holding the biggest swordfish I have ever seen in my life.

Tate Modern

yellow-triangle.jpg Shopping list

One of the best things about London is that all the art galleries and museums are completely free to visit. We chose to go to the Tate Modern because it is always entertaining. Reading the captions is just as much as fun as looking at the art: take, for example, the sign beside ‘Yellow Curve’, which read, ‘Can a yellow triangle be just a yellow triangle?‘ Or that for ‘Monochrome Till Receipt (White) 1999’: ‘A shopping receipt may seem like a strange thing to put on an art gallery wall. How can this be art?‘ – a sentiment which I rather agreed with.

Pizza Express

We spent no money at all on our meal at Pizza Express! No, I am not confessing to a minor crime; we simply used Tesco vouchers we had saved up to pay for the meals and we all drank tap water. Not only this, but we went to the branch on the South Bank (one of my favourite places ever because it always feels so vibrant and lively) and had a view out over the River Thames and Southwark Bridge.

The Monument

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I always feel that the Monument is very underrated. For only £3.00 (student price) you can climb right up to the top and spend as long as you want on the viewing platform, looking out over London (see above for some of the views). Then, at the end, you get a certificate for your trouble!

Greenwich

Statue clock.jpg Greenwich

Here we took a bit of a detour out to Greenwich, which is one of the joys of having a day travelcard; you can go anywhere you like in London spontaneously and at no extra cost. We rested our tired legs in the park, then walked up the hill to the Royal Observatory. There was a beautiful view out over London and, though we did not go inside to see the Prime Meridian line, it was perfectly visible through the gate so we thought that was as good as anything.

Emirates Air-Line

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This was probably the highlight of the day. For a mere £3.40, we sailed over the Thames in a cable car. We picked a good time of day as it was the afternoon and the sun was low in the sky, so the sunlight sparkled beautifully off the water. It provided us with a unique perspective of London and the chance to view many familiar landmarks from a different angle.

Oxford Street

We ended the day in Oxford Street. It was just as busy in the evening as in the day, and the flickering lights, crowds of people and darkening sky created a very exciting atmosphere. We sniffed various different bath bombs in Lush before heading to H & M, where I bought a big floppy sunhat at the bargain price of £3.00.

So, travelcard aside, the grand total spent on that amazing day out was £9.40! Not only that, but I have a certificate, floppy sunhat and several panoramic photos of London to show for my efforts. Next time I will see if I can do even better…

Best Bookshops in Cromer

To celebrate my 18th birthday, I went to Cromer for the weekend with my two best friends. I love Cromer because it has barely changed since the Victorian era: the same cobbled backstreets, extravagant pier and pastel-painted fisherman’s cottages are visible in all the old photographs. I must admit it wasn’t exactly a normal choice for a newly-turned-eighteen-year-old; some of the wild things we did included nosing around in the church, attending an art exhibition, walking along the coastal path and, of course, ferreting through old bookshops. Anyway, I thought I would share some of my favourite haunts with you:

  1. Much Binding

This shop is crammed from floor to ceiling with old books, which give off that lovely, musty vintage smell. The books are double and sometimes triple stacked, so there are always new treasures to find, such as a beautiful first edition of ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’. My friend picked up one book with a plain dark blue cover and ‘Smegley’s Practical Hydropathy’ engraved on the spine, only to open it and discover that the words ‘Victorian Secret Diary’ were scrawled on the inside front cover in pencil and that all the pages were blank! We agreed that it was an ingenious idea. Perhaps the crowning glory of our visit to ‘Much Binding’, however, was the chest of drawers full of old photographs. We spent a good half hour examining photos of Edwardian seaside holidays and family wedding portraits of stern-faced Victorians. I felt that I couldn’t leave without at least one souvenir (‘Alice’, alas, was £35), so I chose this picture:

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On the back is written ‘Marjorie with Cailo + cat.’ I’m not sure why I went for this photo in particular; I just liked the animals and I thought Marjorie had a nice, interesting face. The blurriness in the background adds an intriguing element of mystery, too.

2. Bookworms of Cromer

Another lovely second-hand bookshop, this one is more orderly and has a more up-to-date selection of books than ‘Much Binding’. It’s in a little house near the seafront, and as you browse through its various rooms you never quite lose the feeling that you’re in the living room of a very enthusiastic reader.

3. Jarrold

I realise that this shop is not unique to Cromer but it deserves a mention because in my opinion it contains everything you could ever wish to find in one shop: fridge magnets with life mottos on them, seaside-themed ornaments, jam, soap, toy animals, jigsaw puzzles, art supplies, stationery and of course a spectacular selection of books!

Adventures in an abandoned hotel

During our stay in Tenerife, my friend and I had observed a rundown hotel across the road from us. The walls were covered in graffiti and it appeared to be empty. The swimming pool was a dry basin, the windows were gaping holes, and I assumed it was unfinished.

Front view

On our last day, we decided to go for a walk. The town we were staying in was small and very soon we reached a dead-end street. We were about to turn back and go home when we noticed a door in the wire-mesh fence surrounding the hotel. Not only that, but the door was wide open as if inviting us inside. The temptation was too great to resist.

Gate

We crept through, feeling not unlike Veerle and Kris from the ‘Forbidden Spaces’ trilogy. We certainly weren’t the only ones who had visited, however: the walls were covered with graffiti. Broken mattresses and litter were strewn haphazardly across the floor and I even spotted the remnants of a barbeque, complete with grill, ketchup and abandoned burger buns.

Graffiti

We rounded a corner in the courtyard and came to the stairwell. There were no railings on the stairs and rubble was everywhere. As we ascended I was expecting every moment that something would give way beneath my feet.

Stairwell

Halfway up the stairs, we decided to take a break and explore the hallways. The fussy salmon pink of the paintwork made a strange contrast with the rubble coating the floor and the cavernous holes in the walls. We snuck into what should have been a bedroom, but its only features were a toilet, bath and precarious-looking balcony. It was absolutely devoid of anything personal that would give away the hotel’s secrets. I wanted to know why it had been abandoned, why they wouldn’t bother opening a hotel that seemed so nearly finished, but all evidence had vanished long ago, presumably with the squatters and locals who used it as a barbeque venue.

Corridor

We carried on up the stairs and, to our delight, found that we emerged on the roof, face to face with the artificial structure supporting the brash red claim of ‘Merlin Resort.’

Merlin Resort

The views were stunning. This was the tallest building for miles around, and we could see everything. On one side, the skeleton of another hotel and the dust bowl of an abandoned swimming pool looked like ruins excavated from a desert.

View

The roof itself was not without its points of interest: there was a sunlounger, a metal object which looked like the wheel of a giant cruise ship and these concrete structures. I’m still not entirely sure what they were, but as we walked among them it felt like we were in some kind of bizarre astroturfed lunar landscape.

Roof

Eventually we left, stopping only to explore a couple more rooms on our way down. As we crept out we were horrified to see a man sitting in front of the door, frightened that he would get us into trouble. However, he simply gave us an unconcerned glance and continued eating his sandwich.

The next day we flew back to England, and for a while as I swung back into the rhythm of everyday life I forgot all about the abandoned hotel. It occurred to me again in a spare moment and, on a whim, I looked it up. One of the results the internet yielded was this:

Website

So the hotel was not simply unfinished as I’d thought. It had been in use; that barren pit of a swimming pool had been filled with water, the rooms we crept through had been inhabited by laughing families on holiday. And the creepiest thing of all? You could still book a holiday there…