Home from home

Posted on 10th August 2011 | in Blogs , Heritage & Tourism

Had you been born in Chew Magna in Somerset in 1926, you might well begin to wonder where you have been since then. With some willing suspension of disbelief, we move, in the 1930s, to Radstock on the North Mendip coalfield. There, a grandfather and great-grandfather, as boys, hewed coal from 14-inch seams. Each in his turn scratched farewell messages to his mother on friendly slate.  Each was rescued in turn. And there the family might well have stayed. Some did, and still are there. The rest of us moved on.

After schooldays in Devizes on the Kennet and Avon Canal and a Wiltshire market-place came Yorkshire’s Pocklington Camp, offering infantry training by the Northumberland Fusiliers, themselves away from their home depot. On to Hyderabad Barracks in Colchester. Then further afield, to Sialkot on the Northwest Frontier and Jabalpur in the Central Indian Plain. Homeward, to work in Bristol, Kidderminster and Liverpool. Southward again, home life continued in Wolverhampton, Dudley and the Black Country. Nowhere, so far, was there any sight of the sea. Moving northward yet again, Leeds offered a tempting holiday at Coastguard Cottage on the Little Shore. Which led to Easy Way and there, at last, to a small house in Amble.

To a West Country lad, long misled by out-of-date Council school lessons about the North’s “dark Satanic mills”, Reivers and Jacobites, with a dim perception that Hadrian’s Wall began somewhere near Gloucester, Northumberland is a brand-new landscape. Like native Somerset’s one-time coalfield, Radcliffe, and Hadston’s village pitheads are long gone, cloaked with unexpected medieval ridge-and-furrow, ancient stone walls and Cotswold flocks. Beyond, as an ever-changing backcloth to this new world lies the North Sea.  Long clean beaches extend from Druridge Bay and Warkworh Castle to Dunstanburgh, then reach into the shipping forecast’s sea areas from Cromarty to Humber.

Amble’s homely seaport, its harbour, piers, deserted staithes and vigilant lifeboat, are redolent of history, coal and fish. Redeemed in recession by a prosperous marina for absent boat-owners, a busy shopping street and trendy TESCO-in-waiting, this is still a tranquil holiday resort. Northumbrian folk are unpredictable. They profess intolerance of “incomers” then welcome you with friendly hands and become the best of neighbours. This is, indeed “the friendliest port”.

John West

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