Geordies and Pubs and Sheep, Oh My!

So we just got back from ten sunny days in England, and I have to admit, I felt a bit cheated. Sunny? Sunny I get here in Texas. If I'm taking a holiday in England, I'm there for grey, rainy weather, thank you very much, and a bit of cold, too. OK, we got maybe two or three days of that, which I guess is more than you get in May in Texas… but only because we were in Newcastle, which is nearly as far north as you can get in England before running smack into Scotland. I mean, I packed my raincoat, and took it home unused.

The underpass in Newcastle - promise, or threat?

But to be honest, I really can't complain. (Sure, I just tried, but… I really can't.) It was a damn fine vacation, sunny weather and all.

One of the few rainy days (in Newcastle of course), and a pithy message.

The primary reason for going - well, ok, primary excuse - was an academic conference. A colleague and friend was organizing it and had invited us to come, so we figured, what the hell - why not? A conference on travel writing sounded interesting, and an international conference always looks good on the ol' CV (the academics' version of the resume). We didn't know what to expect from the conference itself, but hey, visiting friends in England is really never the wrong thing to do.

The hallowed halls of the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

The conference, as it turned out, was fantastic. Lots of fascinating papers, and great people. I stayed awake, jetlagged, from 8 am to 10 pm the day after we arrived, simply because it was so damn interesting. (Admittedly, all that tea helped too.)

More threats from the Newcastle underpass: YOUR FUTURE THIS WAY.

Newcastle - the conference city - is an interesting place. There's a great deal of regional pride, which is true for a lot of areas (Texas, anyone?), but the Geordies (Newcastle-ites) have an odd way of expressing their pride: Real Geordies, it seems, never wear coats. Our friend there promised us both 40 degree weather and "lots of skin - no, no, really!" I didn't believe it, not when it was about 45 degrees cold and rainy - who's going to get skimpy in that? Ah, but I didn't realize that some years ago, a Geordie girl in a TV interview had explained, "I'm from Newcastle, and I don't even own a coat!," and that had turned into the inofficial motto of the area.

Newcastle's Millennium Arch, across the river Tyne

Granted, we didn't see the flesh when we were walking around the university. But, faced with our disbelief, our friend took us to the club district - and lo and behold, it was true. Flesh everywhere, and the only coats around were the ones on us conferencers. Skimpy was the order of the day. And because this was as true for the 18-year-olds as it was for the 60-year-olds, that was not generally a good thing. But still, we were duly impressed, as the girls and grandmothers in halter tops and miniskirts walked by and we, in turn, huddled in our coats.

Nope, sorry, no pictures of the naked flesh! (But that sentence might get me a few more Google hits...)

From Newcastle, we took the train to New Mills, a village in Derbyshire. It's about half an hour from Manchester by train, and we were fully intending to spend some time in Manchester during the week we had in New Mills. Ha. Never made it.

Here's one of the many beautiful scenes that kept us out of the city.

We simply fell in love with the countryside. It was so green - living in Texas, you forget how green things get in the cooler, wetter north. And so relaxing - the whole countryside seemed designed for walking, something you also lose touch with in Texas, where people look at you funny when you suggest that you'll be walking the five blocks to the post office, thanks. In fact, walking is enshrined in British law; public rights of way exist everywhere that cut straight through agricultural fields. Going from village to village? If you'd like to walk, no one's complaining.

Castleton, in Derbyshire - as picturesque as the English countryside has to offer

No doubt part of the relaxing atmosphere also came from the friends we were staying with, who were laid back and mellow, and who themselves quite enjoyed walking, and also appreciated following up that walking with a nice pint. Because of course, the pubs should not be forgotten; when rambling anywhere, it's important to stop and smell the Theakston's Old Peculiar. The friend I was visiting is someone I've known since seventh grade, and we've been long-distance friends since eighth grade. We only see each other every five years at most, but it never ceases to amaze me how well we still get along, and how much it all just seems to click.

A view of New Mills, through the trees. (At least, I think that's New Mills...)

So we spent our days in New Mills wandering from one village to another, strolling somewhere between two and seven miles a day. In Austin, this would probably kill you from smog alone. In Derbyshire, it was supremely relaxing, especially when interspersed with many a stop at many a pub. We walked through many fields filled with sheep and a few with cows (who were, oddly, more timid), and everywhere it was green, a deep, lush green I can remember from growing up in Michigan but that I haven't actually seen in years.

Bargain Booze in Buxton - where better to spend your days?

We went to Hayfield, and Buxton, and Furness Vale on accident (we were trying to go to Disley, but when you're walking through fields it's easy to take a wrong turn), to Hope and Castleton and Howarth, and we loved just about every minute of it.

A picture from one of the many walks.

When our time was up, we weren't ready to leave; and if it weren't for the cats and for the new wood floor that my not-quite-in-laws installed while we were gone… well, we would've been sorely tempted to stay and wait for rainy weather.

More pictures!

June 20, 2003

All text and images © 2003
NoAura Productions. All rights reserved. Ask before you borrow!!


Beers I Have Known

Beer, of course, is key to any decent pub stopover, and it's hard to enjoy your chips and vinegar without a good pint. So here are some that we tried...

Theakston's Old Peculier:
Definitely my favorite. A strong taste, not sweet, a bit on the darker side, and a relatively high alcohol content. You gotta love this about many of the pubs we visited: The list of beers also included the beers' alcohol content. Always helps in the decision making process, I say.

Worthington's Creamflow Bitter. Best I can figure, "Creamflow" means "does that thing like Guinness does, where the bubbles take a while to really get through the beer when you pour it." Whatever - this was a damn fine beer, and one of the top favorites as well.

Hook New Generation. Not a terribly exciting beer. Of course, compared to American fare like Budweiser or Miller - which are so far removed from what beer should be that in Germany, they cannot legally be marketed as "beer" - most any British beer will be a winner, so keep in mind that "not so hot" still means "waaaay better than Bud."

Ruddles County Bitter. I am partial to bitters, and this is a good one, with a nice full taste. We had this in Hayfield, where we managed to run into a couple of pro-Europe socialists and ended up talking with them for the better part of an afternoon. Great people. Great fun. The only drawback was that the pub had no food, but if you drink enough bitter, you get over that, too.

Smiles' Mayfly. Honestly, I don't quite remember what this beer tasted like. I think it was a golden-colored (or coloured) ale, but all I wrote in my journal was that I had a Smiles' Mayfly and The One And Only had a...

Old Speckled Hen. I really think half the joy of beer is in the name, and Old Speckled Hen is one of the best. (I also think Theakston's Old Peculiar is right up there as far as funky names go.)

Black Sheep Best Bitter. Again with the names. This was a fairly forgettable bitter, but still, with a name like that it's not going to be wholly forgettable by any account.

And of course we had the usual standbys, Guinness, Bass, and so forth, but really, we tried to stick with the new rather than the tried and true. It made us feel like we weren't just drinkin' a pint - we were engaging local culture!










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Should've had more beer. Ain't it always the way?

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