From Cullercoats1 and Whitley Bay
Out to Rockaway, Rockaway
- Dire Straits, 'Tunnel of Love'
Whitley Bay is a cold, rainy, seaside town on the northeast coast of England, somewhere to the east of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Its name derives, apparently, from the white cliffs of the bay, although a considerable amount of whiteness has been lost since someone decided on the name. And, to be honest, it's not really much of a bay either.
What Is there to Do in Whitley Bay?
It has the usual collection of English seaside town paraphernalia: amusement arcades, fish and chip shops, pubs, clubs, rain, a golf course, a mini-golf course, a caravan site and a one-way system. It has a beach (quite a nice one, as English beaches go) but, as there are only two days in any given year when it's warm enough to go within half a mile of the sea and not develop hypothermia, it's rather wasted. It also has rocks, where there are rock-pools and crabs and slimy seaweed that you can throw at people when your biology teacher drags the entire class down there to count shells (in the rain).
If you're not already wet enough, one of Whitley Bay's more popular attractions2 is the leisure pool. The 'leisure' part of the name comes from the fact that it's an odd, rounded shape, rather than a rectangle with lanes, and has a rather tame slide. The 'pool' part is self-explanatory. If you find splashing around too energetic, you can amuse yourself by watching half of Whitley Bay's school children (those who can swim) traumatise the other half (those who can't) during swimming lessons.
What Is there to See in Whitley Bay?
Whitley Bay's most famous landmark is St Mary's Lighthouse, which stands on St Mary's Island. This stark, white beacon has stood there for over 100 years and, although it has been disused for many of those years, it once did a vital job of protecting shipping from the rocks that were invisible and deadly in the driving rain.
And girl it looks so pretty to me, just like it always did
Like the Spanish City to me when we were kids
- Dire Straits, 'Tunnel of Love'
Whitley Bay's other landmark is the 'Spanish City', an amusement arcade and funfair built in a vaguely Spanish style, with white walls and a domed roof. More importantly, the Spanish City is where a Geordie singer/songwriter/guitarist by the name of Mark Knopfler used to spend his holidays when he was a boy. Some years later, the now fully-grown Mark Knopfler formed a band called Dire Straits and wrote a song about his childhood memories. The song, 'Tunnel of Love', is the story of a brief liaison between a boy and girl set against the backdrop of the waltzers and the ghost train of the funfair. It is also the song that Arthur Dent plays to Fenchurch in 'So Long and Thanks For All the Fish'. Strangely, Mark Knopfler neglects to mention the rain.
Just down the coast from Whitley Bay is the town of Tynemouth. Standing on a promontory, looking out to the North Sea, are the ruins of Tynemouth Castle and Priory. These imposing ruins are surrounded by sea on three sides, and there is evidence of settlement on the site dating back to Roman times. Military occupation of the castle ended as recently as 1960.
What Is there to Drink in Whitley Bay?
For a seemingly quiet seaside town, Whitley Bay has a flourishing nightlife. The seafront is lined with nightclubs, and the local teenagers3 spend their Friday and Saturday nights staggering from one to the next, girls with their handbags held over their heads to fend off the rain. If you can't make it all the way into Newcastle - which, so I'm told, has some of the best nightlife in the world - Whitley Bay is the next best thing. Especially on a Bank Holiday Monday when, depending on your point of view, Whitley Bay is either a no-go area or the only place in the world to be.
Where Is there to Stay in Whitley Bay?
If you want to stay in Whitley Bay (and it can be a good base from which to explore the north east of England) then there are plenty of hotels and guest houses along the coast and on the roads leading from the sea-front up to the centre of the town. Accommodation in Whitley Bay seems to cling to a brighter and more exciting age that seems to have passed decades ago. Guest houses in particular have a kind of stagnancy about them that suggest that once it was fun but now everyone is simply going through the motions. Beds creak (and display unusual mattress topography), wallpaper is faded and clinging on to the walls by force of will and condensation, baths are ensuite only if you're sleeping out in the corridors and homemade cuisine is usually accompanied by the 'ding' of a microwave.
The standard of accommodation varies, although Whitley offers the same quality and variety you can expect from any coastal town in the United Kingdom. There is anything from prominent edifices on the shorefront to poky little converted houses secreted in the nooks and crevices of back streets. The most common inhabitants of Whitley's guest houses are foreign tourists, old people and long distance truckers. Local Britons only tend to make the mistake of staying in Whitley Bay accommodation once.
If this has put you off, or you would rather stay under a less solid roof, there is always the imaginatively named 'Whitley Bay Caravan Park', which is often referred to locally by its old name of 'Feathers'. Or if you're really desperate, you could probably pitch a tent on the beach.
How Do you Get into (or out of) Whitley Bay?
The A19 (the main east-coast road) runs fairly close to Whitley Bay, heading towards Morpeth and on to Scotland to the north, and through the Tyne Tunnel and down to Teeside to the south. To the west, the 'Coast Road' (or A1058, if you prefer) goes straight into Newcastle. If you drive to the east, you'll go over a cliff.
Newcastle is on the East Coast Mainline and so has regular (traditional British rail disruption notwithstanding) Intercity trains going north to Edinburgh and south to London. After arriving at Newcastle Central Station, you can jump straight on the local equivalent of the London Underground, the Metro (named, not after the Parisian underground railway, but after a local radio station, or so rumour has it...). The journey from Newcastle is around 30-40 minutes, and Whitley Bay Metro station is almost in the centre of the town.
Newcastle International Airport is also connected to Whitley Bay by the Metro system, although the journey is a little longer and you need to change trains at South Gosforth (making sure to cross over the footbridge first). Of course, if you have the money, you could land your helicopter on the golf course, but that's somewhat beyond the scope of this entry.
If you can hit one of the days when the sun is shining, Whitley Bay is a pleasant enough place to visit (particularly if you're 16 years old and dressed in either a miniskirt or Newcastle United shirt, or both), but do make sure you travel northwards to see the rest of the beautiful north east coast.