Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A perfect day in Seahouses

I was born in Whitley Bay, just east of Newcastle upon Tyne on the coast, and sometimes the urge to be near the seaside just overwhelms me. Staying on the Northumberland coast for a few days was therefore the perfect place to be. Seems ridiculous but we had never actually taken a holiday around here - the odd day trip, yes, but over the years we have just stayed with Mum and Dad so hadn't considered the region for a proper break. Madness.

A perfect day at the seaside began when I looked out of the window and saw a vast blue sky. Leaving the teens to their slumber, Dougie and I couldn't wait to make the most of the weather and go for a walk. And what a walk. Our apartment looked out onto St Aidan's beach and we could now see it properly as the tide was going out. The air was fresh and there was quite a gusty breeze but that couldn't alter the sheer happiness of walking hand in hand on the beautiful beach. Sounds soppy but I had a grin from ear to ear as it was just what I had been pining for - a beach and plenty of time to enjoy it.

The beach at Seahouses with the Farne Islands in the distance. 

We headed towards Bamburgh Castle which you may remember from my previous post could be seen in the distance on the headland. From the beach we couldn't see the castle above the dunes but we kept walking as we knew it was there somewhere. After a while we were convinced we must have reached it, so popped our heads over the dunes, only to discover it was still some way off. We hadn't planned to stay out all morning so did the sensible thing and headed back. The kiddies still weren't up.



Coffee on the balcony, some 'encouraging words' to the kids and we eventually managed persuade them to join us in a saunter around the vicinity. Seahouses itself is a small fishing village which caters for day trippers wanting a short cruise to the Farne Islands to see the puffins and seals. It has an amusement arcade, a Crazy Golf, a few chippies, a great real ale pub and a bustling high street. We really should have taken a boat trip out to the Farne Islands, odd that we didn't, having come all this way. We did pop into the RNLI lifeboat station, remembering the story of Grace Darling, daughter of the lighthouse keeper on the islands, who, realising it was too rough for the lifeboat to be put out from Seahouses, rowed out with her father to rescue sailors from the stricken Forfarshire in 1838. There is a museum about Grace Darling in Bamburgh - we didn't get to that either.

So what did we do in Seahouses? We ate fish and chips down by the harbour, like everyone else does. According to The Hairy Bikers the 'best fish and chips in the country' can be found at Pinnacles Restaurant. We put this to the test; Rory and Juliana getting theirs from Pinnacles, Dougie and I buying ours from Lewis's restaurant. Not a very scientific comparison, as we neglected to include the third chippie, Neptunes, from our taste test. The result was a win for Pinnacles - by a whisker. Although slightly more expensive, the fish was enormous. I did prefer the batter from Lewis's though...

Despite being full of fish, Juliana wanted to try the kippers for which the village is so famous so we hunted out the local smokery, Swallowfish, located in a tiny, authentic little place, the Fishermen's Kitchen, with a rather good-looking, bohemian young chap serving at the counter. Looked nowt like Captain Bird's Eye, that's for sure. 

Here are Dougie and the teens posing outside the shop:



We took the kippers home and left the teens to have a game of Crazy Golf and a session of sandcastle-building on the beach.

Dinner later was a five minute walk through town to the Elan Pizzeria, a tiny place where you can bring your own wine if you don't fancy buying theirs. The pizza toppings were a bit out of left field - Peking duck with hoisin sauce and Caesar salad anyone? - but the pizzas were great and the puds - Tiramisu and a Wimbledon Mess in a large Knickerbocker Glory glass - were scrummy.

A quick walk back, taking in the view yet again:

Evening view from Salt Air apartment to the Farne Islands
Back in our cosy apartment, coffee served, some beers and a tad more wine before a family decision to watch a DVD. A great selection for us to choose from so we settled down to The Grand Budapest Hotel.

A day of simple pleasures - unforgettable


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Friday, 8 August 2014

Finding the perfect self-catering property with Coastal Retreats

Living room in Salt Air, Seahouses
A last-minute short break in the UK, preferably on the coast? This should be easy to find on the internet but there is so much information out there, it can be incredibly frustrating. Even when you think you have found the perfect cottage by the sea, many websites lack full information, decent photos and, to add to the misery, in order to check availability, users have to contact the owner by filling in a form. No, I don't want to fill in a form. I want some real time information, to see at a glance whether it's booked up or not.

Thank heavens I came across the most wonderful holiday company, Coastal Retreats, whose website was an absolute dream. Marketed as 'refreshingly different self catering cottages', the properties are based in North East England and are all absolutely gorgeous. For each cottage, the website provides a short video so you can have a peek in each room, available dates are shown, plus prices for short breaks and the starting dates. It really is an excellent website to navigate.

They do a luscious brochure too, so good I took it to bed every night to pore over the pages showing stripped wooden floors and Farrow and Ball walls, log burners and ample sofas. A small family company, Coastal Retreats, together with its sister site, Country Retreats, has a collection of style-inspired properties which are really top notch. Most come with complimentary Leisure Club membership and many cottages are extremely child-friendly, offering toys, dressing up boxes and play gardens. Whether it's a contemporary pad or a rural retreat, there is a definite designer stamp on them all.

It's no surprise, then, that we booked a four-night stay in a two-bedroomed apartment, Salt Air, in the small fishing village of Seahouses on the Northumberland coast. It was perfect. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms, dining kitchen, comfortable lounge and not one but two balconies, one at each end, to catch the sun at every opportunity.

Just look at this view by day and by night, with Bamburgh Castle in the distance. And no, I haven't fiddled with the filter. These are the true colours.

View from Salt Air, Seahouses
View from Salt Air, Seahouses, towards Bamburgh Castle


View to Bamburgh Castle at night

We took Rory and his girlfriend Juliana with us on this trip up North and we all agreed it was a superb location for a holiday, two minutes from the very centre of the bustling village with its harbour and Fish & Chip shops plus it was next door to the Crazy Golf. We all loved the property itself, so new and fresh with interiors designed by Newcastle-based Tatti Interiors. Who wouldn't love a bedroom with a Penguin Book theme or a corridor with a wallpaper map of the area. (see below)

Where shall we go today? Let's plan the route on the wall!

The owners and Coastal Retreats had thought of everything from crabbing buckets in the cupboard to electrical sockets near mirrors (hoorah!) and a welcome pack which included chocolate cake. Plenty of storage, lots of hangers, fully fitted kitchen including a Nespresso machine, landline phone with honesty box and a huge assortment of board games and DVDs.

I know as a family we have been fortunate enough to visit some beautiful hotels and self-catering properties over the years but I have to say this was one of the most wonderful holidays, staying in an apartment we just couldn't fault. I am now taking the brochure to bed with me again to choose another one.

Salt Air - the perfect seaside getaway?

Disclosure: we chose this holiday ourselves, negotiating a small discount in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. For details of Salt Air and other properties, see www.coastalretreats.co.uk

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Monday, 4 August 2014

Column catch-up

I did wonder with my column whether I should take some time off for the holidays so they could just put 'Trish Burgess is away' like they do in the national newspapers. Then I thought, no, I don't want to let some other bugger steal my spot. So I made sure I wrote my columns well in advance and managed to keep up.

If you fancy a read, here's what they looked like in the paper, and the links are there too.




Having trouble speaking the lingo abroad

Excuse me, do you speak English?








A visit to a Music Hall evening brought back memories for me.

Childhood music hall memories








My take on the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games

Old rocker and cheese - loving it!









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Friday, 1 August 2014

Art Attack in Oslo

During our three days in Oslo, it was apparent that the Norwegians have a great passion for stimulating art. In previous posts I highlighted the fabulous artwork in our hotel, The Thief, and the incredible Vigeland sculptures in Frogner Park. But there is exciting art everywhere - in galleries and in public spaces.

The Thief is located in the Tjuvholmen area of the city, which is home to the new Astrup Fearnley Museum, a work of art in itself designed by Renzo Piano, renowned architect also responsible for a number of contemporary buildings such as The Shard, the Pompidou Centre (with Richard Rogers) and the Morgan Library in New York.

Free to Oslo Pass holders, the gallery contains some stunning works by Damien Hirst including the famous cow and calf in formaldehyde work, Mother and Child (Divided). There are pieces by Francis Bacon, David Hockney and Jeff Koons. While we were there they had a contemporary exhibition, Biography, by duo Elmgreen & Dragset: challenging installations such as a huge swimming pool with a body floating in the middle (his shoes remaining on the side). Their work continued into the cloakrooms: let's hope no-one tried to use the urinals in there...

Elsewhere in the city art pops up everywhere - unusual sculptures on the street or in the water.

Here are some of my favourite examples:

Motorbikes transformed into art.
Known locally as 'Rudolph the chrome nosed reindeer'


she lies. sculpture by monica bonvicini. oslo
'She Lies' by Monica Bonvicini, a 12m x17m steel and glass structure floating in Oslo harbour


Titi, Jeff Koons, Astrup Fearnley museum
'Titi' by Jeff Koons


he by elmgreen & dragset. oslo
'He' by duo Elmgreen & Dragset.
A partner for the Little Mermaid? He sits looking out of the window
onto the waters of the fjord.

moonrise east november oslo
'Moonrise.east.november' by Ugo Rondinone



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