Mr M and I recently returned from a glorious summer holiday. We made our way to Scotland via the North East of England. A comfortable 3-hour train journey ferried us through the fertile East Midlands, up into post-industrial South Yorkshire and the vast county of North Yorkshire, past historic Durham with its brooding cathedral and onto Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
As we were travelling by rail, we used the city on the Tyne as our base for exploring the beautiful county of Northumberland (or the ancient kingdom of Bernicia).
Before we set off, we had mapped out an itinerary: Hexham, Cullercoats, the Farne Islands, Alnwick… but as always, serendipity delivers the best holidays. Before long we just travelled where the trains, weather, tide and our mood took us.
Our trip to the market town of Hexham was memorable, not so much for the Northumbrian countryside to the north and Hadrian’s Wall as for the rail journey up the Tyne Valley in a delightful old carriage, more trolley car than train. In Hexham Abbey I was captivated by the fine early gothic arches and vaults but the real treat was a set of quasi pagan carvings, including a bagpiper and harpist, tucked away behind the choir, like some medieval mason’s private joke.
The tides did not allow us to visit Lindisfarne – oh well, an excuse for a return visit – but instead we enjoyed a glorious day exploring the coast around Alnmouth. I’m not sure what was more enjoyable, strolling from the station along fields down to the estuary, admiring the wildlife in the hedgerows, or walking along the beach and cliff edge. We lost all sense of time, so much so, that I caught the sun… in Northumberland of all places!
After six days of random, unhurried exploration, we travelled on to Scotland. Before long the train reached Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last town in England, and then it hugged the coast for most of the journey up to Aberdeen. I may be accustomed to train travel but I still feel like a child, marveling at the scenery that whizzes past, trying to read the landscape and imagining what lives would have been like along the route generations ago. The coast of the North East and eastern Scotland certainly has enough to stir a girl’s imagination: a rocky shoreline, the great expanse of the North Sea, the occasional light house, impressive bridges,…
Once in the granite city we travelled up the Dee Valley to Banchory for a clan gathering. Well, not really a clan gathering as I am not Scottish but a meeting of my family: siblings, spouses, a couple of friends of my parents and the newest member of the ‘clan’ – my little niece. As it happened, Mr M and I also visited old friends of his who lived nearby and as I explored the woods adjacent to their cottage, Mr M was driven round Banchory in a 1930s Austin 7. As I said, serendipity delivers the best holidays!
Our time away was an absolute delight: beautiful countryside, interesting sites, fresh air, pleasant meals, a good mix of peace, quiet and privacy on the one hand and the company of friends and family on the other… In many ways, a perfect holiday.
On my return an acquaintance referred to my week away as a ‘staycation’, a term used in Britain since the current recession to describe holidays in the UK. I bit my tongue. I was irritated, not insulted, probably more saddened. I dislike the word intensely. It focusses on a perceived negative (i.e. that one is not travelling abroad) rather than celebrates the restorative time away from work and daily routines, the change of scenery, the journey and discoveries along the way!
Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed holidays abroad in the past, after all, I’ve lived in countries where a 2-hour train journey takes you across a border. And I shall certainly travel abroad again – two of my three siblings live abroad, as may the third if Scotland votes for independence this month. But are my wanderings around the ancient Northumberland coast, my stroll up a minor Scottish hill, my discoveries of quaint carvings, peacock butterflies and sand castles… any less worthy of being called a vacation because I didn’t show a passport or get on an airplane?