Hetton Historical Walk (Heritage Open Days)

Hetton-le-Hole Walking Map
Hetton-le-Hole Walking Map

With the onset of September it was time once again for the national Heritage Open Days, which take place each year up and down the country. This year I happened to be at home, but being too lazy to get myself to Newcastle or Durham to check out what was on offer, I ended up only attending one event. This was a historic walk around Hetton-le-Hole, where several members of my family live, grew up and are otherwise associated with.

1872 school house
1872 school house

We met at Hetton Centre, a fairly recent building that happens to be on the site of the old Hetton Hall. The exact date of the Hall’s construction is uncertain but it was built in the classical style. It had become dilapidated by the end of the nineteenth century and was demolished in 1923. We headed to the centre of Hetton, passing the old school house (opened in 1872), before stopping off at the point where the first moving locomotives ran, taking coal from Lyons Colliery to the River Wear.

Signpost towards the Wear
Signpost towards the Wear

The street is still named Railway Street, and just beyond there are still sleepers from the Hetton Railway. The line was surveyed by George Stephenson in 1822 and was supervised by his brother Robert. Our guide took us to nearby Fairy Street, and explained that it was so-called because of the large hillock here nicknamed the Fairy Cradle, which supposedly dated from the Iron Age.

Fairy Street
Fairy Street

We stopped off at the Primitive Methodist Chapel. Primitive Methodism reached Hetton in 1823 and this chapel was opened in 1858. I’ve been here plenty of times over the years for weddings and funerals, but this was the first time I had the chance to look around and take things in from a historical point of view. The church was built entirely by the miners. Interestingly, there used to be a public house attached to the church – not owned by it, just next door – somewhat ironic as Methodists are teetotal!

Primitive Methodist Chapel
Primitive Methodist Chapel
Inside the Chapel
Inside the Chapel

Heading beyond down the road we ended up in a part of town I’d never seen before, and a beautiful though rather run-down building, the former Pavilion Theatre and Cinema, built by Ralph Barton in 1909. The first manager was Linden Travers, father of the actor Bill Travers.

Pavilion Theatre and Cinema
Pavilion Theatre and Cinema

We then stopped at the site of the former Anglican church, now sadly reduced to rubble. A nearby house (Laburnum House) has a blue plaque with details about Nicholas Wood, friend and colleague of George Stephenson, co-founder of the Institute of Mining, and partner in the Hetton Coal Company from 1844, whose grave is in the nearby churchyard.

Site of Anglican Church
Site of Anglican Church
Nicholas Wood's blue plaque
Nicholas Wood’s blue plaque
Nicholas Wood's grave
Nicholas Wood’s grave

Crossing the road, we passed the Wesleyan Chapel in Front Street (built in 1824) then ventured towards the oldest part of town, taking in Hetton House, one of the oldest houses in the town, dating from approximately the 1720s and bought by the Lyon family (the Earls of Strathmore) in 1746. The house has two extensions, one dating from the 19th century and one from the 20th. It was most recently used as council offices and closed in 2010. Nearby is the former Standard Theatre, built in 1874. It was converted to a bus garage in 1916.

Wesleyan Chapel
Wesleyan Chapel
Hetton House
Hetton House

The tour ended in style as we stopped at the 18th-century Old Smithy which has recently opened up for occasional open days once again. I really enjoyed the tour and I learned a lot.

Old Smithy
Old Smithy
Old Smithy
Old Smithy
Inside the smithy
Inside the smithy

Wedding up North(umberland)

I love weddings. I really do. A chance to get dressed up in an over-the-top outfit and enjoy yourself, surrounded by people you (hopefully) know and who are in the mood to celebrate. Of course, not every wedding is a positive experience, but happily the wedding of a family friend I went to last week was lovely.

The wedding took place in Newton Hall in Northumberland. The venue was gorgeous, but it was a shame about the weather, which prevented the photos being taken outside in front of the Hall. Still, a great deal of fun was had by all.
I got this bargainous dress from Collectif a few weeks ago: it’s the Maria Bloom Swing Dress. My mam made me do it: I had a different dress planned to wear, but she persuaded me to get this one. Well, it was in the sale.

Me wearing my new Collectif dress
Awkward mirror selfie

My shoes are ones that I’ve had a long time. They’re lovely and relatively comfortable, but it’s so long since I’ve worn heels that they started to kill me. The bride had thoughtfully provided flip-flops for all the ladies, but I’ve never been able to wear them (toe posts kill me). So I took my own Rollasoles instead. My bag was a charity shop bargain. I did have a jacket to wear but I ended up leaving it in the house, which meant I was absolutely freezing when we got there. Luckily once we made it inside the building it was nice and warm.

The wedding was beautiful, lots of speeches were made and plenty of wine was drunk (mainly by me). I got to see people I haven’t seen for ages, and I may also have had a bit of a dance. Perhaps.

Happy Christmas Eve!

I don’t know about you, but I find the week before Christmas always flies by. I’ve been at home for a few days, but it feels like I’ve been here for ages.

Durham Cathedral

My last day at work was Monday, and I caught the train to Durham really early on Tuesday morning. Despite being shattered I went to the Christmas quiz with my parents. My dad and two others take it in turns to do the pub quiz every Tuesday. This time, however, the one whose turn it was asked the others for help, so the three of them took it in turns to do a round each – a bit like the Three Wise Men. The pub provided Santa hats and crackers, which was nice: I got a mini bowling game in mine, which I’d like to have a go at when I get the chance.

Christmas Quiz
Pub quiz fun times

On Wednesday I went to Beamish with my mam: I’ve got a pass for a year so I want to make the most of it, and I particularly wanted to see what it was like at Christmas. A few years ago they didn’t even open the place at Christmas, except for the town, but these days the whole thing is open and it was absolutely packed. The best bit was the Pockerley Waggonway, which they’d dusted with fake snow and made really Christmassy; they even had reindeer. The market in the town selling mulled wine was pretty good too.

Hello there
The town at Beamish

On Thursday I arranged to meet up with one of my friends at the cat cafe in Newcastle. I still haven’t visited London’s cat cafe, but I really wanted to go to this one because of the name – it’s called Mog on the Tyne (my friend and I were singing the song constantly). The cats were so adorable and I was in my element, even though I had to dose myself on antihistamines to combat my unfortunate cat allergy.

Mog on the Tyne
Mog on the Tyne

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I was pretty tired by Friday, so it was just as well that I didn’t have much on – just a haircut. Well, I needed to get my roots done too, so I was in there a while. They gave me prosecco so I was quite happy – not so my poor mother who’d brought me to the salon (it’s in our old town, so a bit of a trek). I always get my hair done when I come home as it’s so much cheaper than in London. I get on with the people in the salon too and I’m happy chatting to them, which is pretty unusual for me.

New(ish) hair

I posted a photo on Instagram afterwards, but my hair was tucked into my coat and I have a horrible feeling that everyone who liked my photo thought I’d actually got it cut shorter. I don’t care if other people prefer it – longer hair is so much easier to manage on a day-to-day basis so I’m not planning on getting it changed any time soon.

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This morning, I wrapped all my presents then headed out to meet one of my oldest friends for lunch. As I’ve got older I’ve developed different festive traditions and this is one of mine – meeting up with her for food and drinks, though I still like to get home in time to curl up with a book in the evening.

Which is what I’m about to go and do now – Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Christmas selfie
Merry Christmas!

We wish you a Merry Christmas…

The fortnight covering Christmas and New Year is always a bit of a strange time. Frankly, I don’t know how I’m going to manage to go back to work tomorrow, seeing as I am used to going to bed late and getting up early, watching rubbish on TV and eating whatever I like. Having said that, I do feel a bit sick of chocolate and cheese, and the thought of eating a huge pile of vegetables and getting some fresh air is actually rather appealing. And as far as alcohol is concerned I really don’t fancy it at the moment, thanks to my monster New Year hangover.

I always go home to my parents for Christmas, but this year I went up a bit later, as I couldn’t get the time off work. On the plus side, this meant that I could spend the last couple of days before leaving work finishing off all the tasks I had to do, safe in the knowledge that anyone who might have sent me extra stuff had already gone on holiday. It also gave me the chance to see a Christmas show: Miracle on 34th Street in Watford.

Going home was strange, as it was to be the first Christmas in my parents’ new house. I went for a walk to explore the town, glad that I’d taken my warm coat up north with me, as it was freezing. I ended up in the local cemetery, where many of the graves date from the early 1900s and belong to miners killed in local colliery accidents, testament to the area’s mining heritage.

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I then went back home and watched some of my Ghost Stories for Christmas DVD. I love the original black-and-white version of Whistle and I’ll Come To You, and the newer version is pretty good too.


I met up with my friend Elisa on Christmas Eve. We went for lunch in my old home town (nostalgia alert) and then went for a few drinks at a nearby bar. The cocktails there were lovely but so expensive – nearly London prices, which is incredible in the north! The Rudolph cocktail was pretty cute though.



For the first time on Christmas Day, we didn’t go to my auntie’s house, as she’d been invited elsewhere. This was the first time in my dad’s life that he hasn’t had to leave his home on Christmas Day – as a child he went to his auntie’s, as he got older his sister, my auntie, took over, so it was a bit of a novelty for him. Sadly we had to wait ages for our Christmas dinner as my brother didn’t get in from work until after eight – we relied on lots of chocolate and Pringles to see us through.

Christmas morning Buck’s Fizz

I got some lovely presents, including several on a somewhat similar theme:


On Boxing Day it was time for the annual trip to the sales (this year’s haul consisted mostly of Lush products and Boots Christmas gifts), followed by a family meal. After Christmas I sat around, read books, and ate more than was good for me. It was also great to see my parents’ friends, who arrived to stay for a few days after Christmas, sadly the day before I left. As usual, I came back to London for New Year and we had a house party. I definitely drank more than was good for me – the straight whisky at around 3am was certainly a bad idea – but the evening was certainly more sophisticated than a couple of years ago when I spent the entire morning of New Year’s Day mopping the living room owing to the amount of alcohol that had been spilt on the floor.

Happy New Year!

I had a lovely break and found the time to watch some TV: I never seem to have that much time for watching TV in my everyday life, but all that changes when I go home for Christmas. My mam and I watched the adorable Snow Chick: A Penguin’s Tale which followed the antics of the smallest chick in a group of Emperor Penguins. On Christmas Day my dad made us all watch Arthur Christmas, an animation which he swore was brilliant, and he was right: it’s going up there with my favourite Christmas films. On the same note, another Aardman Productions film, The Farmer’s Llamas, was very funny.

I watched the Downton Abbey Christmas special, and while I’m glad Edith got her happy ending, I’m rather glad to see the back of the show, as it got so silly in later seasons. Ghost Hunter was enjoyable, although nothing like Neil Spring’s book The Ghost Hunters on which it is based.

My festive highlight has to be And Then There Were None. It was a brilliantly done Agatha Christie adaptation, true to the spirit of the book, and utterly compelling (the presence of Aidan Turner had absolutely nothing to do with this, oh no). Sadly, despite looking forward to it for months, I found the Sherlock Victorian special rather disappointing – self-indulgent, anti-feminist and trying to be too clever by half.

So that was my festive holiday. Now to look forward!

My “Instagram Best Nine”, as shown on 2015bestnine.com

Home, but not home

I recently spent a week at home visiting my parents. It was a bit different from my usual trips up North: my parents recently moved house, from the semi where I grew up in a large town to a new detached house in a much smaller village.

New house

It was a tad strange going into a completely different house, but once I was there, I was ok – seeing my parents so much happier in their new home made a lot of difference. The new place is bigger than the old one, and one room is going to be a LIBRARY.

The garden

I still keep the majority of my books at home, as I simply don’t have the room to have them in London. Therefore I spent much of the week visiting various friends and relatives, rescuing boxes of books that they had kindly offered to look after, and sorting them onto the shelves in the library and my own bedroom.

My room

I also found the time to sort out some old toys. Frankly, these deserve a blog post of their own, but here are a couple of pictures to be going on with.

Swan Keyper
GoGo My Walking Pup

I did find the time to get out of the house a few times. I spent a day in Durham with my mam: we visited an exhibition at Durham University and had the chance to see Bishop Cosin’s Library in Palace Green Library, which was a real treat. We had tea and cake at Vennel’s café and later went out to the pub quiz that my dad has been going to for years.

We visited my brother at one point, and the two of us had a great game of Blades of Steel, an amazing retro NES game that we loved as children. It has the most horrendous graphics, but it is really simple to pick up and loads of fun to play.


For many years, when I was younger, my parents, my brother and I, along with my parents’ friends and their two children, would go to Ambleside in Cumbria each year during the Autumn half term in order to visit the garden centre there, which had an amazing collection of Christmas decorations. Although all of us children have now grown up and left home, our parents still make the trip every year, and this time I was able to accompany them for the first time in about a decade.

Car park

I’m not sure this was such a good idea, however. I have brilliant memories of the place, but it’s probably a mistake to try and recapture old feelings. The garden centre is pretty much the same, and the Christmas section is as impressive as ever, but the play area where us four children would spend hours is long gone. Obviously, I’m a bit old to be going on the swings myself, but I still feel sad about this!



My final day out was to Newcastle, where I met up with a friend, had some hot chocolate and visited Fenwicks Window (another yearly tradition when I was small). It wasn’t as impressive as last year’s, which was Alice in Wonderland-themed, but I did like the Northumbria Police speeding ticket stuck to the side of the sleigh.




One of the strangest things about my parents moving is that I now need to get the train from Durham, not Newcastle. Still, it was nice to be able to wait on the platform with Durham Cathedral looming impressively from a distance.

At the station
Durham Cathedral

So that was my week at home: I’ll be back at Christmas!