“I’ll have a cappucinoo and a lattee please,” the gravelly tones of a north east accent softly wove local dialect through Italian names and the barman got to work with the puck, ground coffee and espresso machine on the counter beside him.
Linda and I had just settled to our first coffees of the day and were delighting in excellent americanos at the Washington Arts Centre’s courtyard cafe in Fatfield when four gentlemen with a combined age of around 300 years came into the otherwise empty bar. It was still quiet and we wondered what had brought this small and chatty group in, first thing, on a Monday morning. As their vitality and banter filled the room, I scanned the activity list on the centre’s website.
Well, they’re a bit early for bingo, that’s after lunch, and they don’t look kitted up for the cycling club either. Maybe they’re members of the B Sharps? That’s a community choir, but that starts now and they’ve just got their drinks ordered…..” I tailed off, absorbed by the activity menu.
“Goodness, you could spend all week here if you had a mind to,” I marvelled, scrolling through the list of ‘What’s on’.
“There’s something happening, morning, noon and night, every day. Ballroom dancing, two types of yoga and pilates, two community choirs, art and music classes, wild walks. bingo, tai chi, oh, and gong bathing,” I paused, intrigued, and began to read further details
“Going bathing? In the Wear or have they got a pool here?” Linda queried, looking up from her coffee mug, with that ‘I was half listening’ expression.
“No, it’s not that type of bathing,” I laughed. “Apparently, they use 2 gongs to create sound waves that you let wash over you and it opens up your body, mind and spirit. The instructions say to bring yoga mat, blanket and pillows. Sounds like a perfect excuse for a nap.”
We’d finished our coffees by this point and were at the point of getting a little too comfortable in our armchairs. Putting my phone away, I looked out at the windswept sunlit courtyard. Linda picked up the cue and we headed out to find our walk start point on the other side of the river.
It had been a few months since the Weardale Way had been our map focus and it was good to resume walking the river under some much missed
sunshine and blue skies. The path is well trod and, after much rainfall,
was quite muddy in places. We hopped. slithered and climbed round the worst patches and lamented the lack of cloak carrying gentlemen. The river was full; with recent storms and a receding high tide, she moved in purposeful and stately fashion alongside us, setting a pace that far outstripped ours. Today was not for going bathing.
Our riverbank route section was short, just over four miles this time, as I had spotted a circular route using a disused railway bike track to return us to the car. The river curved sinuously past the James Steel park, the golf course, the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust Washington site and we met walkers with rucksacks, dogs, horses and/or children at various stages along the path. Designated a leisure area and clearly well used, we walked through a history that had been much different.
With a minefield of collieries to serve and clear, the private industrial Lambton horse drawn tramway was constructed in 1737 by John Lambton,
the first Earl of Durham. As the industry thrived, the tramway was replaced by the HS2 of the age with a sprawling railway network commissioned to carry coal to the Port of Sunderland. Mining provided employment for over 200 years until 1967 and, despite the salutary record of deaths, due mainly to rock fall, 1000 – 1600 employees relied on its income throughout the remaining 20th century lifespan of the collieries.
Whilst the railway has disappeared, the track bed now linking Fatfield with Sunderland and in use by cyclists, riders and walkers, the first Earl, also known as Radical Jack, has a memorial that shouts from the hilltops. The Penshaw Monument sits atop Penshaw Hill and is unmissable. Constructed
in the style of the Temple of Hyphaestus in Athens, it was built in 1844 after John’s death by admirers of his “distinguished talents and exemplary private
virtues”. I’m not quite sure where the Greek link comes from, but he had obviously packed a lot into a short life of just 49 years, with Lord Privy Seal and Governor General of Canada on his CV and co-author of a pivotal report advising Government to foster self governance in the British Empire’s colonies.
We didn’t visit the monument on this occasion but headed instead to another of Washington’s sons – the home of George’s ancestors at Washington Old Hall. The site of a splendid post walk cream tea and a brief glimpse of historical links with Sizergh Castle near Kendal and Helton near Penrith, it appears that those from the north east are not shy in either digging deep or spreading their wings in order to thrive and make an impact.
I’m not sure whether Radical Jack or President George would have preferred a cappucinoo or a lattee but I have a sneaking feeling that our four Likely Lads of earlier have also been making a difference in their group’s three centuries of life and I don’t think they’ll have finished yet either.