I woke quite early and walked onto the deck to see that we’d already passed Tynemouth (and therefore the mouth of the Tyne) – I missed it by maybe three minutes! Not to worry. I marveled at the enormous cranes lining the banks as we slowed down and the pilot (is he called a pilot?) carefully reversed the enormous ferry into its parking bay. OK, not quite, but it was a very similar maneuver to the one I’ve performed in Morrisons’ car park a gazillion times, just on a somewhat larger scale.
This was it. Over 18 months away from home (bar a quick trip back for Download) and the ground was in sight. Along with the rest of the passengers, I walked down the tunnel to immigration – a walk that probably seemed even longer than it was. My only disappointment at the end was being told that I couldn’t have my passport stamped. Shame.
Outside, a photographer from the Evening Chronicle was waiting for me so that he could get some snaps of my arrival. Him, I was expecting. The two parents and accompanying dogs that were there as well were definitely not expected! The photographer gave us a few moments to say our “hellos” (and for me to remove myself from my hugging mother’s grasp) before taking a few snaps and setting me on my way for the very last stint – a walk up the Tyne and into the city centre.
It wasn’t a long walk, certainly one of the shortest I’ve had, but it seemed like one of the longest as I was just so close to the end. It was a great day for a walk, though. Not too hot or cold, no real breeze and the sun came out as I approached the bend in the river which would reveal the Tyne Bridge to me.
As I progressed up the river, more and more landmarks came into view in the distance. The civic centre, the opera house, the Millennium Bridge, St James’ Park and finally the Tyne Bridge.
I had to walk over the bridge before I got into the city centre. It’s an old tradition I’ve had for years. Even when I drove up from Bradford, I’d go over the Tyne Bridge, loop round and go back south again to where I was staying in Gateshead. So, I walked up the hill onto the bridge and halfway along it before doing a u-turn and crossing the city to St James’ Park.
My stopping point was to be the Strawberry, a pub just opposite St James’ Park and where I had been promised a couple of bottles of Newcastle Brown by the very kind manager.
Up past 55 Degrees North, left and along to the Bigg Market. Up the hill and past The Gate (which is still evil) and a left towards Stowell Street. And there was St James’ Park. Almost close enough to touch. Across the car park, the Strawberry.
And in the door. To a small cheer and a round of applause from the bar staff and two of my friends, Tony & June. My parents, it turned out, were round the other side of the pub waiting for me in the wrong place!
As promised, two bottles of Brown were supplied in a posh ice bucket. Almost (almost!) worth the walk alone. My folks arrived shortly after with a different photographer in tow who borrowed me for fifteen minutes to take some pictures.
More beer and then some farewells as my parents headed back north with the dogs and I was transferred to Tony and June’s for a couple of days’ rest.
I dunno about you, but I think I earned it.