Monday – Failed Visit to Piercebridge But More Success in Middlesbrough (Part One)

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My intention had been to visit Piercebridge, promoted by the area’s tourist authorities, which is the site of a Roman bridge. I had watched the Time Team episode filmed at the bridge a year or so ago and though that it looked like an interesting site. I abandoned that plan when I discovered that the bus was going to cost £6.60 for a return ticket, despite it being a 12 minute bus journey. Normally I would have just walked it instead, but it was raining and quite bleak.

The Arriva bus driver was very helpful and tried to work out on his machine if he could find an alternative, but he was unable to do so. He apologised on numerous occasions for the price gouging of his employer, but it was hardly his fault. His bus departed shortly afterwards with just one passenger on board. If I had wanted a day ticket for the wider area it was nearly the same price and I realised why the company hid the prices of single and return tickets on their web-site. As an aside, the Government has demanded recently that bus companies publish a list of all of their fares, but they’re presented in a complex format which makes it hard to unpick without some IT knowledge.

I accept that this is yet another complaint I’m making on this blog despite trying to be a permanent ray of sunshine, but it’s no wonder that increasing numbers of people are moving away from using the bus network. Since this little failed adventure, Grant Shapps has announced (before being sacked) the new £2 bus fare maximum from January to March next year, which would have meant that I would have made this journey.

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Instead, I decided to walk back to Darlington’s railway station to get a day return to Middlesbrough. This was a cheaper ticket than the bus would have been which pleased me greatly. The rail network very often produces remarkable value for money, particularly on advance fares, so the day was looking more interesting. And Middlesbrough has more beer than Piercebridge. It did mean traipsing back to the hotel en route to pick up my bag, but at least that meant I could have my laptop for the day.

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Another photo of the grand interior of Darlington’s railway station.

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My train would be departing from Platform 3.

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And here thunders in the Northern train that I needed to catch, on time and in the right place. Still in a slight mood about the bus fares that Arriva charge, I decided once again that I’m really more of a rail person.

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Clean and functional. I had purchased an off-peak return and wondered what times I could return, but the helpful guard said that there was no limit in the afternoons.

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Wooo, power.

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Welcome to Middlesbrough.

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The railway station felt just a little bleak. The town had a railway station as early as 1830 when the Stockton and Darlington railway line was extended here, although the current building is from 1877. It was badly damaged during an air raid in August 1942 and apparently has been restored recently, although I’m not sure which bit. Please do though enjoy the beautiful greenery that the station has as its floral display.

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What a graceful building, the former National Provincial Bank on Albert Road which opened in the 1930s. I’m not sure that its current usage is quite as decadent, but at least the building is still standing. For anyone interested, some helpful individual has placed the architect’s plans on-line.

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The beating heart of Middlesbrough. I quite liked the town, but they had a lot of empty premises, including some large shops which are currently boarded up. It’s hard to see how they’ll fill those, but the atmosphere felt suitably vibrant. Like many cities and towns, Middlesbrough has had to transform itself from an industrial and manufacturing town into a more service and IT based economy over recent decades.

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I thought I might as well tick off a JD Wetherspoon outlet first and this is the Resolution. The large Lloyds pub explains on its website:

“This pub is part of the Captain Cook Square development, named after Middlesbrough’s most famous son. The pub takes its name from Cook’s flagship, Resolution. Between July 1772 and July 1775, Cook undertook an even more ambitious voyage. He was given two ships, with the Resolution as his flagship. He successfully completed the first west-east circumnavigation in high latitudes, chartered Tonga and Easter Island, discovered New Caledonia in the Pacific, the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia in the Atlantic.”

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For reasons unknown, but which I assume relate to price testing, this is the cheapest JD Wetherspoon outlet that I’ve seen in a long time, this meal and drink came to £5. It’s quite a well reviewed pub as far as these things go, although they annoyed one local:

“I work in a bar an night club so I know how to treat customers right your polite and not rude it’s called manners whiclh your staff don’t have. There ill mannerd and are walking around like lifeless zombies an a face like Margret thatcher” [sic in several places there]

I tried to picture this whole experience in my mind, but perhaps I shouldn’t have done. Anyway, my lunch was delicious just in case anyone wanted to know. I accept that I have no idea who might want to know that, but there we go.

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The coffee was lovely as well. There was then a chat with another customer, not instigated by me obviously, that distracted me for around half an hour, although he said early on that I had a posh southern accent. When I said I was from Norwich, he replied that he thought my accent was from somewhere posher such as Surrey. I was annoyed at numerous levels with that, but there we go…. Bloody Surrey.

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I approve of this, a number of streets which are more accessible for pedestrians and where outdoor areas have been created for restaurants and bars. Who would have though Middlesbrough would be so on trend? But what would I know, since I come from Norwich and not Surrey…..

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Very appropriate for Baker Street. This road, along with Bedford Street, had an abundance of micro-pubs, I was really quite impressed. They had so many micro-pubs that I’m very tempted to visit Middlesbrough again, it was an unexpected delight that was only limited that I didn’t have time to get to many on the day I went.

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Although some of the micro-pubs weren’t yet open, I felt the need to visit one and I went for the Twisted Lip, which is a former terraced house turned into a micro-pub. It has been trading since 2014 and seems to have quite some following, with a range of craft and keg options which were all keenly priced.

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I ordered, in my upmarket accent, the Thunderbridge Stout brewed by Small World Beers of Huddersfield, a very decent and rich stout.

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I think it would be hard for anyone to deny that this interior was anything other than quirky.

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The pub seems to get busy, but it was relatively quiet in the afternoon. The service was friendly and I was rather taken with the surroundings of the venue. I’d merrily recommend this pub, it sets its own style and avoids being formulaic.

Anyway, more about my little meander around Middlesbrough in the next blog post including a former Wetherspoons pub which I thought was quite intriguing…. And, not wanting to go on about it, there is nothing less decadent about Norwich compared to Surrey.