Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

A Football Tourist’s Guide to Middlesbrough – Part Two: Whitby & Middlesbrough

(If you missed Part One of this adventure, here’s a quick link)

Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!

Why was I awake at 0500? And where was that pesky clock? In the hotel? Or was it the church bells where Dracula was-buried-but-now-isn’t-because-we-don’t-want-tourists-here-any-more? And aren’t clocks usually silent at night?

Not in Whitby.

White Horse & Griffin

I rose at 0830 and utilised the excellent spacious bathroom in our hotel before packing everything as I used it.

It was my birthday today and I had my card and present from Lee to open. I got ABBA tickets (which I’m VERY excited about) as well as some lovely Temple Spa products.

We headed down to breakfast, where we were greeted at the door before being seated at a specific table. My seat was inside an old fireplace and it was pretty cool in both senses of the word.

I know some of you are here for the food, so here’s my breakfast:

Sorry it’s dark – the room was so dimly lit I actually struggled to read the breakfast menu.

I asked for my breakfast without black pudding because I always leave it anyway. It’s a bit like Marmite for me, in that I like it but only in small doses. Hence a little bit of Lee’s on my plate this morning (can you spot it?).

The breakfast was lovely and was accompanied by a pot of Yorkshire Tea (no Earl Grey and honey here).

Now it was back to the room to collect our bags and check out. Only now (as I waited for Lee to find his sunglasses) did I notice our room had a name, not a number.

After trekking down the road to load the car, we strode back into town towards our first stop of the day.

Ooh the Tour de France / Yorkshire must have passed through here.

Captain Cook Memorial Museum

We had of course heard of Captain Cook but we didn’t know much about him or what his connection was to Whitby. We were looking forward to finding out. I love these little educational trips to museums, learning about the local history of the towns and cities we visit.

Lee was a few steps behind me doing some filming for the video guide to accompany this blog. As I stepped into the entrance yard, I called back to him:

‘There’s something you won’t be expecting when you come round the corner.’

In the entrance building were a couple of friendly faces. I love the warm welcome we receive in museums. It is such a joy to encounter people who are passionate about their jobs and enthuse about their subject to locals and tourists alike.

Our guide was ‘nearly 90’ and was so knowledgeable. I love listening to the stories of the older generation because they have so much more knowledge than I could possibly have. I wish I’d appreciated this more when I was younger myself but of course you think you know everything in your teens and twenties, don’t you?

So, what did we learn? Captain James Cook lived and worked in this very house as an apprentice. He made three long-distance voyages and charted the first maps of Australia (then known as New Holland).

His maps were so accurate that the Americans used them in WWII. He had been reluctant to travel north and, when he was finally persuaded to, he came to a sticky end in Hawaii, where only his arm was later found by his crew.

We also learned how plants and animals were analysed and transported on these voyages. Artists travelled to draw what they saw, so others back home could see what they had seen. What a fascinating and exciting job that must have been!

As I contemplated all of this – and the name Captain James Cook – I surmised that Captain James Kirk must have been named after him. There were so many similarities: voyaging off with a crew to undiscovered lands and making first contact, not knowing what was out there.

We spent the best part of an hour in here but could – and would – have stayed longer still, had another tourist not arrived and our guide headed off to share his stories with him. It was probably just as well, as we had a busy pre-match schedule today.

We reluctantly headed back to the car, stopping to admire some unusual diving birds, the like of which we don’t have in Blackpool. I love observing different birds – and the different behaviour of the same birds – in different parts of the country.

Can you identify this bird?

‘It’s hot today, isn’t it?’

‘Yes – it’s 21 today. Just like me…’

Whitby Abbey?

On our Ghost Walk last night, we had learned of the ‘199 steps’ that lead up to Whitby Abbey and thought ‘fuck that’. I really don’t like steps or hills. I’m from Blackpool, which is flat, and I’m simply not built for climbing.

My genius idea this morning was to drive up to Whitby Abbey. I knew there was a car park up there and it would help us to regain some time. The drive was nice and scenic and we parked up easily.

We could see the Abbey – it is a prominent landmark that you can see for miles on the road into Whitby – but could we figure out where the entrance was? All we could see were walls, walls everywhere. We headed right, out of the car park and around the wall, further and further round.

And then – a clue! A sign indicating that Whitby Brewery was in this direction. Well, that was the other remaining item on our itinerary for Whitby, so if we found that first that would be fine. We knew it opened at 1100 – and it was later than that now.

We walked and walked and finally the brewery – the oasis – appeared on the horizon. Yippee!

Whitby Brewery

The beer garden here was already brimming with people enjoying the glorious sunshine. The area was well-signposted (bonus points for that) and I followed the sign for the bar, which was to the left of the main building.

I enquired if they offered thirds – only for one of their beers, apparently – and opted for a half of each of the Saltwick Nab (bitter) and the Jet Black (porter). Sure, it was more gold/blonde/lager weather but I take dark beers where I can find them these days. And boy was I glad I did, because these were lush.

There were dogs aplenty here, too – indeed it was on a lovely walking route – and my favourite was Peggy, who was excited about EVERYTHING, bounding over with glee every time someone approached with their hands full of beer.

The view here was stunning.

The original plan had been to visit last night, when there was a punk band on here, but, had we done so, we would have not been able to enjoy this view so well in the dark.

There was a huge influx of people shortly after we arrived – with tables now at a premium – and we established that the Abbey was accessible from the direction they had arrived from.

Alas we couldn’t remain here for too long but I made a point of checking out the facilities before we moved on.

This sign piqued my curiosity and I became acutely conscious of the cheeping of birds as I was on the loo. Was I about to be ambushed?

I wasn’t and here’s a pic of the inside drinking/entertainment area:

Now on to the Abbey.

Whitby Abbey

We found the entrance not much further around the corner – and were again surprised at what we saw. I had been expecting just some ruins in a field. But this was so much more than that.

First up, there was a proper entrance with a booth where we had to pay to get in. This is an English Heritage site and there was information on how to join. Perhaps we should? After all, we are out and about a lot discovering English Heritage sites and membership might throw up inspiration for new places to visit?

There was also a Whitby Tour Bus just pulling away. Gosh it was a popular place!

That said, there wasn’t much of a queue to get in at this time (probably approaching 1200 by now) and we were soon entering the Abbey grounds.

Dear reader, Whitby Abbey is breathtaking. People – myself included – were simply standing around in awe. I felt like I was on a film set.

If you ever find yourself in the Whitby area, DO NOT MISS THIS.

There’s also a museum on the Abbey grounds, which is worth a visit. I really liked the little holes through which you could view miniature displays or listen to stories.

On entry, we had enquired if there was another entrance at the car park end. We were advised that, yes, there was; however it was below eye level so as to preserve the visual prettiness of the surrounding area. We went out that way (as we could not afford to be distracted by the brewery again on the way out).

Now it was time to head to Middlesbrough. Had you forgotten we were here for the football? I almost had. But this is all part of our cunning plan to make the match a smaller part of our away trips, so as to not have our weekend completely ruined by a dodgy ref or disappointing result. This is Lee’s first season of doing every game, home and away – and he’s already beginning to realise how mentally tough it can be. I have warned him that he ain’t seen nothing yet and by February in the cold and dark it will be very hard to motivate ourselves to get out of bed and head to an away match. Hopefully these Football Tourist Guide extravaganzas (and our new car, if it ever arrives) will help with that motivation.

It took longer than expected to drive to Middlesbrough: almost an hour. On the bright side, at least that shortened the post-match journey, as we were now heading West.

Ali Brownlee Social Club @ Base Camp Boro

We had been invited here by some friendly Middlesbrough fans.

We did

Sadly, COVID struck and the pint-bearer was laid up today. I was also sorry to have just missed the seller of the Boro fanzine Fly Me To The Moon, although I snapped up a copy from the bar.

This place struck me as right up our street. Especially in recent years, I have come to appreciate that football fans have more in common than they have differences – no matter who they support. During lockdown – and our enforced time live-streaming on YouTube – we ‘met’ many fans of other clubs. Now we are allowed out again, we’re beginning to meet our online friends in person.

We managed to find a legal parking spot (again we triple-checked) just round the corner from the social club and headed in.

I was pleased to see fellow Seasiders and friends Fi and Dave already in situ, fresh from a few rounds of Connect 4 (there were games on all the tables).

After saying hello I headed to the bar/counter and was delighted to see one of my favourite beers from one of my favourite breweries in the fridge.

And that was only the beginning of the excitement. There were bags of penny sweets (are they still called that?), sausage sandwiches, cake and a wonderful selection of teas. I bought this one:

(Then, when I got it home, I realised my tea strainer hadn’t survived my move Up North…but a solution is forthcoming in my next blog).

Lee had been off filming around the building, which made The Armfield Club look like a micropub. It was a huge warren of rooms at the back of the building, upstairs and downstairs. There was a dance studio and a horror cinema. There were male, female and unisex toilets (what a great idea) and they were decorated by local artists.

Sure, the hand drier was of the ‘you might as well just blow on your hands’ variety, but that was catered for too, with hand towels available.

I was totally in love with this place, what it stands for and what it is trying to achieve.

I was power-drinking now, as I frantically necked two cans within half an hour. We had been on the move all morning and we still had the game to get to.

Middlesbrough v Blackpool

Google Maps guided us to The Riverside Stadium on foot. And boy was this not the Middlesbrough I remembered.

All I could recall of this town was darkness, greyness, industry and smog. Fi did point out that our recent trips here had been in the dark/winter so that probably hadn’t helped.

But this walk down by the riverside was stunning. There was art, huge concrete deckchairs (surprisingly comfy; I tried one out for size), a university, a very striking artwork stretching across the river, the river itself and The Riverside Stadium. It was quite one of the most delightful walks to a ground that I can recall. And this was Middlesbrough!

On entering the ground, I conducted my usual routine of powdering my nose and buying a bottle of water (and a Twix on this occasion, as I hadn’t eaten since breakfast). I then took my seat towards the back of the stand.

As I settled back in my seat, I noticed a message from MG, informing me that he had something for me and he was sitting on the back row. I turned and scanned the back row and located him. I messaged back saying I’d visit at half time, so as not to disturb the people in my row more times than necessary.

Lee and Karen soon joined me. We didn’t much enjoy the first half, as our hosts ran rampant and went in at the break 1-0 up. God it was hard up here in the Championship. It was nowhere near this hard the last time we were up here (which was only six years ago).

Why don’t we have a star set piece taker?

Why is our passing still so ropey?

Why are we still struggling to score goals?

Was that linesman daydreaming when he didn’t notice the 3-4 players offside for the Boro goal?

At half time I went to powder my nose again before stopping to chat on the concourse with Steve (of Leyland & Chorley Seasiders fame). While I was doing so, another friend called Steve insisted on buying me a pint. I don’t normally drink at half time but it was my birthday after all.

Before retaking my seat, I paid MG a visit. What had he got for me? Well, dear reader, it was only a bloody Lucky Orange Aero!

As I made my way back to my seat, a Seasider passing on his way upstairs said:

‘Hey Jane! Where’s your Lucky…?’

He spotted it in my hand.

‘Oh there it is! Phew! That’s all right then.’

And of course the second half is history. I knew what I had to do.

I saved the chocolate for crucial moments in the match. We attacked, I shoved a couple of pieces in my mouth with a little too much force and was practically choking on chocolate when our equalising goal went in. And again I had my mouth full of Lucky Orange Aero when our winner was scored.

Marvin Ekpiteta’s equaliser was a goal worthy of any striker – and he’s a centre half. I’ve been saying for ages we should give him a shot up front. He’s tall and he scores goals. Sure, he’s great at the back, but we have other defenders who can cover (Gretarsson, Casey, Connolly, Husband). We’re lacking on the hot shot striker front right now (with Jerry and Big Gaz Gary Goals Goal Machine Madine still in warm-up mode). Could Big Marv be our Chris Sutton / Paul Warhurst?

Anyway we won and everything was brilliant and The Pool Are Going Up, no sweat! This was already shaping up to be a carbon copy of last season, what with the slow start, early heavy defeat, sending off and being written off by everyone but knowing we’ll bloody show ‘em!

Post match I had arranged to meet Ben of Crisp Sandwich fame who, you may recall, was the Boro fan who had kindly loaned me his copy of ‘The Horror of Frankenstein’ after my viewing of the Hammer classic had been pointlessly curtailed by the BBC on my recent visit to Bristol. Our rendezvous point was ‘by the old Ayresome Park gates’. Of course we had no idea where that was, but were practically escorted there by accommodating stewards.

It’s nice that they brought a little bit of their former home to The Riverside with them.

Ben was bemoaning the Boro defence – apparently our winner was not their first own goal of the season – and thought we could have scored a few more, so dominant were we in the second half, fuelled as we were by Lucky Orange Aero magic.

There was a fanzone round this side of the ground and post-match there was a singer standing on the bridge, belting out tunes to the Boro fans that remained, drowning their sorrows.

We chuckled as we recalled the Boro YouTuber who had alluded to us as ‘struggling Blackpool’ in his pre-match tweet. I had quite forgotten that our name changes when we get promoted to the Championship and Premier League. It happened last time too. It’s almost as if the media don’t want a working class seaside town represented in the higher echelons of the football pyramid. Well, we’re here. And we win matches sometimes. And we’re not going anywhere this time because we aren’t a tinpot club any more.

We popped back to Base Camp for a cheeky post-match Mad Squirrel – as we were parked there anyway – where these lovely ladies were singing.

I really didn’t want to leave, but head home we must. What a cracking venue Base Camp Boro is. Be sure to check it out on your next visit to Middlesbrough.

On our way home, we called in at Scotch Corner, where I had the worst chips I have ever tasted at the KFC.

I tried one and couldn’t face any more. Lee said I should have ordered gravy but I’m not sure even that could have redeemed them.

Back home, I was excited to open the rest of my presents (Blue Raspberry Vodka, chocolates, beer and a hotel voucher) before crashing out into bed for 12 hours sleep.

Here’s the video to accompany this blog so you can see Whitby and Middlesbrough for yourself:

NEXT UP: Blackpool v Barnsley (and a return to Lytham) then A Football Tourist’s Guide to Hull.

%d bloggers like this: