Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

A Football Tourist’s Guide To Hartlepool – Part One: The Touristy Bit & The Golden Lion

I had been so excited about this trip ever since the FA Cup draw was made – and I fully intended to make the most of our little hollibob to Hartlepool. I fell in love with Hartlepool many years ago. Why? Because it’s one of those rare and special places where memories are made.

It was in Hartlepool where we had a Friday night match that was so cold that I was wearing ten layers of clothes (and was still cold) and, on our walk from the ground, shivering, we saw local girls out on the town wearing boob tubes and mini skirts. When asked if they were cold, they chuckled: ‘You get used to it, luv.’

It was in Hartlepool where the landlady of a guest house banished me to spend the night in a broom cupboard in the servants quarters for having the audacity to ask for a smoking room (back in the days when I smoked and smoking rooms were a thing).

It was in Hartlepool where we conceded a penalty, which was saved, then we immediately broke and won a penalty, which we scored, and my rotund friend lifted me up in celebration, my back arched round his belly as I returned to earth and I’ve suffered backache ever since. With every twinge I remember Hartlepool and that goal and smile.

I realised with horror that it had now been 16 years since I had been to Hartlepool. Sure, I had had many football adventures since then. But not many places lived up to the memories of Hartlepool. I was looking forward to making many more memories here this weekend.

The Journey From Hell

There’s a writing technique called ‘foreshadowing’, which hints at things to come. For example, if you’re watching a film or tv show and there’s a weather report about a storm brewing, it’s an indication that something bad is going to happen. It’s all part of setting the scene and preparing the viewer for what is to come.

Alexa had woken us at 0530 today and we were on the road for 0700. We filled up the car and headed up the M6. The temperature in Blackpool had been dropping dramatically all week and I had noted that it had been -2C in Hartlepool the night before. When I am getting ready to set off for a match, I always but always ask Alexa what the weather is like at our destination so I know what to wear. I had known it was going to be cold in Hartlepool. It was Hartlepool, after all. It rivals Oldham for one of the coldest places in football. I’d bought some new thermals especially for this match.

However, what I had failed to take into account was what the weather was like on the way to the match. After all, we had to get from Blackpool to Hartlepool. It never occurred to me that this might be a problem. I had seen the usual social media updates of people reporting snow, but they were in Manchester and the Midlands, which didn’t affect us directly. But today we were travelling through Cumbria and across The Extreme North – somewhere we rarely venture.

As we tootled up the M6, pleased to be on a clear road, I requested a pit stop at Lancaster Services. There were two reasons for this:

  1. I needed to buy a Flake (you’ll see why later).
  2. I needed to visit Percy Pig to see if he would oink.

I have to visit Percy every time we pass this way. Every time I press his hand in a vain attempt to hear him oink and he remains silent and I am disappointed.

Of course the same happened today – but Lee started rummaging behind Percy and came up with a cunning plan. He had a power brick for his battery (perhaps not charged?) and we had a fully charged one with us. He scurried to the car to get the power brick while I scoured the shelves of M&S for some fruit for breakfast.

This was reduced and I just couldn’t leave it on the shelf.

Imminently, one of the staff members saw us loitering around Percy looking suspicious and asked if she could help. We explained how much we loved Percy and really, really wanted to hear him oink.

‘Oh he’s been dead for a few years. And it wasn’t an oink, really – it was more of a grunt.’

As she grunted by way of example, my heart sank. Why would she say that Percy was dead? Did this woman not have a heart?

We did, however, learn that this Percy was one of only about four in the country. He was consigned to the storeroom for some time (was he a smoker, I wondered?) but was brought back out because ‘the children love him.’ I loved him too. But I’d just been just been callously informed of his death as if it was nothing – as if he meant nothing. Could his battery not be replaced? Having given this further thought since, I’m going to have to look into this further. Perhaps we could crowdfund for his revival?

Dejected, I trudged to WH Smith, picked up a Flake then sank back into the car.

To cheer myself up, I knew I needed to focus on Hartlepool – a place of joy. I didn’t have a Hartlepool playlist, so I tapped ‘Hartlepool’ into Apple Music to see if anything came up. And what a treat I found there! There was a selection of folk songs about Hartlepool – including ones about the famous monkey hanging. This one is particularly informative and also has a very catchy chorus. Do give it a listen:

I’ve never really stopped to think about that poor little monkey but it really is quite an horrific story. Surely in 1810 people must have known that a monkey wasn’t a Frenchman? I would think about this more and more as the weekend progressed and find myself more and more disturbed by the whole situation. I find cruelty to animals abhorrent and stories of such things upset me deeply.

As I gazed out of the window, it was all looking very pretty.

We tootled through Kirkby Stephen and Lee pointed out the chippy that I’d been thrown out of on the way home from Sunderland. I flicked the Vs as we passed.

And then, out of nowhere, we were faced with a line of cones blocking the A66. What was that all about? This necessitated a U-turn and completely threw us. I hastily opened Waze and selected an alternative route because even she wasn’t aware of this development, otherwise we’d have been directed around it.

Our new route directed us down this road.

Beautiful, right? But not practical to drive on, up a hill in the snow. We struggled to get grip on the road and could not make it to the top of the hill – nor was the road wide enough to turn around on. We were stuck. Panic! What could we do? I tried to be practical and wanted to call for the breakdown service but Lee wouldn’t tell me who our cover was with (he later revealed we don’t have any). Not that that mattered, as we had no phone signal here anyway. We had no choice but to reverse the half a mile we had come up this hill. But we couldn’t get traction in reverse either. And now it had started snowing again. Dear reader, this was a terrifying experience. Were we going to die here?

By now there were a couple of cars lined up behind us but we had to wave at them to reverse while Lee battled to gain control of our car.

‘I’m tempted to just turn round and go home.’

I remained silent. I’d been looking forward to Hartlepool for weeks. But was it worth putting our lives at risk for? Er hell yeah! As I often do at moments like this (not that I’d experienced anything like this since driving through thick fog after a night game at Hull around 20 years ago), I retreated into my head and thought ‘this will be great for the blog’. Extreme Football Tourist Guide material!

It took some time but at length we got back to the less-snowy junction. There was a man in a water board van waiting and we explained that the road was impassable but he wasn’t having any of it and ploughed ahead anyway. But, before he did so, he helpfully gave us directions to Hartlepool.

‘Oh you don’t want to be going that way.’

Yeah, we knew that much…

He directed us via Barnard Castle and Bishop Auckland. We thanked him and hoped for the best.

Mercifully, the remainder of the journey was less perilous and we lived to tell the tale. Also, Barnard Castle looks a great place for a pit stop. We weren’t stopping though, as I needed to make sure Lee got us to Hartlepool before he changed his mind and went home.

The Museum of Hartlepool

Dear reader, if you can safely navigate your way to Hartlepool without dying, when you get there you will find an abundance of free parking (take note Bristol). We parked up outside the Museum of Hartlepool down by the marina around 1130 – a full 90 minutes later than planned, thanks to the weather. On the latter part of the journey my brain had been recalibrating our plans for the weekend and I wasn’t panicking because I knew we didn’t need too long here.

The main reason for our visit to the free-to-enter Museum of Hartlepool was because I’d heard they told the story of the monkey hanging in an entertaining way – and this was an important part of Hartlepool culture, which I felt compelled to report in this Football Tourist’s Guide.

Sure enough, here was the Hartlepool United mascot H’Angus The Monkey, who I’d forgotten had been voted in as Mayor of Hartlepool for two terms in the 2000s. Yet another reason to love Hartlepool right there.

There was a button on the wall that we pressed to hear yet another folk song about the hanging of the monkey. It’s almost as if they’re proud of what they did. If this had happened in Hull, they’d have a statue memorialising the monkey and an eccentric local dressed as a monkey raising money for a monkey rescue centre.

Here they have monkey merchandise. It’s a thing.

Look at the cute little monkey that we murdered!
Ok I get their confusion if the monkey was dressed like this…

My favourite exhibit here was this one, which made me howl with laughter.

‘This exhibit is out on loan, so here’s a toy monkey instead…’

As this is the Football Tourist’s Guide, I feel compelled to include the football exhibit.

Finally, there was an Andy Capp display. Cartoonist Reg Smythe was a famous son of Hartlepool.

Check out his German name…

It was here that I also learned that the Angel of the North was built in Hartlepool.

After a brief spell of confusion at seeing a display of rats in the gift shop, we headed off for lunch.

The Golden Lion

I spend a lot of time researching pub grub before setting off on these trips. I had a list of four potential eateries in Hartlepool for this weekend but this one topped the bill. First of all, it had the largest thatched roof in the north of England, which warranted a look.

Sorry, not a great photo owing to lighting, hunger and desperation for the loo.

Also, I had read rave reviews about the home-cooked food here. Whilst I couldn’t find a menu (no sign of a website or Facebook page, which is rare for a pub), I decided I’d go for it anyway. I got the impression this was the sort of place that would do meat and veg and that should be ok for my SlimmingWorld plan.

I was greeted with these on the bar.

First of all, they have a Scone of the Week. That’s simply brilliant. Secondly, they would go so well with my trifle spread, wouldn’t they? I needed to draw on all my reserves of willpower at this point. Because, in order to lose weight this week, I needed to ensure my food was on plan all week because I knew there was going to be plenty of this:

I am finding my taste in beer (and pubs) is undergoing somewhat of a revolution at the moment. This has been in part driven by lockdown, during which time I built up a craving for fluffy pints of mild whilst actually drinking cans of 10% imperial stouts and porters that sounded nice on the can but in fact mainly tasted of alcohol and not the cherry/chocolate/trifle that they promised. I’m therefore going ‘back to basics’ in the knowledge that I actually really do prefer cask ale. Perhaps CAMRA do have a point…

My SlimmingWorld lunchtime rule is to allow myself ‘just a half’ with my lunch, so I had a half of Strongarm here, which was lovely and caramelly.

My food was from the specials board:

Salmon fillet, scented rice, stir fried vegetables, tomato and basil sauce.

The food was delicious. Lee had a battered meat cleaver.

Now this was an interesting pub, which I liked very much. I noted with interest (as Si had done on a recent blogging mission elsewhere) that the customers were mainly women. All of the tables had a paw print on them (lion as in the pub name?) and some of the tables and stools were kidney-shaped, which was unusual.

There was a fridge full of ice cream (NB this was Hartlepool in winter – what was wrong with these people, really?!).

And I realised with delight that I had made the right decision in saving my toilet visit for this pub (despite really needing to go at the museum).

How often do you see toilet cisterns with chains these days?
There was even a little shelf for my handbag.

I would really recommend this pub if you’re eating in Hartlepool.

Steetley Pier

When plotting pubs places of interest on my map, I usually spot something else of interest. Indeed, it was a random spotting of the National Lawnmower Museum on a map of Southport that got me started on this Football Tourist Guide malarkey in the first place. On my Hartlepool map, Steetley Pier leapt out at me. We love a pier (of course we do – we’re from Blackpool, where we have three), so decided to head over there now, while it was still light.

We drove past the impressive Spion Kop Cemetery (I would later learn that Spion Kop was a battle in the Boer War, and there was me thinking it was a football ground thing).

There were also a lot of new houses being built, overlooking the beach. This really was a lovely part of the country.

As we parked up, I spotted the Hartlepool coat of arms. Was that another rat? What was it with Hartlepool and rats? I needed to find out.

It’s a hound, apparently, on the back of a hart in a pool. I remain unconvinced.

Anyway, here’s the pier.

This little beach really is stunning. It was so serene. However it was, of course, freezing cold here today. That didn’t stop the locals from skinny-dipping in the sea. I jest of course (not that it would have surprised me) but there were people about here, walking their dogs.

The pier itself was built to service the local magnesite plant, which closed in 2005. It is not possible to access the pier and if you look closely you might see that there is a section missing. We did enjoy it as a landmark, though, and were glad we had taken the time to visit. All piers are, of course, different and have their own functions/attractions.

Andy Capp Statue

Of course we had to visit Andy Capp while we were over here on the Headland. Here’s me with the man himself. I like how he makes me look tall.

I was delighted to find an item of knitted joy here. This is a thing, apparently, where people knit things and place them at random locations to make people smile when they find them. You may recall there was lots of knitted decoration around Mumbles Pier on our recent visit to Swansea. You might also see knitted hats on a postbox near you. Here today someone had knitted an RNLI scarf for Andy Capp. Smashing stuff.

National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool

This museum is adjacent to the Museum of Hartlepool but I knew we needed quite a lengthy visit here, hence not going in when we were here earlier.

On the door on the way in, I spotted this:

Gutted I missed this! I love animal-themed art trails.

The reason for our visit here today was because it is home to the HMS Trincomalee – the oldest warship afloat in Europe. And just look at her.

The warship is open for tours at set times during the day and we would head on board a little later.

This museum is situated on the marina and HMS Trincomalee was surrounded on three sides by exhibits in the form of old shops (gunmakers, nautical instrument makers and the like).

Now I’m going to be perfectly honest here and tell you that these were bloody terrifying. The Dracula Experience at Whitby has nothing on these exhibits at the National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool.

Why were they so frightening? Predominantly for how eerily lifelike the mannequins/waxwork models(?) were. They looked like real people but surely people couldn’t stay still for that long? Nope, they weren’t blinking. And I swear I saw this one move.

Zoom in and look at his hands!

This one was even scarier because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man holding a gun in real life – let alone been that close. I practically ran out of that gunmakers screaming.

Surely that was the height of the terror? Oh no! What was in these boxes?

Look closer…

Now open the door…

Surely there had to be a tavern here?

I approached the bar, keen for a tankard of mead to settle my nerves. But nooooo the barkeep wasn’t real, either! These exhibits were so real, I began to speculate whether taxidermy on humans was actually practised in Hartlepool.

I was relieved when it was time to board the HMS Trincomalee because I wasn’t sure how much more of this I could take. And boy what a spectacle that was! It was like the tardis onboard – and so well made, crafted from teak.

Another rat!

On board HMS Trincomalee, we met a fellow Seasider, Chris, and his friend Phil, who had travelled from Reading and Aberdeen respectively. They appeared to have a similar weekend to us planned, so I spent some time showing them my pub map. We would likely bump into them again later on.

But now it was time to check in to our hotel, where we met up with Karen, who was to be my companion for the rest of the night as we undertook a pub crawl around Hartlepool. We knew we were in for a good night – this was Hartlepool, after all – but we could not have begun to predict anything that eventually happened to us. Tonight would establish Hartlepool firmly in my top five places ever (alongside my beloved Wigan, Lincoln, Cleethorpes and Hull) with real potential to climb to the number one spot.

Read all about our further adventures – including a five-pub crawl and FA Cup drama – in Part Two of the Football Tourist’s Guide to Hartlepool…

You can have my blogs emailed to you as soon as they are published by entering your email address in the box on the right (if you’re on a desktop device) or below (if you’re on a mobile). Sign up and/or follow me on Twitter @BlackpoolJane and do not miss out on part two.