It was back-to-back Football Tourist Guides, with Middlesbrough coming the weekend after Southampton. We were hoping for a warmer welcome this weekend – and we weren’t to be disappointed.
After an 0600 alarm on Friday, we hit the road an hour later.
Today’s playlist included the following sons and daughters (love and laughter) of Middlesbrough:
– Chris Rea (woo a Christmas song!)
– Free (my fave of this lot)
– Bad Company
– Marion Ryan
There was also a disproportionate number of X Factor ‘stars’, including:
– James Arthur
– Amelia Lily
– Journey South (no thanks – tried that last week and didn’t like it)
I tucked into my apple and cinnamon overnight oats.
We didn’t stop en route as the two-and-a-half hour journey seemed like a short hop compared to the lengthy jaunt to Southampton last week.
We parked up outside our second port of call around 0930, allowing us time for a little bimble across town.
I’m very excited to report that Akbars has a chain of restaurants – including one more locally in Manchester. If you followed my GBG crawl around Manchester you will be aware that I have struggled to find an eatery of choice in my adopted city. Could Akbars be the answer? I feel another Manchester mission coming on…
Where possible, we do like to take in a museum where we can learn about the history of the town or city we’re visiting. The Dorman Museum fitted the bill perfectly. It was free to enter, too, which was a bonus (and, happily, a theme of the weekend).
Here I was fascinated to learn about the Tees Transporter Bridge. This was on our itinerary for later – just to look at, as my research revealed it was currently closed for safety reasons.
We had been perplexed as to why the bridge was quite so high (deducing that they simply had more steel than they knew what to do with at the time of construction). We now saw that the vehicles and foot passengers didn’t actually travel across the top – but in the little yellow carriage hanging underneath.
Other highlights included the below.
I was particularly taken with the zoological collection.
We learned that the animals were collected before such practices became illegal.
You know I like a good dinosaur (more to follow in Part Two) and there were some good specimens here.
There was a fun game where we attempted (successfully) to match up the birds with their songs.
And the local Linthorpe Art Pottery was (dare I say) more striking than Stoke’s.
The highlight from the gift shop was this dinosaur PE kit bag.
MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art)
I’d never been to a modern art gallery so decided to give this one a go today. Here’s are my highlights.
This place also presented the first loo review of the day.
This built-in seat for little people (littler than me) was the first of its kind I’d seen.
Now onto the shop, which sold a number of arty and crafty items, of which this was my favourite.
I also loved the Tees Transporter Bridge tote bags.
Now we had a strictly-timed appointment to keep just down the road in Stockton.
The Stockton Flyer had been recommended by Ronnie (of Hartlepool fame).
How could we resist that?
On arrival in Stockton we were confused by the car parks which all had signs advising that charges would commence on 13th February. Did that mean they were free before that (i.e. today)? Further investigation revealed that to indeed be the case so we parked up by the baths and ambled onto the high street, where we’d spotted the Flyer (or at least what looked like might be its plinth).
We really liked the look of Stockton.
We were in situ by the plinth in good time and waited (along with one or two others) with bated breath.
Dear reader, it was brilliant! One o’clock arrived and of course the statue wasn’t exactly aligned with Apple o’clock but within the minute we observed the roof flaps slowly and mechanically raising and tucking themselves back in vertically, one after the other. And then slowly the train began to emerge.
It was mesmerising and I circled it so I could view it from every angle during the ten minutes the train was visible.
The Stockton Flyer toots so loudly that it can be heard all over town. How wonderful was this? This was the quirkiest statue I’ve ever seen. Thanks so much for the recommendation, Ronnie.
While we were here in Stockton, I had planned to visit a pub that both Ronnie and another Twitter friend, Paul, had recommended. But that didn’t open til 1400. Instead of loitering in Stockton until that time – and led by my rumbling tummy – I resolved that a change of plan was in order. We could return to Stockton tonight for drinks (I wasn’t feeling Middlesbrough – although it would win me over big time tomorrow). And now we would complete my mission to finally eat that famous local delicacy: a parmo.
I had specifically asked Twitter for parmo recommendations, which yielded a good few suggestions. I decided to go for James’s suggestion of The Open Jar in Seaton Carew for four reasons:
1. They offered a ‘build your own’ parmo, so I could choose my toppings.
2. There was something on the menu that Lee could eat, too (he’d have been stuck if it was just parmos, as he doesn’t eat chicken).
3. There was a sea view.
4. It was on the same road as the famous canoeist who had faked his own death went missing here in Seaton Carew.
What’s not to love about all that?
It was also a fine excuse to head up Hartlepool way again – a town we had fallen in love with on our visit here last year.
We liked the look of Seaton Carew. It reminded me a little of Skeggy, with its arcades and abundance of chippys. The restaurant was across town and part of a little complex on the sea front. We parked up (again for free) and headed in for some scran.
We were first seated in a dark corner towards the front of the restaurant but requested a transfer so we could have a sea view.
Once seated, we studied the menus. First of all it was drinks.
Dear reader, this was a lie. The best on offer was John Smiths, so I ordered one of those. It was that or a bottle of Newcastle Brown and I felt the latter would have been wrong on Teesside. Plus I suspect it would have taken longer to drink. At least John Smiths is quaffable, despite having apparently 0% alcohol content for all I ever notice.
I had a lot of questions about the parmos.
My grilling of the waitress revealed that a veggie parmo wasn’t a parmo with a veg topping but the parmo itself was veggie. I learned that a half parmo would probably be a sufficient size for me. And I learned what a parmo actually comprised: a chicken base topped with bechamel sauce and cheese.
I was taking ages to decide and Lee suggested I might like the Firecracker Chicken, which I agreed sounded good. To this I added caramelised red onions as an extra topping. I thought £2 and £3 per extra topping was a bit steep but I wasn’t going to let a questionable pricing structure get in the way of my dream parmo so decided ‘fuck it’ and ordered exactly what I wanted. Besides, we’d only have spent the same on parking anywhere else.
The music was interesting in here – notably all tracks by female artists.
Here’s my parmo.
It was very tasty but oh my word Paddington would not have approved. It tasted dirty but, that said, I didn’t have indigestion afterwards. I’m definitely glad I tried it – and would again (although once a year will be enough!).
I wondered if it was possible to make a SlimmingWorld friendly parmo and indeed this is a thing. I’d made chicken nuggets in the air fryer only the other week and this recipe could be adapted to make a parmo: a flattened chicken breast coated in egg mixed with tomato purée and spices, dipped in wholemeal breadcrumbs, then covered with quark or Primula and sprinkled with lighter mature cheddar and topped with my favourite pizza toppings.
Now it was time to walk that off!
I’d mentioned the seals that lived by the nuclear power station in Hartlepool and Lee was keen to visit them. After all, how often do we get to see seals?
We parked up at the (of course free) car park and wandered up to the viewing point. The others here had binoculars but we hadn’t thought to bring any. We thought they were probably birders, as there was an RSPB nature reserve nearby and this was also a good spot for birdwatching.
Further investigation revealed that the seals were further down the road, via a trail (basically walking beside a main road, but at least they had pavements here, unlike Down South last week).
As we followed the trail, we learned that there had once been many seals living here but they had gradually reduced in number and moved out altogether at one point. But now they were back (yay!), demonstrating that they were happy with the environment here once again.
At the other end of the trail we became frustrated that we still could not see any seals. But then Lee wondered if those grey and white blobs that looked a bit like stationary sheep might actually be seals? We tried to zoom in with our respective cameras but they weren’t powerful enough.
We trudged back to the car, disappointed. But Lee was not to be deterred! He grabbed his other camera (with the better zoom) and captured some brilliant footage of the seals. Here’s an image taken from his film.
Now a diversion en route to our hotel.
Premier Inn, Middlesbrough Central
We’ve noticed quite the variety of standards within the Premier Inn chain. This particular one warrants a loo review owing to a most unusual feature.
The door to the bathroom doubled up as a door to the toilet cubicle. That is, if you closed it behind you, it acted as the bathroom door; but if you swung it fully the other way, the toilet cubicle became an enclosed room, leaving the shower/sink area open to use by the other occupant/s of the room. It was genius, really.
We decided to chill out in our room before heading out for the evening as we were pretty zonked after our journey and the morning and afternoon tazzing about.
I turned on the tv and it was quiz show o’clock. We started off with Lingo, which I’m still quite annoyed about not passing the audition for. We then turned to Bridge of Lies, which we weren’t familiar with. We enjoyed the show without fully understanding what was going on.
I had tried and failed to find us somewhere suitable to eat – despite knowing this lack of preparation would, without doubt, lead to unhealthy food choices later on. Nonetheless, out we headed to Stockton. I knew which pub we were heading to and that was the main thing.
This pub had come recommended by both Ronnie and Paul. The latter had said he was letting them know we were coming so I felt compelled to go. Plus if a pub comes recommended (especially by more than one source) that has to be because it’s worth visiting.
After taking advantage of the free parking I tapped the pub into Google Maps and still struggled to find it. Suddenly I realised it was down a little alley, so turned down there. There was a man loitering in the dark alley on his phone and – if I hadn’t been sure there was a lovely pub down there and had been unaccompanied – I might have hesitated to walk that way.
We soon spotted the pub and I paused before entering to take this photograph for you, dear reader.
‘No photographs! Don’t go getting your cameras out in there. We don’t want people knowing we’re here. It’s a secret.’
‘Oh. I see. Well, if that’s the case, there’s no point us going in: I’m a blogger and he makes videos.’
‘No we’ll have none of that here. No cameras thank you very much.’
I still wanted to go in so took a moment to think.
‘Is this your pub?’
‘No but I don’t want people lining up in front of me at the bar.’
I breathed a sigh of relief. This wasn’t an irate landlord – just a quirky customer. We entered the pub.
And what a fab little pub this is! It’s a tiny narrow one-room open plan layout with the bar on the left hand (narrow) side of the room. Here are tonight’s beers:
‘And we’ve got these two about to come on as well.’
The barman turned around a couple of other pump clips – but I already knew what I was having. As I took the above photographs, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
‘I mean it – no photos. I’ve got my eye on you.’
‘Bloody hell I feel like we’re in a Sam Smiths pub!’
The barman piped up: ‘I take that as an insult.’
This assured me I was indeed in my kind of pub.
‘You’ve even got Sam Smiths bottles in the fridge! Hmm I actually rather like those fruity ones…’
‘And they’re cheaper than what Sam Smiths sell them for too.’
‘Ooh that’s tempting – but I know what I’m having.’
I pointed excitedly at the porter.
‘Ooh that’s 6%…but we can do a two-thirds measure?’
‘Just a half please.’
What is it with these strength warnings at the moment? Now I’ve calmed down from the whole Southampton experience, I kind of get it for a 13.5% craft beer. But a 6% cask? I began to wonder if there’d been some of industry guidance for stronger beers to be served with a strength warning. Now I think about it, it’s not really a bad idea. It’s just surprised me two weeks in succession.
I was also surprised by the prices in here – so much so that I had to ask for them to be repeated. It was £3.50 for a half and a soft drink; and £1.70 for my second half. Bargain!
We found a seat towards the rear of the pub. Lee was intrigued by the reading material and began leafing through a local entertainment magazine. I was taken by the notice board but to my dismay I couldn’t read it even when I was right in front of it. These multifocal contact lenses are useless for close reading and I might as well switch back to regular ones.
I decided to switch my attention to things I could actually read.
The Golden Smog are right on it when it comes to social media, replying to my Tweet almost instantly.
I hadn’t really minded our interesting welcome, as such exchanges (and characters) are great for the blog. Indeed we proceeded to have a normal conversation by the man who had
turned us away greeted us outside. We told him how much we were enjoying Stockton and he proudly told us about the history of the town – so-called because it was a market town where stock was brought for sale, hence Stock Town.
As we got up to leave we got chatting with the couple sitting opposite, who told us how much they enjoyed their visits to the social clubs in Blackpool.
The moral of this story is: first impressions can be wrong. The Golden Smog is an adorable warm and friendly little pub that we really didn’t want to leave. Indeed we only did leave because (a) we were hungry; and (b) have you SEEN how many Good Beer Guide pubs there are in Stockton?! It would have been a crime to stay…
The plan was to have a drink here while we researched where we could eat.
On entry we were greeted warmly by an exceptional landlady who appeared to be running the bustling pub single-handedly and with ease. If I did awards for best host then she’d win hands down.
‘If you like Brew York, we’ve got their new range in our fridge. The rum one is proving really popular but it is quite strong.’
Oh my god, those fridges!!! Honestly if I could design my own beer fridge, I couldn’t have come up with better contents. There were ALL my favourite breweries.
I put my hand to my chin to close my gaping jaw and stepped back to the bar.
Ooh look at THIS!
I had so many questions. Bottom right is a corned beef slice. There was a variety of pie fillings but I stopped listening at ‘curry’. And I really ought to have tried the ham and pease pudding barm (or whatever they call them over here). Instead I found myself asking for
‘A corned beef and onion cob please.’
Cob?! Where had that sprung from? Despite never feeling like the Black Country was home in 20 years living there, clearly it lived on within me. Cob indeed…
We took a seat opposite the bar (and those pies…) and considered our options. It was getting a bit late for eating now (2000) so we ended up eating here. Of course I had a curry pie.
This was another fab find – and exactly the reason I insist on pub crawling even when I’ve already found a pub I’d like to stay put in; If we’d stayed in The Golden Smog we’d have missed this. It’s only been open since the turn of the decade but the Tipsy Turtle has got it going on. Just look at all this.
And obvs the toilets were worthy of a loo review.
I loved loved loved this pub and again didn’t want to leave. But there was live music to be enjoyed not far away so it was there we headed next.
As we walked towards The Storytellers we became aware of a whole horde of people walking in the same direction. This was clearly the place to be in Stockton tonight.
The Beer Pigs were tonight’s live music attraction – and entry was free (as it was EVERYWHERE this weekend).
The bar was heaving and I couldn’t even get close enough to see what beers were on.
We made our way through the crowd to the front of the stage but, whilst I can happily stand at the front in the knowledge that my 5’2 frame is blocking nobody’s view, the same could not be said for Lee, who felt he ought to stand a little further back.
It was hot in here as we were dressed for a cold day (having been caught out by the cold in Southampton). Plus I was already uncomfortable as Lee had just fried my brain by interrogating me about our day for the video when I was switched off and in relaxed mode.
So we chose to leave and return to a more relaxing environment. Here’s a clip of the band, though, for your enjoyment.
We decided to make it a hat-trick of micropubs in Stockton.
Here are the beers on sale in this one.
I had no idea what a turf cake was but I was all over this! I ordered a pint, which is unheard of for a beer I’ve never tried before – especially towards the end of a a crawl.
This place was busy and we watched the tables like hawks trying to anticipate imminent departures. We didn’t have to wait long before we were able to join another couple on two vacant stools at their table. We had a great laugh with said couple before they headed off and we at last got the table to ourselves.
The pint of mild was quickly quaffed and I thought another pint would have been too much for my little tummy to handle. But I fancied something sweet to round the night off.
I managed half of this before the alcohol hit me and I realised what a foolish idea a cocktail was at the end of a sesh. Time for bed methinks…
Stockton had been fab – and I’d be back to explore further for sure – but I really wanted to give Middlesbrough a proper go this season, having gone to Whitby instead last year and been suitably chastised for it (by the Whitby natives, who weren’t the most welcoming). So tomorrow would be all about Middlesbrough – and it would not disappoint (apart from ‘the usual’…).
Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide to Middlesbrough – Part Two:
- Teessaurus Park
- Town Hall
- Middlesbrough v Blackpool