‘Slow Northumberland and Durham’ by Gemma Hall

Slow Northumberland and Durham is one of Bradt’s guides to slow travel in the counties and regions of the United Kingdom.

Published in July 2012, at a time when most British eyes were focused 300 miles to the south, on London and the Olympic Games, Hall’s informative guidebook covers two of England’s most underrated counties for good walking, historic attractions and value for money when it comes to spending on leisure. Only skilled speed readers would be able to scan all of the anecdotes, snippets of information and recommendations contained in this book during the three hours it takes to take a train from London’s Kings Cross to Newcastle Central Station. Why rush though? There’s much for visitors to experience in the North East and, like this book, is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Attractions in the north-east of England

As a native to the region covered by Slow Northumberland and Durham I found myself agreeing with many of Hall’s recommendations and insights. Most people have forgotten, for example, that the Angel of the North was, initially, roundly criticised by many locals before winning residents over to the affectionate acceptance expressed today. Colmans Fish and Chips, in South Shields, does indeed define the fine art of frying. I nodded in agreement, like the beam of a steam-driven pump, that the rhythmic movements of the workings at Ryhope Pumping Station offer a fascinating insight into the built-to-last engineering projects of the Victorian times.

As a local interested in my region’s heritage, I was impressed that Hall provided a smattering of insights and snippets of information that were new to me; facts that have made get out and take a fresh look at a region I thought I knew well. She describes the origins South and North Shields’ names (after ‘shielings’, a type of fishermen’s huts) and enthuses on aspects of wildlife in these northern counties and off the coast. This isn’t necessarily just a book for visitors to the region, it’s has plenty of day trip ideas that may appeal to residents of Northumberland and Durham.

More Northumberland than Durham?

People from County Durham might be mildly perturbed that the number of pages dedicated to Northumberland significantly outweighs the total given over to its southern neighbour. Local rivalries are fierce; in this part of the world and that may irk. Perhaps it would have been prudent for Bradt to have published two separate guides. Hall seems far more knowledgeable and fluid when writing about Northumberland.

That said, this book is packed with useful information and covers a long geographical sweep (all the way from the border with Scotland to the North Pennines) and perhaps visitors seeking out highlights of the North East will be thankful they only need to buy one guidebook instead of two.

Real ale and gastro pubs

Hall recommends select accommodation and a handful of places to dine in Slow Northumberland and Durham. In a region with many quality real ale and gastro pubs, listing a few more would arguably have added value to the book. Yet if you’re into travelling slowly, chatting with locals is all part of the experience so sniffing out a good pub is all part of the experience.

All told, this is an enjoyable read, well-researched and a guidebook worth carrying while you explore Northumberland and Durham.

Further information

Slow Northumberland and Durham, by Gemma Hall, is published by Bradt Travel Guides.

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Link to the publication on Amazon (£):

Here is a link to a later edition of the book (£):

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