The Road Less Traveled

How many of us spend our lives in a city we barely see?

It’s the same old story. Jaded by life, we go through our days with blinders on. Without the energy or the interest to see or do things. To explore.

There’s so much in Ottawa and around that I have never seen, and I lived there for 22 years. There was tons in Galway that I never saw in my four months there. I remember walking to work one morning in Galway, following the river back behind the Roisin Dubh, watching the swans and the garbage float side by side. And suddenly I was struck by the fact that, even though I was on my way to crappy job too early in the morning and even though it smelt like vomit and stale beer, I was in Ireland. It was so easy to forget. To concentrate on hating my job or on what club we were going to go to that night.

This time, I made a decision to change that.

I made a list. It’s a whole page of places to go around Newcastle. Most of them are either in the city or on the Tyne and Wear Metro system.

My best memory from Ireland was when we crawled underneath the Blarney Castle with only the little flashlight from my keychain. Because we were terrified and had no idea where we were going or whether we might get thrown out before we got to kiss the Blarney Stone, but we were there. In this little passageway underneath a castle. People had been there before - the bottles and garbage everywhere proved that. But in a place so chalk full of tourists, for that moment it was ours.

blarney

This weekend I became an adventurer. Living in alone in a new city is terrifying and lonely at times, but I made this decision for myself and I know that I can love this. So I went exploring, to distract myself from the small ache of loneliness that followed me to London and back again.

This weekend was Heritage Open Days in Tyne and Wear. Tyne and Wear is the area of between the two named rivers, including Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland. They were offering special tours of many places that weren’t normally open to the public, and even the places that were normally open were free. I admit that I forgot about it entirely on Friday, and slept in quite late on Saturday. But I still managed to make it to three places on Saturday and one today.

One of the buildings I saw, Alderman Fenwick’s House wasn’t normally open at all. And the highlight of my day on Saturday was the Bell Tower at St. Nicholas Cathedral. I had gone to St. Nicholas the first Sunday I arrived in Newcastle. It’s a gorgeous old church, and I walked around inside the seemingly deserted building for a while on my way back to my flat. I returned on Sunday for two reasons. The first was that it was close to the Holy Jesus Hospital, which I visited before it, and the second was that the Heritage Open Days booklet promised a display of the oldest books in the Cathedral’s collection.

stnicholas

I arrived just in time for the magic words.

“So I guess you all want to go up to the tower then?” The guide said to the gathering crowd. I immediately tried to blend into the group. I definitely wanted to go up to the tower.

stairs

The staircase up the Bell Tower is impossibly narrow, steep and dark. The first place we got to was the Bell Room. From here, the Bell Ringers (who have trained for years to be able to do this) use the cords to ring the eight bells in elaborate sequences which produce the tunes you can hear for miles from the Cathedral.

bells

We had to leave our bags here, because the staircase got narrower from then on. Right before we left, our guide rang one of the bigger bells. As we climbed the staircase, the sound buzzed through the tower. The walls trembled with the vibrations. We stopped briefly at the Bellfry to watch the huge bell swing back and forth.

We continued on to the very top of the Bell Tower. Heritage Open Days is the only time they let the public up this tower. And so we stood, where not so many had stoof before, looking out at the city of Newcastle from perhaps the highest point in the city.

newcastle

You should know, I’m terrified of heights. But as I looked up, my back pressed firmly against the stone wall of the Tower, I knew it was worth it. The climb. The shaky feeling in my knees as I glanced at how far away the ground was. I was looking up at the spires of the Bell Tower, from right below. From the centre. From a spot that so few people had before.

tower

I’ll continue the next part of my weekend adventures tomorrow, with my first trip to the North Sea.

4 Comments

  • By Lea, September 14, 2009 @ 8:24 am

    ADVENTURES. Yeah.

  • By Sebastian, September 14, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

    Ah, stunning view up at the… whatever that is. At the top!

    Reminds me of some stairs in some Czech cathedral that my friends insisted on climbing. In fact, that holiday was full of climbing stairs. Hideous. Sick to the stomach. But worth it!

    So how did you pronounce Fenwick? :)

  • By Lisa, September 17, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

    Beautiful photos…good for you for going out there and being a bit adventurous and for exploring all the sites in the area. England is beautiful!

  • By timoteo, September 18, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

    It’s definitely a good thing to immerse yourself in your surroundings. Sometimes you end up with some great experiences.

    One time I randomly went walking early in the morning and I caught on of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen over Lake Michigan.

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