New life after the pits in Blyth, Northumberland
PUBLISHED: 18:28 18 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:52 20 February 2013
A day at the seaside might not generate the excitement it did a few decades ago but, rolling up his trousers for a (very) quick paddle, Andrew Smith discovers that there's still a lot to enjoy on a trip to Blyth, in Northumberland
Its fair to say that Blyth has struggled to find a new direction since the coal industry on which it was founded ceased to exist in the town 25 years ago. The closure of the last mine, Bates Colliery, in 1986, left Blyth with the scars of its hard heritage and little hope.
Today the town is an altogether cleaner and more peaceful place and the signs of renewal and regeneration are tangible. Since the pits closed a new shopping mall, the Keel Row, has been built and the market place has had a 3million makeover. The beach area has seen an historic wartime battery restored to welcome visitors, new play facilities, new beach huts, a new coastguard HQ and changing rooms for water sports enthusiasts and ample seating and parking areas created.
The award-winning and much-cherished Ridley Park has been enhanced by a new water play area and a decaying old bowling pavilion has been transformed into a comfortable and popular caf, bistro and meeting place.
And the port, once one of the busiest on the North East coast for coal shipments and shipbuilding, has re-established itself as a centre for renewable energy while continuing to welcome general cargo and paper shipments, and the aluminium ore vessels supplying the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter at Lynemouth.
Blyth is also attracting visitors, such as Molly and John Pinchen from Dunston and Wyn Ross, from Gosforth, who North East Life met on the promenade at South Beach.
Were regular visitors, said John. We enjoy the sea air, the beach, the fish and chips - everything. Its a lovely place to come for a day out. The people are friendly, theres good parking and the town is looking up.
Theres more optimism here than at some of our seaside resorts.
Shirley Lambeck, who lives in Blyth, was visiting the beach with her daughter Jessica and daughters friend Danielle Gaiger, who were enjoying a traditional day at the seaside, playing with their buckets and spades on the beach and building sand castles.
I am from Blyth but have travelled widely and used to live in Holland, said Shirley. When I wanted to come home, Blyth was always my first choice. All my family are here.
I enjoy bringing the kids down to the beach for the afternoon in good weather. Blyth is a smashing place these days. Its safe, friendly and the town centre and market place are really nice.
The Coastline fish and chip shop combined with an ice cream parlour run by brothers Dominic and Michael Gregorio also offer a major attraction to visitors to Blyth beach but just as convenient is the traditional Beachside Diner kiosk parked up near the promenade and operated by Wrights Catering of Bedlington.
Operator John Vanner said: This is our second season at Blyth and trade is steady. Were here most fine weekdays, at weekends and during the school holidays.
Stacked with sweets, toys, candy floss and most other beach essentials, the diner offers hot food and doughnuts cooked fresh to order - delicious. John added: Blyth is definitely coming up. Its much better than Whitley Bay.
Steven and Nicola Kelly have breathed new life into the former Ridley Bowling Club pavilion with its refurbishment as Ivy@The Park, in Ridley Park. Opened in April, the caf bistro offers catering and companionship seven days a week from 8am until 6pm.
It was a shed when we took it over, said Steven, who also owns the @Ivy Caf and Coffee House in the town centre. We added a new internal skin to the pavilion, new windows and doors and central heating and now were attracting regular and day visitors in increasing numbers. Its worked out well for us.
Enjoying a break on the chairs outside the caf were Blyth residents Florence OBrien, Alison Fairhurst, Joan Francis and Joans dog, Bobby.
We come here every day come rain or shine for a coffee and a chat, and I sometimes have a game of bowls, said Florence. Were always made very welcome and we really enjoy the get-together.
The park is beautiful and Steven is attracting more people through the caf. Blyth is improving but none of us like the new market place. Its soulless and barren. It used to be the hub of the town and packed with stalls and places to sit, especially in the beautiful rose garden that was there. They need to think it out again.
The once noisy, busting market place, with tightly packed rows of rickety canvas-topped stalls selling everything imaginable, has been replaced by an altogether more contemporary and minimalist offering that few appear to like. Wilderness, sterile, and deserted were other descriptions used by local people we talked to.
By way of contrast, Angela Cosimini and John Wilson run Frameworks, a picture framing and giftware shop incorporating the stylish Art Cafe, in Blyth town centre. They have built a business that is enjoying a growing
reputation around the world as well as across the North East.
Popular with local people and visitors alike, Frameworks offers quality food in its Art Cafe, often to the accompaniment of a live pianist, and, as its name implies, a picture framing service. Its extensive galleries are packed with artwork, lamps, mirrors, ornaments, small items of furniture and beautiful gifts, sourced at home and abroad.
The comments in our visitors book reflect the success of the business, said Angela, the owner, who founded Frameworks 14 years ago. They say it all really. We have some wonderful regular customers in Blyth but were delighted that word has spread about Frameworks and is bringing people in from across the North East, the UK and around the world.
A quick scan through the visitors book reveals comments typical of the following:
What a fabulous shop! Visiting from Canada.
Visiting once again from Turkey - absolutely wonderful shop!
We came, we saw, we were conquered! Moira, Australia.
A beautiful oasis in a busy world! Shiela and Jack, Manchester.
Frameworks in Blyth! - everyone should experience this at least once
or more in their lives - June and Frank, Spain.
Its wonderful! I love it! I would like it all! Imogen- Blackpool.
Visiting from Cornwall - What an inspirational place, wish I could take it all back with me!
You cant get better than that, and its on our doorstep. Oh, and by the way, I went for a paddle on the beach and the sea is as cold as I ever remember it.
The print version of this article appeared in the August 2011 issue of North East Life
We can deliver a copy direct to your door order online here