A Winter's Tale


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December 31st 2019
Published: January 6th 2020
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It is well over 2 years since my meandering in the North East took me to Bishop Auckland. I am on my usual train heading out of the NEPSR. The views from the window are largely unchanged, but the same cannot be said of the local political landscape. The train had filled up a bit by Redcar - or as TFB recently quipped giving it a new title, "Bluecar". The town has recently hit the headlines by joining the political revolution, that has seen a swing in trust towards those who pedal an oven ready deal to take back control of UK borders. The locals appear to have forgotten the demise of their steelworks and overlooked that there was no effective surge of empathy arriving from the political power brokers to save the day. The idle plant looms over the far end of town with the train station that has no passengers, as a reminder of what provided the better days. My fellow passengers are a mix of those headed to the Boro for a bargain in "the sales" and those Teessiders, who didn't follow Chris Rea's lead of "Driving Home For Christmas". In these days of climate crisis, their contribution was to rewrite the lyrics to "Riding The East Coast Mainline Home For Christmas". It doesn't have the same catch, but produces less emissions. My Northern Rail Complementary Travel Pass is deemed in order by the guard. I am on a free ticket today. It is reward, if that is right word, for a train cancellation that saw me spending far too long on Prudhoe Railway Station on another one of my Northern League forrays up the Tyne Valley. It technically allowed me to a return excursion to Carlisle, Newcastle or across the extensive system west of the Pennines. However, the press is full of the woes of train cancellations and the franchise being taken back and I therefore opted for something a little less ambitious. As an extra incentive at my chosen destination, it was the Auckland "Derby" this afternoon and it isn't everyday that "World Cup" winners are the visitors. It obviously happens on a frequent basis in the Northern League, but I don't want to spoil a good tale.

As with "Bluecar" and President Tony's old stomping ground in Sedgefield, Bish also turned blue in the recent General Election. The traditions of generations were cast aside, as the majority put their faith in the negotiation skills of a former Daily Telegraph journalist. As one of the great canine tweeters of our time - Harry The Dog - subsequently predicted, "we are all f***ed!" I had been pleased to hear a few days previously, that another of our wise four legged friends and purveyor of canine wisdom - Dilyn The Downing Street Dog - had gained new followers in both Montreal and Paris. Darlo came and went. The suitcase masses departed, panic in the eyes of some, as they were confronted with finding their next train in a metropolis that has 4 platforms. The next section of track is entitled the "Bishop Line". This is the birthplace of the railways, where George Stephenson put his early creations on the tracks. We pass the Tesside University Centre For National Horizons, which is part of the Darlington College complex. I wonder what horizons are in view for the students who find themselves studying there? The sun is peeking through, as I alight in Bish. The magic dust, predicted and promised on 12 December, must be falling.



The Railway Station at Bishop Auckland always gives a good first impression. The murals painted down the building add a splash of colour and give an instant history lesson. Romans. The Prince Bishops. Steam trains. Football. Famous faces. We will come across them all during the course of the day. The Station building also contains a thriving little micro brewery business in the shape of Caps Off, which appeared to be going from strength to strength. I wonder to myself why I have the car parked in the NEPSR at the other end of the line. A schoolboy error or I could have indulged. I walk off towards the town centre. The Four Seasons Centre is listed on the town guide map as a place of interest. It is not open, which I seem to recall was the case last time I visited. The shutters were down on a lot of shops, but it wasn't clear whether this was a permanent situation or just an extended Christmas break. However the Pinky Nail Spa was open for business, so nails would not go neglected should there be a big night out ahead. I arrived at Theatre Corner - home to the statue of Stan Laurel. Whilst I have been on my North East travels, I periodically bump into Stan. My previous blog title on Bish was a little tribute to him, even though he was actually born in Ulverston in Cumbria. Stan's old man was a theatre Manager, so he moved about a bit with his job. A plaque pays homage to the former theatres in town - The Kings, The Lyric, The Hippodrome, The Majestic and the employer of Stan's father, The Eden. The Eden was finally demolished in 1973. As on my previous visit and when in North Shields at his other statue, I was the only one paying any attention. Stan would go across The Pond on the same ship as Charlie Chaplin, meet Ollie and trade all this in for the glamour of Hollywood. He died in Santa Monica in 1965. I wonder if he gave a passing thought to Newgate Street?

Newgate Street was as I remembered. It was pretty much summed up by another visiting couple when the lady proclaimed, "they have plenty of shops. It's just that not many of them are open". She did not make the comment in anyway a derogatory fashion, but merely as a factual comment from a first time visitor. The couple were clearly looking for something else other than Ladbrokes or Bet Fred or a barbers. The ability of the numerous vaping supply outlets to fill all empty units had been defeated by the sheer volume. A General Election candidate purporting to be called Hamish, had left some residual posters on empty shop units bemoaning the failures of the Lie-bour Party and urging the good folk to back him. I believe they weren't convinced, as he seems not to have actually put himself forward as a candidate. The sound of bagpipes echoed further up the street. A lone piper was raising funds for the Auckland Pipers. I moved on to the Market Place. The 1862 Town Hall remains an attractive and substantial building. It is currently closed for refurbishment. The whole area has been landscaped with extended footways and sympathetic street furniture and is waiting for regeneration to be completed. A hoarding extended down one side, announcing the forthcoming arrival of a Spanish Gallery. A series of Zurbaran paintings hang in nesrby Auckland Casttle, which has prompted this idea of an exhibition the largest collection of Spanish art outside London. There are works by Valaquez lined up for the inaugural shows. A slightly different collection is also on offer opposite at the Mining Art Gallery. The big change in town was the Auckland Tower. There was clearly some bonding going on with Redcar (or Bluecar) on this matter. The former cunningly entitled their creation as a vertical pier. Bish decided on the obvious - it is Tower. The 95 foot Tower acts as a Welcome Centre for the Castle. The outer walls of the base give a run through of Auckland history from the Roman establishment of a fort at nearby Binchester, the Castle as the seat of the Prince Bishops of Durham and on to the industrial development of the town.

The flags fluttering proclaimed not only the Tower, but the Auckland Project. The Project is behind the regeneration effort and managed to attract the BBC Breakfast team to town to coincide with the reopening of Auckland Castle to the public. The General Election was the sideshow. Louise Minchin rolled up with red sofa to broadcast, along with the ever smiling Carol to cast light on the weather. John Kay was sent off to speak with the townsfolk. I wandered Into the grounds to take a few snaps. There was still work in progress at the gatehouse and information boards to enlighten you as to what was happening. I picked up that the walled garden below was being restored to former glories and that it was once home to some of the first pineapples grown in the UK. The doors on the Queens Head and Postchaise Hotel remain firmly closed. They await the expected rise in visitors to the town. I repeated my steps of my previous visit and wandered down the hill for a view of the Newton Cap Viaduct, which crosses the River Wear. It was all quiet by the riverside. A man was walking his dog, 3 new executive houses had been built on Dial Stob Hill - all still for sale, if interested - and the moles had been busy creating a variation on the usual landscape. I climbed back up the hill and stopped for a coffee in Stanley Jefferson. The local Wetherspoons christened after Stan Laurel's real name was doing a thriving trade. A young child messing his parents about on the next table was warned he wasn't going to the football, if he continued. He continued.The North Bondgagte had received a serious makeover with new barriers, lighting and ticket machines. The improvements were obviously to cater to the influx of visitors to the Castle area. Mutley Dog Grooming was closed for a Christmas break. The four legged of Bish had already been made to look their best earlier in December. Footfall was low on the shopping area of Bondgate. The proprietors of the Auckland Cup Cake emporium were having their first holiday for 2 years. I know this, because a small handwritten sign was affixed to the window. I recognised the Zair Cafe from interviews that the BBC conducted before the Election. A small bookshop was offering an extensive range of old annuals for sale. There was Bunty, Dandy and a classic from a late 1960s wildlife TV series called Daktari. It was supposed to be an insight into East Africa, but was probably exclusively filmed in the Hollywood Hills. There was a time when every TV series produced an annual. It was big Christmas business. There was something of "the time" about the sight of John Noakes staring off a front cover of a Blue Peter volume with the equally balmy sidekick, Shep. A couple of titles were well before my time. If you were after a Rover Book For Boys or a School Friend Annual 1946, you had come to the right place.

Time was marching on and there was football to watch. Heritage Park is a good stroll from the Market Place area. I got up a pace back down Newgate Street, passing the Railway Station and on to Cockton Hill. The weather had been kind to me over Christmas. There had been no significant rain, so 2 games were possible on Boxing Day with a traditional 11 am kick off in the Northern League. I was back on the Northern League today with this Auckland derby - Bishop v West. Heritage Park is a new ground found hiding behind a Sainbury's store on the edge of town. It is probably closer to West Auckland than Bishop Auckland. The retail park was thriving. I am amazed to see a queue at the drive through Starbucks, as I was on my last visit. The novelty hasn't worn off. This small area of retail appears to have shifted the loyalty of customers away from the town centre. They even have a Marks and Sparks food store to show the good times are back. I paid my £7 entry. The pitch was looking superb for this time in December. Middlesbrough U23 often play here, so their groundsmen had clearly been adding their expertise to ensure a top playing surface for the prospective top professionals. On my previous visit, there were no floodlights. They had been possibly smuggled back to Darlo by the previous tenants. A new set were in place today. Bishop Auckland were one of the leading lights of non league football in the days of the old FA Amateur Cup. West Auckland should need no introduction, as winners of the World Cup. The pit village team, who went to Italy not once but twice - and returned with the Thomas Lipton Trophy. I doubt that they encountered as much rain, as I did on my recent mission to Piedmont. Juventus conveniently miss this humiliation out of their history. Today, it was lo al pride at stake. After taking an early lead, Bishop were unable to get any consistency and it was West who created all the clear opportunities. Despite the domination, it took a West substitute to send a pile driver into the top corner to become the unlikely hero.

Appendix 1

Northern League Division 1

Bishop Auckland AFC 1 West Auckland Town 2

Date: Saturday 28th December 2019 @ 1500 Hours

Venue: Heritage Park, Stadium Way, Bishop Auckland, County Durham. DL14 9AE.

Attendance: 458

Scorers: 1-0 Dodds Own Goal 15 Mins (Bishop), 1-1 Bell 33 Mins (West Auckland), 1-2 Price 74 Mins (West Auckland)

Bishop Auckland: Liversedge, Munro, Hoganson, Richardson, Potter, Robinson, Morris, Marshall, Parnaby, Winn, Waller Subs: Fryatt, Chandler, Harland, Johnson, Campbell

West Auckland: Flynn, Harwood, Dodds, Cobain, Mitton, Mitchell, Francis, Bell, Dowson, Purewal, Grenwood Subs: Burnicle, Fisher, Spooner, Price, Colquhoun



Appendix 2

A trip to the seaside to see high flying South Shields come unstuck on a dubious pitch at hands of a very committed Whitby Town. Money and a sizeable following of festive Mariners were downed by a dose of good old fashioned effort and tactical thinking on the part of the Whitby team manager.

Bet Victor Northern Premier Division

Whitby Town 2 South Shields 1

Date: Thursday 26th December 2019 @ 1500 Hours

Venue: Tow Bar Express Stadium @ The Turnbull Ground, Upgang
Market Place, Bishop Auckland Market Place, Bishop Auckland Market Place, Bishop Auckland

The Stanley Jefferson Pub
Lane, Whitby, North Yorkshire. YO21 3HZ

Attendance: 897

Scorers: 1-0 Blackett 5 Mins (Whitby), 2-0 White (Whitby) 67 Mins, 2-1 Morse (South Shields) 83 Mins

Whitby Town: Bland, M Dixon, Hackett, Weledji, White, Sukar, Roper, Gell, Blackett, Tymon, Rowe Subs: Kitchen, Mills, Wearmouth, mcTiernan, D Dixon

South Shields: Coombe, Hunter, Charlton, Shaw, Morse, Briggs, Thompson, Baxter, Gilchrist, Jenkins, Mason Subs: Thurston, Errington, Lowe, Guy, Hodgson



Appendix 3

A case of the Christmas Turkey still weighing heavy on both sets of players for this early kick off. An early goal failed to spark a dull game. The fireworks came later when a Northallerton player received a straight red for causing grevious bodily harm on a Guisborough striker, which prompted a mass outbreak of handbags. The Northern League - committed, if nothing else.

Northern League Division 1

Guisborough Town 1 Northallerton Town 0

Date: Thursday 26th December 2019 @ 1100 Hours

Venue: King George V Ground, Howlbeck Road, Guisborough. North Yorkshire TS14 6 LE

Attendance: 270

Scorers: 1-0 Coleman 5 Mins (Guisborough)

Guisborough Town: Catterick, Milller, ncAvoy, Thompson, Marron, Rowbottom, Roberts, Young, Coleman, Goldsack, McNeill Subs: Robinson, Wood, Ward, spozio, Morley

Northallerton Town: Dawson, Brockbank, Pattinson, Cheeseman, Jones, Hillerby, Murphy, Shepherd, Martin, Lowes, Hudson Subs: Walker, Smith, Short, Elcoate, Coulson


Additional photos below
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Market Place, Bishop Auckland Market Place, Bishop Auckland
Market Place, Bishop Auckland

The Stanley Jefferson Pub


13th January 2020

Thanks for sharing!

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