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Previous Pint Pleasures - February 2, 2005

guinness eileen

Turks Head Hotel, 41 Front Street, Tynemouth, North Shields, Tyne & Wear

Before I start this column I want to apologise for the very long delay and say that I am still alive and kicking. Well, perhaps not kicking quite yet; but my head is dancing with beer columns, and the CoffeeBeer website is NOT defunct!

The long delay since the last Pint Pleasures column was caused by the fact that I was caught up in a complete chaotic time warp, starting with the holidays, punctuated by the tragic Boxing Day Tsunami which was followed by domestic tsunamis among my close friends and family -- at which point I left town on a much needed holiday, providing me with loads of new material on pubs in the Northeast.

And then, on my first day back to work, and just six days before my birthday, a bus ran over me.

Yes, I know this sounds like a wildly embroidered excuse, a la "the dog ate my column and was kidnapped by gypsies before I could get the laxative biscuits down its throat". But alas, it is true. Fortunately I was a very, very, very lucky girl and suffered only a fractured pelvis, and I have now learned how to wriggle my way up the attic stairs so that I can sit at my computer and write and upload my columns.

And so here I am again, thankful that I'm alive and in one piece so that I can write my beer columns!

Anyway, back to that holiday up in the Northeast. Although we were staying in Newcastle we took a short drive to Tynemouth, where the North Sea coast meets the Tyne. Tynemouth is a seaside town with ruins of a castle and priory to rival Whitby Abbey. The original monastery on the site dated from the 7th century and was finally abandoned in the 11th century. From the ruins you can see Tynemouth Long Sands, a beach which has hosted surfing championships, and a statue looking out over the beach of Lord Collingwood, Nelson's deputy who led the British fleet into the Battle of Trafalgar. And nearby is the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, the first of its kind in the world and still operating.

It was a cloudy day and the windy sky was full of seagulls. Our friend Siobourn, who grew up here, had told us to come here for the weekly Sunday Market; but by the time we arrived and got the car parked we were dying of thirst. So we stopped into the Turks Head located close to the ruins. Dating from 1869 and named after a sailor's knot, this pub is known locally as the Stuffed Dog. It seems that in 1873 there was a sheepdog named Wandering Willie, who had come down from the Borders to Tynemouth with a shepherd and a flock of sheep. During a bad thunderstorm Willie became separated from his owner. As is natural for a Northumbrian collie, Willie successfully rounded up the scattered sheep, but by the time he returned from his wanderings his owner had left. For the next seven years Willie waited faithfully at the ferry landing for his owner to return. When he died his remains were stuffed, and he now resides in a glass case in the Turks Head. As we paid homage to Willie, the "Dog of the Tyne", and were assured by an older local that the story was true, I'll swear I caught Willie's eyes glancing over at me.

There were several cask ales on including Theakstons and Bombardier. We had pints of Cheeky Wee Beastie (3.8%, Houston). The name is very appropriate: this is indeed a cheeky little beer with a hint of ginger tang, suggestive of a ginger kitten. It's a perfect afternoon pint. As we sat and sipped we watched some of the Newcastle football match and wondered if the Blades (Sheffield United) had won the day before. Being a typical English male, Andrew was reluctant to text any of our Sheffield friends for fear of being laughed at for not instinctively knowing the result. But hey, we were spending time with friends, eating fine food, drinking fine cask ale in historic pubs with no television, so whaddya expect? Ah, yes, there's a News of the World on the table next to us -- I suppose it's good for something. And yes, the Blades beat Aston Villa 3-1! All right! Oops...sorry about the digression...

On the wall by the darts board is a portrait of J.S. Pringle, whoever he may be. Andrew thought he might be the Pringle famous for Pringle Mills, the Scottish company that created the underpants Andrew was currently sporting. But that was a Robert Pringle. And I doubt this Pringle had anything to do with home building or preformed potato crisps, either. Perhaps this is another story to be discovered...