Saturday, 20 August 2011


Which, considering I live barely over a mile from the centre of the City of Sunderland which has an area of 237 square miles (or 3874 hectares, whatever they are), isn't bad going. In fact, logically, it seems impossible, but it's true. and it's true because of a massive misimpression of what Sunderland is really like.

Sunderland: a brief description.
It's true that the place only got going during the Industrial Revolution and was basically founded on heavy industry with ship building and coal mining being the mainstays. But you could throw in an internationally famous glassworks (Corning and Pyrex) with a 1500 year history of glassmaking in the city, and a very successful brewery (Vaux). The town boundaries expanded, absorbing numerous villages which have now become just districts.

It's true that Sunderland, like most of the North East of England also has a long history of high unemployment which is why, until relatively recently, immigrants tended to stay away with the result that Sunderland has a very low proportion of ethnic minorities among its population; though this is changing.

What's also changed in that the old industries have gone away. The mines are all closed and the ship builders shut up shop. Even the glassworks closed and the brewery shut down. And while all this was going on, Sunderland began to reinvent itself. Nissan gave employment and the local economy a massive shot in the arm and despite some ups and downs, the car making plant is currently doing well. The council set up business parks, taking care that they look good from an environmental point of view. Inner Sunderland has undergone much renovation and, after many years without a cinema, we've even got our own multiplex. Barnes Park which I roamed through throughout my childhood has also been renovated and I really must go there again.

Admittedly, this is still pretty much a working class culture, despite a renovated theatre which attracts big show and big audiences, despite a brilliantly rebuilt museum and winter gardens, and a modern art gallery. Where once ships were put together are green slopes, university buildings and sculptures. The sea front remains, apart from minor reshaping and  stuff,  pretty much as it has always done and thank goodness for that. Our football team has been doing acceptably well of late and, as long as it does better than rivals Newcastle, no-one is going to complain overmuch. The annual air show brings in the crowds and the, formerly Kite, International Friendship Festival is an enjoyable occasion. There is even a folk festival over this August Bank Holiday weekend which I must find out more about.

It's true that Sunderland has its dark side but so do all large urban conurbations. What's also true and is much more important is that Sunderland isn't an unattractive city and in so many ways is actually a very pleasant place to live with many attractions if you can make the effort to seek them out.

Walking: an explanation.
When I retired three years ago, it was intention to re-join the Sunderland Ramblers, a group I'd left when Susan and I got married. They have regular half day walks in the immediate area which sounded good to me. However, I quickly found out that I was pretty much on call for cat rescue and other Animal Krackers stuff (see Cat Rescuing Sunderland blog) 24/7 and really just couldn't plan ahead. If I want to go to the cinema, I like to go to the earliest show possible (from 11.00 onwards) but find that difficult -you can tell by the lack of cinema reviews in this blog. So that went by the board. A pity as I've been fond of country walks all my life and was an active fell walker in my late teens and early twenties.

Instead I went swimming at 7.30am five days a week. A few days ago I was chatting to Matty, a 70 year old regular who also walks all over Sunderland. He told me he often saw rabbits and even foxes during his walks, including the Tunstall Hill area. Ah ha! I thought.

And so, this morning at 6.30, I drove half a mile up the road and this is what I saw.

Photographs: deep in the heart of Sunderland.

First a pause to take in a panorama of Sunderland, the sea front is sadly obscured. Then up a steep bank to turn right at a field and a gentle ascent to the trig point. I saw some rabbits scuttling about but they also saw me and buggered off very quickly. On the other side of the trig point is the top of what is locally called Rocky Hill, part of the Tunstall Hills. At least it was when I was a kid in the 50's and scrambling up all over. A bloke in his late thirties I spoke to this morning didn't know what I was talking about. Anyway, this is why it's called Rocky Hill-

I came off Rocky Hill down one side. I'd have liked to climb down the rock face itself and 20 years ago I might have done but at 63 and in ordinary shoes and regular rock scrambling but a youthful memory, I opted for discretion over valour and, typically for me, rather go down a gentle path, compromised by a steeper but relatively easy descent where I only needed to use my hands infrequently for balance.

From there I walked along a wide track back to my starting point. I did get close to a rabbit which was about ten feet away but so well hidden in the bushes it wasn't worth taking a picture. But I did take one of a rabbit hole.

End bit.
So you see that there really is countryside even deep within the heart of a large city and the above photographs show only one small area among many, most of them easily accessible. Plus, as readers of my cat rescuing blog know, little more than a half hour drive gets you deep in Durham hills.

Confession time: this was hardly a lengthy trek. I doubt I walked for more than 25 minutes and a distance of less than a mile. However, there is more to this part of Sunderland than shown here and I intend to go back again to try a different part. Who knows, I might even walk 2 miles next time.

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