The Gathering Part II

The location of the second gathering taking place this weekend was West Hall, or rather the grounds of what was once West Hall, the former residence of a local magistrate which was demolished half a century ago.  To the north lies a kennels, to the south a scout camp, and it was here that I met the participants of The Celtic Gathering.  They weren’t boy scouts.

As I found out, they weren’t Celts either for this was a motorcycle rally.  As Steve, one of the organisers explained, most biker rallies tend to be associated with heavy metal, so in the interests of something “a bit more folky and fiddly” the Celtic Gathering of bikers from across the country came together for the first time four years ago.

Meeting on the Friday, they set up their tents, cooking and performance areas and enjoy a couple of days together, a couple of live bands and a couple of beers (or more) before heading home on the Sunday.  The event is certainly a success; originally attended by about 80 bikers, there were three times as many on site this weekend, and more continued to arrive which was creating some logistical problems in terms of finding remaining spaces to pitch camp and park up.

Wandering amongst them in a sea of black leather and death’s-head t-shirts I encountered a really friendly bunch of people, with some amazing machines, and I was invited back for the live entertainment later that night.  Having had our own party at home we didn’t make it however (walking in a straight line was proving problematic) but thanks to Steve, Dave, “Trog”, “Scratch” and everyone else who made me welcome with my camera.  (click on any image in the gallery to open larger versions in a carousel)

As you can see, the motor enthusiasts in Whitburn aren’t confined to two or even three wheels.

My portrait today is of Steve who sat me down and gave me the history of the event, and the thinking behind it.  Shooting in a tent and under trees gave me little light to capture something really sharp, so whilst this isn’t technically great quality, and does feature a little movement blur it’s fitting that he should have pride of place and I still like the way it has turned out and the way it captures this nice guy.

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Welcome to McElderry Country?

To the native Celts it was Caer Urfa.  When the Roman’s sought to fortify the mouth of the Tyne with a fort, they called it Arbeia (“place of the Arabs“), a name which could have been reapplied in the 19th Century when a Yemeni community was established there.  To us it’s South Shields.  Or just Shields.

Shields lies about 5 miles north from me, and though dwarfed by nearby Sunderland is the largest town in South Tyneside.  Like much of the region its history is entwined with coal and ships, and like many it has had to face the decline and eventual passing of these industries.  Seeking to reinvent itself as a tourist destination Shields and its environs branded as Catherine Cookson Country, though after 25 years of association with the prolific writer, who was born in Shields and drew on the history of the area for inspiration, the council have recently abandoned the brand.

The sands South Shields 1903
The sands South Shields 1903 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the signposts for Cookson Country have been removed, ostensibly because the gritty realities of her books aren’t something we want to be associated with any longer, and replaced with a sunny beach scene somewhat reminiscent of a 60’s postcard.  Shields is a resort town now and rather like Amityville in Peter Benchley‘s Jaws is keen to play up the sun, sand and sea, and play down the pit heaps and poverty (though thankfully not shark attacks!)

As a brand Cookson wasn’t tied to the seasons, but I wonder, for what percentage of the year do the golden sands of South Shields beach resemble these new road signs?

It’s mid-May, and whilst not high summer, we should be seeing temperatures averaging in the high teens.  My car told me it was 9.5 today. And very wet.

The dunes were deserted, as was the shoreline but for two young lads sprinting for shelter in the greyness.

No one playing football, though three determined individuals did fight the elements.  (You’ll get your balls wet boys!)

An amusement park out of season is a sad and shuttered place, but it seems worse when those same shutters are down at this time of year.

On the plus side you wouldn’t have had much difficulty in finding a table at Minchella’s Ice Cream Parlour!

Amidst all of this dreek misery the show must go on, and so I found Allan updating one of the visitor noticeboards nearby, and his eyes were able inject a little colour into the day.

Still it could be worse; and as Shields-born Python Eric Idle put it:

Always look on the bright side of life…