When I was invited to spend the weekend in Sunderland, somewhere I have never visited, I accepted happily. Only afterwards, when the trip came up in conversation with friends, I had to wonder if I was heading off to a bit of a lacklustre destination. Nobody seemed to think of this city as a fitting location for a weekend getaway and so my expectations were possibly reasonably low.
Not letting the nay sayers dampen my enthusiasm, it was a Saturday in mid May when a friend and I set off for the seaside city which straddles the river Wear. With the sun beating down on our approach into the city centre, I had to wonder what the negativity was about. The city’s picturesque coastline is home to lovely cliff parks, breezy promenades, a pier and a bustling marina. Best of all though, are the two golden-sand beaches of Seaburn and Roker, complete with cafes, bars, typical seaside entertainments and our home for the weekend, The Roker Hotel. This hotel enjoys a rather spectacular seafront location with stunning views of Roker Bay, affectionately referred to as the ‘Roker Riviera’ unsurprisingly with its miles of blue flag beaches, really quite a different picture to the industrialised notion I had in mind. The hotel was fairly recently refurbished with a 3 year development programme coming to an end last year.
Our bedroom reflected the hotel’s seafront location perfectly with it’s nautical inspired design. Beautifully finished and with a huge sea view bay window, we definitely lucked out! Both my guest and I commented how plush the hotel was, a great start!
With such a lot to cram in to the day, we dumped our bags and hit the pavement for the 15 minute stroll to The National Glass Centre. This is certainly a great attraction with plenty to keep curious minds occupied. Discover how glass arrived in Britain, how it’s made and how it has become something we all take for granted! Find out how the craftsmen of Sunderland went on to produce some of the finest glass in the world and you can even feel the heat of the furnace yourself as you watch a live demonstration of glass blowing.
After a wander around the centre, we enjoyed a relaxing lunch in the restaurant which enjoys particularly captivating views of the River Wear where come July, will provide the perfect platform to enjoy the Tall Ships Races which are heading to the city for the first time this year.
This promises to be a spectacular event with Sunderland Port being the starting point. More than 70 ships are expected to take part in the event along the banks of the River Wear. One of the biggest, or Class A, tall ships, Lord Nelson is a massive 180ft long with a masthead height of 101ft and no fewer than 18 sails! Lord Nelson is one of the few Class A tall ships based in the UK. Also, looking like something from a pirate movie, Atyla is no small craft either. Measuring 100ft long and with over 1312ft of sail area, this traditional built schooner is sure to be a popular attraction!
The Tall Ships Races take place 11-14th July and is a free event, this four day festival of culture and entertainment is held 10am to 10pm each event day and is perfect for the whole family.
After lunch we headed for a walk around the seafront and through the pretty marina. There were plenty of likeminded people doing the same and enjoying the sunshine creating a really nice seaside holiday vibe.
As we veered around the bay and back toward the hotel, we discovered what I am guessing is a bit of an institution on the seafront – Grannie Annie’s (formerly The Smugglers) , a fairly recently refurbished pub on Marine Walk featuring a mishmash of reclaimed materials and retro trinkets. We enjoyed a couple of drinks outside where plenty of people had gathered to do the same. Clearly a popular destination, especially given the weather!
Back to the hotel and we enjoyed a fantastic gin tasting experience in the hotel bar – Poetic License which has its own gin distillery enabling them to create small batch spirits, crafted in full view! The Roker Hotel have various offers on food and drink for the Tall Ships event with prime viewing of the stunning parade.
To finish our day off we headed to city centre for a spot of dinner at The Dun Cow. Old certainly meets new in this restored public house complete with a tasty grill room on the first floor. It seems we landed just as a flourish of guests departed for the theatre just a hundred yards away so it was fairly quiet as we sat down to eat. Not that it mattered, we had such a busy day I think both of us were relishing the relaxing sanctuary of the restaurant and enjoying a glass of wine or two to whet our appetites.
As the name might suggest, The Dun Cow is primarily a steak restaurant, with lots of tempting options on the grill. However there were also lots of other dishes that caught our eye, so we opted to order dishes to share – including a juicy ribeye steak of course!
The food at the Dun Cow was belting, what it may have lacked in atmosphere, literally due to the timing we arrived, it certainly didn’t in quality of both food and service.
We devoured tasty garlic mushrooms, fresh foccacia bread and some delightful prawns to accompany our steak which was cooked to perfection. I would recommend this restaurant highly if you are in the area or planning to attend one of Sunderland’s fantastic events this Summer.
I had no idea what to expect from visiting Sunderland, but I have every intention of returning. On a bright sunny day the long stretches of golden beach are as good as you will find anywhere in the north of England.
This energetic city is friendly and full of surprises. Everybody we came across seemed happy to chat away. Big up the Mackems and their glorious ‘Sun-spot of the North East’.
Visit www.seeitdoitsunderland.co.uk for further information about places to stay, tourist attractions and general information