Sunderland. Northeast England. A snapshot of my home city.
SUNDERLAND is on the Northeast coast of England on the banks of the River Wear, mid way between the River Tyne to the north and the River Tees to the south. It is the largest city in the North between Leeds and Edinburgh, with a recorded population of almost 300,000.
Sunderland used to be the biggest shipbuilding town in the world, at one time building over 50% of new ships in the world, with sometimes as many as three launches in a single hour.
Now it would be hard to find any evidence of the great shipbuilding past at all, except for the Sunderland Maritime Heritage Centre in Church Street East, where volunteers work daily to restore old ships which they can acquire. The public are welcome to view this fascinating work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Being a coastal city allows visitors to Sunderland to benefit from all that the seaside has to offer by way of water based sports at the marina with over 200 moorings and wide public walkways, Adventure Sunderland, the new Water Sports Centre overlooking Roker beach, offering water-sports activities such as sailing, canoeing and kayaking, and a very active yacht club
Sunderland lifeboat station was established in the year 1800, just 10 years after the invention of the lifeboat in the nearby town of South Shields by William Woodhave and Henry Greathead, pre-dating the RNLI by some 40+ years.
Oars and sail powered the first lifeboats, with the first motor powered lifeboat arriving at Sunderland in 1911, and the first fully inflatable lifeboat arriving in Sunderland in 1966.
You can help rescue lives at sea by volunteering or by fundraising.Just email email@example.com
The National Glass Centre is a short walk from the marina,and here you can watch skilled craftsmen make a variety of items in glass, workshop demonstrations, and even try your skill at blowing glass. There is a rolling programme of exhibitions and free gallery talks. You are invited to walk on the glass roof.
A riverside sculpture trail suitable for both pedestrians and cyclists alike runs along the north bank of the river between the sea and Wearmouth Bridge.
Specially commissioned works of art sculptured in metal and stone reflect on the history of the city's history and shipbuilding heritage.
St. Peter’s Church next to the Glass Centre was built in the year 674, one of the first stone built churches in England, which houses fragments of the oldest stained glass in the country. It was here that the Venerable Bede wrote the first history of England, the art of glass-making was first introduced to the UK, and where the renowned Saxon Bible, the Codex Amiatinus was produced. The church has been nominated for World Heritage Site status.
The Stadium of Light is just a short walk away, home to Sunderland Football Team who play in the Premiere Division. Guided tours of the 49,000 seat stadium are offered daily.
Sunderland Aquatic Centre has just been built alongside the Football Stadium.
The centre is the regions first 50 metre pool, and the only one of it's type between Leeds and Edinburg. There are 10 lanes, a diving pool, two wellness excercise studios, a split-level Wellness Centre, cardio-cycle zone, a kinesis zone and a free weights zone. Sunderland City Council must be applauded for this initiative, as they hope the whole community will become involved in this facility.
Their commitment is to offer fair and competitive prices to use all that is available, and have made a new sport and leisure life card available to everyone.
The city centre is less than a mile away across Wearmouth Bridge, with The Bridges Shopping Centre, a modern covered complex of over a hundred of the big name stores, as well as smaller independent shops, and a covered indoor market.
Here also is the Crowtree Centre, a large indoor leisure complex offering an indoor bowling green, swimming and other indoor sporting facilities.
Seaburn and Roker are the twin seaside resorts of Sunderland with miles of wide prime sandy beaches and promenades to walk along. Seaburn has a leisure centre with a fitness suite, many indoor sports facilities and soft play areas and an annual singing competition. Roker Park is a Victorian park with a bandstand, a lake for model boats, play and picnic areas and a miniature scale railway. During the summer season, entertainment is organised for children, a bowls competition, and bands play in the bandstand.
Roker is the venue of the annual International Air Show run by the City Council, the biggest free event of it’s kind in Europe watched by over one million people.
This last 2 years the event won the gold award from Northeast Tourism for being judged the Best Tourism Experience in the North East.
This year the skies were clear on Saturday, with a lot of cloud on Sunday, but the show went on as planned.
The Museum and Winter Gardens are just off the city centre, set in the beautiful Mowbray Park with its small lake, flowered gardens and almost a dozen statues and works of art. Housed in the Museum are galleries documenting the great industrial past of the city in pottery, glassmaking, shipbuilding, natural history, archaeology and natural science, and an art gallery with a programme of temporary exhibitions and computer interactive displays. A new permanent display is the work of L.S.Lowry. Many works show scenes of Sunderland past. Free entry.In the Winter Gardens, view over 2000 exotic plants, flowers and trees in individual micro climates, take in amazing views of the tropical rainforest and 30 ft high water feature from the treetop walkway and explore the Fern Gully.
The Civic Centre is nearby, a modern building built in the figure of 8 in decorative face bricks.
Sunderland boasts no fewer than five golf courses, as many leisure centres including the indoor and outdoor Puma Tennis Centre next to Silksworth Sports Complex. This complex boasts a 165m long floodlit dry ski slope, two nursery slopes, and Snow Tubes are the latest thrill. THE MOST FUN YOU CAN HAVE SITTING DOWN. Step into the tube and let gravity and the ski slope whiz you down the hill. Great for parties, 50 minute sessions are only £6. Call 553-5785 to book. There is also a park here for wheeled sports catering for skaters, boarders, bladers and BMX bikers, with a further 5 skate, boarders and bike parks around the City. The city is served very well by mainline train services and a regional metro train service which both run right into the heart of the city, and a new bus interchange.
Grand Central now has a service running direct to London 3 times daily. www.grandcentralrail.com
Fulwell Windmill, a fully restored 200 year old working windmill just north of the city centre, is open to the public. Explore the five floors with a demonstration of corn milling and there is also a visitor centre. Heritage weekend in the Mill was on 10th and 11th May.
Sunderland Greyhound Stadium is a great venue for a meal and a night out, and this is just a mile from Fulwell Mill.
Back on the coast is Souter Point lighthouse, the very first lighthouse in the whole wide world to be lit by electricity. Visitors can climb the steps to the top to get a close-up view of the light, and look far out to see and up the coastline. Another windmill is nearby in Whitburn, but this is not open to visitors.
It is in Sunderland where Nissan built their award winning car making plant, and just outside the gates of Nissan is the North East Aircraft Museum with 20 aircraft on display, static displays of aero engines, a full size real cockpit with wheelchair access, bombs including an atom bomb, and 3 hangars full of artefacts and memorabilia related to flying. Pride of place is a fully intact Vulcan bomber. The Museum is staffed entirely by enthusiasts and volunteers, with very modest admission charges.
The Sunderland Empire Theatre is 100 years old, and the largest theatre outside of London capable of staging major west-end shows. Swan Lake, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Joseph, West Side Story, opera and musicals. Check out the programme on the web site for details.
The Royalty Theatre is the largest independent theatre in the UK, hosting a programme of drama, comedy and pantomime. Book early to avoid disappointment! Tickets are usually only £8.
There is also a large multiscreen cinema complex near the City centre in High Street East.
The Arts are well provided for, with the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art housed in the City Library and Arts Centre, the Reg Vardy Gallery in the University of Sunderland, and the University of Sunderland Design Centre is open to everyone to view the displays.
From the arts to heritage, music and theatre, sport and leisure, the spoken and written word, Sunderland offers events for everyone. There are 20 public libraries, all with free internet access and a programme of events for the young.
Lovers of the outdoors can benefit from the many parks dotted all over the city, the largest being Herrington Country Park which has large lakes, home to breeding pairs of Berwick swans, ducks and other wild waterfowl, a large play park for children, an amphitheatre with a planned performance of a romantic comedy by Shakespeare, a skateboard park, and tracks for walking, cycling and horse riding.
Guided nature walks are offered, and the Great North Walk is held here on the last weekend in June. Annual exhibitions are also staged here such as pop concerts and motor shows.
Sunderland Heritage Guided Walk Programme also offers supervised walks locally on various days in different locations, and Sunderland Rambling Club meets for walking tours further afield. Another Walking Club is the Wearside Field Club which meets every 2nd Tuesday in the month at 7:30 in Fulwell Community Centre. Most walks are only 6 to 7 miles.
Penshaw Monument, one of the North-East’s most prominent local landmarks built in 1844 in memory of Lord Lambton, modelled on the Temple of Hephaestus, standing tall on Penshaw Hill overlooking the park. Climb the hill to the top for panoramic views of the area.
Sunderland has a strategic place in the National Cycling network. It is the start of the C2C route to the Irish sea, usually taken from West to East finishing at Roker. This route is 140 miles long and completed by over 15,000 cyclists every year.
The Three Rivers Route runs between Sunderland, Newcastle, Consett and Middlesbrough, the Coast and Castles Route to Edinburgh, the W2W route through the Durham Dales crossing the Pennines to the South Lakes, as well as being on the 3,500 mile North Sea Cycle Route linking Sunderland to Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands. Peter Darke cycle shop at the corner of High Street West and John Street hires out cycles for £12 daily, and a tandem for £20 daily.
A new cycling on referral scheme has been started as part of the Sunderland Exercise on Referral Programme. You can be referred to this scheme by your GP, and all sessions are supervised, last up to 2 hours, and equipment can be provided.
Washington Wetland Centre, managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, is within the Sunderland Borough, also Washington Old Hall, the 12th century ancestral home of George Washington, first President of the United States of America. Washington hosts the annual International Friendship Festival, where communities from around the world have come for over 20 years to attend the International Kite Flying Festival.
Here too is Arts Centre Washington, with a very active programme, art galleries and a monthly Art Mart.
Talking of arts and crafts, try pottery painting at Rosebud Ceramics near the Park Lane interchange. They supply the pottery piece of your choice, and you or your kids get to decorate it as you wish, then collect it 4 days later after it's been fired. Ideal for kids parties or just to fill in time on a rainy day.
The University of Sunderland is a tremendous asset to the City, with modern buildings and unequalled student accommodation, bringing the City to life with multicultural activity. The University has played a significant part in getting Sunderland recognised officially as one of the seven most IT intelligent communities in the world, and a recent study rated it one of the UK's top five places to do business with.
The University of Sunderland has completed building a £12 million CitySpace sport and recreation facility in Chester Road, which has already been chosen as the official Paralympic training base for the 2012 Olympics. CitySpace has become the focal point for Sunderland University Sport at the former Chester Road Campus, with a new hotel with conferencing facility, new student accommodation, a new University Square and extensive landscaping. BREAM(the British Research Establishment Environmental Assessement Methodology) has awarded the building the gold standard for environmentally responsible buildings in the UK.
The Sunderland Echo is the local evening award winning newspaper, one of the finest in the Country and published 6 days a week. The editor is Rob Lawson, a Sunderland born family man, whose mission is to report local news to local People, leaving the big Nationals to report on National news.
The Echo is a major employer in Sunderland, with over 450 local people working hard every day to cover local events, including all the news about Sunderland AFC and all the other sport that is happening in the region.
IN THE NEWS Sunderland has a new tenpin bowling alley with 24 lanes. Owned by the largest chain of bowling centres in the uk, you can book on-line for great discounts at www.tenpin.co.uk
Sunderland is to get a new bridge over the river wear as part of the route from the A19 and A1 into Central Sunderland. It will link Wessington Way on the North side with Pallion New Road on the South side, and when completed will be the highest bridge in England.
The Government has earmarked funding of £98M, with only £6M needed from local government.
The bridge will involve the building of 2 km of link roads, and it's hoped that once completed, it will serve to attract more industry to the area and help to create over 10,000 new jobs. Information and comments can be made at www.sunderland.gov.uk/newbridge.
A new skyscraper 33 storeys high is planned for the Holmeside area in the City Centre. If given Council approval, it will be the tallest building between Manchester and Edinburgh. The tower will include 150 apartments, shops, restaurants, bars and other leisure facilities.
A 160 bed hotel is planned for the north bank of the Wear at St.Peter's Wharf. Included in the planned development are 200 residential apartments and digs for 300 students. The site is to the north-east of Wearmouth Bridge, facing the new Echo block across the river.
Sunderland is set to get a new hotel, The Hilton, which will be built above Joplings department store in John Street.
Whatever your lifestyle or interests, be it the seaside, countryside or town life, come rain or shine, indoors or outdoors, Sunderland has programmes covering music, theatre, sport, the arts and heritage, and is ready and more than capable of providing for your every need.
For video of many places in Sunderland and the rest of the world, visit Sunderland Video Channel
Read about the beautiful coast of the North-East of England in my article about a visit to the Farne Islands off the coast of Bamburg by boat from Seahouses.