Two of my long term travel goals are to road trip across the USA and take the train across Canada. I say long term goals as I would need to be more financially secure and able to spare at least 6 months to do everything that I want to do. But I found a way to do a miniature version of a US/Canada road trip without ever leaving the North East.
One of the legacies of the British Empire is that a lot of places in the UK share their names with now much more famous counterparts across the Pond. So I sat down with my road map and worked out how I could visit a few of these places in one day. Here is where I went:-
1. Washington, Tyne & Wear
Obviously I had to start with Washington, which in a roundabout, tenuous kind of a way does give its name to Washington DC. George Washington’s forebears hailed from Washington Old Hall (although it was actually his great-grandfather who first moved to the USA). Washington Old Hall is now a National Trust Property and is open to the public. Independence Day is celebrated there every year.
Washington wasn’t a great start to the road trip for me. I arrived at The Galleries, which is a large out of town shopping complex. I was then totally abandoned by my sat nav, google maps and the road signs. After driving round the same loop twice I decided to give up on finding my way to the centre of Washington and instead ended up in…
2. Albany, Tyne & Wear
Albany is the capital of New York state and a city in Georgia. It is also a small pit village in the North East. I parked up by the Washington ‘F’ Pit Museum, which was closed when I visited.
The pit dates back to 1777 and is one of the few surviving examples of a colliery in the Washington area, which was once dominated by coal mining, providing employment to thousands of workers.
The closure of the pits and loss of heavy industry was devastating for many North East communities, leading to huge unemployment and many areas to this day still in need of investment and regeneration.
The next stop on my journey was…
3. Philadelphia, Tyne & Wear
This small village was named after its US counterpart during the American Revolution. It was given the name by a local colliery owner to celebrate a British victory in capturing the city.
It is another typical north east mining village, but it does come complete with quirks, such as the Liberty Bell on the sign of the local pub, The Philadelphia, and the very American sounding Success Row on which the pub is situated.
After wandering around Philadelphia, it was time to continue into Canada, next stop…
4. Toronto, Co. Durham
This is a really tiny village and could not feel farther away from the Canadian version, which it is named after.
According to Wikipedia, Toronto is so named as a local coal baron was in Canada when he was told coal had been found under his land. He therefore named the mine Toronto. The mine is long gone, but the village retained the name.
It is situated on a hilltop and has some really beautiful views over the countryside and the Wear.
I then brought my trip to an end by stopping for a late lunch in Bishop Auckland, so I maybe could claim that I visited New Zealand too!
It may not be the actual road trip across the USA and Canada, but it was a great way to see more of my home region and visit places I otherwise would not have gone to, and in some cases would not even have heard of. I now have 4th July 2014 pencilled in for a trip to Washington Old Hall. I have enjoyed some really beautiful scenery in the tiny village of Toronto, and I have learnt more about the history of my region. This is what travel without travelling is all about – opening your eyes to new experiences at home.
It doesn’t have to end there for me. There are loads of other places I can visit in the North East which didn’t fit in with the route I had chosen for my day trip, including New York, Quebec, Bloemfontain, California and Canada.
This is not a quirk of the North East. All over the UK, there will be small towns and villages with much more famous counterparts abroad. And for anyone living in countries historically populated with British settlers (such as the USA or Australia) it is possible to visit the UK without ever leaving your home country. For example, in the USA there is Middlesbrough in Kentucky, Durham in New Hampshire and Maine, Sunderland in Massachusetts, Northumberland in New York, Berwick in North Dakota, Darlington in Pennsylvania, and my own home of Rothbury in Michingan. In Australia, there is Newcastle, Rothbury, Morpeth and Alnwick all in New South Wales.
So even if you are not able to drop everything and travel the world, the world is still waiting on your doorstep to be explored.
- Visitors to Washington Old Hall go nuts for nature project (thejournal.co.uk)