I am not a religious person.
A lapsed Catholic, I saw church as a chore rather than a place of worship. It is only in later life (a petulant adult rather than teenager) that I came to see the beauty in the buildings – if not the words shared in them.
Instead I opted to follow other hopeless causes. A football team that spent much of the 1990s struggling for an identity beyond being a laughing-stock. Bands that lifted and drifted in to – can you return to obscurity if you never left it?
Then social media came along. I found I started to follow worshipers. Not of icons or beliefs, but of people and buildings. To look on Twitter or Instagram is to find a new pilgrimage to join. A new place of worship – if you consider lust an appropriate form of prayer.
My first reaction was “Fish on a Monday, really?” – my second was “Why don’t I go there tomorrow!”
So I did.
The thing with pilgrimages is that they aren’t mean to be easy. This was no different.
A bus in to town from work, followed by a Metro out to the coast was merely the first of the many challenges.
The Metro smelt of wet dog and hung heavy with that post work feeling. A sense of joy in being out, replaced by the frustration of another commute home. My journey was different. Something wondrous waited for me at the end.
I walked from the station to the coast. A bitter wind pushing me back. The steps down to the bay were slippery and, in some places, cut off. I even opted to sit outside when I got there, as I was expecting a call from the family and didn’t want to disturb my fellow diners.
The wind snaked between myself and the wood burner as I waited for my food – crispy skinned halibut, capers, potatoes and salad. I wondered if the coldest night of this winter was an appropriate time to be eating food out of a box on the North Sea coast.
It turns out it was. All of the elements played their part. The shack at the bottom of cliff that was home to some of the finest cooking – even for a non-fish eater – I have enjoyed this year. The bracing wind. The treacherous steps – the log burner as warm as the service I received.
The halibut was firm and flavoursome – the skin a crisp delight. Though it is the salad/greens that accompanied it, that I thought about most as I walked back up the cliff face. So fresh and zingy – almost out of place for the darkened winter night. With all of the fish gone, it was the side that I was scraping from the box – hoping it would never finish.
I travelled home satisfied. Until a police incident on the Metro held up my progress. The final challenge to test my faith.
I hope this isn’t a once in a lifetime thing. It’s only 30 minutes from Newcastle city centre on the Metro. I might sit inside next time, and can only pray the same sides are on offer again that day.
So here’s to the people who lead. And to those of us that follow. To the coast, on an old train – in the cold. For food that makes it all worthwhile.