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Matt's travel reviews NE special edition

Now, I've never been much of a one for Faliraki. Thoughts of Benidorm soothe not my quaking breast. The idea of the beaches of Goa fills me with a sensation of mild distaste.

This is not because I have anything against holidays abroad per se. I've had some jolly nice times abroad. Travel broadening the mind and what have you. But abroad is not generally my first choice for a holiday, for much the same reasons as I feel guilty buying new books when so many remain unread.

There are so many parts of this country I haven't seen yet, so many local specialities I haven't eaten yet, so many local beers I haven't drunk to the point of laterality yet. Britain's pretty fucking gorgeous y'know, and the last four days in Northumbria have done nothing to dissuade me from this view.

Let it not be said that I won't let you learn from my mistakes, the town we stayed in (a beknighted place by the name of Amble "Britain's friendliest port" according to its sign. Not if you walk into one of the pubs it's not) was a prime example of missing the point entirely. A beautiful, empty stretch of coast garlanded with ugly, pebble-dashed semis, it was kind of sad really; but not disheartening, 'cos it was the only bit of ugly we saw the whole time.

I won't try your patience by banging on about the loveliness of Alnwick, Warkworth, Rothbury and Alnmouth. I dislike gushing travelogues as much as the next man. I'd just ask you to remember the next time you book a holiday that this country really does have a lot going for it at times.

Two things that I can't allow to pass without comment, however: the fish and chips was stupendous, a reminder that it doesn't always make you feel bloated and, cooked properly, deserves its place in the pantheon of great national dishes, light crisp batter, fresh haddock cooked to order. Awesome.

Secondly, should you ever find yourself on the M6 and in dire need of the toilet, hang on until you get to Tebay services, just outseide Penrith. The only privately owned services in the country it is everything that those sorry-arsed, strip-lighted, KFC-scarred car parks of spiritual desolation masquerading under complete misnomers of monickers ("Welcome Break" my foot, I've had more welcome genital infections) are not. Sure there was food. It was fresh. Fresh. There was no "roast" half chicken bursting its pink skin as it baked in a puddle of grease under the heat lamps. There was no silo of congealed beans. There were no pre-packed plastic domes of limp salads (what the fuck IS "cajun-style" anyway? And who decided that that was all anyone who likes chicken will ever want to eat?). The food, let me repeat, was fresh. And it was good, I mean really good. And cheaper than the venomous excuses for sandwiches your average Moto peddles for you to chew as you sit staring miserably out of the window as the rain lashes down on the sign of the Nuneaton Travelodge, and families bicker and wail as lumpen fathers throw change for their kids to feed into the arcade machines as they sit and dream of buying a copy of Nuts and Chris de Burgh plays mockingly, the thunder of lorries causing ripples in his eight pound bucket of Sprite, forever.

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