Growing up in the early to mid 2000s was nothing short of blissful. Beanie Babies were collected, S Club 7 dominated the music charts, and McDonalds’ birthday parties were somehow the epitome of cool. But for us local lot, the North East held some fundamental gems that further fuelled the fire of our infantile fun. Here’s my top eleven picks of the region’s most nostalgic places that we loved, and sometimes mildly hated, way back when.
11.) Wacky Warehouse, Ryhope, Sunderland:
The newly-modernised varieties of national Wacky Warehouse soft plays seem lovely, but Ryhope’s offering circa the year 2005 was honestly just a Poundland version of The Funshack soft play in Seaham, County Durham. We all know fine well that we only went because there was a McDonalds located opposite. The standout feature of the place was the ball pit which, in the eyes of a five-year-old child, really did feel like the edge of the world when your mate was burying you alive in it. Luckily, my childhood nightmares were quashed when the Warehouse in question was replaced by a Harvester restaurant in 2015. Thank God for that.
10.) Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens, Sunderland (obviously):
Visits to this museum would largely consist of pressing your nose against the glass that guarded the display of a rather eerie-looking 1940s mannequin family, subliminally daring them to blink. Then you’d gleefully offload a bunch of lies to your Mam about how you’d miraculously compelled the plastic people to wave at you, all while knowing fine well that you really didn’t. It was the same ordeal with the taxidermy animals upstairs where you truly believed that you could be Sunderland’s answer to Ben Stiller in Night At The Museum. These dreamy childhood convictions were usually brought to an abrupt end when you were eventually scolded by staff for sticking your finger in the Winter Gardens’ fish pond, though.
It’s also interesting to mention that no images of the aforementioned mannequin family could be sourced for this article. Perhaps my childish inklings were right and they’ve simply ran away to live off-grid.
9.) Seldons Leisure World Arcade, Whitburn, Sunderland:
Truly the Tipping Point of its time, Seldons Leisure World located at Whitburn seafront was an absolute goldmine for a 2000s kid. There was something oddly addictive and thrilling about winning endless streams of spending tickets, so much so that this was more exciting than the actual prizes. And that’s because the prizes, namely keyrings, weren’t exactly stellar. It was the arcade equivalent to the childhood trope of being chuffed with the cardboard packaging instead of the actual toy. The food afterwards was usually much better though, because your parents would allow you a one-off helping of fish and chips from DeVito’s. That’s because Northerners and fish and chips go hand in hand, obviously.
8.) Joplings, Sunderland:
It’s just a given that when reminiscing with someone about this now-defunct department store, we’ll agree that the first thought to eclipse our minds is that almost every 2000s, and older, kid remembers it as ‘the shop with the big blue clock’. For some enigmatic and unknown reason, the big blue clock motif made Joplings exciting. It radiated the same mystifying vibe of the old restaurant village in the Metro Centre that donned a life-size model car crashing through the wall. Both of these memories feel like products of a fever dream. Why was that? I’ll never know.
7.) Wet n Wild Water Park, North Shields:
When chatting to with an old pal about Wet N Wild Water Park once, the opening statement to our childhood recollection session was: “how did our parents let us go there?” It’s a great question that I truly cannot, and never will be able to, answer. In spite of the fun it granted us at the time, many of us will agree that delving into memories of this place from an adult perspective truly tastes bad. Though back in 2007, rumours of razor blade-adorned waterslides could have never deterred us from sliding the Kamikaze which, by the way, was actually an extremely terrifying slide. Not to mention that the slide in question was outdoors where, to wimps like myself, the dismal Tyneside climate made the whole sliding experience feel like impending doom.
6.) Woolworths, Metro Centre, Gateshead:
This was the place to be on a Saturday afternoon in 2007-esque Gateshead if you wanted to manipulate your parents into buying you a Bratz doll or Ben 10 figurine, or eat your weight in Candy King pick ‘n’ mix, or both. It helped that every trip there felt fascinatingly Christmassy, probably due to the annual classic festive Woolworths adverts on TV, and so lugging home a ridiculous abundance of ‘presents’ on an average weekend felt somewhat justified.
5.) Whitley Bay Ice Rink, Newcastle:
Long after it ceased to be a music venue, Whitley Bay ice rink became a staple of Saturday afternoon activities for North East youngsters. We wore gloves as protective gear rather than for warmth, because for some unknown but universally shared reasoning, we feared that our fingers would be sliced from our hands if we dared to fall over on the ice. Friday night meant roller disco night, which made you feel like a carefree American teenager in a time where becoming a teenager was the dream, thanks to the unrealistic teen prospects portrayed in the High School Musical franchise.
4.) Crowtree Leisure Centre Swimming Pool, Sunderland:
While these images of Crowtree in such a derelict state seem sorrowful, there’s no denying that it was a pretty idyllic place in its prime. Were you even a 2000s kid if you didn’t plunge to the deepest depths of the diving pool to wave to your parents through the circular windows? The force of the wave machine gave you flashbacks to the Titanic that you never boarded, and there was always some older kid giving it the ‘Big I Am’ by descending head-first down the waterslide. There was even an imitation waterfall with a water droplet momentum so rapid that it felt like your body was being sprayed with bullets every time you swam under it. In hindsight, that’s a seriously melodramatic analogy, but we weren’t to know that back then.
3.) Beamish, Durham:
Beamish museum is one of those places that, as a child, should have felt utterly boring to visit unless you were a total history nerd. But it was great. Memories of school trips here mostly consist of dressing up in Victorian-style costumes and looking laughably solemn in the photographs. In fact, a boy I used to know in primary school, who went to drama classes at the weekend, was so incredibly serious about capturing the essence of the era that he made himself cry on demand for the picture. He was six-years-old. An actual six-year-old did that.
Disclaimer: The boy in the credited photograph is not the person who cried. I’d never disclose who the culprit actually was, because it’s honestly just a bit embarrassing, isn’t it?
2.) Funshack, Seaham, County Durham:
As mentioned previously, the Funshack soft play area occupied a slightly more premium aura than its Townie counterpart, Wacky Warehouse. A trip here would probably involve yourself and your little friends climbing the red slide and then panicking when you could hear a random killjoy about to, naturally, slide down it. six-year-old you could never understand why any rational person would ever want to actually slide down this slide, because it was much more fun to ascend it. Afterwards, you’d slope off to the Haunted House section to wet yourself in fear or head to the mini cinema room to watch Pirates of the Caribbean, a film of which you’d probably watched there on every Saturday afternoon that ever existed. Either that or you’d spend an hour bouncing on the trampolines with ten hotdogs in your stomach.
1.) Metroland, Metro Centre, Gateshead:
The number one spot could only be claimed by none other than magical Metroland. Until its closure in 2008, this place was certifiably Disneyland with garish Geordie interior. We didn’t care about the questionable décor and its abandoned 1980s fairground vibe, though. We were all far too occupied with the impending doom of riding the rickety overhead rollercoaster, of which our Dads, who were lumbered with our company while our Mams shopped, always forced us on against our will. This, unsurprisingly, occurred with every single visit, but we loved it.
And as adults, we undoubtedly miss it.
Which North East hotspot did you enjoy most as a child?