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EDITIONS
Friday, 1 November, 2002, 12:54 GMT
Alnwick retains its quiet charm
Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle was used a backdrop for cinema

A magazine survey has found Alnwick in Northumberland is the best place in the UK to live. BBC News Interactive's editor-in-chief was brought up there.
Country Life magazine
Alnwick was voted top in a magazine survey

Alnwick was probably one of the most desirable places for people to live in the 1960s too, but for a teenager, it was one of the dullest.

True, some of the most beautiful scenery in the world was a long walk or a short bus ride away.

Many miles of glorious beaches within a 15-minute drive were almost deserted, even in the school holidays.

There were no real traffic jams, even though the A1 - the UK's premier north-south route at the time - ran right through the town.

Town houses in Alnwick
'Very little moved in Alnwick at all'
But it was not all as good as it seemed.

During winter, that scenery was covered in snow, many feet deep, more often than most places in Britain and when the landscape wasn't white and the roads icy and impassable, it still felt freezing.

Even in summer time, it would take someone pretty brave to risk the chilly sea, one reason those beaches were so empty.

And it is not quite true to say that there were never any traffic jams.

One stretch of the A1 - that's the A1 - was so narrow between castle and town walls, that any vehicle wider than a small car had to mount the pavement to pass oncoming traffic.

Cinema backdrop

But no delay rivalled anything in urban Britain today, and the whole town is now by-passed.

The castle was even then being used as backdrop for cinema - locals watched Beckett being filmed there amongst others.

It was quite a sight and very occasionally grand events were mounted inside the grounds to which the townspeople would go.

But having a Duke on site - though as one of the biggest landowners in Britain he was more often elsewhere - didn't really affect a gauche 16-year-old much.

The real trouble was Britain was "happening", to use that 1960s term, everywhere else, or so it seemed from the black and white TV and newspapers.

Local cinema

Swinging London had captured the world's imagination and Liverpool was moving to the beat of Beatlemania. Very little moved in Alnwick at all.

The main attraction on Saturday nights was the local cinema where for two shillings (10p), a seat in the balcony was yours for a couple of hours to watch giant moving pictures, in colour for a change.

Unless, of course, you were thrown out for misbehaving with a girl, or your mates (not for the same misdemeanours, of course) before the final lights went up.

Last time I was in Alnwick, about 10 years ago, the building was a carpet saleroom or some such thing, though reports now talk of a new picture house elsewhere.

The Beatles
The Beatles were not regulars in 1960s Alnwick
There was a single nightclub, though no metropolitan sophisticate would recognise it as such.

It was called - if my memory serves me right - The Teen and Twenty.

Ropey local groups tried to emulate the stars of the charts. Woefully.

And if you wanted to buy a 45 (single) or long-playing record that wasn't in the top 10, it had to be ordered from the local electronics store. It took up to three weeks to arrive.

The pubs looked promising but as a 16-year-old, visits were always stressful in case of ejection (teenagers got thrown out of lots of places then).

The best was known locally as the Dirty Bottles, because the windows to the street were filled with some heavily cobweb covered examples which, if ever moved, so the local story went, would curse the perpetrator horribly for life.

Two landlords who'd done so had died in the act.

But it was a wonderful place to grow up.

Strong accent

Northumbrians are canny people, which doesn't mean careful or spendthrift as it can elsewhere.

It means good, simply the best, even though to outsiders, the very strong accent, several times thicker than Geordie, can sound like a foreign language.

Not born and bred there, it took me a very long time to understand.

Thirty (and a little more) years on, it is not a real surprise that Alnwick rates so highly now as somewhere to live.

Youngsters complained on the radio that there's still nothing to do, but then teenagers say that everywhere.

I am sure it remains a right canny place to be.


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