Don’t fret, pet. You’re not seeing things…

The beach front at Whitley Bay seen through a fret. . . Or is it?

WHILE THE REST OF THE COUNTRY has been basking in temperatures hot enough to fire a potter’s kiln, here on the north-east coast of England we have been plunged into a chilly, mist-laden miasma where buildings but a few yards distant appear as ill-defined ghostly spectres.

We residents call this the ‘fret’. For a long time I thought the fret was so named because skimpily dressed day trippers, hopping on the Metro in central Newcastle in blazing sunshine, found themselves hopping off in Cullercoats or Whitley Bay to be faced with a cold, grey hanging curtain of the stuff. Thereafter, they would fret all day long.

I was wrong. Locals take it in their stride. The fret is named after Arthur Rollerink Fret, an 19th century scientist and visionary who hailed from Wallsend and was the first to foresee the rapid expansion of tourism worldwide, and the danger therefrom.

Fret realised that any town, region or country relying over-heavily on tourism, despite the initial attraction of increased income, would eventually become artificial and lose the identity with which it first attracted tourists.

To safeguard his beautiful north-east coast, he devised a cunning plan. Fret invented a chemical reaction which, with a refreshing lack of modesty, he named after himself. The exact formula remains a secret, but in the same way that nuclear waste remains active for thousands of years, so does Fret’s creation. A chemical injected into the coastal soil hereabouts releases, several times a year, a gas which reacts with warm summer air to produce the heavy, cold, localised fog so familiar to us residents but remains a baffling mystery to visitors.

This occasional phenomenon along a narrow strip is not enough to seriously discomfort the locals, who merely shrug and await the next sunny day, but is sufficient to deter holidaymakers planning to spend a fortnight or so at Whitley Bay, Cullercoats or Tynemouth.  No one wants to lay on a beach wrapped in cold fog: as soon as it became apparent that beautiful Costa Geordie was unreliable for such activities, holidaymakers began to look elsewhere and soon after the package tour industry was borne and with it such monstrosities as Fuengirola and Torremolinos.

The author out for a spin in the fret at Cullercoats…Meantime our own coastline remained relatively unspoilt despite the occasional fish and chip shop attracting attention in places like Seahouses. Even in high season entire stretches of beach remain as empty as the Sahara. And you will could travel the length of our coast without ever sighting a single high rise holiday hotel.

On the downside, I once hosted a weekend conference  of independent  publishers in my own distinctive coastal village of Cullercoats. Alas, the fret came down with a vengeance and for 48 hours said publishers groped their way around the lovely  horse-shoe shaped harbour, unable to spot the beach, the sea, the rocks or even a seagull. 

Best remember such incidents if you’re tempted to visit. Remember  you risk the fret, so much better you book into the Costa Brava or even Bournemouth, Blackpool, or Bude, none of which, I as far as I can tell, is cursed/blessed with such a phenomonon.

Meantime up here we’ll just grin and bear it as we stride out across  deserted beaches and travel along empty coastal roads, occasionally quietly singing  the praises of the late Arthur Rollerink Fret


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