RURAL residents found their sea legs as they embarked on a four-day trip of a lifetime.
Keith and Lesley Newman normally reside in the peaceful countryside community of Ulgham, but they recently swapped the comforts of their rural home to try out life in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Northumberland.
The couple won the trip from the Tyne to Plymouth in a charity auction in aid of Calvert Trust Kielder and enjoyed every minute of their journey among the crew of 185 men and women.
They spent time on the bridge of the Type 23 frigate, visited the engineering department, called into the operations centre and attended practical demonstrations in fire fighting, weaponry and small boat handling.
But the highlight for Lesley was helping to cook curry in the galley for the entire crew.
“You really can’t appreciate how much work goes on behind the scenes to keep the crew well fed and therefore motivated until you try it yourself,” she said.
“The galley team works tirelessly in all weather conditions to make sure the crew have good food throughout the day. It was great to feel part of the team.”
The best moment for Keith was having the chance to drive the ship’s sea boat, a jet propelled Pacific 24, capable of speeds of up to 39 knots.
And his appreciation for the work of the Royal Navy only intensified after seeing it a close quarters.
He said: “I had lots of time to talk to crew members at all levels about their experiences and life at sea.
“What struck me was the bond holding everyone together on board, coupled with a great sense of pride in their ship.
“It was like being part of a big family.
“We already had a huge respect for the work the Royal Navy does at home and abroad, but our special time with them has really reinforced our sense of gratitude to all our servicemen and women.”
The couple’s experience was a far cry from their normal daily lives as Lesley works as an antiques trader and Keith has his own company, Highlights Public Relations.
However, he does boast some links with water.
“I’m the national public relations officer for the Maritime Volunteer Service, a nautical charity, and I also look after the Clean Tyne Project, but this experience was just out of this world,” he said.
“Commander Paddy Allen and his team really made sure we left with fantastic memories of the Royal Navy and we can’t thank them enough.”
HMS Northumberland was built at Swan Hunter.
She measures more than 450 ft long, weighs almost 5,000 tonnes and reaches speeds of 28 knots.
She entered service in 1994 and has recently returned from deployment in Somalia, where she took part in anti-piracy operations off the African coast.