Well here we are heading towards the end of January and well into the grip of Winter. But it’s not all bad and at a time of year where it feels like nothing happens, here we are to prove that is certainly not the case. There’s nothing we like more than exploring a place we think we know so we’ll and maybe discovering a few new delights along the way. We both love a map and we are blessed at For the Love of the North to work with some amazing artists who have created maps of North East towns and cities on cards and prints. On a crisp winter Tuesday last year we equipped ourselves with a Newcastle map card designed by the fabulous Whitley Bay based artist Lisa Kirkbride. Using the locations of the map as our stop offs, we challenged ourselves to get round the map in one day. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, this tootle around the Toon makes a fabulous date day with your beloved.
What better place to start than the iconic sight of the statue of Earl Grey, right in the heart of the city. The monument was officially opened in 1838 and within its structure are 163 steps reaching to the viewing platform. The statue was the work of one Edward Hodge Baily who has also created the statue of Admiral Nelson in Trafalgar Square. And beneath the monument stretching down 40 feet are the circular supports to prevent it from listing.
We now head down towards the magnificent curve of Grainger Street and we pass the magnificent sight of Newcastle’s Theatre Royal. And what titans of the stage have graced this wonderful theatre. For Paul the theatre brings back such happy childhood memories as it is here every Christmas that there would be a family trip to the panto and there Paul saw such legends as John Inman, Keith Harris and Orville and the Krankies to name but a few. We enjoyed a lovely evening at the theatre last year seeing Robert Powell in Sherlock Holmes - The Final Curtain. Certainly not out final curtain call on this splendid venue.
Towards the river we were heading. The Castle Keep is part of the site that gave the city its name. The Keep was once the castle’s main fortified stone tower and the nearby Black Gate it’s fortified Gatehouse. Ascending the defending the stone steps inside the castle is always fun and the view you get looking down onto the impressive Great Hall is always a spectacular sight, really showing the scale of this wonderful twelfth century construction. As you reach the roof and head out onto the battlements you are treat with magnificent views of the city and over the river. For trainspotters a joy as the main line passes right by the Keep.
Without question one of the most iconic landmarks in the whole of the North East is our beloved Tyne Bridge. It is certainly looking good for being just over 90 years old having celebrated this milestone in 2018. The bridge is central to the magnificent sight of thousands of runners crossing from north to south and the Red Arrows flying over head. It certainly makes you proud to be from the North East and we certainly felt that when we did the Great North Run for the first time in 2015.
Our route is taking us down underneath the Tyne Bridge and the perfect opportunity for our first stop off, the Bridge Tavern. There is always a wonderful selection of beers and spirits and a clear passion for what they do. The food menu is proper bar bait and again filled with true North East passion and produce.
Time to be off and we take a stroll along the Quayside. We had been recently watching the second series of Auf Wiedersehen Pet shown back in 1986 and watching scenes shot on the Quayside it shows you just how much things have changed in the past thirty years. We didn’t spot Tim Healy or Jimmy Nail. Over the Millennium Bridge then a visit to the Baltic Contemporary Art Gallery and up in the lift to take in yet another spectacular vantage point over our wonderful city and it’s bridges. The next landmark on the map was just a stone’s throw away so into the Sage Music Centre we went. What is wonderful about the Sage is just how amazing it looks from the inside as well as out.
The air was crisp as we ventured outdoors once again and as you pass St Mary’s Heritage Centre it is amazing how tranquil it is and again a lovely place to just stop, take it all in and admire the views of the Quayside around you. All this adventuring was making us work up an appetite so being in the vicinity we were and our love of places full of character we made a B line for Gateshead’s Central Bar. Through it’s wonderful facade leads you into what we would call a proper pub. It has great beers and offers some tasty treats. We wolfed down a plate full of nachos which is just what we needed. We could have happily stayed in there all cosy for the afternoon but we had our mission to complete.
We needed to be back on the north side of the river so head across the always impressive sight of the High-Level Bridge and it is impossible not to think of scenes from the iconic “Get Carter” and the North East’s most famous detective, Vera who have both used the features of the structure to great dramatic effect.
Our next point on the map beckoned, St Nicholas’s Cathedral. And it was here that the cathedral regularly plays host once to the fabulous “Christmas at the Cathedral” where Jimmy Nail gave a wonderful rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. We were delighted to have supported the event previously in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
We made a fatal mistake for our next location - we wore coats in winter. Yes, you guessed it we were walking through the city’s Bigg Market. Still it was a Tuesday afternoon so think we could be excused. Talking of being excused, plans are afoot to transform the famous long since out of use Victorian public conveniences into an upmarket wine bar.
We were whizzing through our map references and just round the corner from the Bigg Market is another market, the Grainger Market. We both just love wandering around the shops in here as although the market has changed in terms of some of the traders you cannot help but feel transported back into the history of Newcastle. The market is home to the “Yesterday Society” where Paul picked up a selection of fabulous vintage cravats for everyone to sport at his “Gentleman’s Gathering” a few weeks before our wedding in 2015 (he refused to call it a Stag Party).
If you are feeling peckish then our next location would happily oblige you - China Town. Even if you aren’t planning on eating it is still always a great experience to talk a walk along Stowell Street and take in the atmosphere. Of course the Street always puts on a show stopping performance each year for Chinese New Year which always attracts hundreds of visitors.
Dusk was starting to starting to set in and just up from the magnificent arch at the entrance to China Town was another iconic sight. one that dominates the city and belongs in the hearts of so many, St James Park. There are fewer local football supporters than those of Newcastle United and you will be hard pressed to find a more passionate bunch.
We were ready for a cup of tea and what finer place to enjoy one than as our map proudly proclaims “Best Tea Shop”. The Quilliam Brothers. With over sixty loose leaf teas to choose from this is heaven for any tea drinker. It is the finer details too with the accompaniments you receive to pour the finest cup of tea that all add to the experience. It is a real cultural hub too and offers free cinema nights.
And so to our final landmark and what a perfect one to finish. Steeped in history and in the memory of so many from the North East, the City Hall. From David Bowie to Bob Dylan from Squeeze to Springsteen, so many of the icons of music have played this legendary venue and of course home for so many years to a true North East institution, the Lindisfarne Christmas concert.
One more treat to reflect on our winter’s day out, an ice cream sundae from Mark Toney’s. What a fabulous experience we had enjoyed and how proud we felt of being from the North East.