Thursday, 19 July 2018



Newcastle is situated on the northern bank of the Tyne River, with Gateshead being on the opposite shore. It was originally a Roman settlement, but after a castle was built in the 11th century, by William the Conqueror’s son, it became known as Newcastle. In the middle ages, a high wall was built around the city as a defence from regular Scottish invaders, and the city began to prosper. It is less than 10 miles from the sea and has long been associated with shipping. From the 16th century its shipyards on the Tyne, have been amongst the largest in the world for shipbuilding, as well as the export of coal from its coalfields. Many of Newcastle’s most impressive buildings were built in the 18th and 19th century and are close to the city centre – so I knew there would be plenty to see.

I caught the metro right into the heart of the city; there are actually 3 stops within the city – so you can really save your legs if you plan things right. I got off at Central Station (originally built in 1850 – but was being refurbished when I was there) and headed outside to find lots of beautifully coloured notice boards dedicated to the “Fields of Battle and Lands of Peace”. 

Only a few minutes’ walk from here, I came across the Life museum, totally by surprise as I was heading for the Discovery museum. You couldn’t miss the words “Life” on the building, and under the archway, into Times Square; there is a wonderful modern-looking museum. It wasn’t cheap to get in, but they do a family ticket, so it isn’t too expensive. 

If you go there with children, there is so much to keep them entertained; you could easily spend at least half a day there. As I was on a mission to cram as much as I could in, in one day, I avoided the sand pits and building blocks! 

I particularly wanted to see Dino Jaws, an exhibition from the Natural History Museum, which is excellently done and very informative. There are several life size dinosaurs and animatronic dinosaur heads that moved and roared – including the terrifying Tyrannosaurus Rex. 

There is information on how they caught their food, what they ate, a huge pile of poo – and a chance to do a spot of fossil hunting!  

I also enjoyed the Planetarium, a 30-minute sit down (on comfy chairs) watching a programme about the Aurora on the domed ceiling above – it bought back some great memories of my own special view of the Northern Lights. 

There are several exhibitions or zones; one about how the brain works which was quite fascinating, and an experimental zone where youngsters (supervised) can have a go at being real life scientists.

There is also a 4d Motion Ride where you can take an imaginary flight with a bumblebee and a Science Theatre. If you want to make the most of your day, there is a café where you can have refreshments and a rest before exploring more that the Life museum has to offer, and perhaps buying a present from the gift shop before you leave. It is well worth the admission fee and I can highly recommend a visit. 

Only a few more minutes walk, I arrived at the Discovery museum in Blandford Square; this is a complete contrast to the first museum. It is in a former Co-op building built in 1899, it is red bricked and looks more like an old manufacturing mill.

It is free to get in, although a donation is requested and as well as having displays on industry, science and local interest issues – it has various temporary exhibitions.

The one that was on when I went was “All the Fun of The Fair – 135 Years of The Hopping’s”, which charts the history of Newcastle’s Hopping’s fair, first held on the Town Moor in 1882. It was possible to purchase 5 old pennies for £1 and play on some of the vintage coin-operated amusement machines, and it bought back lots of memories of similar machines, pinball and hand operated, from my childhood. The exhibition room was a colourful, fun setting and as well as reading about the history of the fairs - it was brilliant. 

There are several floors full of interesting displays to read and look at, as well as many hands-on exhibits, so it is ideal for families and also for disabled people. It houses the regimental museum for the 15/19th King’s Royal Hussars and Northumberland Hussars – if you are interested in army life. Its most famous exhibit is the 34-metre-long steam ship The Turbina, built in 1894 by Charles Parsons to test the advantages of using steam turbine to power ships.  

There is a café on the top floor and a shop on the ground floor, and it is also the home to Tyne and Wear archives. You can easily spend at least a few hours here. 

Heading back towards the station again, I could see the famous Bridge Across the Tyne to my right; there has been a bridge here since 1250, but the one that you see now was designed by Robert Stephenson and built in 1849.  It is a high level bridge, designed to carry both road and rail traffic on 2 separate levels. The building of this bridge meant that trains could travel further north – really opening Scotland up to the world. There are 7 bridges across the Tyne in close proximity to the city of Newcastle now.

I passed St Mary’s Cathedral back near the station – and several unusual buildings/statues and murals; before coming to Bessie Surtees House which was originally two 5-storey Jacobean merchants houses dating back to the 16th century. It is named after Bessie, who eloped from here with a coal merchants’ son John Scott in 1772. There is a plaque on the wall saying what the house is but you can find out more at 

The area around here is mainly bars and restaurants now, and definitely the place to come for a drink or something to eat. Over the road from here, heading towards the river, I came across an Italian restaurant with a life-size horse at the door. I wasn’t the only person who had to look twice, before laughing – what a sight it was – especially as it was on roller skates and had coloured stockings on! 

Just before reaching the Quayside, down Westgate Street, I came across the Black Gate – an intriguing medieval building and the place to buy a ticket to get into the Castle. You could easily miss that there was a castle, as it is so close to other buildings, especially the railway bridge.

You can actually touch the castle wall with one hand and the railway bridge with the other! After having a look around the Black Gate building with its spiral stone staircase; and seeing the exhibition room and the shop, I crossed the wooden bridge and headed to the Castle itself. 

The Keep building doesn’t take up very much ground, you could walk around the perimeter in a couple of minutes; but it has strong, tall walls that must have been impenetrable in their day. You can watch the story of the Castle’s history in a room below ground, where prisoners would have been chained to the walls and you can go in the Great Hall and several other rooms and passageways. There are so many ancient passages, corridors and well-worn stairways that I nearly lost my sense of direction. 

They have historical re-enactments, which must be such fun, as well as talks, film shows and even concerts – so look out for what might be happening when you want to visit. The best bit for me though, were the views from the parapets – although you do have to walk up well over a hundred steps to get to the top. It felt like I could see the whole of the city with the Tyne running in both directions – traversed by its many bridges. 

The cathedral looked so close but I didn’t have the time to call in, it looks beautiful, so if you get the chance, I am sure it is worth popping in – After going down hundreds more steps, I was finally on the Quayside; I have been there before on a Sunday when there are market stalls along the river – it is a great place to spend a morning shopping. But this time it was a Saturday and there was no market on; but there were thousands of people enjoying the sunshine along the banks of the Tyne. 

There was even a little beach with deck chairs that had been established – just for the summer. All the bars and restaurants were full, everyone was sitting outside – it really was where everyone wanted to be. If I had, had more time, I would have gone on a boat trip down the river (maybe next time) – River Escapes do several different trips, to see the city, out into the country or towards the ocean – ranging from £6 - £10. 

I walked along the river until I came to The Millennium Bridge, that tilts or winks – details of times it performs are on the website It was lovely just to stand on it and watch boats and jet skis performing underneath, and to admire the other bridges over the Tyne, the Quayside and the city. 

Across the bridge is the iconic Sage building with its shops, cinemas and places to eat; but I went into The Baltic, a converted mill that is now a Contemporary museum with two delightful café bars – one on the top floor and another on the ground floor. 

It seemed a long walk back to any of the train stations, but luckily there is a Quaylink bus that picks up at the Baltic and the Sage and takes you directly back into the city – stopping by the Monument Station. 

That station is easy to spot – just look out for a huge column - Greys Monument, a Grade 1 listed monument built to honour Charles Grey (2nd Earl Grey) in 1838 in the centre of Newcastle. That was once the heart of the city, where you also had Grainger Market; a traditional indoor market in another listed building. Today you can still find stalls there selling fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, hardware and haberdashery and handmade crafts – it is a popular place to grab a bargain. 

The Theatre Royal is also in the Grainger Town district, sometimes referred to as Newcastle’s Cultural Temple: it was opened in 1837 and is one of England’s most famous theatres, with some of the biggest names in music and drama performing there. 

Jumping back on the Metro that finished my day trip around Newcastle, an exhausting day but one filled with such diverse sights, many that were totally unexpected. I can highly recommend going for a weekend – there really is so much to see.

Here are a few bits of information you may find useful if you are thinking of visiting the area:-
The Tourist information office is in Central Arcade on Market Street –
Stephenson’s Rail museum, in North Shields is well worth a visit especially if you like trains. It commemorates Stephenson’s work with locomotives and the early days of the steam railway.
Remains of a Roman Fort in Segedunum, close to the Wallsend Metro station – if you are a fan of Roman history.
The Victoria Tunnel – a hidden tunnel built in 1842 to transport coal. You can get tour tickets from
Metro centre – - hundreds of high street shops all in one place.
Blue Reef Aquarium at Tynemouth -
Beamish Museum - - journey back in time over 100 years to see how people lived then.
Alnwick with its Castle and Gardens -
Keilder Forest - - a wonderful place to spend quality time in the great outdoors, there are so many activities that can be done there.
Angel of the North at Gateshead – a must see site -
Cragside – National Trust - - one of the most impressive National Trust properties in the north and a particular favourite of mine.As you can see there is plenty to do in this part of the UK – go on, spend some time “up north”


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