A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about pubs

A city and its river

Newcastle intro

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River Tyne view

Rarely is a city defined so clearly by one single feature in the way that Newcastle is defined by its river. The city’s history has been shaped by the river, especially by ship-building, and now that the ship-yards are largely lost to history, the life of the city, especially its cultural and social life, continues to flow from the banks of the Tyne.

But the city has another heart, its football club, and that is where my love affair with Newcastle began. Well that, and with my husband and his welcoming Geordie family. I have been visiting the city now regularly for almost forty years and have gradually come to feel as at home there as I do in London, the city I have lived in almost all my life.

This will not be a usual blog, documenting the days and events of a visit, but rather an amalgam of all my visits, bringing together in one place all the sights of the city, my favourite areas and trying to capture for you the essence of this very special place.

A bit of history

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The castle keep

Newcastle started life as Pons Aelius, founded by the Romans at a strategic crossing point on the River Tyne. It sat near the eastern end of the defensive Hadrian’s Wall (a Newcastle suburb bears the name of Wallsend to this day). Later, William the Conqueror’s son Robert Curthose built a castle here, in 1080, giving the city the name it still bears today. Thanks to the river it became an important centre for the wool trade in medieval times, and later for ship-building – the traditional boat known as the keel comes from here.

Like many northern English cities, it reached its heyday with industrialisation, which brought great prosperity to the region. Coal from the surrounding coal fields was exported from Tyneside and its shipyards built some of the finest ships in the world.

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Plaque to Richard Grainger

The city expanded from the river bank up the hills to the north, with elegant streets designed by some of the best architects of the day.

The Depression of the 1930s hit Newcastle badly, and the Jarrow March of 1936 became one of the country’s defining events of that period (Jarrow is another Newcastle suburb). But industry continued to dominate the city’s economy until the late 20th century saw the closure of the shipyards on which its economy rested. In the late 1970s, when I first began to visit, it was clear that the city had seen better days – unemployment was high, the Quayside area largely derelict and many of the most attractive buildings were covered in the dark deposits laid down by centuries of coal smoke.

Efforts to modernise the city in the 1960s had had a mixed success – the dark often slum-like terraced houses that had been demolished were replaced (as in so many places) by tower blocks that divided communities, while the city itself was literally divided by the building of the Central Motorway that slices through its eastern side.

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Newcastle from the air

But the city bounced back. Geordies, as the locals are called, are a resilient bunch. Government and European investment attracted new industries to take the place of the old, the quayside was redeveloped as a cultural and leisure destination (in partnership with Gateshead on the other side of the river) and the old buildings cleaned so that their beauty shone through. The city’s traditional friendliness, coupled with lower prices than many other parts of the UK, saw it become a magnet for young people looking for a good night out and it was dubbed the ‘party capital of Europe’. It also became a mecca for shoppers, with excellent city-centre shopping and in Gateshead, the then-largest shopping mall in Europe, the Metro Centre.

Today’s Newcastle is a modern, lively city with a strong sense of identity and of its own history, while looking firmly to the future. Its two universities attract students from all over the world, giving it a youthful and cosmopolitan air in parts, while other areas remain perhaps more traditionally British. Its nightlife offers something for everyone, not just the somewhat infamous ‘stags and hens’ who flock there, and there are restaurants for every taste, from the all-you-can-eat buffets of Chinatown through great inexpensive Italians to gastro-pubs and a Michelin-starred restaurant on the quayside. There are excellent cinemas, art galleries, museums and theatres. And if you tire of the city you're only a short ride by Metro from the coast, or an easy drive or bus ride from some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain.

In the following entries I will focus in more detail on some of the most interesting areas of the city, my own personal favourite spots, and say something more about the culture of this fascinating corner of England.

Getting to Newcastle

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Train arriving in Newcastle

Although it is one of England’s most northerly cities, high speed trains mean that you can get to Newcastle in less than three hours from central London. Trains leave from Kings Cross (two an hour for most of the day) and follow a mostly scenic route, the highlight (for me at least) is the stunning view of Durham Cathedral just 15 minutes before arriving at Newcastle’s Central Station. From that station you are just a short walk from many of the city’s main attractions (including St James’ Park), or you can jump straight on the Metro to travel to more outlying areas.

Alternatives to the train include driving (it’s about 300 miles on good fast motorways); coach (the most economical and slowest option – check out National Express for details and prices); or air (Newcastle has a good international airport, with access by Metro to the city centre in about 30 minutes).

The Centurion

But if you do arrive by train, or find yourself at the Central Station at any point in your visit, do take a look at, and maybe have a drink in, what claims to be the most beautiful station bar in the country, and was voted 'Newcastle's most impressive watering hole' by the Observer newspaper. I haven't been able to check all the country’s station bars (!) but the Centurion would certainly be hard to beat. It started life in 1839 when it was commissioned by George Hudson (the Victorian "Railway King") to be the best first class lounge of any station in the world. The interior was designed by local architect John Dobson and is decorated with tiles made in Leeds and valued today at over £38 million! The lounge was in use until the 1960s when it closed, and the for a while the space was used by British Transport Police as holding cells. Despite its Grade 1 listed status, British Rail destroyed parts and painted over the tiles in a lurid red.

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Centurion bar

It was rescued in 2000 and restored for use as a pub, and is today one of the most popular places in the city for a drink, and an almost obligatory stop for a farewell pint for any departing Geordie. It serves a full range of the usual drinks and pub foods, and has screens showing live football and other sports, as well as occasional live music. The pub also has a deli / café attached, on the station side, selling decent sandwiches and salads etc. to eat on the premises or takeaway – useful to take on the train as they are rather superior to on board catering!

Getting around

The easiest way for a visitor (or anyone else) to get around Newcastle and the Tyneside area is to take the Metro. The system is easy to use, clean, reliable and generally efficient. There are just two lines – the green one runs between the Airport to the north west of the city and South Hylton on Wearside, while the yellow runs in a “loop with a tail” to connect the coast with the city centre.

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Metro train

The main stations in the city centre are
Haymarket – for the Civic Centre, some good pubs (including our favourite, the Crows Nest) and the top end of Northumberland Street (start of the shopping district)
Monument – for the shops of Eldon Square and many others, the Theatre Royal and shuttle buses to the Quayside and Metro Centre
Central Station – as the name suggests, for the Central Station and mainline connections, also a fairly easy walk to the Quayside
St James – for the football stadium and also Chinatown

For a bit of extra fun, especially if travelling with small children, try to get the seat at the front of the train – you’ll get a great view ahead down the tracks and the kids can pretend to drive the train!

The only downsides to the Metro that I can see is that it doesn’t run on Bank Holidays and also that it stops running rather early at night – the last train from the city centre is before midnight even on a Saturday, and this is in the so-called “party capital” of Europe!

Hop on, hop off bus

Like most cities these days, Newcastle has a “Hop on, hop off” sightseeing bus tour available. Before deciding to take this tour however, bear in mind that Newcastle is a compact city so you might find it just as easy to explore on your own; but for anyone with mobility problems and/or very limited time, this could be a useful option.

The tour starts at the Central Station and to do the complete loop takes one hour (if you don’t hop off at all, that is!) There’s a pre-recorded English-only commentary. Stops include St James’ Park Football Stadium, Haymarket, the Quayside (including Baltic and the Sage music centre) and the Tyne Bridge.

In the entries that follow I will try to capture the essence of the city – its sights, its pubs (an integral part of the culture), its passions.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:56 Archived in England Tagged trains football castles history river pubs city Comments (4)

Grainger Town

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Memorial to Richard Grainger
- water trough

What is now known as Grainger Town is the result of recent efforts to smarten up this part of the city. It encompasses the old Georgian streets built by Richard Grainger in the 1830s and 1840s (such as Grey Street, Grainger Street and Clayton Street), when the city really started to expand from its original Quayside location.

Most of the work was carried out by the North Shields born architect John Dobson (1787-1865). His work, so typical of the Classical style of his period, is at its best in beautiful Grey Street, but it can be seen throughout this part of the city and gives it a strong sense of coherence. In fact, Richard Grainger was said to ‘have found Newcastle of bricks and timber and left it in stone’.

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Plaque to Richard Grainger
on water trough

But in the 1980s and early 1990s, this once prosperous area of the city was left behind as new centres of retail and commercial activity emerged in other areas – the opening of the Eldon Square shopping centre, the revival of the Quayside area, and so on. Buildings here were left to fall into disrepair, unoccupied as both the working and residential populations fell. The City Council decided that they wanted to reverse the decline and see this part of the city thrive again, so in the late 1990s they established the Grainger Town Project. It was a good time to do this, as the relatively small amount of public funding was more than matched by private investors who saw the opportunity to develop housing and commercial property here.

Today the area has been smartened up, with old buildings cleaned and renovated, new street signs and lighting etc installed, and with a large amount of new building (mainly apartments offering modern city living). A walk around here will reveal historic architecture and new, side by side. There are cafés and bars, some interesting independent shops, and a couple of squares where you can take a break.

Grey Street

This is considered by most people to be Newcastle’s finest street. The poet Sir John Betjeman said of it, ‘as for the curve of Grey Street, I shall never forget seeing it to perfection, traffic-less on a misty Sunday morning. Not even Regent Street, even old Regent Street London can compare with that descending subtle curve.’

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The Theatre Royal

Near the top of the street is the Theatre Royal, which unlike the rest of the street was designed not by John Dobson but by brothers John and Benjamin Green. It replaced an earlier Theatre Royal of 1788 that stood in Mosley Street near Drury Lane, and opened on 20 February 1837 with a performance of The Merchant of Venice. It has a regular programme of productions, including ballet, contemporary dance, drama, musicals, comedy and opera, as well as a very popular Christmas pantomime.

And just around the corner from here is one of our favourite pubs, the Lady Grey. It seems that at any given time we will have a favourite Newcastle pub or two, but those favourites change every few years, as places decline or are done up, or the beer or food served changes, or simply because of new discoveries. The Lady Grey in Shakespeare Street falls into the first category. This used to be the Adelphi, a traditional pub popular with actors (the Theatre Royal’s stage door is just across the street) and football fans. We used to come here from time to time but wouldn’t have rated it as a favourite. But in 2011 it underwent a transformation and became the rather elegant Lady Grey, and we have been visiting regularly ever since.

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In the Lady Grey

We have been here at different times of day and for different reasons. We’ve had lunch a couple of times (they do great sandwiches, and the more substantial choices are good too). We’ve been mid afternoon on New Year’s Eve, when the atmosphere was lively but not as raucous as in some parts of the city. And we’ve been for a night-cap after dinner elsewhere. On all these occasions we found the pub just to our liking – not too quiet or too busy, with friendly service and staff who are knowledgeable about the beers they serve.

And talking of beers, they have a great range and really take things seriously. We’ve had several good ones here on the various visits, but a couple that stand out are local ones – the Ouseburn Porter, and a wonderful Cherry Stout from the Tynebank Brewery. But if beer’s not your thing, or not what you fancy right now, they also have an excellent selection of wines and all the regular drinks you might expect. There’s also a proper espresso machine if you would like a coffee.

Grey’s Monument

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Grey's Monument
(the black and white decorations were to mark the retirement of local hero, Alan Shearer)

Almost always referred to just as ‘The Monument’ by locals, this impressive column forms one of the focal points of life in Newcastle, and one of the city’s best known landmarks. Situated at the top of Grey Street, it was built in 1838 to commemorate the passing of Prime Minister Earl Grey's Great Reform Bill of 1832, which paved the way for universal suffrage. Anyone who’s been to London will be tempted to compare it to Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, and in fact the two great men were both sculpted by the same artist.

At certain times (currently the first Saturday of the month, April to September) you can climb the 164 steps to the top of the Monument for great views over Grey Street and Grainger Town.

The Monument is a popular meeting and gathering place. If getting together with friends ‘doon the Toon’, Geordies will often suggest its wide stone steps as the place to meet. It’s also popular with campaigners for, among other issues, animal rights, who set up stalls on a Saturday and leaflet passers-by; and with buskers, often Peruvian, who keep the crowds entertained. On the first Friday of every month there is a local food producers’ market around the Monument – all products on the market must be raised, grown or produced within a 50 mile radius of the site of the market. And in December it is the location for a small Christmas market, with a mix of local and European stall-holders.

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Musicians at Grey's Monument

On New Year’s Eve it is the focus for an early evening parade. From mid afternoon the various components of the parade start to congregate in the streets around the Monument. There are usually some very strange sights – one year we saw people at least ten feet high and with musical instruments instead of heads! More recently the parade has taken on a sort of Nordic theme, with a fire-breathing dragon, a huge white wolf with glowing eyes, a sea-monster and (my favourite) a towering witch-like figure with fiery limbs. These contraptions are usually accompanied by groups of local children dressed as snow-flakes, frost and other wintery motifs.

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Taken at several different New Year's Eve Parades

This is a great event for families especially, and takes place sufficiently early for young children to be back home before the city becomes the focus for even more exuberant partying than is the norm!

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Children in the parade

Central Arcade

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The Central Arcade

This lovely Edwardian shopping arcade in the centre of the city makes a great contrast to the more modern shopping experience of the Eldon Square complex. It is located in the Central Exchange Building, which fills the triangle made by Grainger Street, Grey Street and Market Street. This building dates from 1906, when they were rebuilt following a fire. The arcade opens on to all three of the surrounding streets, with ornate frontages dating from 1840.

Nowadays the shops here are modern ones. One of the most noteworthy is Windows, a Newcastle institution, which stocks a comprehensive range of sheet music and musical instruments as well as CDs. It’s a good place to find recordings by local musicians, singers and comics.

Other shops in the arcade at present include Neal’s Yard Remedies, Office (one of my favourite shoe shop chains) and Space NK, as well as the tourist information office. But even if you’re not in the mood for shopping it’s worth a visit to see this beautiful relic of Edwardian Newcastle.

Eldon Square

Mention Eldon Square to most Geordies and their first thought is likely to be of shopping, as this is the name of the city centre’s main shopping mall. But there has been an Eldon Square in Newcastle for far longer than the shopping centre has existed, even if, sadly, some of the original was demolished to make way for the new.

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Old Eldon Square

Eldon Square was built as part of the 1825-40 reconstruction of Newcastle city centre, and was designed by John Dobson. The design consisted of terraces on three sides of a central square, with Blackett Street forming the fourth, southern, side. The terrace on the east side remains to this day but the other two were lost as a result of 1960s and 70s planning decisions when plans for the then new shopping centre were being drawn up. It’s hard to imagine such a decision being made today – indeed a more recent extension to the shopping centre has a much more sympathetic design, with facades featuring natural stone in keeping with surrounding historic buildings.

Old Eldon Square was recently refurbished as part of the same programme of city centre improvements. The grass has been re-laid, new paths built, the war memorial cleaned up and new restaurants opened on the western side. Even this was considered controversial by some, as local Goths who have in recent years used the square as a gathering place saw themselves being driven out by the shoppers using the new paths and amenities.

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Eldon Shopping Centre -
entrance on Northumberland Street

At the centre of the square is a bronze statue of St. George and the dragon, a duplicate of one designed to commemorate the men of Marylebone killed in the Great War which is to be found close to Lords Cricket Ground. Here in Newcastle the statue forms the city’s main War Memorial and is the focal point for Remembrance Day commemorations.

Meanwhile the shopping centre, while smaller than the Metro Centre in Gateshead (the region’s prime shopping destination), is nevertheless a busy and popular place to shop, with many of the usual high street names (though some prefer a location outside on Northumberland Street). The biggest attractions are probably the two big department stores, Fenwick and House of Fraser, which are both very good and worth a visit. On the whole I find the Eldon Square centre a bit over-crowded, especially on a Saturday – both walking the concourses and attempting to get into the changing rooms in the most popular shops to try clothes on. But come on a weekday morning and it’s quiet enough.

Returning to the Monument from Eldon Square, we can follow Grainger Street along to the covered-in market.

Grainger Market

Although it has been recently refurbished, this market in the centre of town retains much the same character and range of stalls that it has held for years. It was built in 1835 by Richard Grainger, with the architect being John Dobson. At the time of opening the local paper described it as being the most beautiful in the world. This is a good place to come for fresh fruit and vegetables, and there are several butchers selling locally produced meat from the farms of Northumberland. But in addition to these there are a number of idiosyncratic Newcastle establishments. These include the Weigh House, where you can be weighed for a charge of 10p – many locals go regularly to check up on their weight.

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The Weigh House in the Grainger Market

There is also a very early branch of Marks & Spencer, dating back to 1895 when it was a Penny Bazaar – this is the world's smallest Marks and Spencer store. These days the items on sale cost rather more than a penny but there are still end of range bargains to be had.

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Grainger Market - Marks & Spencer's Penny Bazaar

Another long-standing institution is Robinsons, a second-hand book stall, while the Northern Optical Company has been here since 1894. You’ll also find a couple of good haberdashery stalls (fabrics and sewing materials), a Chinese foodstuffs shop (a recent addition) and tobacconists, as well as several fairly down-to-earth cafés.

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In the Grainger Market

By the way, you may also find locals referring to this as the "covered-in market", for obvious reasons, but the signs all say Grainger Market so don't be misled.

Bigg Market

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In the Bigg Market

From here it’s a short walk down to the Bigg Market. This spot is somewhat notorious as a focus for night-time drinking in the city – surrounded by clubs and bars, from whose doors young people, almost always more than a little inebriated, spill out at regular intervals, these days (it seems) to be captured for TV audiences as a sign of the declining values of modern Britain. Always in the flimsiest of garments, even in the depths of winter, and always travelling in packs, they are continually in search of the next cool place, the next meeting with a new best friend or potential romance. They may have given Newcastle something of a tarnished image in some eyes, but they are for the most part far more interested in enjoying themselves than in causing harm or distress to others, so don’t let them put you off visiting.

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Bigg Market -
public toilet and bike park!

By day the Bigg Market is altogether tamer, though never what you might call quiet. Its bars are closed, but there are enough pubs and restaurants to attract the lunch crowd, and its location makes it a thoroughfare for those walking from shopping areas to the Central Station or to the offices in nearby Cathedral Square.

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Fortune-teller

The name 'Bigg Market' has nothing to do with size, but comes instead from bigg, a type of barley formerly sold here. At its eastern end it splits into two smaller streets, also both former markets – Cloth Market and Groat Market (groat = oats without husks) Today these are separated by a modern insurance office built in the 1970s on the site of the Victorian Town Hall. The Cloth Market (to the left as you walk towards them from the Bigg Market) was once home to Balmbra's Music Hall, immortalised in the song, 'Blaydon Races'.

Back in the Bigg Market, at its western end, you will probably see the colourful caravan belonging to the resident fortune-teller, who claims to be a descendent of Gipsy Rose Lee. I have never seen anyone take up the suggestion of 'crossing her palm with silver' but I suspect plenty must, as she has been stationed here for many years.

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Fortune-teller's caravan

Nearby is a rather ornate fountain, the Rutherford Memorial Fountain, dated 1894. The sign at its base says that it was moved here from St Nicholas Square in 1901, and I can’t help wondering if the decision to move it was made by someone with a strong sense of irony, as it commemorates John Hunter Rutherford, a Scottish doctor and educational reformer of the mid 1800s, and a strong advocate of temperance. Those who today drink in the Bigg Market’s pubs and bars are unlikely to agree with his sentiment, inscribed on the fountain, that ‘water is best’.

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Fountain in the Bigg Market

You may also find a few stalls selling an odd assortment of household goods, cheap toys and sweets, but not, despite the name, a proper market.

From the Bigg Market you can turn down Pudding Chare towards the Central Station – the name of this unprepossessing street is thought to be a reference to black pudding which was sold in the nearby Flesh Market, which became the Cloth Market. It could also be a reference to a hidden stream, the Pow Dene. Chare is a medieval north-east word meaning a narrow street or alley. At one time there were around twenty in the city, of which quite a few remain to this day, many of them along the Quayside.

Alternatively you can explore High Bridge, which links the Bigg Market with Grey Street and Pilgrim Street. This is a great place to find some more eclectic shops, selling items such as vintage clothing and old vinyl records, and there are also a few interesting pubs, including the Beehive Hotel, a very traditional pub on the corner of High Bridge and the Bigg Market. This street owes its name to a bridge over the long-buried Lort Burn, which connected the Bigg Market with Pilgrim Street.

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High Bridge and the Beehive Pub

From here you can ascend Grey Street again to the Monument, where we started this meander around Grainger Town.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:54 Archived in England Tagged buildings streets architecture monument history market shopping pubs city festival customs Comments (6)

A walk to Ouseburn

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View looking back towards the city from Ouseburn

In recent years the development that first started around the central part of the Quayside has spread eastwards, and the area around where the smaller Ouseburn flows into the Tyne, in particular, has benefitted from regeneration. It makes a great destination for a stroll along the river, and there’s plenty to see when you get there. It’s only about a 15 minute walk from the Tyne Bridge to the mouth of the Ouseburn, although you’re bound to stop along the way!

The first part of this route is covered in my previous entry on the Quayside, so I will pick this walk up near the Millennium Bridge. Just before the bridge, the Quayside walk becomes pedestrianised, with the road veering away to join City Road and run parallel to the river just above the apartment blocks that line the banks here. You could follow the road, but the riverside walk is far pleasanter. It’s worth a detour however when you reach Horatio Street, where you can climb the short distance to two interesting sights.

The Sailors’ Bethel

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The Sailors’ Bethel

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The Sailors’ Bethel

At this point in your walk your eye is very likely to be drawn upwards to the sight of the slim spire of the Sailors’ Bethel.

Climb cobbled Horatio Street for a closer look and you will find that this spire sits somewhat incongruously on a solid-looking brick chapel. It was built in 1877 to serve non-conformist sailors, mainly Danish, from the many ships that used to dock in Newcastle’s busy port just down the bank from here, bringing butter, eggs and meat, and returning with Tyneside coal. But the port fell into disuse as ships became too large to navigate this far up river, and as the trade in coal declined. Today’s ships carry huge containers and dock at the Port of Tyne near the river mouth in South Shields.

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Plaque

The chapel is no longer needed by sailors and today has been converted into offices. You can’t therefore go inside but the Sailors’ Bethel is nonetheless worth a quick visit to see that unusual lead-clad spire and what is said to be Newcastle’s only gargoyle.

The artist L. S. Lowry painted the Sailors’ Bethel in a painting called ‘Old Chapel’ and this is now on display in the city’s Laing Art Gallery (have a look at http://collectionssearchtwmuseums.org.uk/#details=ecatalogue.299667 to see how Lowry depicted it).

Statue of William L Blenkinsop Coulson

This imposing Victorian statue stands on City Road just above the Quayside and a little east of the central area. It commemorates a local benefactor who, as the inscription explains, was noted for his efforts on behalf of not only the weaker members of society but animals too. Appropriately therefore the statue incorporates two drinking fountains – a large one for humans at the front, and a smaller one for animals round the back!

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William L Blenkinsop Coulson

On the back is another inscription, a quotation from the man himself:
'What is really needed is an allround
education of the higher impulses
true manliness, and womanliness
justice, and pity.
To try to promote these has been
my humble but earnest endeavour, and until
they are more genuinely aroused,
the legislature is useless,
for it is the people who make the laws'

The inscription on the plinth reads:
'William Lisle Blenkinsopp
Coulson
1841 – 1911
erected by public subscription
in memory of his efforts
to assist the weak and defenceless.
among mankind and in the
animal world'

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On the plinth

Coulson's statue originally stood in the Haymarket, near the Boer War memorial, but has been moved twice – firstly in the 1930s to a location further down Percy Street, and then in 1950 to this present spot.

Coulson was born in Haltwhistle, Northumberland, in 1840 and, as I think his pose and expression suggest, was a colonel in the army before retiring in 1892, after which he served as a magistrate and on the boards of many charities concerned with child and animal welfare. He toured schools and borstals giving lectures on morality, and published essays on the welfare of women and children. He is depicted wearing the distinctive plaid cloth that he was in the habit of wearing.

The statue is of bronze and double life-size. It was sculpted by Arnold Frédéric Rechberg and stands on a stone block, underneath which is a slab of red granite from which the two drinking troughs are carved. It commands a lovely view of the river, although Coulson is perhaps surprisingly positioned to face away from the view and is looking instead at the Sailor’s Bethel church across the road – surprising that is until you remember his devotion to the welfare of others.

The mouth of the Ouseburn

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Mouth of the Ouseburn

You could carry on from here along the main road which soon crosses the Ouseburn on the Walker Bridge, and to do so will save you repeating the climb up the bank, but I recommend retracing your steps to the riverside and following the path to the mouth of the burn. At low tide the boats will be stranded on the muddy banks, or at high tide bobbing at their moorings – either way, they make a colourful scene.

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Ouseburn moorings

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Waymarker for cyclists

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In the boatyard

Turn left here and the path will take you to a smaller bridge and past a small boatyard to three great spots to stop for refreshment on the far side. Ahead to your right is the Hub, a focal point for keen cyclists in the area, especially those following the cycle route along the Tyne to the sea. But you don’t need to be a cyclist to grab a sandwich and drink in its welcoming café, which has seating by the water for good weather visits.

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View from the Hub

Alternatively, there are a couple of pubs on the other side of the road, overlooking the Ouseburn. The lower one is the Tyne Bar, which I haven’t visited, as we prefer the Free Trade Inn on the small hill above. This characterful pub isn’t fancy and it’s not smartly decorated, but it oozes atmosphere, serves a great selection of beers and has great views of the Tyne from both the pub itself and the small garden area opposite. Oh, and there’s a friendly welcome from both bar staff and the resident cat!

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In the Free Trade Inn

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The cat even features on the beer mats!

Although it serves snacks, really this pub is mainly about the beer. Many of the rotating selection on tap are from local breweries, while there’s also a good range of bottled beers from further afield, including Belgium. And if you’re not sure what to choose the bar staff will let you try a sample (of the tap beers, obviously, not the bottled!)

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Beer with a (rainy day) view

It’s also about the view. So settle down at the window with a glass and enjoy the river scenes below. You’ll be glad you came and will quickly forgive any lack of fanciness in the décor.

Following the Ouse

From the mouth of the Ouse you can follow the footpath called Riverside Walkway along the eastern bank (on your right as you leave the Tyne), or take Ouse Street and Lime Street along its western bank – the latter are recommended if you like to spot street art. Either route will bring you to the heart of Ouseburn.

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On Lime Street

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Ouseburn street art

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Stepney Bank Stables

Here you will find lots to do. There’s a nationally acclaimed museum devoted to children’s literature, Seven Stories, which seems to have loads going on for families – crafts, author visits and exhibitions of original work by illustrators, for instance. As a former children’s librarian, I really must visit one day!

There is a city farm here too, an acclaimed music venue, the Cluny, and another traditional old pub, the Ship Inn, plus several small galleries on Stepney Bank, where you will also find a working stable.

The Biscuit Factory

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Biscuit Factory entrance

Not far away on Stoddart Street is a large independent art gallery, the Biscuit Factory. This is an art, craft and design gallery housed in a former Victorian warehouse in an area of the city that is gradually being transformed from its industrial past and becoming increasingly arty, with a number of small studios nearby. The gallery hosts four major exhibitions a year which are changed every quarter. The focus is on art you can buy – everything is for sale, much of it at reasonable prices, and the 'Own Art' scheme means that any piece can be bought and paid for in instalments.

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In the Biscuit Factory

We went a couple of years ago for the summer exhibition and were very impressed by a lot of what we saw, although the sheer amount made the exhibition a little hard to take in and focus on individual artists at times. There were a lot of great prints at reasonable prices (we resisted temptations), original paintings, sculpture and also a lot of applied art – jewellery, glassware, ceramics and even furniture.

There is a light, airy café on the first floor, with great views over the eastern part of the city, and a more formal restaurant, Artisan, downstairs with an appealing menu.

When you’ve finished your explorations here you can return by the same route, or catch a bus back into the city centre on New Bridge Street a few minutes’ walk away. Alternatively, you can continue your walk and follow the Ouse all the way to Jesmond Dene, a couple of miles to the north of the city.

ADDENDUM

Walking at this eastern end of the quayside you are likely to catch glimpses of the Byker Wall.

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Part of the Byker Wall

Byker is a suburb just to the east of the city centre. Like many of Newcastle’s outlying districts it was developed in Victorian times as housing for the working classes – tiny terraces in rows, with no bathrooms and little space or fresh air. By the middle of the 20th century they were little more than slums, and throughout the city a massive clearance programme was underway, as in many UK cities. In most places the solution was the same – high rise blocks that were designed to simulate terraced housing but vertically. These “streets in the sky” were later almost universally condemned – they failed to recreate the sense of community felt by those living in the terraces they replaced while creating huge social problems because of the isolation felt by many residents and the hidden corners of their stairwells and passageways which provided fertile ground for gangs and criminals.

The Byker Wall was in part an attempt to try something different – an intensive housing scheme that didn’t rely on piling people on top of each other. One end of the continuous sweep of buildings (620 maisonettes) does reach upwards, purposely designed to shield the site from a motorway which in the end was never built, but in most parts it is only a few storeys high. It was designed by Ralph Erskine (a London-born architect heavily influenced by Scandinavian style) and built during the 1970s – and it soon became as criticised as the high-rise blocks it sought to improve upon, mainly on aesthetic grounds as it challenged conservative ideas of what homes, and architecture, should be like. In more recent years its innovative approach has become more appreciated, helped by a major refurbishment and modernisation of the entire Byker Estate (of which the Wall is just a part) in the early part of the 21st century.

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View towards Byker from the café at the Biscuit Factory

Today Erskine’s approach to the development of the Byker Estate seems much more in tune with concepts of community involvement than was the norm at the time. He designed the new homes to fit around existing pubs, schools and churches, so people wouldn’t lose their connections to each other within the community. And he sought residents’ views, responding to desires for gardens and meeting places. Because the development was carefully phased, people could move straight from their old house to the new, without having to temporarily leave the area – another factor that contributed to keeping social cohesion intact. Erskine also included some environmental design elements that were significantly ahead of his time, with homes heated by a power plant that ran on the rubbish collected from them, and a micro-climate created by the shelter of the Wall that allows trees to grow that would normally need a more southerly latitude.

To read more about the development check out this website: Future Communities, from where I drew some of my information. You can see the Wall from the eastern end of the Quayside and other spots at that end of the city, but for a close-up look you can catch a bus on New Bridge Street to Byker (the opposite direction to the city centre).

Posted by ToonSarah 07:34 Archived in England Tagged art buildings boats architecture monument history church river pubs city museum street_art Comments (4)

What football means to Newcastle

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Fans in the Gallowgate Stand, St James' Park

If you want to support a club with guarantees of success and a trophy cabinet packed with silverware, look elsewhere. Supporting Newcastle United is about passion and about solidarity - solidarity with your team, your fellow fans and your city.

I don't believe you can really understand Newcastle and its people unless you've been to a match at St James' Park. Unlike many cities, in Newcastle the football stadium is in the city centre, not on its outskirts, and it dominates life in the city. One of my earliest memories of going to a match is walking back through the city afterwards and being stopped by all sorts of people (young children, old ladies) to ask what the score was.

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Pre-match drinks in the
Crow's Nest, Percy St

Everyone takes an interest in what's happening at the football club:
• are there new players joining?
• who will be in the team on Saturday?
• will we have a chance in the cup this year? and so on!

Even if you're not a big sports fan I think you'd enjoy the experience of a match here, and it really is the best way to meet some locals and get to know them. Tickets are hard to come by for the really big games, but for most matches you should be able to get them - try the club's official website for ticket news and box office details.

Plan to have a drink beforehand in one of the pubs in Percy Street or maybe in the Strawberry near the ground, and do the same afterwards too if you can. Get talking to a few fans about the game, buy a round, and you'll have a great time - I guarantee it! People here love their football, and even more they love the chance to talk about it.

St James’ Park

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The stadium at the heart of the city

The football stadium has been much modernised in recent years but still occupies a site right in the city centre. Football has been played here since 1880, twelve years even before Newcastle United Football Club was formed in a merger of two teams, Newcastle East End and West End FC. It takes its name from the hospital and chapel of St James which once stood just to the north of here (where the Hancock Museum is today). The chapel leased land to the south for development and a number of streets were built on the land, including St. James Street, St. James Terrace and Leazes Terrace. The latter lies just to the north and east of the stadium and its north stand is still referred to by fans as the Leazes End or simply the Leazes, despite efforts to rename it over the years.

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Waiting for the match to start -
view from the Leazes End

The south stand opposite is known as Gallowgate after the street that runs a little behind it. This was the route taken by convicted criminals from the town to the gallows which stood on the Town Moor. There were regular hangings; in 1650, 22 people, including 15 witches, were hanged in a single day. The last execution took place in 1844 (only three decades before the first ball was kicked at the site), although some Newcastle fans will assure you they have watched the team get executed from time to time since then! You will sometimes hear the ground itself referred to as Gallowgate, especially by older fans.

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The Gallowgate Stand

Of course the ground has been extensively developed over the ensuing years. Contrast this old postcard from 1908 (downloaded from the club’s website – I assume copyright has long since expired!) with my more recent photos – my photo from the Leazes, above, was taken from a spot somewhere among the trees to the right-hand side of the postcard’s viewpoint.

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St James’ Park in 1908

You can read in more detail about all the phases of development on the club website: History of our Home. This has at times been somewhat constricted by the city centre location, and in particular by the houses of Leazes Terrace which press close to the East Stand.

When I first started to go to matches in the early 1980s the stands on the east and west sides were covered and had seating, while Gallowgate and Leazes were still traditional open, all-standing, stands - much as in the slightly later photo below:

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St James' Park in the late 1980s -
the old Gallowgate Stand in the foreground

At one point in the 1990s there was talk of a move to Leazes Park just to the north, or even across the river to Gateshead – much to the consternation of fans. Fortunately these came to nothing, and instead the three other sides were extended, creating the stadium we have today – and an impressive sight it is!

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St James’ Park from the Metro station

For anyone interested in football, a tour of St James’ Park is a great opportunity to go behind the scenes. We did this some years ago and got a real thrill from sitting on the bench, visiting the changing rooms and imagining all the great Geordie heroes who’d prepared for matches there over the years, and seeing the stadium from pitch level as the players do.

Wear the strip with pride!

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Shoppers on
Northumberland St

In Newcastle the wearing of the football team's black and white striped shirt isn't something restricted to matchday. The Toon Army wear their colours as a badge of honour and not only when going to the match, but also shopping on a Saturday morning, going to the pub on a Friday night, to church on a Sunday morning (yes, really!) and so on.

If you'd like to blend in, or just want a sporting-related souvenir of your visit here, head for one of the official Newcastle United club shops to be found in several places in the town. The obvious purchase is a black and white top, but for something cheaper you could look for a scarf or woolly hat, pictures of the players, a mug or beer glass, pen or key chain ...Or if you really want to proclaim yourself a fan, it's possible to decorate a whole room in black and white stripes!

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Dressed for the match

Local hero: Sir Bobby Robson

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Sir Bobby Robson statue at St James' Park

Most football fans, and not only those from England, will know the name of Sir Bobby Robson. First as a player (with Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, and briefly with England) and later as manager of a series of clubs including Fulham, Ipswich Town (where he is fondly remembered), the English national side, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Porto (where a young Jose Mourinho learnt his trade under him), Barcelona, and in his final managerial role, here in Newcastle.

He was manager of Newcastle United for five years (September 1999 to August 2004) and remains one of the best-loved managers the club has had. He was a passionate Geordie who supported Newcastle as a boy and once said he had “black and white blood” in his veins. He died from cancer in 2009, and was mourned by football fans from all over the country.

He received many awards during his life time, including the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year show in 2007, in recognition of "his contribution as both player and manager in a career spanning more than half a century, and posthumously in December 2009 the FIFA Fair Play Award, for the "gentlemanly qualities he showed throughout his career as a player and coach". I still remember the lengthy standing ovation he was given on the BBC show, when the great and the good of the sporting world stood and applauded for what seemed to be ages.

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Memorial to Sir Bobby

Now an appropriate memorial to the great man has been established in the shadow of the stadium where the team he loved most plays – St James’ Park. It consists of five stone slabs carved with appropriate words and images. From the left they show:

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Slab 1:
Some images of his youth in the mining village of Langley Park in County Durham:
pit wheel, miner’s lamp, football and boots

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Slab 2:
The names of the various clubs with which he was associated over the years,
either as player or manager

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Slab 3:
A portrait of the man himself

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Slab 4:
The three lions of England and account of his England career,
as player and manager

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Slab 5:
A design intended, I think, to represent the nearby St James’ Park Stadium
and commemorating Sir Bobby's legacy, the charity he founded to support people fighting cancer

On the top of the slabs are the names of players associated with Sir Bobby – some of the best of the many players he managed. These include Newcastle stars such as Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Speed, but also those from other clubs, such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, and from his time managing England.

The memorial is relatively new and the birch trees that grow between the slabs a bit young and spindly, but already you can see how this will become a lovely corner of the city where fitting tribute is paid to one of its greats.

Up at the stadium itself there is a bronze statue of Sir Bobby (above), the work of Morpeth artist Tom Maley and placed here in 2012.

Local hero: wor Jackie

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Statue of Jackie Milburn

Although present-day fans may not know the name as well, Jackie Milburn was as big a hero at St James’ Park in his day as Alan Shearer in his, and today he is commemorated with this statue near the ground and also in the name of one of its stands.

He was born in 1924 in Ashington, Northumberland – a mining town that was also later home to Jack and Bobby Charlton (the sons of one of Milburn’s nieces). In those days of course, football was not the major industry it has become, as various anecdotes about Milburn make clear. He famously arrived for his trial at Newcastle with a pair of borrowed football boots wrapped in brown paper, and his lunch – a pie and a bottle of pop. And many older Newcastle fans will describe how they used to meet him on the bus from Ashington to Newcastle on match day, on his way to the match. During the period of the Second World War he combined playing for the “Toon” with his work as a fitter (repairing heavy machinery) down the mines. He played 353 matches for Newcastle during the period 1943-1957, wearing the famous number 9 shirt, and he remains the club’s second highest scorer with 200 goals (Alan Shearer is top, with 206).

This 1991 statue of the great striker (by Susanna Robinson) is an early example of the growing fashion for monuments to great footballers. It has had several locations in the city, but currently stands in Strawberry Place, in the shadow of the South-East corner of St. James' Park.

Local hero: Joe Harvey

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Memorial plaque to Joe Harvey

Also commemorated with a memorial at St James’ Park is Joe Harvey, who played for Newcastle from 1945-1953 and returned to manage the club from 1962-1975 – those were the days when most managers stayed at a single club for years, being given time to build a successful team.

Harvey is associated with most of the greatest achievements of the club in (relatively) recent years. He captained the team to two successive FA Cup victories in 1951 and 1952, helped to coach the side that won the FA Cup again in 1955, and then as manager, in 1969, led Newcastle to victory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (the predecessor to the UEFA Cup), their last major trophy to date. The memorial plaque also mentions victories in the Anglo-Italian and Texaco Cups, but neither of these would be considered major. For Newcastle United, the long wait goes on …

Local hero: Alan Shearer

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St James' Park decorated for Shearer's testimonial match, 2006

One local hero whom you won’t see commemorated at St James’ Park is Alan Shearer. Or at least, not at present. When he retired from playing in 2006 he was rightly awarded a testimonial match (against Celtic) and the club took all the appropriate steps to ensure it was a night to remember, with free scarves as mementoes for fans who attended, a team of past stars and worthy opposition. I was there! Soon after that, the newly-opened bar in the Gallowgate Stand was named in honour of the most successful striker in the club’s history – Shearer’s. But soon after this a new owner, Mike Ashley, bought the club. Despite appointing Shearer briefly as interim manager at the end of the 2009 season (in a failed attempt to stave off inevitable relegation), the two have never seemed to get on well. At the end of that season there was a falling out between them, as Ashley failed to communicate with Shearer and proceeded to appoint another manager without even telling him that he was to be replaced.

Since then Shearer’s has been renamed the Nine Bar, much to most fans’ disappointment. With the current (autumn 2017) rumours that Mike Ashley plans to sell the club, I wonder if the time is ripe for a fitting memorial to be created for our record striker?

Some more local heroes

Although you can easily walk to St James' Park from anywhere in the town, there is a Metro station right by the stadium and it's worth a look inside the ticket hall even if you aren't travelling by train, as the football theme is extensive and there are a number of interesting photos and other mementos to be seen. One area of the floor has been tiled in green to look like a football pitch, and several former players have literally left their mark here - boot prints for outfield players, gloves for goalkeepers. Meanwhile black and white photos around the walls show players from all eras as well as fans.

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St James' Park Metro Station

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Local heroes all

The Strawberry

While most of the pubs in the city are packed with Toon fans on a match day, the Strawberry has a particular association with the football club, located as it is in the shadow of St James’s Park. Outside a giant black and white shirt adorned with a strawberry forms the pub sign, while inside its walls are lined with Newcastle United memorabilia and old photos. This is a genuine collection too, not some sort of opportunistic theming to take advantage of the location.

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The Strawberry pub, outside and in

A sign on the pub’s outer wall explains the history of the name, which is taken from the streets on whose corner it stands, Strawberry Place and Strawberry Lane, and is derived from the nuns of near-by St Bartholomew’s who grew strawberries in fields here and made strawberry wine to sell to support their convent.

Unless you’re a committed fan you may find it too crowded on match day, or even impossible to get into. But visit at another time to see all the memorabilia and enjoy a drink in this historic local pub. There’s also a roof terrace with excellent views of the ground, which like the pub itself is especially popular before and after a match.

The Back Page

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The Back Page

This is a must-visit shop for any sports fan. It has an extensive range of books, all with a sporting theme, and many other sports-related items too.

The focus is firstly on Newcastle United (inevitably!), secondly on football in general and thirdly on other sports. There is a large selection of old football programmes featuring most of the league teams in England and Scotland, and a similar range of fanzines. There are usually also some fascinating football memorabilia on sale, again with a particular emphasis on Newcastle United – on one visit I spotted a framed Newcastle shirt signed by Alan Shearer (for £230) and another, unframed, signed by several players for £200. Other items include postcards of Newcastle and of football stadia around the country, black and white Newcastle United flags, mugs and key rings and much more.

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In the Back Page

Prices vary from 50p for a postcard to several hundred pounds for signed shirts, as described above. Many of the books are signed too, and these usually cost no more than an unsigned copy from elsewhere.

The shop also runs a travel club for Newcastle fans wishing to go to away matches, with very reasonable fares on their coaches. And if you don’t have a chance to visit they do a very good and comprehensive mail order service from their website. I know I sound as if I’m on commission but I’m not – it’s just a very good shop run by people who know, and have a passion for, their subject.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:44 Archived in England Tagged football monument shopping pubs Comments (5)

By Metro to the coast: Tynemouth

One of the joys of Newcastle is that its compact size makes it easy to explore, but also to get out of the city when you feel like a change. If you want to get right out into the countryside the delights of Northumberland are on your doorstep – stunning coastline, ancient castles, the wild Cheviot Hills and of course Hadrian’s Wall. But you don’t have to go that far. My next few entries will offer some ideas for easy outings from the city centre, using the efficient Metro, and starting with my personal favourite.

Tynemouth

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The mouth of the Tyne

Where the River Tyne flows into the North Sea lies Tynemouth, my favourite of the several seaside communities within easy reach of Newcastle.

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Tynemouth Priory from St Edward's Bay

And why do I like it so? Tynemouth for me has a bit of everything – a rich history, some great beaches, lively nightlife, scenic walks and good shopping – all in a pocket-sized town with lots of character only half an hour from the city. You can take a walk on the beaches or the long pier that juts out into the sea, explore historic buildings such as the Priory and Watch House, or enjoy good food and drink in its restaurants and pubs.

It is not surprising that such a strategic river mouth location should have been settled for so long – since the Iron Age in fact. The Romans had a settlement here and the Saxons founded a monastery on Pen Bal Crag, the headland that rises above the mouth of the Tyne. The Vikings came here, sacked the monastery and used Tynemouth as their base to sack the surrounding area. Kings are buried here and a national (if over-looked) hero commemorated.

Tynemouth’s beaches have drawn pleasure-seekers since sea bathing first became fashionable in the late 18th century, while the Black Midden rocks at the river’s mouth have sadly destroyed many ships and lives.

Today’s Tynemouth is a holiday resort popular with those who want their seaside experience to be relatively quiet, a magnet for Tyneside families on a day out, and a low key alternative to Newcastle’s sometimes frantic nightlife. I think it could also be a rather nice place to live – providing you are willing to brave those North Sea chills!

Footpaths by the mouth of the Tyne

One of the nicest things to do in Tynemouth is to take a walk on the network of paths beside the river. One path follows the river itself (and is flat and easy for anyone to use) and others climb the small hill above but are not challenging unless you have serious walking difficulties (I saw one man coping fine with these on his mobility scooter).

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View from a riverside path

All the paths offer super views of the river mouth and its two piers, the Black Midden rocks (exposed at low tide), South Shields on the other side of the river and upstream to North Shields, Wallsend and beyond. You can also climb the small grassy ridge where the monument to Lord Collingwood stands.

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View from a riverside path

On a sunny day this is a fantastic place to be, but in winter too, if you don’t mind the stiff winds that blow in off the North Sea, it’s a great bracing, cobweb-dispatching walk! And it’s also a good starting point for any exploration of Tynemouth as it gives you a good sense of why and how the town came into being in this strategic spot.

Monument to Admiral Collingwood

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Admiral Lord Collingwood monument

What better position for a monument to one of the country’s greatest seamen than this, high above the mouth of the Tyne with a view out to sea?! Yet in many ways Collingwood is something of a forgotten hero, barely known outside his native North East. If you are one of the many who hasn’t heard of him, his “claim to fame” is that he was Nelson's second-in-command at Trafalgar, and completed the victory after Nelson was killed. He was also a great friend of Nelson’s. Born and educated in Newcastle, he had joined the navy when only 12 years old and met Nelson when they were both serving in Jamaica in 1772. His naval career took him all over Europe, North America and the West Indies and he was totally devoted to the service and to his country, as was his great friend. It is said that during his long career of almost 50 years he only spent a total of three of them on dry land.

Everyone knows, or at least believes, that Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar and saved the country from invasion by Napoleon, and there is of course a monument to recognise this fact in London’s Trafalgar Square. But maybe Collingwood should stand there too, as there were two heroes that day. Even as his best friend Nelson lay dying, Collingwood took control of the situation and rallied the troops. Commanding them from his ship, the Royal Sovereign, he routed the French and Spanish enemy forces. Had the Royal Navy lost the battle, Napoleon and his 115,000 troops would have been free to sweep across the channel from his base in Boulogne and invade England. But thanks to Collingwood the British Navy did not lose a single ship at Trafalgar, and the country was saved from invasion.

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Admiral Lord Collingwood monument

Collingwood also recognised the great degree to which the Navy relied on oak trees to build the ships it needed. He knew that it took 2,000-3,000 oaks to build a ship like Victory or the Royal Sovereign. So he bought land in the Cheviots and developed forestry plantations there, and on the rare occasions he was home he planted acorns wherever he could to boost the stocks of timber for British ships. Ironically, by the time these trees were fully grown technology had moved on and ships were being built from iron rather than wood, but he was not to know that. He died at sea near Menorca in 1810, having been made a Baron for his great exploits at Trafalgar.

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Visitors at the Admiral Lord Collingwood monument

This marvellous monument to him was erected in 1845, and was designed by John Dobson, with the statue sculpted by John Graham Lough. It stands about 23 feet (7.0 m) tall on a massive base incorporating a flight of steps flanked by four cannons from the Royal Sovereign, the ship he commanded at Trafalgar. The inscription on the base reads:

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One of the cannons at the monument

'THIS MONUMENT
was erected in 1845 by Public Subscription to the memory of
ADMIRAL LORD COLLINGWOOD
who in the Royal Sovereign on 21st October, 1805 led the British Fleet
into action at Trafalgar and sustained the Sea Fight for upwards of an hour
before the other ships were in gunshot which caused Nelson to exclaim:
"SEE HOW THAT NOBLE FELLOW COLLINGWOOD TAKES HIS SHIPS INTO ACTION"
__________
He was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1748 and died in the Service
Of his country on board of the "VILLE DE PARIS" on 7th March 1810
AND WAS BURIED IN ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
__________
THE FOUR GUNS UPON THIS MONUMENT BELONGED TO HIS SHIP THE
ROYAL SOVEREIGN'

The Watch House

I first came to Tynemouth on my very first visit to Newcastle with Chris in 1980, and have been enjoying the sight of the Watch House on its elevated position looking over the river mouth ever since.

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The Watch House

The Watch House is the base of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, founded in 1864 as a direct result of a particularly terrible night of storm and destruction on the rocks at the mouth of the Tyne, the Black Middens. That year these rocks claimed five ships in three days with many deaths, even though the wrecks were only a few yards from the shore. On 24th November two ships, the schooner "Friendship" and the passenger steamer "Stanley", took shelter in the mouth of the river when a gale blew up and were driven onto the Black Middens. Despite several local lifeboats going to the rescue and over 30 people being rescued, 24 lives were lost that night, including two lifeboat crew. The disaster was witnessed by hundreds of people on shore, who were powerless to help.

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Sign on the Watch House

One of those watching was an officer in the military volunteers based in Tynemouth Castle, John Morrison, who recognised that a well-trained group of volunteers similar to those under his command might have been able to assist the Coastguards in deploying the breeches buoy apparatus that could potentially have saved everyone on the stricken ships. He talked to local dignitaries who called a public meeting where it was agreed to set up a such body of men to assist the Coastguard in future in the event of such disasters. Over 140 men volunteered and the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade was formed – later becoming a model for similar groups around the country.

This was the second time that the River Tyne and the dangers it presents to shipping had given rise to a national response to save lives, the first being the establishment of the world’s first purpose-built lifeboat in South Shields, just across the river from Tynemouth - but that is for a future entry.

The Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade is still in operation today. It is based here at the Watch House, which was built in 1887. They provide maritime search and rescue support to the Coastguard and other emergency services on a voluntary call-out basis. They train here and store their equipment.

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Inside the Watch House

But the Watch House is also a museum, displaying artefacts and rescue equipment dating from the wreck of the Stanley in 1864 to the present day, as well as assorted nautical memorabilia. These include a number of lovely figure-heads, all taken from ships that ran aground here. The first photo below is of the figure-head from the 'Fame', which was lost on the rocks off the North Pier in October 1894, although all on board were rescued by the Brigade. The other figure-head is that of the 'Hannah and Eleanor', a schooner which was driven ashore in Prior’s Haven. The crew were rescued by the local lifeboat 'Willie Wouldhave' (named for William Wouldhave of North Shields who came up with the radical idea of cladding a copper boat with cork to prevent it sinking which was adopted in the building of the world’s first lifeboat in neighbouring South Shields).

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Figure-heads in the Watch House

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Rescue equipment in the Watch House

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Brigade Cottage garden

As well as the artefacts, the Watch House is worth visiting to see the views from the two towers and the searchlight equipment in the southern of these. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday; admission is free but donations are encouraged – and are merited, especially when you consider that what you give will be used not only to maintain the museum but also, and perhaps more importantly, to support the work of the Brigade. The caretaker lives in the picturesque Brigade Cottage next door so ring the bell if the door is closed and she will come across and let you in.

Prior’s Haven & the Spanish Battery

Of the three beaches/bays in Tynemouth, Prior’s Haven (or simply “The Haven” as it is more commonly known) is the southernmost and the smallest. It lies in a sheltered spot within the mouth of the Tyne, protected by the pier that extends from near its northern point. In Victorian times it was popular with bathers but today is the preserve of Tynemouth Rowing Club and the local sailing club. It is a good spot for photos of the Priory and in the past has also featured on paintings by a number of artists, most famously Turner.

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Boats at Prior's Haven

Above the Haven to the north are the ruins of Tynemouth Priory and Castle, and to the south the grassy hill known as the Spanish Battery. Both have been important over the centuries in defending the Tyne (so essential as a channel for iron, coal, shipbuilding and the manufacture of armaments) against naval attack. The Spanish Battery was fortified in 1545 to protect King Henry VIII's fleet as it assembled before invading Scotland and remained an important defensive position until the early years of the 20th century. It takes its name from Spanish mercenaries who were the first to be garrisoned here.

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The Priory and Prior's Haven from the Spanish Battery

As well as serving a defensive purpose the guns here used to be used to summon the life brigade if a ship ran aground. In World War One the Royal Engineers operated a searchlight battery from the Spanish Battery, and like the Castle battery it was updated and operational during the Second World War too. Today though it is a fantastic spot in good weather to sit and watch the passing ships and boats, and when it is maybe less clement to take a brisk reviving walk in the energising North Sea winds!

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On the Spanish Battery

Tynemouth Pier

The River Tyne is protected to the south and north by two long piers. The southern one, in South Shields, is 1,570 metres long while Tynemouth’s is rather shorter at 810 metres. It was constructed over a period of over 40 years (1854–1895) and was originally curved, but in 1898 the centre section was destroyed in a gale and the pier was rebuilt in a straighter line to better withstand future storms, being finished in 1905.

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Tynemouth Pier, winter views

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A winter walk on the pier

Today, like its southern counterpart, it is popular for walks in all but the worst of weathers. The path extends along its upper part, while a lower level on the more sheltered river side once carried train tracks and cranes used in loading ships. At the far end is a lighthouse which was first lit in January 1908 and is still in use today.

Tynemouth Castle and Priory

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The Castle Gatehouse

The most significant historical site, and indeed sight, in Tynemouth is the ruined fortified priory on a headland just north of the river mouth. This promontory has been a strategically important spot since the time of the Saxons, who named it Pen Bal (or Benebal) Crag and founded a priory here in the 7th century. In 651 King Oswin of Deira was murdered by the soldiers of King Oswiu of Bernicia and his body brought to Tynemouth for burial, the first of three kings to be buried here. He was later canonised and his burial place became a shrine which was visited by pilgrims. The Roman Catholic church in Tynemouth, a very short distance from the Priory, is dedicated to St. Oswin.

The second king to be buried here was Osred, the deposed king of Northumbria who was murdered in 792. The third was Malcolm III, king of Scotland, who was killed at the Battle of Alnwick in 1093, but his body was later reburied in his native Scotland.

The priory was sacked by the Danes in 800 and repeatedly during the following century, including in 865 when the nuns of St Hilda, who had come here for refuge, were massacred. The Danes succeeded in destroying it in 875 and used Tynemouth as their base to sack the surrounding area.

By the 11th century the priory had long been abandoned and the burial place of St. Oswin forgotten. Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumbria (and brother of King Harold who was killed by William the Conqueror at Hastings), had a fortress here. When a young hermit, Edmund, reported seeing St. Oswin in a vision in which the saint showed him his tomb, that tomb was rediscovered and Tostig resolved to restore the monastery. But he was killed in the Battle of Stamford Bridge and never fulfilled his vow. However a later earl, Robert de Mowbray, did so a few years later, re-establishing a religious house here with a group of Benedictine monks from St Albans Abbey (being in dispute at the time with the Bishop of Durham). The building of the Norman church began in 1090, and the whole monastery was substantially completed by the end of the 13th century.

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The castle at Tynemouth Priory

When the monastery was re-founded there were already some fortifications here (earthen ramparts and a wooden stockade), but in the 12th century these were strengthened, firstly with stone walls and later with the addition of a gatehouse and barbican on the land-facing side. In 1312 Edward II took refuge within the castle and the nearby beach, King Edward’s Bay, is probably named for him.

The priory was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538 and the king took ownership of the castle and strengthened the fortifications of this strategic site. The church also was left standing, possibly because of its importance as a landmark for shipping along this often treacherous coast.

Tynemouth Priory church

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Tynemouth Priory with the church on the right

When Tynemouth Priory was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538 the monastic buildings were all destroyed, but the church was left standing and remained in use as the town’s parish church until 1668. Now however it is mostly in ruins, although part of the west front, rebuilt in the 13th century, remains. You can see the entrance where the main door would once have been, and the niches that would have held the statues of saints, but the 14th century tracery window that once sat above the central doorway has not survived.

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West front of the priory church

Beyond this you can trace the church’s layout in the stumps of the pillars that once marked out the aisle and the outlines of various chapel walls. The north side is almost completely destroyed but much remains of the south side and of the east too, each with the remains of what must have once been graceful lancet windows, as well as an unusual oval-shaped one above the altar.

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Priory church from the south (left photo) and east (right)
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Interior wall detail

Extending from that eastern end is the small 15th century Oratory of St Mary or Percy Chapel which has been heavily restored and is still intact. It has an ornate painted ceiling with coats of arms and other symbols on the bosses where the ribs of the vaults intersect, some stained-glass side windows portraying various saints and a small rose window in the east wall above the altar.

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Inside the Oratory

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Ceiling detail

The battery at Tynemouth Priory

It is perhaps not surprising that a site as strategic as that of Tynemouth Priory was not left to become a picturesque ruin but instead has been used over the centuries for both defensive purposes and the protection of shipping. A lighthouse was built on the headland in 1665, using stone taken from the priory, to guide shipping into the Tyne, and was rebuilt in 1775. It was taken over by Trinity House (responsible for all lighthouses and lightships in the country) in 1841 and remained operational until replaced by the still-working St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay a few miles to the north in 1895. It was demolished three years later in 1898. More recently the coastguard have been based here, but the coastguard station closed in 2001.

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Gun battery

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Gun at the battery emplacement

The other strategic function performed here has been defence. During the 18th and early 19th century the walls of the castle were adapted to house coastal gun batteries in response to the threats of a French invasion. These batteries were modernised at the end of the 19th century to house breech-loading and high angle guns. It was essential to provide adequate protection for the Tyne and its role as the main outlet for the iron and coal, the armaments and the ships produced on Tyneside. Today a row of gun emplacements dating from the late 19th and early part of the 20th century can be seen and explored on visits to the castle and priory. These were updated and operational during World War I and again in World War II.

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In the restored magazines at the battery

As well as the batteries themselves you can go inside the restored underground magazines which stored ammunition and supplied the guns. These are quite atmospheric and, thanks to the various objects and contemporary signs, give a good sense of what life would have been like for the soldiers stationed here to operate these guns. The army remained in residence at the castle until 1960; since then much of the modern military equipment was removed but these wartime defences remain.

Tynemouth Castle and Priory are today in the ownership of English Heritage and can be visited every day in the summer and at weekends in the winter.

King Edward's Bay

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King Edward's Bay, looking south

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King Edward's Bay looking north

The middle of Tynemouth’s three beaches, in both geographical position and size, is King Edward’s Bay. This is thought to have been named after King Edward II who took refuge in Tynemouth Priory in 1312. The priory stands on the promontory to the south of the beach and provides a great back-drop to the seaside fun. Low cliffs rise to the north and west as well, making this a very sheltered spot, and several paths and flights of steps lead down to the sand. The relative narrowness of the bay means that the waves of the North Sea can be quite large and you do sometimes see surfers here, although the neighbouring Longsands Beach is the most popular for surfing. At low tide there are plenty of rocks exposed if you want to go rock-pooling, and these also attract a fair number of birds. Although nearer the town centre this beach tends to be a little quieter than Longsands.

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Enjoying the waves, and view of the lighthouse, King Edward's Bay

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King Edward's Bay in winter

Above King Edward's Bay is the best-located pub in Tynemouth, the Gibraltar Rock. The downstairs is a carvery which we haven't been to (not being fans of these), but happily the first floor is still a pub and although decorated in rather bland pale wood, it still has what has always been the ‘Rock’s best feature – a large bay window with great views of the bay below and the North Sea beyond. The pub naturally faces east (this is England’s east coast after all) so you won’t get to enjoy a sunset here, but it is still lovely to sit here on a summer evening and watch the light fade over the sea. And there are also a few tables outside at the back of the pub which enjoy the same great views.

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The Gibraltar Rock, and its view of the bay

On our last visit we observed that a sort of informal protocol applied. Obviously those who had arrived first had grabbed the positions right by the windows with the uninterrupted views. But as some of these left, those at the remaining tables courteously indicated to each other which had arrived before the other and should move forwards into the vacated place. We however were happy with our seats which although set back a little allowed us to see out of both windows, so we sat back and watched this little performance without joining in!

Longsands Beach

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Longsands, with the old swimming pool in the foreground

When it comes to beaches, the pride of Tynemouth is definitely the Longsands (always spelled as a single word). If it weren’t for the sometimes off-putting northern climate, this could even rank as one of the best beaches in the world. It stretches over a kilometre in length from the smaller King Edward’s Bay to the south to the next bay, Cullercoats, to the north. It has a Blue Flag award for cleanliness and is a popular summer destination for local families as well as visitors to the north east. It is also very popular with surfers who don wet-suits and brave the cold North Sea even in winter.

At the southern end of the Longsands is the currently rather forlorn-looking old outdoor pool. This was built in the 1920s when this coast saw many more holiday-makers than it does today, but was left to gradually decline as the visitor numbers fell away with the advent of cheap package holidays to Spain in the 1970s. In the 1990s it was closed down and the various buildings such as changing rooms demolished. There was a half-hearted attempt to turn it into an artificial rock pool (I have no idea why, given how many natural ones there are in the vicinity) and later talk of creating an artificial beach (again, why?!) Today it stands derelict but a local campaign group is trying to raise money for its restoration. They have a website and a presence in the Tynemouth WW1 commemoration project’s shop on Front Street, where you can see some pictures of what the pool looked like in its heyday.

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More views of Longsands

The church that rises rather dramatically just to the north of the Longsands is St George’s in Cullercoats, the next community to the north. The beach is sometimes used for training runs by footballers from Newcastle United and featured in the film 'Goal'.

Some famous names

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Jimi Hendrix sign

And talking of footballers, for a small place Tynemouth has some famous names associated with it. Here are just a few:

Jimi Hendrix apparently came here in 1967 after a gig in Newcastle (at the Club A’Gogo) and bought fish and chips at Marshall’s in Front Street which he ate on a bench overlooking the sea (presumably at the end of Front Street, somewhere near the Priory)

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Marshall's fish shop

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Plaque on the Martineau Guesthouse

Harriet Martineau, a well-known novelist, feminist and England’s first female journalist, came here to recuperate from illness in 1840 and lived till 1845 in a house on Front Street that is now a guesthouse and named after her. Incidentally the guesthouse looks lovely (we have never stayed there however) and you can stay in the same room that she slept in.

Another famous resident was Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame, who as a child attended the King’s School here in Tynemouth between 1897 and 1902. Later he returned here with Oliver Hardy, on several occasions staying at the Grand Hotel on the seafront by the Longsands while performing at the Newcastle Empire. Their last stay was for two weeks in March 1952, and a room at the hotel is named for them. Other famous visitors to the Grand, Tynemouth’s landmark hotel, include the wartime “Forces’ Sweetheart” Dame Vera Lynn, actress Margaret Rutherford, the comedian Dave Allen and more recently Bob Geldorf and local hero Sir Bobby Robson.

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Grand Hotel, and plaque to Garibaldi

The film director Ridley Scott also attended the King’s School. And there are many who have holidayed here over the centuries, including authors Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll and artist Algernon Swinburne. Giuseppe Garibaldi also paid a brief visit in 1854. But perhaps the most surprising visit is that reputed to have been made by Peter the Great of Russia who is thought to have stayed here while on an incognito visit to learn about shipbuilding on the Tyne, a subject that fascinated him.

Tynemouth Market

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Tynemouth Metro station

The easiest way to get to Tynemouth by public transport is by Metro from the centre of Newcastle. It is on the yellow line, which makes a loop from St James’ Metro station east following the line of the Tyne to Tynemouth and then turns north up the coast to Whitley Bay and then back into the centre via the northern suburbs and through to Gateshead and to the towns south of the Tyne beyond – a sort of back to front Q shape.

If you are here on a Saturday or Sunday, do allow time to check out the market at the Metro station. It is well-known across the region and many locals visit regularly from Newcastle and further afield. The station dates back to 1882 and was originally a mainline station before being brought into use for the first stretch of Metro line in 1980, which ran from the Haymarket in Newcastle to terminate here. The station was completely renovated in 2012 and it is now a Grade II Listed Building.

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Station roof - details

There has been a market here for a long while but since the station refurbishment it has grown in size and (from what local relatives tell me, who visit often) is better than ever. It is held on both platforms, which are very wide and easily able to accommodate all this activity as well as the regular business of people boarding and alighting from trains! It has something of the feel of a flea market, but in addition to antiques and bric-a-brac you will find fresh local produce, arts and crafts, plants, books, clothing and more.

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Tynemouth Market

Even if you don’t want to shop here you can easily while away an hour or so browsing the stalls and enjoying some of the light refreshments available. On every third Saturday of the month there is a Farmers’ Market and there are book fairs held quarterly. Trading starts at 10.00 AM and ends around 4.00 PM.

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On sale at Tynemouth Market

Add some excellent restaurants (I recommend Davanti's Italian restaurant or the quirky Barca Art Café, both on Front Street), interesting shops (try Razzberry Bazaar for unusual gifts and clothing, or the Green Ginger Shopping Arcade, a cluster of shops spread over two floors of a converted church) and that fresh sea air, and maybe you can see why I like Tynemouth so much!

Posted by ToonSarah 07:54 Archived in England Tagged beaches castles architecture monument history ruins views market river pubs seaside Comments (4)

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