Newcastle upon Tyne

north of the south

As a kind-of-joke (but possibly a legitimate suggestion), someone in the audience of the “Lessons of Brexit” event I attended at the end of March (I talk about it in my last post) asked during the Q&A whether moving Parliament out of London to Leeds, Manchester, or somewhere up north would address some of the demands of the “leave” voters. A lot of people who voted for leaving the EU were motivated by their day-to-day realities and a feeling that EU funds, just like national funds, continued to end up in or around London, which is where the seat of the British Parliament is located. This point about the distribution of wealth in the UK is clear, even to an outside observer: health services are less available, bus services much less frequent and more irregular, etc.

There also seems to be a general kind of snobbery in the south of England towards the north, especially by people in London and Cambridge. When I told people I would be visiting Newcastle upon Tyne and Blackpool for the weekend, I was asked why I would want to go up there…. several times. It was done in a joking manner of course (even by a girl who comes from Manchester), but the fact that the south is seen as the sophisticated, cultured region while the north was good for the Industrial Revolution, walking tours and farming, but very little otherwise, is a seemingly pervasive stereotype.

Not one to be dissuaded, not least because I was running a marathon in Blackpool and knew someone in Newcastle, I headed out on my three-day journey Saturday before last and had quite a good time, I must say. The people I met were friendly, the landscape beautiful, and there was more than enough to do.

It started with a ride through the heart of England with a stop in Peterbough, which I didn’t see much of, because, well, you know, I had another train to catch. I arrived in Newcastle mid-morning and found my friend J., a virtual running teammate, waiting for me. He has a car and was born and raised in Newcastle–aka a bona fide Geordie–, so I was lucky that he had time and wanted to show me all the sights– not to mention that I could get to know him a little better as this was our first time meeting in-person.

Newcastle Map

a map of Newcastle upon Tyne and its surrounding Buroughs. Wallsend refers to the Hadrian Wall whose ruins run through the north of England (originally a Roman defensive wall) and end here.

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St. Mary’s Cathedral /first thing you see when you leave the station

These already began with St. Mary’s Cathedral immediately outside the central station. We then proceeded to drive through the boroughs of Newcastle, with J. pointing everything out along the way and happy to stop whenever I wanted to see something more closely. And I wanted to see a lot up closely, a lot because of what he had said about it. Take for example the relatively newly renovated Tynmouth Station. It’s glass roof and intricate rafters made for a beautiful space to host a weekly flea market that featured regular and nomadic sellers. It’s not far from  the ruins of the Priory and Tynmouth Castle, which were the most fortified area in England since they had to protect the headland at the North Sea Coast.

We then drove on bit further north to Whitley Bay where I could see the St. Mary’s Lighthouse and smell the North Sea coastline. I could swear it was the same as the German side. The day was a bit overcast and windy, but thankfully dry and I was enjoying what I saw so far- a lot of water and a lot of green, which is just how I like it.

After checking off the North Sea, it was time to get to know the River Tyne a little more. Newcastle benefitted throughout history as being one of the northernmost ports in England and the city developed from being important for wool trade in the 14th century, its port and shipyards in the 16th century, and of course its coal mining extending from the 15th to its important role in the Industrial Revolution to its height in the early 20th century.  In fact, the shipyards a little further down the river was amongst the largest shipbuilding and ship-repair centers in the world.

Being on a river, there are of course several bridges joining Newcastle and Gateshead on the other side, and these are world famous.

Especially the Millennium Bridge. It’s one of three tilt-bridges in the world and perhaps even more famous than its older partner, the Tyne Bridge, that you can see in the background in the photos above. The Millennium Bridge will be rotated several times a day for tourists and extended periods of time for special events. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in town long enough to see the bridge, but you can watch the bridge tilt here. 

J. showed me a few other things on the river- the Sage and the Baltic Mills cultural and arts museum, which also had a few great viewing platforms, before we sat down for lunch. Unfortunately it was not fish and chips, which would have been ideal here, since I was running a marathon the next day, but he did know a delicious Italian restaurant that was in one of the busiest restaurant and bar streets in the city- and also up a pretty steep hill, which I concluded would have been easier to walk up if not sober.

After that, we saw a little more of the city center. It was pretty busy, being a Saturday afternoon and a lot at once! I really should have paid more attention when J. was telling me everything!

Finally, after seeing so many amazing things (not included here: St. James’ Stadium) and having a lot of fun chatting with J.,  it was almost time to get back to the train station. However, he made sure I also got to see the one thing I had mentioned before coming to Newcastle that I’d be interested in seeing: Newcastle’s namesake. Of course it’s named after a castle and I’d read online that one could visit it. J. was surprised when I mentioned it, as apparently Newcastlians kind of ignore it, but this also meant he was just as curious as I was to see it.

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very castle-y. The Castle Keep

He found the place where it must be, and we both got out and ooh’d and ah’d, and then he brought me to the station and I was on the next leg of my journey. It is only in writing this post that I realize that the Castle was built on the site of a fortress, and the fortress is the city’s namesake. Also, the only remaining structures of the Castle were the Castle Keep, a Tower and a Gateshouse (with the imposing name of Black Gate). Turns out, we were able to see the Castle Keep, which I still find impressive. You can still see what is old and new here.

However, onto Blackpool. I’m going to actually do this in a separate post, since WordPress is complaining about how much I’m trying to squeeze into this one. See you again soon!