Travelogue Newcastle 1

NEWCASTLE
01-04 October 2015

Having sworn I’d never holiday in the UK again (because of the dreadful state of the Rand and a worldful of as-yet unexplored destinations), the last thing I’d imagined was breaking the pledge to attend a sporting event, of all things.

But Christian was very excited to have been (a bit too) successful (if you ask me) in the IRB lottery and had secured tickets to all 3 matches being played in Newcastle. Since I’d never been to Newcastle, wanted to see birthplace, would get to see his favourite cousin and had our trusty travelmates joining us from London, it all seemed like a swimming idea!

Better yet Christian’s aunt and uncle offered to house swap for us and (favourite) cousin Lucy volunteered to fetch us from the airport so, since it was homeground and there was no “what to do” research to be done, there was little else to do but book flights and wait impatiently for what promised to be a cracking holiday.

The wait was well worth it and we were greeted with warm welcome – by the Newcombe ladies: Lucy and her daughters, Nell and Effie – and warm weather, which I’m told is a rarity.

The airport is close to town and it’s a pretty scenic drive through the countryside and winding village roads, so it’s more of an experience than the chore it is back home. We were soon at our holiday digs, a charming home in the very lovely Tyneside; parallel and one road in from the beach and a short trot into the action on Front Street.

Since it was such a perfect blue-sky day, a quick shower and change later, we were out the door and headed on foot to see some of what our locale had to offer.

Tynemouth is beautiful and quaint, like a slice of history untouched by time. Some effort and dedication must have been put in to maintain the turn-of-the-last-century-and-before buildings and retain the elegant facade of the much-prettier architecture from a time where form surpassed function.

We took a turn down Front Street, which was a buzz of activity with patrons from generous helping of coffee shops, pubs and restaurants spilling outside to pavement tables, enjoying the sunshine. Lucy pointed out the highlights as we listened intently and mentally mealmapped feeding times for our short stay.

The end of Front Street brought us out at at The Priory, where we turned left and walked along the coastline to Longsands for a nibble at Crusoe’s on the beachfront – delicious steak pie and sausage roll (made with real pork sausage).

Little Nell had a lovely runaround in the sand but – lacking the necessary play paraphernalia since our excursion had been spontaneous and on foot – had to settle for the promise of a return visit the following day for a proper beach playtime in the “sandysandsand”.

It was only a short walk back to the house, to my surprise still moving in the same direction as we’d come from; revealing we’d walked in a big loop and reinforcing my shocking sense of direction.

Wanting to make the most of our time together, we tagged along with the Newcombes to their house, where we had a leisurely mooch-about until Mick got home from work and Nell insisted on a “walk around the block”, so we went to the shops. Another lovely neighbourhood, we enjoyed the stroll around Whitley Lodge, appreciating how different everything was to home and feeling quite content with clean and open suburbanness of it all.

With the girls fed and off to bed, we called in for a curry and settled in at the diningroom table for a yummy dinner and quality time with quality company.

On Friday morning Lucy called in for us just after 9 and we took an amble to Front Street for breakfast at Lui’s.

And what a breakfast it was! Cumberland sausages, Lorne sausage, black pudding, white pudding, doorstop toast, eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomato… spoilt for choice! We vowed a return over the weekend with the London contingent.

… who were due to arrive imminently, so we made our way back to the house…

… with 20 minutes to spare.

The usual joyous reunion, our friends were as delighted as we had been to see how lush our accommodation was and just as eager to see what Tynemouth had to offer based on our enthusiastic reviews of what we’d seen and done so far.

We took then down the now-familiar route to Front Street, where they oooed and aaahed as we had about the prettiness of it all.

We started the walking tour with a stop-in at “The Land of Green Ginger”, an old very traditional-looking church that had suffered waning parishioners and thus had been converted into a shopping arcade in 1980, despite religious influences wanting the church to be demolished rather. It’s quite comical to see an old school church with a giant plastic ice-cream cone model at its door, beneath a banner pronouncing the church to be the home of an ice-cream parlour.

As you walk into the church, there’s a big brass plaque with a list of names of parishoners who volunteered to fight in the second Anglo-Boer War (the one that the British won), counting among them Christian’s great-grandfather, Peter Slater.

We then walked the length of Front Street – pinpointing establishments we intended to sample – and walked up to the Priory. We decided to forego the tour, opting rather to walk the length of the pier to the lighthouse at the end. The pier is quite a length and has a twin eminating from the opposite bank of the river, together guiding ships safely into the mouth of the Tyne.

From there our next stop was the Collingwood Statue – a monument to the Admiral who led the first British ship into the Battle of Trafalgar. The statue of Collingwood himself is set high atop a stone column, with wide stone steps below flanked by four of the actual canons from his ship, The Sovereign. The view from the monument’s park looks out to sea and was particularly spectacular with the sunny clear day contrasting the bright green grass with the backdrop of blue skies and seas.

From there it was a stone’s throw to our ultimate destination, Northshields Fish Quay, for lunch. A bit hot under the collar though, we stopped in for a Magners cider in The Quay Taphouse before making our way to have fresh and plentiful fish and chips at The Waterfront restaurant.

A bit overspent on time, we hightailed back, deftly navigating a shortcut through town, to Longsands to meet Lucy and the kids.

The beach was quite busy, with people clearly making a plan to come and enjoy the quite unseasonal summer’s day in Autumn. While warm and sunny, it certainly wasn’t swimming weather by home standards and we didn’t want for swimwear nor regret being in jeans.

On the beach Lucy had spotted people she knows and on our way out we all bumped into some people Christian had met when he’d been out a few years ago so, combined with our confidence at navigating around the town, was as warm as the weather to feel like a local on our first full day of holiday!

We celebrated our good spirits with a stop in at Copperfields, a traditional pub located behind the – one would guess aptly named – Grand Hotel, and then were back on the road for a sunset walk along the waterfront.

Not really sure of where we were or where we were going, but knowing we couldn’t go far wrong as long as the sea was on our right, it took encountering a tourist sign to realise we’d walked from Longsands, through Cullercoats and almost missed Whitley Bay!

We turned inland and had a pint at the King George pub, momentarily homesick from other patrons who had their dogs with them. That said, none of our lot would behave well enough to socialise in this manner, so we’d miss them just as much even if we had brought them with us!

We decided our next stop would be the Avalon biker bar that Christian had visited and enjoyed on previous visits… but were disappointed when we found the venue and the bar had been closed down. The entire street was largely boarded up pubs and clubs though, so we surmised we’d stumbled into the graveyard of what had previously been the thumping heart of The Best Stag Do Destination of not so long ago.

Never known for dwelling on disappointment for too long, we went into Fitzgeralds instead – a large pub, oddly empty, especially bearing in mind there were 2 burly bouncers manning the entrance. That said, they spent the entire duration of our pint denying a girl access to the pub despite her heatedly and stubbornly negotiating at them.

Turning the corner and going into the Fire Station, we got a taste of what the Stag Do phenomenon was all about, thanks to a large and rowdy group of lads circling their victim – a poor chap in a fullbody penis costume – goading, issuing dares and plying shots and beers at a rate of knots (no doubt enabled by the crazy “buy in bulk” drinks specials).

We escaped to the pub next door, The Victoria, only to be exposed to more of the same. Literally. Penis Man and Friends had trailed in behind us.

Christian, in a well-timed display of voice-of-reason, bundled us into a taxi back to the far more civilised Front Street, where we ticked Cumberland Arms and The Priory off our list with quick nightcaps before walking home.

Saturday was grey and overcast, but fortunately still dry. Christian and I were up early so we wandered up to the shops to source orange juice and such, and were rewarded for our efforts by a magnificent find: Heinz tinned pork sausages and beans! Which made an excellent pre-breakfast, in advance of the brilliant bacon butties that would ensue when the others rose.

Fed and feeling far better than we ought to, we headed out to see what Newcastle Upon Tyne had in store for us.

The Metro station hosts a market on weekends which, with a random mix of bric-a-brack new and old, looked like it warranted some time to be earmarked for a proper look the next weekend.

The Metro is quick and easy – but quite pricey at 3 Pounds some change for one way – and we were soon in Newcastle.

Right in front of us was the first sight of relevance – the Earl Grey Statue. We stopped to take a group photo and a kind passerby offered to take the pic for us so we could all be in it. Sadly, she was more enthusiasm than talent so, while she was painstaking about getting the 4 of us all into the pic, she cut off poor Earl Grey. Since she was so nice about being part of the whole moment, we were too polite to reset for the pic… and I’m going to have to settle for including a Google pic into the photo album for the holiday!

Grey Street is a very elegant road of serious buildings, unfettered by modern glass skyrises, that leads down to the river at the Tyne Bridge (which Christian revealed is an exact replica of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, built for practice at exactly a third of the size).

Walking along the river took us to Millennium Bridge, where we were highly amused by a busker passionately singing (clearly a song penned with his own ink judging by his emotional and animated delivery) about how London is full of aliens, paedophiles and Tory twats!

We were still laughing when we got to the other side of the bridge… and were still humming his tune as we walked around the Baltic Art Gallery on the Gateshead side of the river.

All our walking necessitated a whistle wetting, so we popped into the Pitcher back on the Newcastle side of the bridge, near to our busker who unfortunately seemed to have run out of steam and apparently had no more eccentric episodes to share. No mind. His one hit wonder was unexpected and unforgettable.

Next I was treated to a first-but-no-chance-last experience at Gregg’s Bakery, a chain of pie shops. I had a baked bean, cheese and banger pie. What an epic combo!

Our return journey up Grey Street was quite different since everywhere was heaving with rugby supporters – lots confusingly in Bok jerseys and kilts – and the Samoa vs Japan game was being projected on a big screen at the base of the Earl Grey Statue.

We paused to enjoy this new atmosphere, taking in a pint at Harry’s and grabbing a pulled pork roll from one of the food stalls (who were coining it, churning out rolls at no less than 5 Pounds a pop).

The Stadium was conveniently located just up the road and we’d timed it perfectly, arriving minutes before the opening ceremonials.

The atmosphere was electric, with quite an even representation of South African and Scottish fans fuelling the friendly rivalry of warcries and chanting. Even I, not one for sport at the best of times, couldn’t help getting swept up in the moment and yelling at the field, mostly encouraging but with intermittent exasperation when the Boks hinted at lagging performance. Either way, we won the game with a convincing 34-16 and all of us but Robby were thrilled with the outcome.

The roads were carnage after the game so we quit while we were ahead and jumped into a cab back to Tynemouth.

… which was also heaving when we got back, thanks to (what felt like) the entire town’s contingent in the pub to watch the England vs Australia game.

We had a quick drink in Barca and then moved over to The Turk’s Head pub across the way because it was conveniently situated next to the Gate of India restaurant, where we planned to source dinner from.

Our thinking was solid and our order placed at halftime was ready just as the game concluded, meaning we could escape the air of disappointment in the pub following England’s loss (and consequent ejection from this World Cup) and retreat to our very lovely holiday house with (another) curry feast.

Sunday was slated to be a late-start morning, with nothing to do except be ready for our cab, which was booked to collect us at 13h30 to drive us to Edinburgh to fly to Iceland.

We’d scheduled a brunch with Lucy at our now-favourite Lui’s and were well-rested and spring-stepped when we left home at 09h45 for the short walk to the breakfast heaven that awaited us.

It was just what the doctor ordered and we thoroughly enjoyed the blur of eggs and pork products that constituted what can only be described as a “generous” breakfast.

Bursting from our feasting, we volunteered to walk the long way home, up toward the local Sainsbury’s, overshooting past the soccer fields and emerging opposite the far end of our road and were still home with an hour to spare to pack, relax and have a laugh with some Friends reruns on telly before our cab driver arrived bang on time.

There’s something to be said for the comfort and convenience of door-to-door cab service… especially if you’ve got 4 people to share the 120 Pounds fixed fare. We were delivered to Edinburgh airport in perfect time with nothing to worry about except being excited for the next episode of our adventure.