48 hours in Newcastle Upon Tyne: North East English city rich in history, architecture and eateries

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My sense of urban adventure is on high alert arriving in Newcastle Upon Tyne for a 48-hour travel mission in North East England’s storied city.

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My sense of urban adventure is on high alert arriving in Newcastle Upon Tyne for a 48-hour travel mission in North East England’s storied city.

I am off to a good start booked at the modern Maldron Hotel, located in the city centre and in roving distance of a bounty of historic architecture, intriguing eateries and open markets as well as the lively Gateshead Quayside easily accessed by several bridges across the River Tyne.

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Embarking on a private walking tour of the core with Newcastle Tour Company’s Anna Unger is just the ticket for me travelling solo at the tail end of a media trip hosted by Visit Britain exploring the nearby counties of Durham and Northumberland.

Friendly and knowledgeable, Anna shares intriguing details of the area’s almost 2,000-year history as we pass by and pop into a plethora of urban gems.

Our stops include:

  • Theatre Royal, with its six giant pillars, commands attention so it is not surprising it is regarded as the top theatre facade in the United Kingdom. Its reputation as a theatre dates almost back to its beginnings in 1788 when King George III granted its royal licence. The current structure on Grey Street has been a draw for theatre buffs since 1837, now featuring about 400 performances each year.
  • Fenwick Department Store, with locations across the U.K., got its start in Newcastle in 1882 as a luxury shop with proprietor J.J. Fenwick keen to deliver top quality goods. That message is clearly delivered at Fenwick’s food hall greeting us with fresh seafood from Lindisfarne oysters and Shetland scallops to mussels and Sashimi grade tuna. Dinky traditional pork pies alongside a caramelised red onion variation look and smell delicious.

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Dinky traditional pork pies
Dinky traditional pork pies alongside a caramelized red onion variation plus a large game and poultry pie are at the ready at Fenwick Department Store’s popular food hall. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)
  • Of course Earl Grey Tea is here too, named after Charles, second Earl Grey, who served as Britain’s prime minister from 1830 to 1834. The tea is based on Chinese black tea. Grey, whose achievements include playing a leading role in the Slavery Abolition Act, is commemorated in Newcastle with a 40 metre-monument at Grey Street and Grey College.
Grey's Monument
Grey’s Monument, built in 1838 at 40 metres, commemorates the area’s second Earl Grey, Charles Grey, Britain’s prime minister from 1830 to 1834, who played a leading role in the Slavery Abolition Act and is the Earl Grey the well-known tea is named after. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)
  • Built in 1906 the Central Arcade lives up to its reputation, featuring historical architecture, a glass-barrel vaulted roof and ornate tiles. It’s a perfect setting for its unique boutique shops.
The Central Arcade
The Central Arcade, built in 1906, features historical architecture, glass-barrel vaulted roof and ornate tiles. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)
  • The indoor Grainger Market, established in 1835, gives off a lively vibe as Saturday shoppers browse stores, including Marks & Spencer’s Penny Bazaar operating since 1895. It maintains its original signage with the gas lights converted to electric.
  • Rosie’s Bar on Stowell Street provides a great taste of the British pub scene, decorated with “heads” of Rosie’s relatives. A history of the colourful establishment includes the “murder” of her business partner Mr. Alexander in 1874 and Rosie’s subsequent disappearance.
Rosie's Bar
Harry pours a pint at recently renovated Rosie’s Bar on Stowell Street, decorated with the “heads” of Rosie’s relative. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)
  • The Old George Inn, on tap since 1582, is the city’s oldest pub, boasting an intriguing interior and King Charles I as a semi-regular when a prisoner in the city from 1646 to 1647. Today you can enjoy a pint in the cobblestone courtyard while live sports are screened.
  • Newcastle Cathedral‘s almost 60-metre lantern tower is the highest point in the city, visible throughout our tour. The first structure on the site dates back 900 years with the church, dedicated to St. Nicolas, rebuilt in 1359. The tower was built in 1448. The interior is a treasure trove of historical and religious significance from the “Man of Mystery” effigy of a knight thought to have lived in 1350 to a multitude of sculptures celebrating architects and war heroes from the middle ages to the 20th century. Wandering through the cathedral as the orchestra rehearsed is a treasured memory.
  • The Black Gate is an impressive structure built as a defensive gatehouse for Newcastle Castle around 1250. Its colourful history includes being extensively remodelled and operating as a tavern, housing unit and bagpipe museum. Just beyond the gate, the Keep of Newcastle Castle is open for tours with information boards at the ready to aid visitors to grasp the compelling history of the city’s namesake, founded in 1080 as a Norman fortress.

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Anna’s energizing tour is a perfect precursor for my next steps across the 1876 Swing Bridge over the River Tyne to the Gateshead Quayside where I encounter a lively crowd enjoying eats and drinks outside on a sunny summer day. It’s a stellar view over the river toward Newcastle, but what stands out for me is a bevy of lovely ladies celebrating pal Pamela’s birthday in true Geordie fashion. Geordie is the nickname given to area residents.

Gateshead Quayside
A “Happy Days” dahlia is a natural nod to a beautiful summer’s day along the River Tyne at Gateshead Quayside. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

My enjoyable interaction with these women echoed throughout my stay. Fond memories include greeting two-and-a-half-year-old Theo aboard a double-decker bus-themed stroller with dad Duncan on the Riverwalk, mingling with shoppers and merchants at Sunday’s lively Quayside Market, and chatting with kindred spirits at Ouseburn Farm.

That welcoming vibe continues at Trakol restaurant, also part of the By the River Brew Co.’s indoor-outdoor container community. Alice starts me off with a hazelnut coffee porter followed by a delicious plaice, cider, trout roe, brown butter and chives entree. Next up is pine ice cream, nut brittle and oats. Suffice to say Trakol’s stellar reputation acing seasonal food over an open fire is well deserved.

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Blackfriars restaurant, touted as the oldest dining room in the U.K., located in a 13th-century refectory, is a hot spot for locals and tourists for more than its traditional British fare and architecture. Its complex includes a banquet hall dating back to 1239 where you can still “wed like a king and queen,” parlour bar, tasting room, recently renovated cloister garden and a cookery school.

It’s a dandy eatery for birthdays too, with a lively dinner party celebrating “Jonny’s 40th” prompting me to offer to take a group photograph including the spectacular cake featuring 10 active images of Jonny through the years. And in true Geordie fashion, a slice of that cake arrives at my table, a perfect finale to my delicious feast of Scottish scallops, roasted halibut and chicken vol-au-vent paired with a Smoking Blonde golden ale from Durham Brewery, south of Newcastle.

Newcastle’s popular outdoor Quayside Market, open Sundays, year round is in fine form on another sunny day as I browse the stalls of independent traders, featuring tempting baked goods, sausages on the grill, jewellery, ceramics, artwork and clothing.

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Artisan Sausage Makers
Artisan Sausage Makers Craig, Malcolm and Vin serve up banger sausages at the Quayside Market open Sundays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. year round, featuring independent traders selling local produce and handcrafted goods. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

Owner Christine Hewitt is a standout modelling a vibrant crocheted top from Alavyah’s stylish collection. It is fascinating to watch Sheridan demonstrate how to use GrateMate, a handmade, hand-painted garlic and ginger grating plate set. And it’s inspiring to chat with spatula artisan Tim Foxhall displaying his remarkable collection of handmade hardwood spatulas with shapes ranging from guitars and dogs to people.

There’s much to admire heading east along the Tyne including Gateshead’s newly renamed Glasshouse International Centre for Music, formerly known as the Sage. Its outstanding curved glass and stainless steel building is home to three performance spaces.

A picnic table structure with eight swinging seats is cool and the 7.6-metre Blacksmiths Needle, fascinating. The maritime-themed steel sculpture crafted by the British Artist Blacksmiths Association features mermaids, sea creatures, bells and shells.

The Tyne Bar is appealing with patrons seated along the River Ouse at its intersection with the River Tyne as I head along the Riverwalk toward Ouseburn Farm with a brief stop to admire the creative wares at Ouseburn Pottery.

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My visit to family-friendly Ouseburn Farm is off to a lively start dodging sheep trotting home from a nearby meadow. The charity and community urban farm is admission free and brimming with well cared for animals from pigs and goats to reptiles and parrots plus a garden and orchard. Visitors may pet and feed some of the residents. Instant favourites are Suzie, a large white pig, bearded dragon Bruce and goat Jerome, although he’s “overweight” and not to be fed.

Ouseburn Farm
Visitors to Ouseburn Farm, in the heart of Newcastle, are asked to resist feeding lovely Jerome, described as overweight, with a notice saying, “We don’t want him to be a bad example to the babies.” (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

Colonel Porters Emporium, a tavern, botanical garden and rhum bar, exudes a lively vibe amid its dashing 1920’s eclectic décor with live music and events. The popular spot is named after the master brewer who created Newcastle Brown Ale in 1927. A fan of the beer since my brief stint as a bartender in a British pub decades ago, I’m keen to raise a glass here, so dare to pair it with my late-afternoon Tipsy Tea.

A fine farewell to Newcastle but not so fast … In fine Geordie fashion I meet Christopher on the street raising a bottle of the good stuff. Cheers mate!

For tourism information, see newcastlegateshead.com


British 'poster child' Theo
British “poster child” Theo shares a sweet smile strolling with dad Duncan on the Riverwalk along the River Ouseburn, a tributary of the River Tyne. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

Colonel Porters Emporium
Colonel Porters Emporium serves up a delicious “tipsy tea” in an intriguing 1920s-themed bar and restaurant, which includes a botanical garden and secret disco. It’s paired with a Newcastle Brown Ale, originally brewed in the city in 1927. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

Maldron Hotel
Maldron Hotel’s sleek room features a picture-perfect view of the city including the namesake castle, the Newcastle Cathedral rebuilt in 1359 and Swing Bridge built in 1876. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

Newcastle Castle
Newcastle Castle is highlighted on modern street lights. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

Newcastle's Castle Keep
A train pass over a viaduct amid ancient ruins en route to Newcastle’s Castle Keep, at right, completed in 1177. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

Newcastle Castle
Built as a defensive gatehouse for Newcastle Castle around 1250, the current Black Gate has a storied history. It has been extensively remodelled, operating as a tavern, housing unit and bagpipe museum. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

hazelnut coffee porter
Alice serves a hazelnut coffee porter at the Trakol eatery, located in a cluster of renovated shipping containers along the River Tyne in Gateshead. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

Trakol's fresh seasonal focus
This delicious plaice, cider, trout roe, brown butter and chives entree reflects Trakol’s fresh seasonal focus. The Gateside eatery is located in a cluster of renovated shipping containers along the River Tyne. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

Cloister Garden
Blackfriars’ recently renovated Cloister Garden is one of the dining and activity venues within the former 13th-century refectory. (Barbara Taylor/Special to Postmedia Network)

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