A quickie up North (get your mind out of the gutter!)


Our very dear friend Bill has been staying with us for the past week. You might remember Bill from when we met up with him in Madrid in June of 2010. Bill and Alex used to work together in New York, and Bill became our regular Sunday brunch buddy at a local diner in New Jersey. Since moving to London, he’s been one of those people that we really miss the most, for all kinds of reasons!  He’s a great conversationalist and an excellent cat-sitter. (He’s also a bit of a train fan.)  So when  Bill announced a few months ago that he was coming to London, we knew we had to do something special. After much debate, we decided to head up north to Newcastle. They wanted to see the metro up there, and it’s a city that we haven’t been to. And of course, I’m not about to complain because there is both a castle AND a cathedral!

This is a pic of Grey’s Monument in Newcastle. It commemorates Prime Minister Earl Grey and his Reform Act of 1832. If you think it looks a lot like Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, you’re right — it was designed by the same architect. I didn’t get a picture of the drunken sod at the bottom of the column, although perhaps I should have. It was about 1pm at this time, but he was totally wasted. Something that soon became a recurring theme in our Newcastle sightseeing.

Alex and Bill decided to go ride the Metro, and I wanted to explore some of the old town, so I headed down Grainger Street and stumbled upon Grainger Market. Now, perhaps I saw too many episodes of Are You Being Served? when I was younger, but I couldn’t help but look for the Young Mr. here!  Grainger Market opened in 1835, and for a time was Europe’s largest indoor market. It was considered especially beautiful because of the arches and columns, which were unique in an indoor space like this. It was nice to see a bustling market that serves local people, not tourists. Unlike some of the other markets we’ve visited (Oxford, Stockholm, etc.), Grainger is very obviously a place where Newcastlers go to do their weekly shopping.

I totally outed myself as a tourist though, when I stopped to take this picture of  the Marks and Spencer Original Penny Bazaar, the world’s smallest M&S! It is apparently Victorian, and is entirely adorable. Apparently it was the very first of the “poundland” or “dollar store” type places, where the price of everything in the store was the same – except here, of course, everything was a penny. It opened in the 1830s, what do you expect? Inflation is a bitch.

After passing through the rest of Grainger Town I came down to St Nicholas Cathedral. The first striking thing about the church is the spire, which is a really unique Lantern spire built in 1448. I’ve never seen another church with this type of topper, and while this is not the best picture of it, I think it’s a lovely way to cap out a cathedral. The clock is also a nice touch – in addition to cats, churches, and cathedrals, I also have a thing for clocks. Or maybe it’s just an obsession with the letter C?

But don’t forget about the doors! I also obsess about doors!  This is the entrance to the cathedral, and I particularly liked it because they incorporated the Push/Pull instructions into the metal scrollwork of the handle. This side says Push, and the other side says Pull. Now, it’s a bit confusing because it’s a glass door, and might visually work better with a solid door, but I still thought it was a clever little trick.

As far as cathedrals go, this one wasn’t amazing. Pretty dark and low, with a very dark wooden ceiling, I felt like ducking even though I was clearly in a very tall space. The church does have great acoustics though, which is perhaps one reason why they are known for their great music programs. I won’t post ALL my pics from the cathedral, but here quickly are a few of my favorites.

A very traditional side aisle, except that it doesn’t have an arched ceiling or any columns. The wooden ceiling extends, at a lower level, in the same beamed structure as higher up in the nave. In the lower left you can see 2.5 Gothic arches at waist height – they almost look like fireplaces! I like how these echo the arches up above, but I’m not really sure of their purpose.

This might be one of my favorite stained glass windows of all time. I like the purity and clean lines, and the lack of color is really stunning. It’s a window memorializing the Danish seamen who died during World War II.  I think it’s quite interesting that they are remembered here, in Newcastle, since the region has a long history with Denmark and the Vikings!

Onward to the best part!  The castle!  Yes, a town called Newcastle simply MUST have a castle, don’t you think? Except I might take exception to the “new” bit, considered that this castle was built in 1080!  But it was a “new” castle compared to the Roman fortifications on the site that were known as Pons Auelius. The remains of the castle are basically just the central keep and the Black Gate – none of the bailey remains. In fact, in the above picture, the black stripe across the bottom is actually a railroad embankment. It was built within several feet of the keep’s walls. While I’m surprised that they would just railroad it through there like that (ha ha!), I’m glad that they didn’t just knock the whole thing down!

On the left you can see the edge of the castle keep, while on the right is the railroad embankment. That’s pretty close! Apparently there are all sorts of archeological treasures underneath the train bridge, but of course they are now lost (until we get transporters and trains become obsolete, a day which Alex is dreading!)

The entrance to the keep is up the tall staircase to the right of this picture. There are many, many steps up to the top, but eventually once you reach the roof you are rewarded with some amazing views over Newcastle.  The interior of the keep is a fairly well-done local museum, with some great models of other Newcastle buildings (but I don’t really understand the connection about why they are displayed here!) Unfortunately the interior of the keep has been drastically altered, but you can still get an idea of the tiny staircases and cramped quarters!

Looking out from the top of the castle to the south – you can see the double-decker Victorian bridge to the right, which has trains on the top level and a one-way road for buses on the bottom. To the left is a red bridge for cars. After I left the castle, I walked across the Victorian bridge, which is a lot farther than it seems!

Looking north(ish) from the top of the Castle. In the forefront you can see the Black Gate, with its red tile roof, and above that to the left is the Cathedral. This is a much better view of the lantern spire. And if you look along the horizon, above the Black Gate, you might just be able to make out Grey’s Monument, where we started this little tour.

This is the view looking West. And its the view that Alex and Bill would have most appreciated, but MISSED! And I bet when they see this picture, they’re going to regret not accompanying me to the castle, and instead riding the Metro all afternoon.  Look at all those train lines, merging in and out, and the great shed with the four arched roofs.  It was pretty cool, and I’m not even a train geek!

Last but not least, the iconic Tyne Bridge, which is most often used to represent Newcastle. It’s a fantastic iron bridge built in 1828. Behind the Tyne Bridge (hint: it’s the green one) you can just see the white Millenium Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge that is the world’s only tilting bridge. I really wanted to see it tilt, but unfortunately there was no shipping that day, so we didn’t see it. The sun is just glinting off the Baltic Center, which is apparently a great art complex that I want to explore the next time we go north.

So there you have it.  A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tour of central Newcastle, a town we enjoyed and definitely want to go back to.

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Posted on 19/01/2012, in Castles & Cathedrals, Exploring the UK, Transit and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Estelle DeRidder

    Any sign of coal mining there? My thinking is the phrase: “Taking coals to Newcastle”

  2. Pictures are fabulous!!! How do you do capture these sites? I almost feel like I am in a low-flying helicopter looking over everything. Thanks for sharing! Valerie

  3. I have the impression lantern towers are more common in Scotland and (maybe) Scandinavia – which maybe tells us something about where Northumbria had its cultural contacts with in mediaeval times.

    (And for Estelle, coal-mining in the North-East is very much diminished, but let’s not get started on Margaret Thatcher).

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