After a dodgy start, our day out in Newcastle/Gateshead was wonderful. We woke early to find that heavy overnight rain had wrought havoc on the roads. I diligently listened to the radio – there were no reported problems on our proposed route. Well – after driving through many “ponds” we came upon a lake where the road should have been. I didn’t want to be one of those idiots that you laugh at on TV when their car breaks down in flood water so, sensibly, I turned around and took an even more scenic route – we made the train. Phew.
From then on, not another drop of rain fell, the sun broke through the clouds and the day finished up with spectacularly clear skies – it was cold with a stiff breeze but the cockles of our hearts were warmed by the sun, the dialect and a delicious lunch (with a glass of wine for me) in an excellent Italian Restaurant.
The restaurant was called Francesca’s and was in a lovely area of Victorian terraces just North of the City – Jesmond. Lunch was very good and very inexpensive – £1.90 for my glass of wine! We practically never eat in restaurants so this was a BIG treat. As an added bonus, a new shop had opened next door called “Made in Jesmond” which was filled with lovely hand made goodies and vintage treasure. We had a lovely chat with the women there about the possibility of them stocking some of my “Made in the Borders” goodies.
For those unfamiliar with N.E. geography, Newcastle and Gateshead sit on either side of the great River Tyne. Newcastle to the North and Gateshead to the South. The Angel of the North is in Gateshead and the new cultural attractions of the Sage and the Baltic Art Centres are also on the Gateshead side. There are seven bridges over the tyne.
The wonderful Millennium Bridge, which has just celebrated its 10th Birthday, is an elegant foot bridge which connects the two. Newcastle itself is full of beautiful buildings and grand streets. Sir John Betjeman wrote of Grey Street… “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” Grey Street is named after the British Prime minister Earl Grey (1830-34) as is the tea! He was a local lad.
After lunch, I wanted to go to the Shipley Gallery in Gateshead – I promised the kids a visit to the nearby Saltwell Park – however, the park and weather turned out to be so fabulous that I couldn’t drag them away. There was a huge flood in the play area but we managed to work around it, I took “puddle” photos while the kids played – happy times.
The fairytale house and gardens were built for a stained glass manufacturer called William Wailes, he bequeathed his quirky house and 55-acre garden to the people of Gateshead in 1876 and the park and house have recently been restored to their former Victorian glory. We had an ice cream on the sunny terrace.
Saltwell has been “Britain’s best Park” in the past and I can see why. Can you see any of today’s “rich” giving such gifts? No, they are too busy avoiding taxes, chasing bonuses at any cost; and, gleefully risking other peoples hard-earned money for their personal gain.
In the early evening we visited two lovely shops near the station on Westgate Road. First, the Amnesty International Second-hand Book Shop where we made several purchases of lovely books – actual paper books that had been thoughtfully bequeathed by altruistic intellectuals keen to share knowledge and reading pleasure while funding a very good cause – as opposed to kindle users who buy books for their personal use and entertainment – and have nothing “concrete” to give or share. The second shop, was an amazing art shop called the Newcastle Arts Centre – Oh my, we could have spent a week in there – they had everything an artist could want or need – plus a gallery and a coffee shop. We bought some gorgeous and funky wrapping paper to be used as end papers for some books I am having re-bound by But n Ben Bindery – but that’s another story.
Finally, the icing on the cake was our sunset walk along the Tyne, the air was still and the light amazing – we had the place to ourselves and just made it to the Baltic Arts Centre as it was closing it’s doors. We wanted to ride the great glass elevators and have a drink in the restaurants’ little glass box at the top. Timing is everything and we made it just in time to see the sun disappear behind the Tyne Bridge. We each had an iced coke – from a glass bottle – and collapsed to admire the stunning views on the comfy sofas on top of the world – money just can’t buy you that sort of thrill.
So, Newcastle gets five stars from me – but then I’m a patriot with a passion for people, art, architecture, history and geography – Newcastle has it all. I’ll be back – for a week next time.