Saturday, 2nd November and this was the big one, the final of the Rugby World Cup which I had been watching avidly all the way through but before we get to that I should explain the image that heads up this entry.
My alarm woke me up quite early so I didn’t miss the match and as I opened my eyes I was greeted with the sight you see above. It is fairly obvious what it is but I thought it was a lovely thing to wake up to. Sue loves sailing boats and has models of them all over the house including the windowsill of the bedroom I was in which also just happens to have blue curtains. It was gloriously sunny outside although sadly that didn’t last long but the way the shadows went it looked for all the world to me as if the little boat was riding a swell on an ocean somewhere and I just had to take a snap of it. I know I am always trying to take what I refer to as “arty farty” images and they rarely work but I do like this one.
Enough of my attempt at art and back to the serious business of the World Cup Final between England and South Africa. Unlike the nothing event of the previous day and the 3rd / 4th playoff this was worth something, the biggest prize in world rugby to be precise. I must admit that I had been surprised when England had beaten The All Blacks in the semis as they had been my tip for the tournament. Probably just as well I am not a betting man although I was not alone in my thinking on that score.
Also, like many others, I was surprised in the manner in which England had dismantled the New Zealanders which not many teams can do. RSA had got there by narrowly beating the Welsh and it was looking set up for a good final but sadly it was not the classic everyone was hoping for. I think England had played their final against the Blacks and had nothing left in the tank and their cause was not helped by losing one of their props to injury before the game was four minutes old. The final score was 32 – 12 to the Southern hemisphere team and that was that.
After a bite to eat we had planned to go out for a walk as all three of us are keen walkers. Once again I felt like a right “eejit” for having arrived with only my pristine white trainers for footwear which are totally impractical for any sort of walking in November but I had not even considered that I might be rambling on this trip or I would have brought my walking boots. My hosts reckoned we would be alright and we would stick to the less muddy paths.
I have mentioned before that my friends live close to Jesmond Dene which is a park area, formerly the property of Lord Armstrong, and which more or less follows the course of the Ouseburn which is a small river which rises at Callerton out by the airport. We went into the Dene with the intention of following the river down to the Tyne and then having a look round the city. It sounded like a plan to me.
I must admit that I was not expecting the first thing we came upon not five minutes into our ramble and that was a decent sized aviary which we encountered shortly after crossing the river and you can judge it’s size from the images above. I have also included a fairly rural looking scene and it is hard to think that all these images were taken not three minutes walk from a residential area in a major city, it really is a bit of a green oasis.
The whole Dene is administered by the Friends of Jesmond Dene, a volunteer-run charity and a damn fine job they seem to make of it so well done to them.
Next we came to a pretty ornamental bridge which was doing duty that day as the site of a small market but we didn’t stop off the look at the wares.
Have a look at the image alongside and see if you can guess what it is. No, it is not an overgrown culvert as I doubt they get that much rain even in Northumberland. It is actually a cattle run of all things. Before the Dene was laid out as a park there was a cattle track running across the main track and so there was a potential conflict between the well-heeled visitor’s carriages and the wandering beasties following the route they had done for centuries. The solution was not too difficult for an engineer like Lord Armstrong who constructed the structure you see. Ever thrifty he even used a load of sandstone blocks left over from railway bridges he was building elsewhere. So now you know.
On a bit further and we passed from Armstrong Park into Heaton Park so named for the local area and not for a person as I had imagined at the time. Although I didn’t see them, there are the remains of a castle here where King John allegedly stayed several times.
What I did see was the rather fine pavilion you can see in the image and which now apparently houses an Italian restaurant which must be lovely on a summer day.
Coming out of the park we passed the old library which caused some debate when it was built in 1898 as it encroached on the common land of the park. It was still causing controversy over a century later as, despite having been bequeathed to the people of Newcastle, the Council had left it idle for over 10 years and then sold it off for private development amidst rumours of backhanders and shady dealings which comes as little surprise to me. The ground floor of what is a lovely old building is now the biggest dental surgery I think I have ever seen.
We kept on walking and the river disappears for a bit as it is culverted but it does re-appear after a short distance. What I did notice (you could hardly miss it) was the rather spectacular piece of street art under an archway which I thought was rather well done but did not attach any particular significance to at that point. A little further on and we passed the wonderful old Procter’s Warehouse building which is now called Seven Stories which is rather clever as not only does the building have seven levels but it is now the National Centre for Children’s Books.
What really does catch the eye though is the “steampunk” boat moored up on the Ouseburn beside the building although it looks like it has seen better days. There really were some unusual things to see and the next was the sign you can see below which is situated under a bridge. What is all that about and what awful fate awaits if you close your eyes and say Essalamus out loud three times. I can tell you what happens as I did it. As you might expect, precisely bugger all happens but it was searching on that unusual word that unlocked the mystery of the strangeness of this part of the Ouseburn.
All these oddities are part of a street art trail which was put together as part of the Great Exhibition of the North in 2018 and based upon the work of a children’s author called David Almond. There is a decent website here which makes some sense of it because I must admit that it made none to me at the time.
The same internet search led me to an article in the Guardian newspaper which describes Ouseburn as “north-east’s pumping creative heart” and also says that “if Newcastle upon Tyne had a Shoreditch, this would be it”. To explain for readers not familiar with Shoreditch, it is an area of London within easy walking distance of where I live and which used to be dog rough but has now been gentrified out of all recognition with prices to match. Just the sort of place for Guardian readers really! The further we walked along the river the more apparent it was becoming that this is indeed “creative central” for the city and region.
What you see in the image above may be part of the artistic output of the area or then again it may just be mindless aerosol vandalism defacing what is actually an important piece of industrial archaeology. I know they do not look like much now but these were the kilns of the Liddle-Henzell glassworks which manufactured bottles here from the 17th century until about 1934. The kilns were fuelled by coal which was shipped up the Ouseburn from the Tyne which leads me neatly onto the next item of interest which is adjacent to the kilns and pictured below.
At first glance I thought it was a guillotine lock as used on canals but there was no appreciable drop in the water level so that was out. Paul explained to me that it was a barrage and a little bit of research today has shown that it is yet another cock up by Newcastle Council which seems to make something of a habit of them. If you look back up the page at the image of the Seven Stories in particular you will see that the tide is out and there is a lot of mud exposed which was not a problem that day but can apparently get a bit ripe when it is warm. To try and keep a decent level of water in the burn the Council built this barrage at huge expense (£4.7 million to be precise), opened it in 2000 and it has barely worked since! I have read all about it and I don’t propose to bore you with it but it is easy enough to find online. Suffice to say, the whole project is a monumental waste of money by local Government which is hardly a surprise.
Passing under the aptly named Glasshouse Bridge and by the famous Tyne Bar (why we were passing by it I don’t know but we were) we arrived at the Tyne which I was becoming rather fond of.
Looking across the river I was much taken by the beautiful Baltic Flour Mills building you can see above. I am aware that it may not be everyone’s idea of an aesthetically pleasing structure but beauty, as they say, is in the eye if the beholder. Whether the contents are as aesthetically pleasing I do not know as the Mill has long since abandoned it’s original purpose and is now a Centre for Contemporary Art on which my views are probably well enough known by regular readers. The mill once had a staggering 22,000 ton capacity so that is plenty of room for soiled hospital sheets, pickled sheep and condom strewn beds or whatever is this year’s fad.
Although I am no good at it I do like to play a game with myself of trying to guess the age of buildings by the architecture and you could be a bit thrown as the building was opened by Rank Hovis in 1950 but the design dated back to the 1930’s. I suppose it saved a few bob on architect’s fees and I am glad they did it.
Speaking of art, there is no shortage of it on the Quayside and the first piece of note is the Blacksmith’s Needle with the rather strange inscription you can see here, so what is all that about? Well, it is a piece that was created during a series of “forge-ins” in 1996 overseen by the British Association of Blacksmith Artists which explains the forge reference. All the pieces of the sculpture are hand forged and the six sections represent the five conventional senses and a “sixth sense” we are supposed to have. It was unveiled by the world famous percussionist Evelyn Glennie and when I read that I could not stop having a mental image of her whipping out a pair of drumsticks and knocking out a few paradiddles on it. I’ll bet it would make a great sound.
The next piece of art, which I also liked, suffers from a bit of split personality as it is described as both a building and a piece of art. It is officially called the Swirle Pavilion which is named for a now culverted stream nearby. The piece represents the trading history of Newcastle and lists a number of trading partners, some of which you can see in the image.
The next piece of art are of a more transitory nature and a part of a charity drive on behalf of St. Oswald’s Hospice which is the charity Sue volunteers for. I rather liked the “Arctic” elephant but there wasn’t much time to stop and admire him / her (those elephants were fairly androgynous) as there was still apparently more to see and so we took off over the Millennium Bridge which is named because, oh go ahead and take a wild guess.
At least this one has the common decency not to wobble all over the place unlike it’s namesake in my adopted home city which, despite costing millions, had a propensity to do just that before it was rectified by throwing more money at it. If you have no idea what I am talking about, just type “wobbly bridge” into your preferred search engine and see what comes up.
When we gained the far bank we were actually not technically in Newcastle any more but Gateshead as the Southern part of the city is known. I don’t believe the divide here is as marked as it is in London where being from North or South of the “water” i.e. the Thames is a big deal and it all still seemed very Newcastle to me. We were still obviously right on the river and I managed to take umpteen images of the bridges from every conceivable angle but again I’ll save them for the gallery I have planned.
At one point I just happened to glance down and my travel Gods must have been guiding me here because what my eyes alighted on, and which you can see in the image above, was one of a series of similar plaques inset in the pavement which commemorated local heroes. This particular one was for the band Lindisfarne who remain one of my absolute favourites almost 50 years after I first heard them when one of my friends played his big sister’s copy of the “Fog on the Tyne” album. That was arguably their biggest hit and whilst the day was thankfully far from foggy I ended up singing a few bars much to the amusement of my friends. Then again, they are used to my eccentric behaviour by now.
On and on and the iconic Tyne Bridge was looming ever larger. It really is an impressive structure up close and a credit to the designers, Mott, Hay and Anderson, not to mention the hardy men who built it. Looking at the design it is easy to understand that the firm also designed the equally iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge to much the same design. As for the workers, given the pretty non-existent state of “Health and Safety” in the 1920s when it was built, it is nothing short of miraculous that only one man lost his life during construction. Sadly, 16 men perished in the building of the Australian version although that is still a remarkably small number.
As I was trying to get ever more unusual angles to photograph the bridge from I spied another of the blue plaques which seem to adorn every spare piece of wall, bridge or whatever round these parts, it really is a very historical city. This one informed me of an event I had never even heard of and which ultimately led me to another learning experience and no, I am not going to mention schooldays here! The event commemorated was the Great Fire of 1854 which happened on the night of the 6th of October. I’ll give you a brief precis here but there is an excellent internet article on the subject here.
Just after midnight on the fateful night a policeman spotted a fire in Wilson’s Worsted Manufactory on the spot I was now standing and raised the alarm. Fire crews and soldiers from the garrison tried to extinguish the fire but it was soon out of control and when it reached the warehouse of Bertram and Spencer all Hell broke loose or at least that is what it seemed like to the poor residents of Gateshead, many of whom later reported they thought the end of the world had come.
The warehouse was full of chemicals and combustibles and when it inevitably exploded, the noise could be heard over ten miles away. You will have seen from my images how wide the river is here and yet people were mown down on the City (i.e.the other) side of the river. It had been all hands to the pump, literally metaphorically, and gangs of men had gathered in Hillgate to try and assist when the explosion occurred. Amongst these was Mr. Bertram, the local magistrate, Mr. Pattinson, a local Councillor and Alexander Dobson, the 26-year-old son of the architect John Dobson whom I have spoken of before. All were killed instantaneously, indeed they were effectively atomised with a key and a snuff box being all that remained of poor Mr. Bertram. In total 53 people lost their lives with many more being horribly injured.
No more than a few feet from the fire blue plaque is another one commemorating the famous writer Daniel Defoe (born Daniel Foe and trying to make himself sound posh!) who is probably most famous for Robinson Crusoe which I have never actually read but I do have his “Journal of a Plague Year” in my library which I rather enjoy. Defoe had an eventful life, surviving not only the Great Plague which gave rise to the book mentioned but also the Great Fire of London. He was involved in a treasonous rebellion, had been in debtors prison and came through countless other “adventures” relatively unscathed.
What I did not know until I read the plaque was that he was also a Government spy. Defoe wrote under no less than 198 pseudonyms so his output must have been prodigious. I have visited his grave, or at least his memorial in the Bunhill Fields Dissenters graveyard which is walking distance from my home. I had written and researched a detailed piece on this fascinating place for Virtual Tourist but that is obviously no longer available to you.
Just beside the Bridge and site of the fire is St. Mary’s Church which was lucky to escape the conflagration and only did so due to the valiant efforts of a Mr. James Mather and that was our next destination. Although it has a history of Christian worship dating back to the 13th century, as evidenced by the list of vicars you can see, it is now deconsecrated and in use as a Heritage Centre / event venue. It was an interesting place to look round and I was particularly taken by the replica of the building built entirely of matchsticks by a chap called Harry Bulmer. Apparently it took him three years to complete and I can well believe it. The graveyard here, although twice reduced in size over the years to build new roads, is still interesting.
In complete contrast to the old church is the Sage Centre a couple of hundred yards away which fairly well dominates the skyline here. It is arguably the premier music venue in the Northeast and is undoubtedly impressive as befits it’s £70 million price tag in 2004. I wonder what it would cost now. When I enquired as to the somewhat odd name I was told that it was named for the Sage software company which paid a pretty penny for the naming rights.
We had no reason to go into the Sage and so we continued vaguely downstream again, risking life and limb crossing a fairly busy road and Paul and Sue seemed to have a destination in mind. This turned out to be the lovely but slightly odd Station East. I say it is odd because it was obviously originally a conventional building but it has been extended into the adjoining railway arches which give it a) more room, b) space for the music events which are a trademark (Paul has played here) and c) a very distinct aroma which I can only describe as quite musty but you quickly get used to it. What was harder to get used to was the DJ who was supposedly soundchecking for the evening event but had obviosly decided just to start playing there and then. He was cranking out reggae / dub at volumes which even I found ludicrous and I like loud music. It was only four in the afternoon, for crying out loud! We could hardly hear ourselves think and so we took off again.
Our route naturally took us to the High Level Bridge which you may have read about in my previous entry here. If you haven’t, it is the bridge over the Tyne that is very aptly named and which had scared the life out of me due to my dislike of exposed heights but that was where we were headed. I didn’t even have my earlier strategy of just going a little way along and then scuttling back available to me. No, I was going to have to walk all the way across the damn thing and I took off like a scalded cat, doing my best not to look to the side and certainly not down. When I got to the far side I looked back to see Paul and Sue setting a reasonable pace but still some distance behind. They told me I really had been putting my best foot forward! Well, at last that was over and I knew I was on the right side of the Tyne now.
We headed back up towards the centre and came to the Bridge Hotel which I also mentioned in my last entry as being the lovely looking pub I had seen but somewhat improbably not gone into although that was soon to be rectified as it is a favourite of Paul and Sue. What a great place it is and I do recommend it. If you do visit, try to get a seat in the front area where it is cosy and quieter than the large and busy main area. It also has the most wonderful stained glass windows, which I suspect are fairly modern but beautiful nonetheless. My friends are both real ale fans and members of CAMRA (a real ale appreciation group) and so it is little surprise they picked this pub as it is in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide and they declared their respective choices to be very good. Lamentably, I was still on cider spritzer and you cannot begin to believe how much I hate it! On the way out I spotted a poster for a forthcoming John Mayall concert. I thought he had quit touring years ago but apparently not which is incredible when you consider he was approaching his 86th birthday that month.
We wandered up through the centre of town and by now I even had half an idea of where I was going We were heading for the “Top of the Toon” as it is pretty unimaginatively called and my friends told me that it is an absolute nightmare at weekends as Newcastle has become something of a Mecca for stag and hen parties. Apparently it can get pretty lively to say the least, not at all my cup of tea. I didn’t really like nightclubs even when I was young enough not to look stupid going to one and I am sure they are still the same only with worse music. We were, however, heading for an absolute gem of a place and it did not take us long to get there as central Newcastle is pretty compact.
It seemed a bit unusual for me to be on a pub crawl that I wasn’t instigating but that is what was happening as Paul and Sue wanted to show me the delightfully named Mean Eyed Cat. I have since discovered that this is the title of a Johnny Cash song as the owner loves Americana and the great “Man in Black” in particular. They describe themselves as having an Americana theme although I would have put it more Mexican / Caribbean myself but it is certainly eclectic. This extends to the pub grub as they have a tie-in with a locl Cuban restaurant and they also go heavy on the veggie / vegan options.
The plentiful artwork ranges from the Ramones to the afore-mentioned Johnny Cash and Mexican wrestling masks seem to feature heavily for some reason. Even though it was busy we managed to get table and at least we could hear ourselves in there so we had a bit of a chat whilst Paul and Sue enjoyed their real ale whilst I plodded through another pint of you know what.
It was getting on for 1900 and we had already decided to eat out that evening to give Sue a bit of a rest from the kitchen and just because we fancied it. A short walk, which I could not recreate now as it involved all sorts of backstreets, brought us to the Red Mezze, a fairly sizeable Turkish restaurant that Paul and Sue knew and recommended although they said it was a while since they had been there. Having spent a fair bit of time in Greece and Cyprus I love Eastern Mediterranean food and so I cannot understand why it had been so long since I had eaten any and the Red Mezze was a great re-introduction to that cuisine.
Everything here was just as you would expect in a good eaterie from that part of the world with a very friendly welcome and subsequent service from staff who appeared to be the “real deal”. I would say that all those I interacted with were from that part of the world. The menu was extensive with all the usual suspects and grilled meats featuring heavily. We decided on the mixed meze starter and rather than try and describe it I shall let the image give you an idea.
For a main I went for the kleftiko which is a particular favourite of mine and which you can also see above. The purists amongst you will probably rightly point out that it is not actually kleftiko in the accepted sense as that is a particular cut of meat but rather it was a lamb shank but that is to quibble. It had obviously been very slow cooked and was literally falling off the bone, served in a delicious sauce and with the obligatory potato! A side dish of rice made for a fine and filling meal and I even risked a glass of red wine which I don’t think would have tipped me over my daily limit and went very well.
The whole affair was finished off by the complimentary and beautifully presented profiteroles you can see. I am not usually a huge eater of desserts but this was a very tasty mouthful. I had said that I was paying as a small thank you to my dear friends for putting me up not to mention putting up with me and I have to say that it was not too painful. I suppose I am just used to London prices which are generally pretty steep but I thought Red Mezze was extremely good value and I noticed they had a lunch special at £7:95 which looks like a steal given the quality of the food.
After that it was time to walk off the calories and head home and I have to tell you that I certainly didn’t need any rocking to get to sleep that night. What a brilliant and interesting day it had been and I was really having a ball on my Northern tour.
In the next entry I have a bit of a Sunday lunchtime stroll, fall into the Punch Bowl yet again and spread my wings to assault the musical sensibilities of the good folk of Sunderland. Yes, I make the trek from the land of the Geordie to the land of the Makem so stay tuned and spread the word.