‘Gan doon the Toon

The Geordie dialect remains untouched by time. It survived the standardisation of the English language in the 18th century and beat down the threat from industrial immigration in the 19th. Today it still remains grammatically close to many old English dialects. The city which gives it voice, however, tells a very different story.

Entering Newcastle across the Tyne is a breath-taking experience. The domed glass of the Sage concert hall gleams on the Gateshead quays alongside a proud reminder of the industrial history of the area, the Baltic Flour Mill, which has been beautifully renovated to house a modern art museum.

Newcastle and Gateshead are the perfect geographical double act: they’ve grown up together, fought hard for success and could never really be enjoyed separately; just like Ant and Dec! In addition to the Sage and the Baltic Gateshead boasts the iconic angel of the North, the most viewed public art work in Britain, and the multi-storey car park which featured in the 1971 film ‘Get Carter’. Newcastle, traditionally the more up-market of the two, was recently voted arts capital of the UK and as home to 50,000 students is now becoming increasingly attractive to young professionals too.

Some of the less dramatic art venues around the city are as worthy of a visit as the Baltic; although a trip there is essential even if it’s just to see the view across the region from the glass viewing balcony. The Laing, in the centre of town, is a more traditional gallery, boasting the likes of ‘The Breton Shepherdess’ by Gaugin and many pieces concerning the Tyneside area.

The Biscuit Factory in Shieldfield, close to the student area of the city, is a relaxed commercial gallery which doesn’t seem to mind the presence of scruffy students who will clearly never buy anything except perhaps a poster print. The Discovery Museum (which, crucially, is free) and the Life Science Museum are great places for a family day out, or just to rediscover your childish curiosities. Whilst if history, rather than science, is your thing a wander round the 11th century Tynemouth priory and castle or the 12th century castle keep in the city centre itself.

Newcastle’s reputation as a party city is older than its claim to cultural capital, but just as well founded. The huge number of thriving bars and clubs also breeds competition, to such an extent that trebles for singles seems to have become the rule across the city centre. Try Digital or Attic for a big night out, or live music at The Cooperage, housed in an 13th century building on the quayside, is great for a quieter one.

However it’s probably advisable to avoid Saturday nights in the ‘toon’ when flocks of hens and rambunctious stags, usually complete with every plastic accessory Ann Summers has to offer, flood noisily into the city centre. A number of quirky bars and music venues around (a few great ones are clustered on the Newcastle quays) offer less chaotic entertainment all week round. Try the Cluny, under the arches of Byker bridge for real ale, comfy surroundings and live music.

Partying by night means, if you’re anything like me, that shopping to complete that perfect outfit is essential. Newcastle doesn’t disappoint here either. Whether you’re into rummaging through vintage and charity shops or just popping into your favourite high street stores, the city centre is easy to navigate and mostly pedestrianised, which makes grabbing those irresistible shoes all the more pleasurable. The curve of Grey Street, described by Prime Minister Gladstone in 1862 as “our best modern street”, is now littered with designer names and busy cafes.

Newcastle-Gateshead has come a long way since the glory days of its ship yards, but somehow it has managed to embrace both new cultural influences and industrial history to maintain its unique and endearing identity. Of course it’s not all sparkling new architecture and modern art, parts of the region are still seriously impoverished, but recent regeneration efforts deserve due praise. So if all that springs to mind when you think of Newcastle are grim miner-types in flat caps, it’s about time for a rethink, and a visit to this the cultural metropolis of the North will certainly make you do that.

### Newcastle-Gateshead Hotspots

#### Drink

Mr Lynch has the only 2am license in the student area of Jesmond, and he really makes the most of it. The Kitsch décor and mismatched seventies furniture is enough to keep you entertained all night, let alone the impressive cocktail menu and live music every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. If that’s not enough, they even sell Curly Wurlys behind the bar. Beware though, Mr Lynch isn’t a cheap date.

#### Eat

Belle and Herbs, Heaton, is another student hotspot well worth a trip. It’s a good idea to starve yourself for a little while before in order to truly appreciate their mammoth meals. The Macho Grande Club is a work of art: a three tier toasted sandwich with griddled steak, tomato salsa, Monterey Jack cheese, soured cream, guacamole, jalepeno peppers, fresh coriander and even tortilla chips AND it comes with a mountain of the best potato wedges you will ever taste.

#### Shop

Ok, maybe this is cheating a little bit since no real person can actually afford anything here, but the boutique Have to Love in Gosforth takes window shopping to the next level. I couldn’t possibly buy anything from the super-chic French label Manoush or American retro, but it’s all so perfectly arranged that even just to look at them is satisfying.

#### Sleep

If you’re in the position to splash out, the Malmaison hotel next-door to the Hilton on the Newcastle quayside is the place to do it. The imposing gothic entrance may look like an enormous venus fly trap, but the interior is decorated in deep purples and plush velvets guaranteed to make your stay a luxurious one.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.