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Articles Blog

Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England

Karyn Planett

England’s Northeastern Frontier 

Lines drawn in the sand rarely serve as little more than something to tug and pull about. Those on one side gaze longingly across to the other. It’s the “grass is always greener” syndrome. The “why did the chicken cross the road?” quandary. The “Capture the Flag” contest that goes on, and on, and on. My goal post is over there, yours is over here and it’ll be one heck of a scrum, mates, to see who wins this scrap. Scotland is over there. England is over here.           

The English Northeast, where you are now, is one of those global oddities that’s witnessed more than its fair share of conflict since, well, primitive man cobbled together a sod-roofed hut along an icy river hoping to carve out a hardscrabble life. This formidable task was never easy because Northeastern England is home to a harsh landscape, a brutal reality clinging to some craggy cliffs, precious little tillable soil, bitingly-cold winds, and stinging sheets of endless rain.           

You’ll soon learn about the Romans who marked the northern boundary of Britain for nearly three centuries by constructing the imposing Hadrian’s Wall. Remnants can be found in the nearby Penine Hills. The Normans left their signature, as well, with powerful castles and soaring cathedrals. The guides will fill in the blanks of these chapters of the story as well as that of Northumbria, the Anglo-Saxons, Danes, the kingdom of Scotland, and Normans. It’s been a right proper scuffle that’s been etched indelibly into the minds of today’s people both north and south of that arbitrary line.               

So Where Are We Today? 

Well, you’ll soon discover, as you explore Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, that today is a different day. The Geordies, as locals are called, have cast off their sooty past highlighting their role in the Industrial Revolution, and have marched briskly into the 21st century. Having said that, they still speak with a strong accent to the outside listener, a dialect quite similar to that spoken by the Anglo Saxons some 1500 years ago.           

Nonetheless, they’ll welcome you and encourage you to take in the sights beginning with St. Nicholas Cathedral. Considered to be one of the country’s smallest, it dates back to the 15th century. Another important cathedral is found in Durham. Begun in 1093, laborers and artisans needed some four decades to finish the enormous task. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and worth a visit.           

Grainger Town, for history buffs, is the heart and soul of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Dating back to the 1830s, it bears the name of its founder, Richard Grainger. A Victorian feel is its signature. And the city’s seven bridges are something for which the locals are quite proud. They’ll tell you that one of them, the Tyne Bridge completed in 1928, is from the same era as her more famous counterpart, the Sydney Harbour Bridge. A walk along the city’s Quayside Boardwalk, skirting the northern banks of the river, is a must if you’ve got some time to spare.           

There should be little free time, however, if you plan your day wisely enough to get out to Alnwick Castle. This 12th century fortress was captured on canvas not only by such celebrated painters as Van Dyke and Titian, but on camera by filmmakers, as well. A keen eye will confirm that, yes, this powerful castle served as the backdrop to two Harry Potter films. Watch them again and you’ll certainly see.           

Little Known Facts 

Did you ever hear the saying, “It’s like carrying coals to Newcastle”? Basically it means you’re doing something completely useless, unnecessary, superfluous. To that point, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne needed no coal in the Middle Ages because it was a successful coal mining center already. Therefore, it was in no need of coal shipped in from abroad.           

During the Industrial Revolution, this area was crucial because local coalmines literally fueled the fires that changed the course of history. Industries flourished, railroads began to spin their webs across the countryside. Ultimately the riverbanks were lined with skeletons of ships under construction as the shipbuilding industry flourished.           

Another little-known factoid is that some well known musicians herald back to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne or the Northumberland region. Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner for one. That’s right. Oh, you might know him as “Sting.” Others include Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music, Brian Johnson (lead singer of AC/DC) and Dire Straits. Eric Burdon of the Animals and Rowan Atkinson, AKA Mr. Bean, can trace a bit of their lives here, as well.           

And, lastly, should you ever find yourself competing on the TV show “Jeopardy”, you just might be asked which city was the first to have an electric street light. If you guess Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, you could walk home with the loot. Yes, it was in 1879 that a local shopkeeper named Sir Joseph Wilson Swan hung the world’s first electric light to illuminate his shop on Mosley Street. For the record, Swan secured his patent for said light in 1878. Thomas Edison received his patent the following year. And the rest, as they say, is history.