Sunday, February 10, 2008

Newcastle

I had a weekend with no plans, and as there were no club nights to distract me I thought I'd visit a city I'd never gone to before. I chose Newcastle as I'd passed through it on many an occasion on the way to Edinburgh, and it seemed to be developing itself as a place worth going to.

First obstacle was how to get to the hotel. I'd chosen the Holiday Inn Express Metrocentre building which is a 10-minute train ride from Newcastle to the Metroland station and a 10-minute walk from there. However this place seems to have been built with drivers in mind, it wasn't an easy place to walk to. I had to walk alongside A-roads and clamber over crash barriers to get to it.

To save you the grief there's a riverside walk that, although a bit muddy, will bring around the back of the hotel. It's safer than negotiating the traffic.

Having dropped off the bag, I made my way back to Metroland, this time using the river walk. Metroland is located within the Gateshead MetroCentre, a large out-of-town shopping mall and is billed as Europe's largest indoor amusement park, which I think might have been true until Toverland opened up. It's also ear-marked for closure later this year, which was one of the main reasons for me choosing to come here.

The park itself was actually pretty cool, and certainly pretty busy, which makes the decision to close it in favour of moving the cinema, a strange one.

The park has a single coaster, which isn't that bad. Any ride that comes within close proximity of other rides is always a good thing in my book, and this does that to many! You can pay per ride of buy a pass. Not wanting to spend that long here I plumped up the £2.50 for the coaster only.

After leaving the park I spent an hour or so checking out the shops. No photos as they're just the same shops you see everywhere else. After that I headed out of Gateshead into Newcastle to visit the first of many attractions in the city, albeit one of the least well known.

This is the Scotswood Bridge, that I wanted to cross over the Tyne into Newcastle. Like the walk to the hotel I had to walk along main roads to get to it. This is a fairly recent bridge built in the 60's to replace the original bridge that was built 100 years prior.

A view from the bridge. Newcastle to the left and Gateshead to the right.

This building used to be home to Vickers, the tank makers, hence the tanks outside. It's now owned by BAE systems.

A challenger tank.

This sign makes the Hadrian's Walk, not to be confused with his wall. It's just a cycle path that runs alongside the main roads now.

Making my way up the hill from the river it became apparent that the area I was now walking through was pretty derelict. I was thinking that perhaps this was where they tested the tanks in an urban environment. Entire streets lay disused. It was a little eerie. Welcome to the Benwell estate!

I didn't find a single shop that was open for trade, and those people who were in the area were either moving very quickly or sitting around so bored that it wouldn't surprise me if they decided to torch their own cars. Needless to say the camera and map both stayed in my pocket. The last thing I would have wanted was to attract undue attention. (actually in their defence the residents are trying to turn the area around. Here's a BBC report that gives you a good background)

After some detours around shady groups, I did eventually find the building I had walked for about an hour to get to but I couldn't get any pictures from the road as there were two guys pulling the wiring out of the streetlights. If they were desperate enough to do that then a camera would have been easy pickings. I then decided to make my way into the compound but was stopped from doing that by a security guard who wouldn't let me take any pictures of the building. After a little pleading he allowed me to take one and here it is.

Now you probably don't recognise it, which is why I said it's not a well known tourist landmark in Newcastle but it's actually the youth club building from children's TV show Byker Grove. Yes I'd just risked life and limb going through an area that would make residents of Shameless's Chatsworth Estate cry for this. Actually I'm pleased I did it, sometimes its good to be out of your comfort zone. The building is called The Mitre and after being home to Ant & Dec served as a rock pub but now seems to be empty bar that security dude. For trivia fans the Byker district is actually in East Newcastle.

Having seen enough of Benwell I decided to head back, this time staying on the main roads that were still lit. As I made my return the sky turned an amazing colour so I took a few quick pics of that.



Red sky at night, Shepherd's delight they say.

A christian centre that offers massages? Hmmm....

Having made my way back to the hotel I was actually feeling very tired which I'm going to put down to a combination of a days traveling and a come down from the Benwell induced adrenalin rush. So deciding to grab some dinner I first tried TGI Friday's only to be told I'd have to wait half an hour even though the place was half empty, so I gave that a miss in favour of token road-side restaurant Frankie & Benny's, which was OK. After a few drinks at the hotel bar I went to bed ready for day 2. We have a saying, "Red sky at night, Shepherd's delight" which meant that the weather should be good the next day.


The Return of the Jedi named pub outside the hotel. It was apparent that whilst it may have been a Shepherd's delight it certainly wouldn't be a photographers one.


Walking to Gateshead Town Centre... "When extensions go crazy"

Is this Gateshead or Silent Hill? The visibility was pretty atrocious.

Some old abandoned school type building atop a hill that on a clearer day would overlook the valley along which the Tyne ran but on a day like this served no purpose other than looking like something from The Exorcist.

A strange vane type thing that also serves as a basic direction aid. I'd realised when I got back home that this wasn't too far from where they filmed Get Carter.

This is "Opening Lane", a 90 metre piece of art put together by someone called Danny Lane. It's supposed to be a celebration of all that is good of Gateshead including it's marine industry. It can be found at Gateshead main Metro and bus station, and it was from here I decided to jump a bus to The Angel of the North, one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area.

and this was the view of it that welcomed me. I could have made do with some better weather.

But the fog gave it a spooky feeling. You can get an idea of its scale from that 7ft basketball player stood under it.

The Angel of the North is an Anthony Gormley piece of work and arguably his most famous.

It's apparently seen by a different person every second as it's situated beside the main road leading into the city of Gateshead. That statistic had to be reviewed in light of the weather.

There's a famous, if cheesy song called "Fog of the Tyne". I was getting to understand first hand what that song was all about.

Back in Gateshead the fog was still everpresent. This strange statue is on the High Street.

This is the old town hall, now a cinema...one of the arty kind where you have to make do with carrot cake instead of popcorn.

Random signage under the railway bridge close to the river. Under every arch was the word "NO". I have no idea what we were being warned of.

This is the Gateshead Sage, a massive complex with a music theme. As well as a number of concert halls and performance spaces, the venue also has a superb acoustic structure.

Random church with the ghostly Tyne Bridge behind it.

The Sage overlooking the river. This is the shot where experts might say "look at the lines" and random ramblings like that.

The Tyne bridge, which was the most prominent of the bridges in the city until a new pretender came along and stole it's crown.

The Millennium Bridge is the latest bridge along the river. Designed by Norman Foster it has a wonderful design that allows it to tilt to allow boats to pass beneath it.

This is The Baltic, which along with the bridge and The Sage form the major developments to the Gateshead Quay complex. The Baltic used to be a flour mill but is now the centre of modern art in the area.

Cool Darth Vader sticker near the Baltic. I'd not seen any impressive graffiti so far so amongst the normal scrawls this stood out.

I spent a good couple of hours within the Baltic. It contains 6 floors with a major exhibit on each. On the entrance were a series of pictures by a group calling themselves the Cutup Collective. They take adverts from hoardings, chop them up and from the squares make a new picture.



What was quite weird about their work is that the pictures were more visible the shittier the camera was. So whilst we weren't allowed to take pictures of the majority of works in the gallery we were encouraged to take pictures of these.



This one only made sense when I uploaded it onto here.

A piece of work by Faile, who I've seen many times before in and around London.

A rather gloomy Millennium Bridge taken from The Baltic.

A few months ago Invader had an exhibition at The Baltic, which featured him taking his normal mosaic approach to graffiti and creating a stained window at the top of the building. I found this on the main stairwell, he'd clearly left a permanent presence now that his exhibition was over.

The fog was starting to lift so I was able to get some better pictures.

This is The Baltic taken from the bridge. Adorning the North face is a piece of work by Mark Titchener. His work is primarily loud vibrant posters with Orwellian type confidence boosting pieces. This one reads "Improving the world means improving me. I want a better world, I want a better me", which was nice...

Over the Tyne, neither in Gateshead or Newcastle.

I'm officially in Newcastle now.


There was a market along the riverbank, including a rather naughty chap who'd taken Banksy designs, framed them and was selling them for £20 a pop. There seems to be a few interesting sidelines with my Banksy obsession that, if I had no scruples, I could exploit like these guys. Anyone interested in a Banksy tour, book or picture :D


The Sage is also a Foster design. This guy seems to have been responsible for some landmark buildings in the UK. These two, the gherkin, Wembley stadium, and my company's head office (OK so the last one wasn't that famous)

The Tyne Bridge doing an impression of the the Brooklyn Bridge.

This somehow reminded me of the cover art to Beastie Boys "Paul's Boutique"


The Cathedral church of Newcastle.

This is the Castle Keep, which from afar looks quite old but up close you think it looks pretty recent, and when you get back and do your research you realise it was actually built in the 12th Century. I guess this is where the city takes its name from and "Old but new but old castle" was a bit of a mouthful.

Pons Aelius is part of a Roman settlement. I thought it was the building but its actually the trenches upon which this is built and which I never took any pictures of. Ah well.

Tut tut!

A poster on Bigg Market for one of the cheesy nights in town. Two bad puns made this stand out. "Lick my deck" and "techno for an answer".

Bigg Market is one of the main entertainment roads in the town centre. At night I guess this place is the most lively area in the city.



3 statues by Sean Henry form a piece of work called Man with Potential Selves. This guy represents the dreamer. They can be found on Grainger street, the main road opposite the train station.

Another church with a statue that looks like the late Cardinal Basil Hume, which I found out afterwards is actually a statue of the late Cardinal Basil Hume. He was apparently born here. I wonder if the city would do the same with international celebrity stars Ant & Dec? There's a cool pub near here called Gotham Town

Here's the station. More Get Carter location filming took place here.

Next to the station is the Centre for Life. I have no idea what it is but I'd guess some kind of massive convention centre. They had posters advertising an ice rink when I was there.

The Nelson column lookalike marking the city centre.

Another Invader piece just off Eldon Square, which had been fenced off as part of a major area refurbishment.

St James Park is home to Newcastle United Football Club. The previous day the team had been spanked 4-1 by Aston Villa. It wouldn't have been a good day to be a brummie in Newcastle :D

Opposite the stadium is one of the entrances to the city's Chinatown.

This weekend was the Chinese New Year and celebrations were in full swing. In fact it wasn't until I heard a load of firecrackers going off that I remembered what day it was. Here one of the dragons fails to reach a cabbage hanging above the restaurant. The only reason it failed is because someone upstairs pulled the rope that the cabbage was tied to. Cruel!

Probably an Invader piece but of a chinese character rather than his usual video game characters.

Another dragon rises to the challenge. This one was pretty rubbish compared to the previous one, so I didn't stick about.

As part of community education the local fire brigade had a stand in amongst the chinese trinkets and food. They demonstrated what a chip pan fire looks like and how to put it out.

The old city walls around which the festivities were taking place.

Newcastle, like Brixton has a Carling Academy; the main music venue in the city. This one is a wee bit smaller though.

Having got around Newcastle quicker than anticipated and with 2 hours spare before my train home I decided to head out to Seaburn on the coast.

When I got there it was obvious that the fog hadn't gone from here. You can barely make out the lighthouse which makes me wonder why it wasn't running.

Some locals "enjoying" the beach.

Seaburn has an amusement park, which was why I thought I'd try this. It was a gamble though as I had a suspicion their season hadn't started yet, and I was correct, the place was closed. Still I know where it is next time I come here. Exit Seaburn station having taken the Metro from Gateshead station, head away from the windmill and walk for about a mile until you get to the coast. Take a left and the park is about half a mile up the coast. I must have a good body compass as I managed to find it in the fog!
This train carriage is actually a themed restaurant. As I had to get back, I didn't give it a go and instead plumped for the staple coastal food of chips and curry sauce.


I found this at Heworth station, where due to maintenance the Metro had to stop and we had to switch to a shuttle bus. At the time I didn't twig what it was and only realised having left the station, so on the way back I took a diversion and took the pic. It's actually a piece by Obey, who is more famous in London for putting up big pics of a weird looking Andre the Giant, you can barely make out the logo in the bottom left which gave it away.

Another Invader piece (he's got around here). This one was in Gateshead Central station, and I was getting some odd looks from locals who'd never
Hard to make out but if you ever wanted to know what extremely funny comedian, lothario and stunning entertainer Gary Wilmot was up to he's appearing in "arf a sixpence".

More modern art this time in Newcastle station.

I'd quite liked Newcastle, dodgy estate aside (but then I'd never need to go there again). The quayside is great and I would go back to see the art in the Baltic again. I'm also going to be going back there but will head out to the coast as I did with Seaburn.
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