44. Visit Ouseburn Farm

Ouseburn Farm is undoubtedly one of Newcastle’s gems. It began life as Byker City Farm in 1976 when local people developed it so that city children had the opportunity to spend time with animals. It closed in 2002 for seven years due to a problem with its soil, but thankfully was able to reopen in 2009 when it became Ouseburn Farm.

A not-for-profit charity, the farm is free to visit, but relies on donations and volunteers to survive. Sometimes extra events are available for a small fee – as was the case on this beautiful day when my sister and I took three of my nieces and nephews there for a lamb petting session!

We arrived and spent a little time enjoying the sunshine in the garden area, finding all sorts of pretty spots for the kids to explore.

Next we went to meet some of the farm’s many animals. As well as those shown below, the farm is also home to a number of smaller creatures including lizards, snakes, rabbits and tortoises.

Soon enough it was time for our main event – petting the lambs! This was such a lovely chilled out experience – you were just let into the pen to sit and pet the lambs with no real time pressure. The lambs were between one and three weeks old and were just adorable. My two nieces would have stayed in there for hours if we had let them and for £3 each it was definitely worth it!

We ended our visit with a trip to the cafe which sells a range of food, made with local ingredients – lots coming straight from the farm itself! We were a little too early for lunch so opted instead for an ice cream – taking advantage of a rare sunny day – before finally heading off home!

There’s something really lovely about visiting somewhere local and particularly a place which makes such an effort to support its local community and therefore definitely deserves our support in return.

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43. See the animals at the Great North Museum: Hancock

The Great North Museum: Hancock (formerly – and still frequently referred to as simply – the Hancock) was established in Newcastle in 1884. It was originally named after John Hancock, a local ornithologist and naturalist who was considered to be the father of modern taxidermy, and his brother Albany; a naturalist and biologist.

A tribute to the brothers is on the wall inside the museum entrance.

The museum merged with the Hatton Gallery of Newcastle University in 2006 and, after a period of closure, reopened as the Great North Museum: Hancock in 2009.

I have slightly mixed feelings about the GNM, which I think is why it’s taken me so long to write this blog. I remember some enjoyable trips there as a child, but my more recent experiences there were with my last job and so largely involved trying to keep bored teenagers in check.

It seemed only fair to give the museum another chance and so, after having enjoyed lunch and tea at Quilliam Brothers, Neil and I headed there.

The GNM has permanent exhibitions on Hadrian’s Wall, Ancient Egypt, Ice Age to Iron Age, World Cultures and the Shefton Collection as well as a planetarium, an interactive zone and an area for the under 5s. There’s a lot to see there, but the reason I go (as you might have guessed from this blog’s title…) is to see the models of the animals and dinosaurs.

I always feel a little guilty when I visit a museum if I don’t try to see every part of it, but I kind of think that attitude might only be setting me up for failure. On this occasion therefore, although we wandered through all areas, stopping at anything that caught our eye…

We spent the majority of our time just admiring the different animals and dinosaurs. I love seeing all of the life size models and using the interactive information points to find out more about them. My favourite facts from this trip include:

Zebras stripes supposedly break up the outlines of each animal in the herd so that it’s harder for predators to single out one individual zebra to attack.

The spray from skunks can temporarily blind predators.

Meerkats live in groups with up to 30 members and take turns to do different chores, including being on sentry duty.

It was genuinely really nice to spend a day doing something a little different and definitely helped to bring back my good memories of the GNM, rather than the recent angry adolescent filled ones. Although we didn’t make it to the planetarium this time, I have been on past trips and fully recommend it – it even managed to keep the aforementioned adolescents quiet!

42. Drink tea at Quilliam Brothers

Located on Eldon Place, close to Newcastle University, Quilliam Brothers is the largest teahouse in the city. It serves over 60 varieties of loose leaf tea and this alone, for a passionate tea lover like myself, would make it worth a visit.

As it happens though, Quilliam Brothers offer significantly more than just tea – the establishment is open until midnight every day apart from Sunday and provides breakfast, lunch and an array of baked goods. It also hosts a regular free cinema event and other creative events including a writing group.

It is one of my favourite places in Newcastle and I am not alone – such is the popularity of the teahouse that you are very rarely unlikely to arrive and not have to wait for a table. Bear with it though – I assure you it’s worth it.

I make fairly frequent visits to Quilliam Brothers, but Neil had never been before. Aware it had been far too long since my last blog and having a rare few days off together over Christmas, we planned a day out involving some of my favourite Newcastle places. We headed here for lunch and, as expected, were told we would have a twenty minute wait. Perhaps in some places this would feel irritating, but here you really do feel as though the staff are doing all that they can to get everyone seated – without making any of the present customers feel hurried. They provided us with menus to browse through whilst waiting and, personally, I always just enjoy a little look around the teahouse itself.

We were initially offered one of their spaces downstairs, which involve sitting on cushions and eating from a lower table. This was fine for me, but Neil, AKA the world’s least bendy person, sat looking incredibly awkward for a couple of minutes before, fortunately, spotting a more traditional table become available, which the staff were more than happy for us to use instead.

The thing I love about Quilliam Brothers is that, as a pretty trendy establishment in a popular part of the city, they could probably get away with serving average, over-priced food and still remaining busy. Instead though, they serve generous portions of locally sourced food for incredibly reasonable prices. Neil and I decided to share two of the burgers/sandwiches – a pulled beef and cheese one and a portobello mushroom, mozzarella and chutney one. These cost £6.95 each and were huge – they came with new potatoes and salad and, despite thoroughly enjoying it, I didn’t even quite manage to finish mine.

Food enjoyed, we sipped on our tea (banana twist for me and gunpowder for Neil in case anybody is interested) and then headed on to the next stop on our Newcastle tour – the Great North Museum!

41. When in doubt, go to the library!

Keen Harry Potter fans may recognise the above quote as being spoken by Ron Weasley about Hermione Granger in the Chamber of Secrets. She was a wise girl was Hermione and on this particular wet Wednesday morning I decided to follow in her footsteps and pay a visit to the Newcastle City Library.

I always enjoy a visit to a library, but truth be told if I was just in the mood to spend time amongst books I would usually opt for the Lit and Phil. What drew me instead to the City Library (and what led me to this blog’s introduction) was the recent arrival of a new Harry Potter exhibition.

Inspired by the History of Magic exhibition at the British Library in London, Newcastle City Library is one of twenty libraries across the country to host a magic-inspired exhibition in honour of the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter novel.


The exhibition is smaller than I had hoped it would be. I mean, truthfully it could never have been big enough to satisfy a Harry Potter obsessive like myself, but even those with more realistic expectations might find its size a little disappointing. It occupies only a small space on Level 1 by the entrance to the library and another small area on Level 6.

Despite its small size, however, the exhibition was still able to provide a decent chunk of magic related information. It focuses mainly on the different subjects taught at Hogwarts and looks at the origins and history of each of these. I learned, amongst other things, that Abracadabra was originally used as a magic charm against Malaria in Ancient Rome and that Bezoars really do come from the stomach of goats and really were used as an antidote to poison. Indeed, the exhibition taught me more generally just how much of J.K.Rowling’s work has some origins to real historical creatures, theories and philosophies.

As well as the Hogwarts subjects, the exhibition also contains references to magical tales and events closer to home, including the tale of the Lambeth Worm and stories about witchcraft in Newcastle. Beautiful copies of incredibly old books (from the 16th and 17th centuries) focusing on the use of herbs and plants for medicinal purposes can also be admired as a part of this small but undoubtedly intriguing exhibition. 

40. Explore Castle Keep

If I am completely honest with myself, I am not convinced that I actually knew there was a castle in Newcastle before I moved to the city. And yes – this is despite growing up in Northumberland and despite the very significant clue in the city’s name. I suppose if I had given it any thought I would have assumed that there had been a castle at some point, but that it no longer existed today aside from perhaps a few old ruins.

It came as some surprise to me therefore to discover that Castle Keep (as I now knew the castle was called) was located just a short walk from Newcastle’s rail station and that, far from being a pile of ruins, consisted of two buildings both in really quite excellent shape. In the past there would have been many other buildings making up the castle in its entirity, but the two that remain today  – the Black Gate and Castle Keep (a keep is generally a fortified residence in a tower) provide more than enough opportunities for exploration on their own.

The first castle built on the site where Castle Keep stands now was built by Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror, in 1080. It was rebuilt in stone by King Henry II in around 1170 who was eager to regain authority of this part of England which had been difficult to control due to its close proximity to Scotland. The castle’s keep was completed in 1178, but it took until 1250 for the last part of the castle to be completed – the barbican or, as we know it today, the Black Gate.


When visiting the castle it is necessary to buy tickets from the reception which stands inside the Black Gate. This then naturally leads a person to explore the Black Gate before they explore Castle Keep. This, however, is slightly confusing if, like me, you prefer to learn history chronologically. The Black Gate was extensively remodelled in the 1600s and so the museum located inside the Black Gate focuses on this era. The small, but informative, room explains how the Black Gate got its name – it was named after Patrick Black, tailor to King Charles I, who owned it although, probably, never lived in it. It also provides information about life in the area around the castle during the 1600s and shows some newspaper articles about the castle during this period. These include bizarre anecdotes such as one about a man who made a donkey “fly” from the roof of the castle and thus caused serious injuries to numerous people including the death of one very unfortunate girl.

From the Black Gate you walk through the grounds of the castle passing, on your way, the  infamous Heron Pit. This was an underground prison built by the cruel and brutal William Heron – High Sheriff of Northumberland and all round unpleasant sounding chap.


From the Heron Pit you carry on walking, past some chapel ruins and then take the stairs into the Castle Keep. We were encouraged, by a lovely man working at the castle, to first head up on to the roof and then to explore the inside of the castle.

Now I accept (albeit reluctantly) that my love for history is not necessarily shared by all others and that for many, therefore, a visit to a castle may not seem particularly enticing. In the case of Castle Keep, however, I urge you to reconsider, because even if its history doesn’t appeal to you, the views from its roof undoubtedly will. Astrid and I wandered around the roof happily capturing photographs of our glorious city from numerous different angles. No doubt we would have stayed much longer had we not had a lunch date in a short amount of time and so needed to ensure we gave ourselves enough time to explore the rest of Castle Keep.


Castle Keep, unlike the Black Gate, does start at the beginning of the castle’s history and provides you with a fascinating overview of all that has happened here. Obviously I am unable to recount here all that we learned (partially because this would be the longest blog in the world and partially because I don’t want to ruin the experience for anybody planning to go) but I will mention a few of my highlights:

There are a few prison cells in the castle – many of which were relatively comfortable and thus thought to have been used to host prisoners of importance. Amongst the many prisoners to be held here was Mary Bruce, sister of Robert the Bruce, who was held capitve in Castle Keep from 1310 to 1314 when she was exchanged for English prisoners.


In a separate prison cell there is graffiti clearly visible on the wall, which was written by two prisoners, Thomas Cuthbert and John Danby, during the Siege of Newcastle in the Civil War of the 1600s.


The Great Hall is also well worth a visit – a large and impressive room, it is here that feasts would have been held and, as it is known that Edward I spent winter in Newcastle in 1292, there is speculation that he may have hosted his Christmas feast in that very room.


I have only touched upon the various anecdotes and sights of the Black Gate and Castle Keep here. Our aforementioned time shortage meant that we had to be fairly speedy on our journey around the castle and so are both eager to go back another time to catch up on any aspect of the castle we may have missed. Adult tickets for the castle are just £6.50 and if you’ve ever a spare hour or two in Newcastle and are eager to know more about the city’s history or just to enjoy some phenomenal views then there are fewer places more worthy of your time.

 

 

39. Dine at Blackfriars

Blackfriars is, for a history nerd like myself, undoubtedly the most interesting restaurant in Newcastle. It is the oldest dining room in the whole of the United Kingdom with a fascinating history that dates back to 1239.

Blackfriars began life as a Priory for Dominican Friars who were travelling the world in an attempt to establish their order. They were able to build Blackfriars thanks to donations from the then Mayor of Newcastle, Sir Peter Scot, as well as three sisters who, unfortunately, remain anonymous to this day.

As well as having the impressive accolade of having hosted King Henry III on several occasions when he was fighting the Scots, Blackfriars may also be responsible for the famous black and white kit of the Newcastle United football team! It is said that the Dominican Friars wore white tunics and black cloaks and that this uniform influenced the football club into choosing black and white for their home strip.

The Dominican Friars were forced to leave Newcastle during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1500s under King Henry VIII and only returned in 1860. Today there are just five left in the city.

There are many options for dining at Blackfriars and for various other cooking events which look absolutely incredible but which are, for the time being at least, very much out of my price range. The restaurants hosts traditional medieval banquets in its historical banquet hall, provides wine, beer and whiskey tasting and also has a range of other rooms where you can go just to enjoy some absolutely excellent food.

Neil’s parents were visiting us last weekend and to celebrate Neil having passed his most recent exams they very kindly took us for Sunday lunch at Blackfriars. We began with some drinks – I had the GeordieJack (hugely recommended for gin lovers), Corrinne and Paul opted for wine and Neil decided to try something traditional and got himself a mead based drink. He expected it to come in some sort of tankard and was slightly sheepish when it turned up like this…


Food wise I went slightly rogue for a Sunday lunch – beginning with a beetroot risotto, followed by salmon and then lemon posset for pudding. Neil was more traditional with fishcakes and roast lamb. He didn’t get a pudding – inexcusable really.

 




The food was just delicious and the service and atmosphere of the restaurant superb. Eating at Blackfriars on an evening can cost around £20 for a main course, but Sunday lunch is just £21 for three courses and honestly it is so bloody good. I am genuinely now just sat here reminiscing happily about it and trying to work out when I can next find an excuse to go back!

38. Bowl and dine at Lane 7!

I’ve always been partial to a spot of bowling – as a child I made many a train journey from Hexham to Metro Centre with my pals purely to participate in the sport. It is a sport right? I’m calling it a sport. Anyway, in the same way that Tyneside Cinema feels like more of an occasion than the average cinema trip, so too does Lane 7 feel like more of an experience than just a game of bowling. 

It is, essentially, bowling for grown ups – think stylish decor and cocktails as opposed to fluorescent lights and slush puppies (FYI I love both those things – but it’s nice to have an alternative too).

Three of my pals from university were staying this weekend. Two had stayed before over a year ago and I took them to Lane 7 then. I think my words at that time were something like “So it’s like bowling.. but trendy. It’s trendy bowling.” I think they were a little cynical about my description, but on their return visit they requested that we go “trendy bowling” again. 

This time, for the sake of easiness and curiosity, I booked us into dine as well as bowl and the four of us headed there last night.

We ordered ourselves some cocktails (I recommend the Bramble – delicious) and began our game. 


It was an embarrassingly shaky start by all of us (I blame pre drinks) but then some of us began to perform magnificently (Jess); some of us were at least respectable (Shalini) and two of us were absolutely horrendous and battled it out for third place. That’s me and Anna. FYI I beat her. Soz Cookie.



 After bowling (and a ridiculous amount of photos – my bad) we had our tea. Burgers all round and they were actually really bloody good. Maybe it was just that we were super hungry, but they received rave reviews all round. In fact, when Anna got up this morning she told us she had spent the first of her ten waking moments just thinking about her chicken burger. If that hasn’t convinced you to give it a go I just don’t know what will!