On his first visit to Tynemouth and Newcastle upon Tyne, Mark Bibby Jackson receives a hospitable welcome at the Tynemouth Castle Inn.
The recently refurbished, Tynemouth Castle Inn is a beautiful art deco building which stands on the coast just north of Tynemouth. It makes for the perfect base from which to explore the wonderful surrounding coastline as well as the city of Newcastle.
Tynemouth Castle and Priory
The village (as the locals like to call it) of Tynemouth is very pleasant with an interesting array of shops, restaurants and cafés along the high street. In many respects its elegant, hard stone frontage resembles Castle Barnard I visited earlier in the year. There is a statue to Queen Victoria (19012) on the village green as well as the colossal Collingwood Memorial, built in 1845 in memory of the naval commander who took over from Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar.
The Collingwood Memorial is situated close to the most noteworthy attraction in the village, the Tynemouth Castle and Priory. This is built on the Pen Bal Crag headland overlooking the North Sea.
Founded in the 7th century, the priory was sacked by the Danes in the 9th century, but rebuilt and fortified by 1083. The priory was dismantled following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, so all that is now left are its dramatic ruins, managed by English Heritage. This is just like Whitby Abbey but without all those steps.
After checking into the Tynemouth Castle Inn, I stroll along the seafront towards Tynemouth Castle and Priory. As it is only open at the weekend, and I have arrived on the Monday, I cannot walk around its grounds, but it does make for a striking Romantic picture.
One of the advantages of staying in Tynemouth is the easy access to the city of Newcastle via the metro line. The Tynemouth metro station is in the beautiful railway building which opened in 1882 and is Grade II* listed.
From the priory I walk through the village to the station and then back along the seafront to the hotel. Tynemouth became a fashionable bathing resort in the 18th century, and it is easy to see why. Next to the priory is Tynemouth King Edward’s Bay, a possible reference to Edward II who fled Tynemouth Castle in 1312, and just north of that Tynemouth Longsands, which has been voted one of the best beaches in Europe.
Strolling along its golden sands, even on a blustery December afternoon it is easy to see why. Although I must admit that I would not have braved the frosty waters, like a few brave young souls. They breed them tough up here.
Dining at the Tynemouth Castle Inn
My room at the Tynemouth Castle Inn is spacious and has a small balcony with beautiful views across the North Sea.
The hotel offers a complimentary drink to anyone who chooses for their room not to be cleaned. Taking up the offer, we start our evening by having a beer and glass of wine at the bar.
The hotel is packed full of both locals and holiday makers. The menu is surprisingly varied for pub food although it has traditional classics, such as fish and chips. The meal was excellent, service prompt, and the manager Andy was very accommodating and helpful with titbits of information of what to do in the area. The halibut was excellent.
One of the interesting aspects of the Tynemouth Castle Inn is the contrast between the bar restaurant area and the rooms. Whereas the former is quite dark with elegant art deco touches and William Morris wallpaper, the upstairs area is very light. This creates a totally different ambience between living and dining quarters, which I find refreshing, especially as I sit in my room and gaze across the sea at the white tipped surf in the distance as the waves crash against the shore. It is a very picturesque and relaxing setting.
Tynemouth Castle Inn Photo Gallery
Drive up the Coast and a Daytrip to Newcastle
After a good night’s sleep and noting the unfavourable weather forecast, we decide to drive along the coast before setting off for Newcastle later in the morning.
If you have yet to discover the Northumberland coastline, you are in for a treat. Vast and relatively unspoilt it possesses an untamed beauty. We drive past Whitley Bay and Sleaton Sluice before turning round at Blyth, which is more industrial. It is a most pleasant drive and a great way to avoid the weather.
Andy had recommended that we take the local bus which stops outside the hotel into Newcastle. Running every 20 minutes or so, it takes the best part of an hour to reach the city centre, and only costs £2.
Newcastle Christmas Market
The bus drops us off at the Haymarket, from where it is a short walk to Grainger Market.
This Grade I listed covered market, was built in the 19th century as part of the redevelopment of the city centre by Richard Grainger. He was responsible for transforming the heart of the city – now called Grainger Town – into a neoclassical beauty. There are 244 listed buildings in Grainger Town, including the wonderful Newcastle Theatre Royal, which opened in 1837.
Our main purpose for coming here is to enjoy the Christmas Market, so as my companion settles down to bratwurst and mulled wine at a seasonal pop up bar, I enjoy a pint of local craft beer, while sitting in front of a charcoal fire.
Newcastle Castle and Cathedral
It’s a short walk from Grainger Market to Newcastle Cathedral. Formerly the Church of Saint Nicholas, this Grade 1 listed building was founded in 1091, although it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the 14th century.
A small fragment of the existing Norman stained glass, of the Virgin feeding Christ remains. Saint Nicholas is probably best known for being where John Knox served as minister in the mid-16th century. It was inaugurated as a cathedral in 1882. A calming and relaxing place, although not when they are tuning the organ, it makes for a wonderful shelter from the persistent Newcastle drizzle.
Next to the cathedral is Newcastle Castle, or The Castle. Henry II ordered the construction of the Keep between 1172 and 1177. The Black Gate was built the following century, and it was the last addition to the defences the medieval castle. Used as a prison from the 16th to 18th centuries, Newcastle Castle was largely destroyed in the mid-19th century with the advent of the railways, leading to the construction of a vast viaduct through the castle grounds. Only the Keep and Black Gate remain.
By now the rain has settled in for the duration, and with the light fading we decide to have a drink in the Bridge Hotel, which is situated across from the Castle and next to the King Edward VII Bridge.
This Grade II railway bridge opened in 1906 and has been described as “Britain’s last great railway bridge”. The hotel was used by workers during its construction and has subsequently hosted meetings of the Socialist Worker’s Party and allegedly the IRA in its colourful history, although it has not actually been a hotel since the 70s at least.
An inviting and comfortable pub, we have a very pleasant time here, and frankly I have no desire to leave its warm confines.
Northern Lights And Blackfriars
The Newcastle weather is far less inviting. It really couldn’t have been worse by the time I reach the Northern Lights Newcastle, situated in Leazes Park, in the shadow of St James Park, home to Newcastle United.
Despite the relentless rain I must admit to having a pleasant time walking along the illuminated trail, calmed by the Buddha bar music and spectacular lights on show. Having seen the Northern Lights for real in Norway at the start of 2023, somehow it seems appropriate to conclude my annual travels at this northern light trial, which was much more colourful than the real thing.
Backtracking past St James Park and cutting through Newcastle’s Chinatown, I head to the Blackfriars where I am booked in for dinner. Dating back to 1239, the building used to be the home to the Black Friars of Newcastle for more than 300 years.
We start with a drink in the parlour bar, which was used as the waiting room for visitors to the friary, before being led to the restaurant which is situated in the old refectory. The owners believe this to be the oldest purpose-built dining room in Britain.
We have booked in for the Christmas Menu which includes a very welcome glass of prosecco. We both choose the scallops as a starter which I follow with smoked haddock while my companion opts for the Beef Wellington. The scallops are excellent, cooked to perfection and served with amazing truffle beignets. However, the highlight of the evening is the setting – how often can you dine in a mediaeval friary?
Northern Hospitality and North Shields Fish
My abiding memory of the short visit to the north east of England is of the incredible friendliness and hospitality of the people. Doors are opened for you, people say hello as they pass you, conversations are shared on buses and over a glass of mulled wine. This is how life should be, and it is sad that in other parts of the country we seem to have lost this hospitality. Tynemouth and Newcastle are a breath of fresh air. Quite literally.
On the bus ride into Newcastle, we had been recommended to visit North Shields, which is right next to Tynemouth, by a fellow passenger. A shield, derived from the Middle English ‘schele’, was an upturned boat where fishermen kept their nets.
North Shields still has a quay where you can buy fresh fish. We stop here on our way back south. While my companion purchases half of the remaining fishing stock of the North Sea, I go on a short stroll to the bijou beach where there is a small memorial to the fisherman lost at sea. From here I can see Tynemouth Lighthouse, Tynemouth Castle and Priory, and the Collingwood Memorial across the bay. I will most certainly be back.
Tynemouth and Newcastle Photo Gallery
Tynemouth Castle Inn
Of all the Tynemouth hotels, none of them has the setting of the Tynemouth Castle Inn. Part of the Inn Collection Group, this hotel has been recently refurbished and has 72 rooms as well as an excellent bar and restaurant. If you don’t wish to sample that, you can always try some Tynemouth fish and chips at Oswins next door. This is recommended Tynemouth accommodation. For more details, click here.
Things To Do in Newcastle
For more inspiration on what to do in Newcastle city, we suggest you visit the official tourist site for Newcastle and Gateshead.
All photos by Mark Bibby Jackson.