I’ve always found “alma mater” a strange phrase, but when I decided to write a post about how I’m planning to head back up to Newcastle for a short visit, I wasn’t quite sure how else to title it. It does seem especially relevant considering it’s a Latin phrase, and one of the languages I was learning at uni was, in fact, Latin. Literally the phrase means something similar to “nourishing mother”, which I guess makes sense – a university nourishes your mind and looks after you for your first time away from home.
Personally, I did enjoy uni and living in Newcastle, but I wouldn’t say it was the absolute time of my life. If I could go back to uni again now, I think I’d be more likely to have chosen a university with a slightly more different course as I found I wasn’t feeling challenged often enough in my studies where I was. I did a couple of undergraduate courses outside uni, including “Greek camp” – a 2 week intensive summer school at Bryanston School in Dorset – and a trip to Greece, which was a 3 week residential programme covering the archaeology and topography in Ancient Greece. I feel like I learned more in each of these two courses than I did in my whole 3 year degree, but that’s another story!
Newcastle is where I spent 3 whole years of my life, and somewhere I think of fondly. It’s often regarded as being bleak and windy northern city – and I can’t really deny those claims! – but it’s also a city full of life and soul. I always think living in a city is wasted on students – you can’t really experience everything it has to offer in terms of places to visit, quirky things to do in Newcastle and places to eat thanks to living on a student budget. While I now love living back in the countryside and wouldn’t change that for the world, I do wish I had the opportunity to live in a city again just so I could experience a few more things with some disposable income.
And so, for the past couple of years I’ve been saying that I’ll get back to Newcastle to see what’s the same, what’s changed, what’s new, and to experience some of those things I didn’t do while I was a student there.
Tea Sutra Teahouse
It sounds like Newcastle has massively expanded its independent eateries, restaurants, bars and cafes over the years I’ve been away from the city, and I’d LOVE to head to a few of these to try them out. Tea Sutra is one that’s really appealing to me right now. Even though I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t really drink a lot of tea, I’m all for trying new and fun types. They also have a wellness room that sounds amazing!
Blackfriars Cookery School
Blackfriars was the restaurant in Newcastle that we used to visit if we wanted somewhere special for occasions – for example, this made an excellent post-graduation place to eat or birthday treat. The restaurant holds the claim of the oldest dining room in the UK, dating back to 1239, as it was originally a priory for the Dominican Friars. Today they’re committed to sustainability with locally sourced produce with high welfare standards. The times I went there, the food was excellent.
And I’ve now found out that they have a cookery school! When we lived in Newcastle, I was only just getting started on my cookery journey – I wasn’t all that interested in food but making a headstart. Today this would make a fantastic activity for me and Ben to try out.
Passage to India train
And another foodie thing, are you surprised?! Newcastle is a very central station for exploring the north – I think the train journey from Newcastle to Edinburgh is one of the most scenic train journeys in the UK, as it climbs northwards along the coast. We used to use the trains a lot when we lived there, but nowadays, I’m always in the car.
We do love a good rail journey, whether that’s by steam railway (and by the way, I’ve got another post featuring one of these in the Cotswolds coming up!) or simply a necessary train journey, and the Passage to India curry train sounds uh-mazing. It includes a four course meal at the end of a journey by train along the Tyne Valley line to Corbridge and back again.
Sample the gin
And the last food/drink related one, I promise! Not long after we left Newcastle, gin became super popular then a host of new gin bars popped up in the city! I’ve heard lots of good things about Dacantus and its “gin lab” where you can have gin tasting sessions. While I don’t really drink much, like tea, I like to try new flavours and new things. I’ve recently had violet gin and grapefruit gin, then we’ve made our own rhubarb gin which has been pretty amazing, so I’m all for new gins! They also have a menu with food that sounds wonderful too.
Explore the city centre
One thing I didn’t really pay attention to one while I was living in Newcastle is that the centre is pretty stunning. I always made sure to notice Grey’s Monument – even when it was set against a grey sky – but it’s only looking at photos now that I realise just how gorgeous and majestic the buildings around it are! I used to walk through with my brain set on my destination – uni, a specific shop, the station – and not look around. Nowadays, I’d be taking that all in! The main part of the centre around Grey’s Monument is pedestrianised which I think is brilliant as vehicles tend to spoil the look and feel of many city centres.
Anyway, the city centre is somewhere I did spend a lot of time – there were lots of shops and it was on my route to and from uni, why wouldn’t I?! There were a couple of good vintage shops there, but I’d love to return and scope out any new ones. Newcastle’s city centre is home to a huge number of high street stores too, with its pretty huge Eldon Square shopping centre (where I spent most of my time!) to the shops that line the streets. Then there’s the indoor Grainger Market and the Central Arcade.If you’re looking for shopping in Newcastle, you won’t be short of places to go!
Visit the quayside
We lived just one street up Newcastle’s quayside and had a view down over the Millennium Bridge. As such, we spent a lot of time down there in my student days – it was pretty much our way to walk to town or the station, so it was en route wherever we went! When we were leaving Newcastle, they were in the process of putting more money back into places like this so I’d love to wander the water’s edge again and see what’s changed.
The quayside is home to the Sage (at least, on the Gateshead side), the Baltic art gallery (with a restaurant with a fantastic view at the top) and a number of bars and restaurants. On Sundays, the quayside plays host to a market where we’d often pop down for some quick food off one of the stalls.
PS: A couple of snaps above of times we wandered along the quayside!
Finally, a bit of history! Despite seeing this from the motorway every time we drove to and from Newcastle, I’ve never actually visited the Penshaw Monument. This is a National Trust property that sits majestically on Penshaw Hill near Washington as a half-sized replica of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. Considering my obsession with all things ancient, I can’t believe I’ve never been there! With our National Trust memberships, I feel like it’s something I need to do soon!