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Kittiwakes, But No Posada....

A first overnight stay away from home since before lockdown took me back to Newcastle, with the aim of re-visiting some favourite haunts before catching up with family....


A familiar sound was in the air last Sunday afternoon when I left my hotel and walked down the riverside towards the Tyne Bridge. I was in Newcastle on my first trip away since February. Up above, the kittiwakes were back, nesting on ledges and in the nooks and crannies of the high bridges and other tall buildings along the Quayside. This is the world's most inland breeding colony of this medium-sized gull, with the urban architecture of the Tyne riverside replicating the cliff tops of their usual habitat. They return every summer, a screeching backdrop to this special riverside scene, with their presence requiring a daily high-pressure hosing down of  the streets and chares around the Quayside. It was, though, a reassuring sound, a reminder that the lockdown hadn't changed everything.

Around the corner from the Quayside, at the bottom of steady sloping Side which begins its climb into the heart of the city before giving way to the elegance of Grey Street, one Newcastle institution was, unlike the kittiwakes, not yet back for the summer. This was the Crown Posada, its solid blue door not ready to receive customers into the narrow, coffin-shaped splendour of one of the city's finest pubs. And across the city centre, the pattern was repeated: places such as Bacchus, Lady Greys, and The Mean-Eyed Cat were closed, although the latter was due to open the following week. Out at Ouseburn, my two favourite pubs in the area, the Free Trade Inn and the Cumberland Arms were closed. And so the pub tour I undertook that late afternoon was very much a level down from what it could have been. Not that any of the pubs were bad as such; thrust into the limelight in an alternative grouping they simply could not reach any of the heights you come to expect as the norm when visiting some of the afore-mentioned pubs.
I walked across the swing bridge in the sunshine to the Gateshead Quays, fancying a beer at By The River Brew, but when I saw the queues and guys with clipboards and walkie-talkies taking details I turned straight back over the bridge and headed for the Bridge Tavern at Akenside Hill, a place I have been in several times whilst never quite warming to it. As I checked out the entry procedures, a girl approached and took my temperature - first time for a pub visit - and asked for my details. Everything OK, she led me to a stool by a shelf towards the back of the pub. I noticed on the menu they had Almasty Session IPA, so with memories of their excellent Simple Pleasures 4% Hazy Pale which I had enjoyed in can during lockdown, I ordered a pint. Sadly, it was a bitter disappointment, well below its best (NBSS 2). I quickly drunk up and left.
Young Hearts Run Free; graffiti by the Tyne
The Quayside was fairly busy as I walked towards Ouseburn alongside the river. I noticed the usual Sunday market was absent, no doubt another victim of the virus. Up on the hillside was the welcome and familiar sight of the Free Trade Inn, doors firmly shut, so I had to settle for the Tyne Bar below, situated by the bridge, and the confluence of the Ouseburn Beck and the Tyne. I joined the queue, waited my turn to go in, gave my details, and ordered a pint of Almasty, hoping it would be better than earlier pint at the Bridge. Fortunately it was much better (NBSS 3), and I enjoyed it as I sat outside in the sunshine at one of the few unoccupied tables between the bar and the beck.
The Tyne Bar, Newcastle
The Tyne Bar had managed a brief spell in the Good Beer Guide a year or two back, as had my next port of call, the Cluny, situated a few minutes walk away further up the beck. It was queue to enter as at The Tyne, and I ordered a pint of Two by Two Session IPA, before following the longest one way system imaginable to go out; left at the bar, through the room normally used as a venue next door, and round, before finally emerging half way up the road at the side of this former mill. I turned right and plonked down on one of the steps which double up as seats beside the village green. The beer, another hazy pale, was spot on, and easily the best of the day (NBSS 3.5). What marred the visit though was a guy with a Bristolian accent sat close by offering advice to his mate at full volume rather than having a quiet word as would have seemed more appropriate for the kind of advice being offered.
The Cluny, Ouseburn Valley
It would have been ideal to stay for another pint, but I was too irritated to do so, so I crossed the road and called in at The Ship, situated below the huge Byker Bridge with its large beer garden almost full. I had to wait at the gate for someone to come and greet me, and a few minutes later I was guided to a small table near the door. I am not aware that the Ship has ever been in the Good Beer Guide, and it is unlikely it would make it based on this visit. I had to send my first pint back as it was off, and the replacement, Anarchy Demon Fangs was disappointing (NBSS 2.5). Still, it was pleasant enough sitting in the beer garden in the evening sun just watching the world go by.
Sunshine at The Ship
I wandered back to the city centre after a generally underwhelming tour, and after a pizza at Prima, back on Side - which was very good - and a glass of wine, I headed back to my hotel for the night.

The following morning was initially grey and a bit gloomy as I headed off to find some breakfast. There was a Wetherspoons just down from the hotel, but I didn't really want to put any money Tim Martin's way unless it was an absolute emergency. There must be somewhere else open. But as I went to one place I'd previously had breakfast, then another, and another, and found they were all closed, I ended up resorting to that Tyneside stalwart, Greggs, from where I bought a sausage muffin and black coffee which I enjoyed sat on one of the stone benches on a quieter-than-I-could-remember Grey Street, just down from Monument metro station as the sun finally came out.
Busy city streets
I decided to head out on the metro to the coast. I knew the Left Luggage Room was open at Monkseaton, but not the Dog & Rabbit in Whitley Bay. Still, I had had such a good time at the Left Luggage Room when I visited last year that I reckoned if it was half as good as it was then it would still be better than the previous day's B-list wander. I was not to be disappointed. 

The metro was fairly quiet most of the way as it headed coastwards along the north side of the Tyne, calling at Manors, Byker, Hadrian Road, Wallsend, Tynemouth, and the rest; its cargo of passengers decanted and then replenished, most wearing the now-obligatory face masks. Just short of half an hour later, we arrived at Monkseaton, and I headed out of the station, over the road bridge and over to the other side of the tracks to the opposite platform where the Left Luggage Room lay in wait. 
As I approached, I noticed several tables on the platform in front of the former station left luggage room. A guy with a beard and a pony tail, who I recognised from my previous visit, was serving a group sat at one of the tables. He turned and saw me, said hello, and asked for my contact details which he wrote down in a little book. I ordered a pint of Jarl and went to sit at one of the tables. A few minutes later the guy re-appeared from within with my pint. It was good, refreshing, and a great first beer of the day (NBSS 3). I spotted on the beer board by the door that they had several beers on from Two By Two. Unlike beers from other North Eastern brewers such as Wylam and Anarchy, they are not widely available outside their local area, and so I decided to go for their New England Simcoe for my next pint. The beer arrived, an opaque, orange-coloured glass of hazy beer, around 4% or so it said on the board. It was wonderful, the best pint of cask I have had all this crazy year. 
That beer: Two By Two Citra Simcoe
A couple came and sat at the next table, and we got chatting; he was a retired dentist and she worked in a school. They asked me what I had ordered and said they'd have the same, as I had eulogised about my beer. A few minutes later, their beers were brought out, and I couldn't help noticing they looked slightly paler. It then occurred to me that I had possibly been served the Citra Simcoe, a couple of notches up at 6%, and that was confirmed with my next pint. It really is a wonderful beer, up the NBSS scale at a whopping 4.5. 

I had a cracking hour or two at the Left Luggage Room, and is one place I would wholeheartedly recommend, a real destination. Apparently it has been pretty busy since it re-opened, but with tables sensibly placed, a friendly atmosphere, and excellent beer, it is easy to see why. The girl who was working there said she was enjoying it more, table service meaning she had chance to have a proper chat to customers for a change. I let a few trains go, but then I decided I would go three stops along the metro to Tynemouth.
Tynemouth Castle and Priory
As the name suggests, Tynemouth lies at the mouth of the river, and is an elegant, leafy town with a completely different feel to the city a few miles away. With attractions such as the castle and priory, beaches, at King Edward's Bay and Longsands, and plenty of shops, pubs, and restaurants, it is a popular destination for tourists, with the huge platforms at the metro station a reminder of the days when visitors streamed by rail to the coast from the towns and cities further inland in their thousands. I went for a walk around the town, which featured regularly in the 1980's children's TV series, Super Gran, got some fish and chips, and headed back to catch the metro back to Newcastle. There was an unexpected bonus when I got back to the station; the Platform 2 micropub was open, and so my journey was inevitably delayed. Beer on the line, I suppose....
The bar now waiting at Platform 2, Tynemouth
There was a relaxed air about this former waiting room, even with the social distancing requirements in place. I ordered a Two by Two New England Simcoe and sat at one of the tables on the platform. It was another cracking pint from the Wallsend wonders, which I rated NBSS 3.5. The place was reasonably busy, with people calling in for a pint on their way home from work, something that seems a distant memory to me these days! I stayed for another pint, this time opting for a Almasty Session IPA on keg, and then I decided to head back to the city and chance my luck in finding an open pub.
Tynemouth Metro Station
I got off the metro at Monument and wandered down an almost-deserted Grey Street. Off to the right, I spotted lights on at Pleased to Meet You on High Bridge, and yes, it was open, one of the few pubs and bars to do so in the city centre this Monday evening. It was fairly busy, but I managed to get a table without any trouble. And I ordered a pint from a brewery I'd not seen around for some time, Fell from over in Flookburgh in Cumbria. The beer, an American pale with Simcoe and Amarillo hops, was pretty decent, getting a score of NBSS 3. The bar is another former Good Beer Guide entrant, and whilst in some places it would be a stand out, such is the quality of  some of the pubs in these parts it doesn't normally warrant a visit. But in these strange times it was a decent enough spot to enjoy a couple of pints.

I wandered back down to the Quayside en route to the hotel. I had had a cracking time, a proper day out which had more than compensated for the previous day's disappointments. The blue door of the Crown Posada was still closed as I walked past. Meanwhile, up above, on the building tops and ledges, the kittiwakes were serenading the evening streets of the riverside as they do every summer....

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