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A Pint at The Free Trade....

If the so-called roadmap out of the country's lockdown comes to fruition, pubs will be able to open to serve customers outside from April 12th, and then welcome them inside from May 17th. Here is one place I am really looking forward to calling in again....

The Free Trade Inn in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is a solid-looking, brick wedge of a pub situated in a lofty position overlooking the River Tyne. It is one place I cannot wait to call in again, not least because when I last re-visited the city in July 2020, the pub had decided that it would simply not be possible or practical for them to open given the restricted number of customers they could accommodate due to social distancing requirements. And so, as I walked along the Quayside towards Ouseburn in the warm sunshine one afternoon, I noticed that as the pub came nearer into view, the beer garden on the slope below was unusually empty, with the Free Trade itself a forlorn sight, alone and seemingly abandoned on its eyrie above.

So my last visit was actually between Christmas and New Year, 2019, and at that point there was nothing to suggest that I wouldn't be able to visit again another 2 or 3 times as usual in the following year. Within a few weeks though we were facing lockdown and trips outside our local areas were out of the question with, of course, the pubs closed.

I only visited the Free Trade Inn for the first time a few years ago, following my daughter's move to the North East which led to me more often than not staying overnight in Newcastle. And as I normally stayed around the Quayside, it didn't take me long to wander down to Ouseburn, with its fine collection of pubs - the Cumberland Arms, the Cluny, the Tyne Bar, and of course, the Free Trade Inn. All have their good points - and my eagerness to return to the Cumberland in particular is very close behind - but the Free Trade is the one I have missed the most.

I walked in that first time into an L-shaped room, with a corner bar facing you as you go in through the front door. The place was crowded with a scrum of drinkers, but easing my way through to see the beers on offer, I spotted a number of handpumps, one serving Echelon, the pub's house beer brewed by the mighty Almasty, and another the wonderful Jarl from Fyne Ales, as has been the case virtually every time I have been in since. The remaining pumps were serving guests from local brewers like Errant, Tynebank, and Box Social. There were also a number of beers on tap, but after a quick debate with myself, I opted for the local Almasty rather than the Jarl. And because of the hazy, juicy hoppy, delights of this 4% pale ale, I have normally ordered it on every subsequent visit.

Stars of the formidable beer line up at the Free Trade Inn

I squeezed past the drinkers at the bar with my pint, and sat at a table beside a free juke box which was playing some classic tunes. I looked around. Somewhat shabby, unassuming decor. A cat snoozing peacefully on a nearby stool amidst the hubbub. The pub that evening was pretty full with a real mix of people of all ages - students, locals, visitors, a few bohemian types. The atmosphere was superb. The beer was wonderful. Quite simply, it had everything that marks out a great pub. Someone left who had been sat on one of the stools by the window. I decided to move and grab the spot, and was presented with a wonderful view over the shimmering river and the symmetry of the bridges, as the sun bade a glowing, rosy good evening farewell, although the best uninterrupted view is from the beer garden across the road, unobscured by parked cars.

The River Tyne from close to the Free Trade Inn

Every time I have gone back since, whether it has been busy or with barely a soul inside, the pub has still exuded the same sense of purpose, of being an integral part of the local community, welcoming to all. The cat I mentioned earlier was a stray that wandered in a few years earlier and stayed until he sadly passed away. He was christened Craig David by the locals, and became a much-loved part of the pub's life, quite likely drawn by the same magical spell that the Free Trade casts over so many two-legged visitors.

No visit to the Free Trade is complete without a visit to the loo. I can only speak for the Gents, of course, but passing through a slightly smarter lower section of the pub, you turn left and there you are. Now many pubs over the years have had graffiti on their walls, but here it is taken to a new level, the place is almost alive with comments - some witty, some profane, some obscure, some profound. In a locality whose walls and bridges are rich in graffiti, the Free Trade provides its permanent indoor gallery.  

During the lockdowns of 2020, the Free Trade did start to trade again, offering beers and other essentials on a click-and-collect basis and started to offer local deliveries. They then started to ship nationally, and when I realised this it meant I had a lifeline by which to obtain some much-missed North Eastern beers. I have had mini-kegs from Almasty and Two By Two, and several deliveries of cans over the past few months. The beers aren't just from the North East, though, but all over; they stock a wide range of Belgian beers, plenty of cans and bottles from across the UK (I have recently had cans from the likes of DEYA, Beak, and St Mars Of The Desert), a wide range of ciders, snacks, and assorted merchandise. Whilst it can't compete with enjoying a pint in the pub itself, you can console yourself with the thought that you are at least helping the pub get through the current difficulties.

But as I said at the outset, I cannot wait until I am sat with a pint of Almasty in this wonderful pub once again. If I can get a window seat, great, if not, fine. I will be happy just to be there. And if you have ever been there yourself, you will know exactly what I mean....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. Lovely read, Chris.

    Oddly, only 2 new GBG entries in Greater Newcastle (micros in North Shields and Whitley Bay), not that I've much looked at the current Beer Guide since it was published. But I never go a year without a trip to the Toon, Tyne & Wear was my No.1 GBG county and the pubs are as good as the views.

    Might see you there when it re-opens !

    1. Thank you Martin! A great pub in a wonderful city and area for beer!


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