Our Friends in the North East
Why I didn't make it to Wylam
Driving north from my native Essex there are a series of landmarks that trigger a feeling that I'm moving in the right direction: the will it / won't it congestion gamble where the end of the M11 meets the A14, the bushes that signify the end of the motorway section of the A1 at Peterborough, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR3 outside RAF Wittering, and the now sadly closed and boarded up Ram Jams public house. Next comes Stamford, then Grantham, then Doncaster, the cooling towers at Ferrybridge, the run to Scotch Corner, before we finally get somewhere that we always feel compelled to stop, get out of the car and marvel at its iconic majesty.
Anthony Gormley's Angel of the North never ceases to make me feel that arrived somewhere, and on this occasion that somewhere is a few days in Newcastle.
After settling in and unwinding a while at the quayside apartment we'd booked our first destination was, as it had been four years previously, The Bridge Tavern.
Situated between the stanchions of the famous Tyne Bridge, there's been an ale house on this site for around two hundred years. This was demolished when the bridge was built then rebuilt in its shadow, although if I hadn't been absolutely certain of where it had been last time we were there I'd have thought that I was in the wrong spot because, as the picture below shows, its former name of the Newcastle Arms is still proudly displayed on the stonework.
The Free Trade Inn had, over many years, taken on an almost mythical status for me. It had become the pub that I never quite made it to, fate intervening on every previous attempt. Tonight I was determined to make it.
As I got closer I could feel the anticipation building. They do say that you should never meet your idols, and was beginning to hope that this didn't apply to pubs as well. I needn't have worried. The Free Trade Inn was everything I'd hoped and more.
There'd been a Left Handed Giant tap takeover the previous weekend and quite a few of the beers were still on so, despite being warned by the attentive bar staff that they were pricier than some of the other beers I opted for a dry and bitter Cycle City IPA on keg which disappeared in no time at all.
Mr Vane) we headed out of town to the edge of the Roman Empire.
I didn't expect Vindolanda to offer much in the way of beer, however I was surprised to see that there were references to it on some of the tablets that had been discovered preserved in the mud there.
Twice Brewed Inn and Brewery which depending on which direction you're coming from is either in Once Brewed (East) or Twice Brewed (west). Dating from at least the 18th Century, this solid stone building is warm and inviting, standing up to the elements in this desolate part of Northumberland.
Thursday was our last full day in Newcastle and we were going to use it to explore the city properly at last.
We'd only booked our visit a couple of days before we went, and after I tweeted that I was finally going to do the city justice I was inundated with suggestions of places to go for both food, and of course drink. There were so many we couldn't hope to visit them all, and there were a few sights we wanted to see too, we tried to do our best.
Quay Ingredient, bacon and maple syrup on french toast if you ask, before we headed uphill to the Castle and on to the Discovery Centre where the children could play at being children and let their hair down a bit.
By The River Brew Co., a brewery that is as much on the river as it is by it. Opened in the summer of 2017, it was perfectly placed to take advantage of the magnificent weather, becoming the hottest spot on the Tyne in more ways than one. If you had any beery folk on your Twitter or Instagram feed from the Newcastle area then you will have most likely read or seen the buzz around this place.
As a first time visitor walking in I was confronted by a host of individual keg fonts with no obvious beer list or numbering system. Looking perplexed I asked what beer was on only to be pointed to the large chalk board to my right. Choosing Almasty's Breakfast IPA I was equally surprised when a seemingly unmarked font was approached and the beer poured. Spotting my expression the silver numbers on the bar top relating to the numbers on the board were pointed out to me by the man serving me, admitting that it had been a mystery to him too before he was shown.
@minkewales on twitter) to try nearby Meat:Stack who'd catered at her wedding, but looking at the list again we decided we wanted another drink here first.
We went for Summer Wine's Ripple Heights with its sweet aroma of raspberries and vanilla ice cream. This is a beer that would probably be too sweet for many and although I'd consider myself to have a relatively sweet tooth it was right on the borderline for me. This beer has a particularly good finish akin to a lingering frozen raspberry death rattle.
Meat:Stack didn't disappoint. We chose the upstairs bar in preference to the noisier, darker bar downstairs mainly because we all preferred it, and we did have the place to ourselves for most of our dinner.
I'd wanted Wylam to be my ultimate destination this evening, but as we made our way up Northumberland Street it was becoming apparent that the previous days exertions along Hadrians Wall coupled with the time we'd been out today meant that had started to look pretty unlikely.
The Town Mouse and, as it was close, this is where we went.
Warm and inviting, pretty much as soon as I'd walked in I found myself in conversation with the barman and another chap at the bar, I felt at home right away. There was only one table near the door, the chill of a late October evening keeping a space that we happily occupied.
One of the things that makes my heart sing most when I'm away is a beer selection full of beers and breweries I haven't tried before, and as the people of Newcastle are justifiably proud of their local beer scene and that of the North East of England, it had been my pleasure to drink beer from local breweries wherever possible. The beer list at The Town Mouse micropub was no exception.
Box Social were a brewery I'd heard Myles Lambert sing the praises of on the North East Sippin Forecast podcast and seeing that they had their Blackcurrant Ripple on keg was a temptation I didn't have to resist. Unfortunately for me, the barman proclaimed that he wasn't happy with the way it was looking so asked my to chose something else.
Reluctantly I opted for Wilde Child and Brass Castle's Adoption Process Passion fruit IPA, however no sooner had I paid for that than another beer appeared alongside it. Looking up, I was told that although he wasn't willing to sell it he was perfectly happy to give me a half to try as there was not really anything wrong with it.
Fortunately the Metro came to our rescue, and double-fortunately it took us directly to Newcastle Central Station, home to Centrale Beer Shop, although it did take a little while going up and down the platform until we actually found it.
Except there wasn't.
Those of you who have been paying attention will have noticed that our last full day in Newcastle was a Thursday. Re-checking the brewery opening times I realised that I had my dates wrong. Today was Friday, and I'd checked the opening times for Saturday by mistake. Wylam wasn't opening until five o'clock in the evening, far too late for us. It was time to make other plans.
Turning to Twitter I needed a different plan for our journey home. Twitter responded and we were soon on our way to ...
I'll leave that one for my next post.
There are so many people I need to thank for their help and advice in making my short stay in the Toon so enjoyable. Although I didn't get to meet up with Myles, who I mentioned earlier, on this occasion the excellent North East Sippin Forecast podcast is well worth a listen and is now hopefully back on schedule. Similarly Emma @minkewales for Newcastle recommendations, and Andrew her husband (previously @sheriffmitchell on Twitter, but no more) for an amazingly helpful email pointing out the best places to visit along Hadrians wall. We almost managed them all. Whoever manages the twitter account for The Free Trade Inn @TheFreeTradeInn, I really sorry we never actually got to meet. To all the people I met along the way and told them that my family history takes me back to the North East thank you for humouring me, you listened very attentively. And lastly but definitely not least, a huge thank you to Daisy (@daisy_turnell) who was, for all intents and purposes my virtual Newcastle tour guide. Thank you so much for all your help and suggestions, and the invite to the brand new Anarchy tap room that I sadly couldn't attend. I definitely owe you a beer.
Next time I'm going to get to Wylam.