Time for a little trip northwards to my lovely old home town of Newcastle as we hadn’t been in a little while. We went with plans to see some more far afield sights by it became dominated by some wonderful snowdog sculptures.
The problem with going north of course is getting out of bloody London, which didn’t go well to start with. The train into the city did a typical train thing and stopped half way. We were thrown off with little explanation or guidance (that catch all of “signal problems” being rolled out). The following train got us into London eventually, though to the wrong station. When we eventually reached Kings Cross we had easily missed our connection. Fortunately they allowed us onto the next train to Newcastle, but of course without a booked seat. That was fine until York where we ended up spending the last hour in the vestibule. No matter, when we reached Newcastle we found the first of the creatures which we were to spend much of the holiday tracking down. On the concourse stood our first snowdog!
The snowdogs are statues scattered over the city and wider region, based on the film, and designed to raise money for charity (namely St Oswalds hospice). Decorated in a variety of styles they are wonderful. We had found Snowline, but he wouldn’t be the last, discovering them becoming a little theme of our holiday.
To recover from the excitement of a snowdog and the complicated train journey we adjourned to Centurians, as is tradition. Then it was down the hill to get settled in the hotel. By then we were getting hungry, so it was back up the hill (ah, the hill, which would be tiresome by the end of the stay!) and towards China Town. We took the long way round, on the way we being delighted to find another couple of snowdogs, Rosa Canina by the monument and another by St James’s Park. We eventually found our way to the Red Diner though, which proved a fine choice for dinner.
Afterwards we finished the evening off winding the way back towards the hotel, via the Split Chimp, a new micro-pub in the arches of the railway near the station, and old favourite the Bridge Hotel, with its wonderful views across and along the river, before bed.
Saturday brought us out of the hotel and wandering around the city in search of further woof-woofs. Up by Eldon Square we found the Dog Father, who threatened to leave a ceramic horse’s head on our pillow if we crossed him. What we hadn’t expected to find, though perhaps should have given how trips away have gone this year, was an owl on Northumberland Street. Which meant that there was a pause while Heather held yet another bird of prey (I’ve lost count of how many that is over the last few months). A little way from the owl was Hound’s Tooth, appropriately decorated in a bright zig-zag.
We couldn’t keep looking for snowdogs all day though (much as we may have liked to), as we had plans. I put Heather on the Metro at Monument for her first solo journey out to some Roman bits while, after a quick change at the hotel, I headed off to worship at the football (the less said about that the better perhaps). Heather had rather more luck, finding another two snowdogs after her historic wanderings. We met back up in the Charles Grey (an old favourite) before getting changed at the hotel and heading to find some dinner in the really lovely Herb Garden (complete with roller-skating horse and a strange conversation with some slightly intoxicated visitors, one of whom got lost!)
After our nice dinner we meandered down to the quayside in search of further snowdogs. We weren’t disappointed, finding Tyne Tail Jack and Snowberry by the river. We crossed the Millennium Bridge as we thought there may be another snowdog on the Gateshead side. We didn’t find one but at least it gave the chance to sing Happy Birthday to the bridge, it being the anniversary of its being open to the public.
Back across the bridge we had it confirmed how awful the Pitcher and Piano is while briefly borrowing their toilets, but found much nicer respite in the Quayside Head of Steam for a couple nightcaps. On the way back to the hotel there was still time to find another snowdog, Hadrian’s Hound – Amicus Optimus (to give its full name) being just up Broadchare. Five snowdogs (seven for Heather)! What a day.
We were up and bouncy Monday morning for we had plans for a castle. It was in a different life when I was last at Prudhoe Castle and so we set off to visit together. The train from Newcastle was small and crowded but uneventful (Heather getting rather excited at level crossings) but I’d forgotten how hilly Prudhoe is! At least the weather had been kind as we toiled in sunshine up from the station to the castle itself. Prudhoe castle is quite picturesque, being fronted by a mill pond (and remains of one of the water powered mills). The barbican and gatehouse leading in up the steep hill are still impressive. Within the walls the later manor house forms a confusing but not unsympathetic bulk across the bailey. Beyond and attached looms the keep, crumbling now though some angles still give a good impression of what it would have once looked like. Its falling state also produces a peculiar cross-section in areas, stairs revealed climbing within the thickness of the walls for instance. I’m still trying to work out what the mysterious holes in the centre of the keep’s floor were though.
Back in the bailey there are a jumble of foundations where various halls and ancillary buildings once stood. The location of the original great hall is obvious from the remains of the windows cut into the curtain wall (complete with stone window benches) but the rest is a little overlaid. There is a brewhouse, with clear oven and trough, and the kitchens seem to live in one corner in a confusion of building. The east tower is better preserved but sadly not accessible to the public.
The other wall towers are also hidden, one now behind a later stable block and another reduced to foundations. The well preserved gatehouse does offer a chance for exploring, a neat little chapel at first floor level incorporating a peculiar little oriel window which juts almost over the wall walk. The two-storey latrines in the curtain walls are also well preserved!
Having explored the interior was walked around the outside, pleasant woods now surrounding around half the exterior. There was further exploration of the old mill and the stream leading down the hill from it before we decided to head back for the big town. We briefly considered a stop off in Prudhoe itself but really didn’t fancy the climb up the hill and so called into the Adam & Eve by the station to await our train
Snowdogs and Pubs
Arriving back in Newcastle we spent a bit of time trying to find Fear of Emptiness, a snowdog by the Crowne Plaza hotel. I think part of the problem was that in my mental map of Newcastle such a place simply doesn’t exist; there’s been quite a bit of redevelopment that side of the station in recent years! Finally successful in our quest we headed round to the Bridge for a rest and then on to Wor Geordie, the snowdog by the cathedral, who was one of my favourites. By now we were tired out from the day, and were planning an early start in the morning, so it was a quick dive into Victoria Comet for some dinner before bed.
We were up early and heading for the station to go somewhere I’d passed through but not visited for many years. When I was a younger person my “Uncle” Rod (really my mother’s cousin) and family lived in Berwick. We’d occasionally visit when I was a child but it must be a long time since I was actually last there (Rod et al are all gone now, sadly). It’s always a grand approach on the train, sweeping into the station across the river atop Robert Stephenson’s glorious Royal Border Bridge.
Beside the station they’ve developed a lovely little park which we walked down the hill through. We were glad we did, as the pathways afforded lovely views along the river, with the trains crossing the bridge high above. There were some of the only remains of medieval Berwick (it was involved in border disputes for that many centuries that defences kept getting rebuilt and swept away). The park led us down to the river itself, the path along the bank popular with dog walkers. That allowed us to look at the other bridges, particularly the seventeenth century Old Bridge, and sit awhile admiring the swans . The only problem with taking that route was our plans involved getting back up the steep hill. That at least took us past an entrance to an ice house before reaching a name from my childhood in Meg’s Mount.
Meg’s Mount is one of the bastions built into the Elizabethan defences of Berwick, the ramparts of which are one of the major landmarks. We climbed up for the unrivalled views of the river and across the town before heading down the nearby Marygate into the heart of the town centre. The guildhall stands there, looking much as it did when once painted by Lowrey (who visited Berwick frequently and painted many scenes there). We found the obligatory shop for souvenirs but not, as yet, the tourist information. By then it was lunch time so we deciding we’d better rest up with a drink and some food in the Brewers Arms, just within the walls.
Refreshed we worked out the tourist info had moved to the library, though the best part when we did find it was probably the large bear sat in the children’s section. Then it was off around the walls of Berwick, a trek I know I did when much younger but had forgotten the extent of. It wasn’t much hardship though, given the fine weather of the day and views out to sea. In fact the day was very pleasant as we made the turn at the Brass Bastion to parallel the shore. Passing the famous Berwick Barracks we rested around Windmill Bastion, which stands with the remains of older, war time gun emplacements. It also commands fine views down the Northumberland coast, both Lindesfarne and Bamburgh Castle being visible in the distance.
Reaching the Tweed the high ramparts give way to a quayside wall, complete with clear cannon positions. One cannon still stands, a captured Spanish beast, which I recall from my childhood. We past it and a tower which was medieval at its base before reaching a relocated (it wasn’t clear if they actually moved the building brick by brick or just rebuilt it) guard house, complete with “black hole” of a cell.
The tour brought us back round to the bridges, full circle from where we’d started earlier in the day. We headed towards town rather than straight up that steep hill, finding the nice little Curfew micropub tucked away with a pleasant courtyard to sit in. Then it was back up through the town centre, and the slightly gentler hill, all the way to the station and the train back to Newcastle.
Snowdogs, Of Course!
Getting back to Newcastle gave us the chance to find more snowdogs. We first hunted down Arthur by the Theatre Royal, before failing to work out where another dog was (we’d get him later). Passing a couple of by now old friends we were up to the top of Northumberland Street for a Psychedelic Snowdog before hunting around the civic centre in the dark to find Tails of the North East (another fine dog). We retired to the Five Swans (appropriate given our trip to Berwick). That also gave the chance to work out where our lost snowdog was (with the help of some Flickr searching), so it was we found the elusive Essence of the North, not where the maps or app said he should be!
Woof Woof Woof
By now we were becoming slightly obsessed with finding our ceramic furry friends, so what else was there to do but go hunting more snowdogs. We started inside Eldon Square itself with possibly our favourite of all the snowdogs we found, Roodle. Roodle is actually furry and so soft that you just have to cuddle him!
Just off Eldon Square is Eldon Garden, where we found something a little different, in a litter of snowpups! While the snowdogs are decorated and designed by real artists there are numerous small versions which have been produced by schools in the region. Some of their output is frankly better than the full size dogs! Eldon Garden had a litter of six, welcoming us in a semicircle.
Back into the main shopping centre and another dog greeted us, Hound Dog taking on an Elvis theme. We found him on the way to the library, and another litter, this time scattered around the entrance foyer. I particularly enjoyed George, celebrating his Stephenson namesake.
We had to pause there on the dog hunt though, because we had to see some cats.
Mog on the Tyne is one of the growing number of “cat cafes” that are around. Basically one goes and has coffee and cake while a bunch of puddy cats freely wander around. They’ve caused some controversy from an animal welfare point of view, but the cats we saw all seemed very happy and well looked after, with quite a lot to occupy them in the public areas (as well as obvious places to escape attention), and a large amount of unseen space. It was obvious the staff (and regular customers) cared about the cats (all rescued from shelters), and the cats did whatever they felt without stress (mainly trying to steal food!)
We had an hour slot booked and so ordered cake and a drink and settled down. Obviously one shouldn’t feed the cats (at least, not human food—treats are different) but when Tyrian wandered across our table I found it very hard to say no before she’d nicked a couple of crumbs of cake. Another of the cats, Stan, has a habit of sitting by the kitchen and looking hopeful, presumably in the anticipation of somebody mistaking him for an actual person. Stan eventually gave up and came to go to sleep next to me, which was lovely.
Back To The Dogs
We couldn’t stay to sleep with the cats though, much as I wanted to, so off we went up the road to more litle dogs, this time a litter hiding behind little fences in Fenwick’s toy department.
My dad has never been much of a cat person but we went to see him anyway. That was a trip on a Metro out to Gateshead Stadium, as he’s moved out that way now. They’ve built a lot of stuff round there since I was last at that station many years ago.
On the way back we stopped off at Gateshead (renamed Gateshound for occasion), because there were more snowdogs 🙂 In the station itself we were greeted by MOJO standing watching the passengers come and go. Outside, in the newly (and poorly) developed town centre Squares stood facing the peculiar sculpture outside Tesco. If he travelled through that sculpture and into the store, as we did, he would have found a whole long line of a little (sadly roped off a lot more than other snowpups seemed to be).
From there it was a walk down the hill to call into another Head of Steam pub, The Central, another fine establishment and favourite of ours. From there it’s an easy walk across to the wonderful piece of architecture which is the The Sage. Inside, with spectacular views of the Tyne, and the building’s interior, they had many snowpups spread out across the foyer. In the centre of them all, sparkling in the Sage’s colours, stood Disco Dog, a glittering statue. Best name probably goes the pub Neil Barkstrong who was indeed ready for space. Outside, heading towards the Baltic, was the dog we’d failed to find when we crossed the bridge on . Ziggy sits there, looking down at that bridge.
Finding snowdogs is hungry work, and so we headed for the hotel again and then just up the road to Marco Polo, one of our usual haunts in Newcastle and excellent quality as usual. And then, tired out, to bed.
Sadly we were running out of time to hunt down the wonderful snowdogs, but there was still just time left to kill two birds with one stone. Heather has long wanted to see Antony Gormley’s towering landscape close up, so we got up early to catch a bus to the Angel of the North. I’ve never been a fan of the thing myself but there was the bonus that out by the Angel was another snowdog, Dog on the Tyne. He was surrounded by little goodie bags for the school party which arrived shortly after us. We quickly had a wander round the angel (with obligatory arms out photos) before they surrounded it.
With a last goodbye to the snowdogs it was away, with just enough time to pop in and see Ralph in the Tap at Carter’s Well on the way. Then it was back to the hotel to collect our bags and finally the catch the train home.
There are no snowdogs in London (though it turns out, there are some in Brighton…I feel a trip coming on) but we extended our holiday in the Euston Flyer anyway, before finally making it home again.