It’s becoming something of a tradition to have a quick trip north just before Christmas and this year was no exception as Heather and I managed to squeeze a couple of days in Newcastle into a crowded December.
The train up from Kings Cross was reasonably timed and relatively fast so we soon found ourselves on a Sunday afternoon in Centurions having a drink. From there it was simply down the hill to the hotel (the same one as we’d stayed at in the summer). There I abandoned Heather (it’s not like she doesn’t know the city these days) and headed back up the hill to the cathedral at the top.
Sadly the football wasn’t as great as it could have been, contriving to lose the game deep into injury time. It also made traffic and buses which meant that once I’d slunk back down the hill and collected Heather we had some difficulty getting anywhere. One bus vanished, and the next was too full to actually take further passengers, at which point we walked over to Gateshead—only to not be able to work out the buses there (it’s been a long time since I caught a bus at Gateshead interchange). So in the end we found a taxi to take us to an Enchanted Park.
Enchanted Park fills Saltwell Park with mystery and light for a few nights each winter (one day I’ll actually get around to taking Heather there in daylight!). A visit is a big part of the traditional trip to Newcastle—I first went in 2014 and Heather has came with me every year since. After a return to form last year we were eager to explore this year’s theme of The House Of Lost And Found.
We were welcomed with a piece to set the scene beneath a tree strung with peculiar items which had been “lost and found” (a lamp shade, some speakers). I think something was happening around the bandstand too but it seemed strangely offset and out of the path. From there it was quite a walk down to an installation by Burning Lights of objects contained in cages hanging from branches of the trees. Some were recognisable and quirky (a false leg, a cyberman head), some less readily identifiable.
That long walk between points of interest quickly became a theme—this years pieces felt somehow more strung out than previously leading to periods of basically trudging through a dark park. There was the first of a number of displays of The Little Legionnaires of Lost and Found by Studio McGuire, who were responsible for last year’s remarkable taking statue projection. This year’s effort was less effecting, projections of small people on the environment in “search” for lost things.
There was a small, somewhat uninspiring, student installation and the first of a series of glowing words strung up throughout the trail, which at least helped break up the walking. We were actually now walking most of the way up through the dean, accompanied by not much more than a few standard smoke and light effects. Admittedly we then skipped the next big set piece, The Shadow Collector, partly because the queue to get near it was huge but also because that sort of lingering shadow trick is the sort of thing seen in art galleries and museums all over these days.
Skipping further up the hill there were more projected little people bringing us to the old country house at the heart of the park. Logically the halfway point it felt we had actually seen very little as we headed inside to wander the expanded crafts market (a plus for this year after last year’s offering). We set off up the hill again, finding a less than successful giant Kaleidoscope. The sets of drawers which formed Colour Curiosity were frankly pointless. What was supposed to be a interactive piece around the opening of those drawers seemed to be mainly broken. That was a very disappointing aspect of this year’s experience—it may have been the final night but one has the right to expect the pieces to be as in order as on the first night whereas there seemed to be an air of the whole thing fraying at the edges here, falling apart.
In the rose garden was one of the larger, and more successful, pieces. A burning garden of fire, surrounded by strung up messages of what visitors had both lost and found, by And Now. The installation was complete with a mysterious man cajoling and encouraging participants to write down and pin up there own personal lost & founds (Heather, of course, had a go) and revolving cylinders of silhouette pictures. We wandered reading some of the left notes, among the dancing flames, until we came out the far side and to a sign directing us to food.
A very welcome addition this year was the pitching up of some of the street food from By The River Brew Company (who’s offerings by the Tyne Heather and I had enjoyed in the summer), sitting by the lake. We screamed for two really good pizzas to fill us up (not so much need to warm us as previous years, with a mild winter night). Having sat and ate we made our way back to the main trail and a series of speakers, held floating between the trees by umbrellas. The installation by Aswarm played back voices speaking of lost and found things. I think all the umbrellas should have glowed but again degradation seemed to have crept in and many sat unlit—a real shame.
That led us on to the octagonal green and by far my favourite piece this year, Nova from Studio Vertigo (who also produced one of my favourite installations of last year, in Ursula Lassos The Moon). A gently hissing and smoking star sat, incongruous, mysterious and unexplainable.
A few more bits and pieces awaited. More little projection people leading the way to a rather too dark and seemingly out of narrative hall of mirrors before further strung up glowing words (Together, forever, between the smoke and mirrors” being, at least, a nice phrase) headed us towards the exit.
So, not the worst experience but overall slightly below average and let down by what looked like a lack of maintenance to ensure the last night of opening was as good as the first. We caught a bus into Gateshead and sat pondering the experience in The Central before heading across the river to bed.
After Heather had found some breakfast in the hotel we headed up the hill into the city centre. There the Christmas markets filled the streets around Grey’s Monument and held our attention while we hunted out Christmas presents. That did leave us with quite a lot of heavy shopping so once we’d found our way into the Charles Grey (which sadly seems to be deteriorating before our eyes—it really is in need of some investment) I made a quick trip to the hotel and back (those hills keep you fit!) to drop off the shopping.
We wandered around some more, taking in the Christmas stylings of Eldon Square and surrounds. We called in the The Junction having found the The Goose too full. Food called, which meant a visit to Stack where I again enjoyed the glory of a Yorkshire pudding wrap.
That was followed to a new pub for Heather (yes, there still are some in Newcastle!), Lady Greys providing a rest and a drink. By the time we left it had gotten dark enough to enjoy yet another tradition, Fenwick’s Christmas windows. The them this year was the Snowman, so we did the obligatory ohhhing and ahhing at the display (which over the last few years has began to feel a little more commercial than memories of my youth), laughing at the cheek of the Greggs opposite reversing their sign so it would appear correctly in the window reflection, and being mildly disappointed they hadn’t included one of the loved snowdogs.
We headed back towards the hotel, only calling into Brewdog on the way down because we needed a wee! We did make it back eventually, so we could drop off even more shopping and have a rest before heading for one of our favourite restaurants, visiting the tinsel covered horse at The Herb Garden, which fed us very tasty food and cocktails. Full and a little tipsy there was time for a couple on the way back to the hotel in the Bridge Hotel before bed.
The next morning was the last of our little break and so as usual we went to leave the bags in the hotel. And there were bags. Having thought to be clever we’d only taken one case between us when we left home, but that now went we couldn’t fit everything new we’d bought to take back! It was pretty obvious we would need to buy another case but first, breakfast.
We headed up the hill via the still misty riverside and up the steps to the castle. That was on the way on a trip to my favourite place for breakfast (well, brunch) in Newcastle, the cafe bar at Tyneside Cinema (at least this time we didn’t have to wait for it to open). Having filled ourselves we headed to look for a case, starting by a taking a wander around the Grainger Market. It’s an interesting place to look around but it didn’t really help with our bag situation, the one stall selling luggage seemed fairly expensive—perhaps not a good sign for the viability of a market.
We retired to the Goose to consider our options over a pint, eventually deciding the best bet was to simply buy something cheap and cheerful from Argos. That did mean finding Argos; the arrangement of Eldon Square is a little different these days to the mental map in my head that dates to my late teens (some of the shops have changed two or three times).
Having acquired more luggage space we returned to the hotel and repacked (though either then or earlier I managed to lose my hat 🙁 ) and headed once more up the hill to Centurions and a train home. Arriving there we did have time for a quick visit to the Tailor’s Chalk for food before another sleep ended our lightning street.
There were of course many more photos