The irrepressible city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne anchors England’s northeast. Set on the mighty River Tyne, this former industrial powerhouse’s steep hills are lined with handsome Victorian buildings, and many of its one-time factories and warehouses have been transformed into galleries, museums, bars, and entertainment venues. Newcastle’s nightlife is legendary, and reveling in an evening on the tiles here is a quintessential experience. Newcastle is also an ideal gateway for escaping into the northeast’s utterly wild, starkly beautiful countryside – from the rounded Cheviot Hills to brooding Northumberland National Park and the remote North Pennines. Spectacular Hadrian’s Wall cuts a lonely path through the landscape, dotted with dramatic fortress ruins that are haunting reminders of the bloody struggle with the Scots to the north, while the region’s unspoiled coastline takes in long, desolate beaches, wind-worn castles, and tiny, magical islands offshore.
POINTS OF INTEREST
Against its dramatic backdrop of Victorian elegance and industrial grit, this fiercely independent city harbors a spirited mix of heritage and urban sophistication, with excellent art galleries and a magnificent concert hall, along with boutique hotels, some exceptional restaurants, and, of course, interesting bars: Newcastle is renowned throughout Britain for its thumping nightlife, bolstered by an energetic, 42,000-strong student population. The city retains deep-rooted traditions, embodied by the no-nonsense, likable locals. Allow at least a few days to explore the Victorian city center and quayside areas along the Tyne and across the river in Gateshead, as well as the rejuvenated Ouseburn Valley to the east, shabby-chic Jesmond to the north, and, on the coast, the surf beaches of Tynemouth.
The mouth of the Tyne, 9 miles east of Newcastle, is one of the best surf spots in England, with great all-year breaks off the immense, crescent-shaped Blue Flag beach, which occasionally hosts the National Surfing Championships.
England’s most beautiful Romanesque cathedral, a huge castle, and, surrounding them both, a cobweb of hilly, cobbled streets usually full of upper-crust students attending England’s third university of choice (after Oxford and Cambridge) make Durham an ideal day trip from Newcastle or overnight stop.
The charming market town of Barnard Castle, better known as ‘Barney’, is a traditionalist’s dream, full of antiquarian shops and atmospheric old pubs. It’s a wonderful setting for the town’s twin draws a daunting ruined castle and an extraordinary French chateau.
Named in honor of the emperor who ordered it built, Hadrian’s Wall was one of Rome’s greatest engineering projects. This enormous 73-mile-long wall was built between AD 122 and 128 to separate Romans and Scottish Picts. Today, the awe-inspiring sections that remain are a testament to Roman ambition and tenacity. When completed, the mammoth structure ran across the island’s narrow neck, from the Solway Firth in the west almost to the mouth of the Tyne in the east. Every Roman mile (0.95 miles) there was a gateway guarded by a small fort, and between each milecastle were two observation turrets. Milecastles are numbered right across the country, starting with Milecastle 0 at Wallsend – where you can visit the wall’s last stronghold, Segedunum (p625) – and ending with Milecastle 80 at Bowness-on-Solway. A series of forts were developed as bases some distance south (and may predate the wall), and 16 lie astride it.
NORTHUMBERLAND NATIONAL PARK
England’s last great wilderness is the 405 sq miles of natural wonderland that make up the country’s least populated national park. The finest sections of Hadrian’s Wall run along its southern edge and the landscape is dotted with prehistoric remains and fortified houses – the thick-walled peles were the only solid buildings built here until the mid-18th century. Adjacent to the national park, the Kielder Water & Forest Park is home to the vast artificial lake Kielder Water, holding 200,000 million liters. Surrounding its 27-mile-long shoreline is England’s largest plantation forest, with 150 million spruce and pine trees. The lack of population here helped see the area awarded dark-sky status by the International Dark Skies Association in late 2013 (the largest such designation in Europe), with controls to prevent light pollution
Northumberland’s coast, like its wild and remote interior, is sparsely populated. You won’t find any hurdy-gurdy seaside resorts, but instead charming, castle-crowned villages strung along miles of wide, sandy beaches that you might just have to yourself.