This has to be in my top five things to do and see in Newcastle!
Last weekend was the public re-opening of two incredibly important buildings in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne; the Black Gate and the Castle Keep. The Castle gives Newcastle it’s name and has recently been renovated and restored with Heritage Lottery funding.
As a local, this was such an exciting development. I had no idea what to expect and wanted to go and just experience this brilliant site. This is an important area in terms of the history and heritage of this city and the settlement of its people. I love exploring cities and finding out about how they became established. St Nicholas Cathedral is one of my favourite buildings and I was about to find out how important Newcastle Castle was for Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
The Black Gate is where visitors pay and the entrance hall has information including a 3D map of the whole site. In Medieval times, Newcastle was actually known as Castle Garth and housed people in the shadows of the magnificent cathedral and the stronghold known as Castle Keep. Tenements were overcrowded and crime was bad. The sheriff lived in part of the castle grounds and kept groups of prisoners in small stone cells underground. We walked around outside and were able to see these cells and the remaining walls of where the sheriff lived.
As you walk from the Black Gate towards the Castle Keep, go under the arches of the bridge to discover more. There are foundations of an Anglo-Saxon church under one of the arches and when excavating, graves were uncovered with ancient skeletons. Information boards around the whole site give you great historical detail.
The Black Gate itself is a stunning building and gateway to the site. It was the latest edition to the site and proved very useful as a defence. It now houses teaching rooms, a museum of antiquities and information about Castle Garth and its people. This part of the site is also fully accessible for wheelchair users, find out more here.
For years, I’ve walked past St Nicholas’ Cathedral without really understanding how central this building was to the community of Newcastle since medieval times. A stunning piece of architecture in the landscape of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, it also served as a prominent navigation point for ships on the river for over 500 years. As described below, the unusual lantern spire would shine a light to give sailors a point of reference when guiding their boats.
It has stood in its current position since the Norman era, according to the earliest parts. However, most of the structure is 14th to 15th Century. It still has a remaining portion of medieval stained glass and the same 15th Century bells chime daily.
We next moved on to the Castle Keep building just around the corner from the Black Gate. I love exploring castles in particular because they are usually places where history has been made and where famous people, like royalty, have spent time. Newcastle Castle is no exception!
Newcastle Castle was a stronghold on the borders of Scotland during a time of war between the neighbouring countries. English soldiers were rallied here before meeting Scots on several occasions in history. It was the site of a bloody three month siege and people were imprisoned during its existence. This building has been at the centre of Civil War and has housed members of the Royal family and nobility.
Walking up to the formidable entrance, the idea of this building as a fortification is clear. Steep steps lead to a huge, heavy double door of solid wood and metal. The ancient stone is thick and has stood the test of time. Its simply magnificent.
Inside, there are so many great spaces. I honestly had no idea how much you can see and learn about in one place. There is a museum with ancient artifacts saved by the Society of Antiquities in Newcastle. Seeing armour and a sword from hundreds of years ago was fantastic. I can’t imagine moving around wearing something so heavy and inflexible. There are lots of artifacts linked to war and imprisonment and brilliant information boards to learn about the history and how the castle was built.
There are rooms re-constructed to show how people lived inside. Some are quite luxurious with separate toilets. The rooms that housed VIP prisoners showed how very different imprisonment could be for the ruling classes. Prison cells we saw earlier were small and would have been squalid but not for nobility.
There is even evidence of graffiti from during the Civil War! So many people have walked these corridors and lived within these walls but the names carved into the stone make it real.
One of the most beautiful spaces in the Castle is the Royal Chapel.
It has some of the best preserved Norman decorative stonework in England. This space would have been reserved for royalty and the chaplain would have prayed for the health and wellbeing of the Royal Family here. Its so ornate and peaceful to experience in person. A must see.
Another favourite experience for me, was going to the top of the Castle. The views of Newcastle, Gateshead and beyond are some of the best around the city from here. There is also a lot of great information on boards to explain the surrounding area.
For a price of £6.50 per adult and just over £15 for a family of 4, this is a great value day out in Newcastle. There is so much to see and the children we saw exploring were having a brilliant time. Staff dress up and they have re-enactments to add to the atmosphere. Please see the official website to visit. You will not be disappointed!