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Jog on the Tyne

07 Feb 2017

Time for a bit of a confession. I hosted a run around Newcastle to blow away the cobwebs after day 1 of the BIM Show Live home coming and to offer some of the hospitality my adopted region is famous for. Not many people made it out of bed to join me, but those who did received what I think was a pretty good run down of the architectural history of Newcastle. I was asked whether I’d been up all night researching, which I hadn’t, but I have had this book on my desk for the bulk of my career. Two of the three authors, Peter and Paul, were tutors on my route to qualifying as an architect, and buying their book seemed like the right thing to do to pay them back for their efforts. As it turns out its excellent and my copy is thoroughly thumbed. But I confess, not all of my knowledge is from my own exploring.

At the request of Duncan Reed, who did brave the early start, I’ve tried to capture some of the best bits from the route.

We started in the Stephenson Quarter, home of Stephenson’s workshop where he built his famous Rocket. We met in the impressive lobby of the new Crowne Plaza and had a good laugh at someone’s expense for bringing his running shoes all the way to Newcastle to stay in bed (you know who you are). We then passed the police station with its mix of double skinned glass façade and refurbished listed buildings which I had the pleasure of working on a few years ago. Heading away from the river we passed Terry Farrell’s Centre for Life, a museum for all the family and the home of all sorts of futuristic genetic experiments which have generated world leading results, but is also to me just a little bit fascinatingly creepy.

Heading north up St James Boulevard shows the strategy of the city, blending old and new by clearing land for adventurous development. There’s a real sense of regeneration in this area, leading up to the enormous football stadium which dominates the skyline with its external steelwork. Taking a right at the foot of the stadium past a well-preserved length of the original city wall and through the Chinese Gate into Stowell Street instantly changed the flavour, and the smell. The restaurants and oriental bakery were already hard at work even at just gone 7am. With hanging lanterns, and a serious enthusiasm for neon signage, Newcastle’s China Town is a vibrant experience at any time.

An unlikely left at some disappointingly placed housing took the route to the historic Blackfriars, a unique city centre medieval monastery which hosts one of world’s oldest dining rooms which serves a great Sunday roast if you’re in town at the weekend. A quick chicane through some narrow back streets and we popped out at The Gates and the backside of Eldon Square shopping centre. Architecturally, we could now be in any city unfortunately, but consumerism isn’t famed for its firmness commodity and delight … moving on… up the bank towards the eclectic mix of Royal Victoria Infirmary buildings. Keeping the route under 5miles, meant a lap of Leazes Park was out of the question. Cutting through the Newcastle University campus, past the wonderful Victorian Hancock Museum, now known as the Great North Museum and tastefully extended and restored by Sir Terry Farrell, into the grounds of the Civic Centre with its unusual seahorse crown, then into Northumbria University Campus; a mix of the old and new like Newcastle University, but has a markedly different approach to space; less Hogwarts, more South Bank.

Under the experimental 1970s Mea House structure and over the much-improved John Dobson Street, took us onto Northumberland Street, and down to Greys Monument entering the heart of the city, then heading down the wide and glorious Grey Street, a winner of ‘Britain’s Best Street ’ home to the Theatre Royal and a whole host of classical architecture before dropping down Dean Street, a steep hill to the Tyne.

Along the famous Quayside, we past our third Greggs on the route so far (for those in the South, Greggs is a North-East pastry based institution with a whopping 31 stores in Newcastle alone) and the quite excellent and architecturally obscure Crown Courts building which kick-started the regeneration of the waterside. One of the later Quayside interventions was next as we crossed the Millenium Bridge over to Gateshead to get up close to the Baltic Gallery and the Norman Foster designed Sage Gateshead concert hall.

Despite my best efforts to not kill any of the BIM crowd off, what goes down must go up, under the iconic Tyne Bridge and up the short but steep Bottle Bank, passing the ancient St Marys Church site with the current 12C church. I was starting to blow a bit on the hill so I barely mentioned this site and it’s history which has been traced back t before the Romans. The Tyne Bridge is much better to look at than cross, so we headed past the quirky Central pub, and over the High Level Bridge, a legendary piece of railway engineering, to the Castle Keep.

Passing the Black Gate (with Duncan’s commentary best not written down) with the NBS HQ to our left and St Nicholas’ Cathedral to the right we entered the infamous Bigg Market. Historic, boozy and in need of its upcoming refurbishment the party central from my student days is looking a little sorry for itself. However, a left on to Grainger Street at the new mega-Greggs never disappoints with more brilliant classical architecture leading us down to the recently restored and upgraded Central Station. A quick peak at St Mary’s Cathedral, from outside another Greggs, brought the tour to an end before popping into the excellent and well-hidden Pink Lane Coffee.

BIM Show Live is coming back to Newcastle next year, so I’ll be planning another run, hopefully with a whole year’s notice you can bring your running shoes next time and come and see the city with me , and I’ll make sure the route is tuned to perfection, passes even more Greggs and, of course I’ll be picking up the tab for the coffee to get you all set for Day 2 of #BSL18 with your hangover left at the bottom of the Bottle Bank.