Newcastle City Centre Circular Walk
This 3.4km (2 mile) walk takes you around some of the key sights in Newcastle City Centre including Grey’s Monument, Grainger Market, Grey Street, the Castle, Central Station, the West Walls, Chinatown, St James Park, St Nicholas Cathedral and even a small vampire rabbit! Just take your time, enjoy the beautiful buildings, stop for a coffee and cake, leisurely lunch or pint of ale in an old Newcastle pub!
We start this walk at The Guildhall building, down near the Quayside by the Tyne Bridge, shown as a green star on the map below.
The Guildhall – once the centre of the commercial life of the area, it has recently been transformed into a Tourist Information Centre. Behind it you’ll see the River Tyne and five of its bridges: The High Level (1849); The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge (1981); The Swing Bridge (1876) , Gateshead Millennium Bridge (2001) and, of course, The Tyne Bridge (1928), Newcastle Gateshead’s most famous landmark.
Facing the Guildhall, turn right to walk along Sandhill. On the right hand side of the road you will find Bessie Surtees house, an Historic England property.
Bessie Surtees was the eldest daughter of a Newcastle banker. She eloped with John Scott (he was from a poor family and her family considered him not up to scratch) and this is the actual window she climbed out to elope with him. Their fate? Bessie’s parents eventually accepted the marriage and John went on to become Lord Chancellor of England. Talk about a window of opportunity!
Continue along Sandhill until you find some steps on your right hand side called Castle Stairs. Climb to the top of these where you will come out by Newcastle Castle and Moot Hall.
For an alternative step free route, return back along Sandhill towards the Guildhall, turn left into Side, go under the arches and keep left going up Side until you reach the back of Black Gate in the Castle complex where you can rejoin this walk below.
New Castle (Map Point 1). At the top of Castle Stairs you will find the spot which gave Newcastle its name. In 1080, Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror, was ordered to build a “new castle” on the high ground overlooking a crossing point on the River Tyne. This new castle was a royal castle and was often home to the early Norman kings – somewhere they could hold court, sit in judgement and entertain. The Keep was the principal stronghold of what would have been a much larger castle complex than survives today. If you climb to the top of the battlements you will be rewarded by a bird’s eye view of the city. To the right at the top of Castle Stairs you will find Moot Hall.
Moot Hall (1812) – “Moot” is an old English term meaning a meeting place. Usually a meeting place of judges or magistrates and where sentences or punishments could be announced. This Moot Hall was designed by architect John Stokoe who was influenced by the classical style of ancient Greece. Walk around the outside of the Castle Keep until you see cobble stones set into the pavement. These mark the position of the Roman Fort, Pons Aelius.
Continue your walk beneath the railway arches and ahead of you is another significant part of the castle complex which is Blackgate. This massive gateway originally strengthened the defences of the castle on its vulnerable west side.
Exit from Blackgate onto St Nicholas’ St and when safe to do so cross over into Westgate Road. Continue along here until the corner with A186 Neville St where you will find The Literary & Philosophical Society Library (Map Point 2).
The Literary & Philosophical Society Library was opened in 1822, one of its claims to fame is that it housed the first public room in the world to be lit by the electric light when Sir Joseph Swan demonstrated his new incandescent light bulb. Pop inside to admire this hidden gem.
On the other side of Neville St you will find the statue of George Stephenson (1781-1848) – the design improvements and engineering skills which he introduced proved that steam locomotives could transport both goods and passengers economically and efficiently.
Continue along Neville St until you reach the Central Station (Map Point 3).
Central Station – North-East England has a strong connection with railways and it’s appropriate that this walk takes in one of the city’s most striking buildings, Newcastle Central Station. From the entrance to the Metro station on Neville Street walk towards the huge arches of the station. Designed by John Dobson, it is regarded as one of the most important train sheds in the country, and it dominates this area of town.
You’ll find the entrance beneath the arched area. It’s well worth having a look inside the station to witness first hand the magnificence of this Grade I listed building. Turning left at the entrance which led into the station, you’ll notice a bar/bistro, The Centurion. This place was originally where first class passengers used to rest their bustles and the bar area exudes elegance. In 1893 the railway company decorated the room with specially commissioned, hand-made Burmantoft tiles, which were very expensive and not usually used in public buildings. However, in a move which would have had those elegant Victorians spluttering into their Earl Grey, this wonderful décor disappeared from view when the British Transport Police moved into the building and painted over the tiles with a garish shade of red. The room is now restored to its original splendour, and has a beautiful interior (see picture below).
Continue along Neville St past the train station, cross over at the traffic lights when safe to do so, and continue your walk up Bewick St.
On your left you will see St Mary’s Cathedral Neville Street. Six different architects worked on the church including, between 1842-44, Augustus Welby Pugin who also worked on the design for the Houses of Parliament in London. At the top of the steps on your left you’ll see the statue of Cardinal George “Basil” Hume, former leader of the English Roman Catholic community, and devoted Newcastle United fan! Cardinal Hume is shown wearing his Benedictine monk’s habit.
Turn right into Thomas Bewick Square then left into Pink Lane. Continue to the end of Pink Lane and turn left onto A186 Westgate St. Cross over when safe to do so and head towards the green lawns next to the West Walls (Map Point 4).
These are remaining sections of the defensive Town Wall, built in the 13th and 14th centuries at a time when the North of England was under frequent threat of invasion, during hostilities with Scotland.
Continue along the West Walls and turn right into Stowell St, then right again into Friars St. Continue along Friars St until you see the small arched entry way into Blackfriars Courtyard (Map Point 5) on your left.
Blackfriars (Map Point 5). The first thing you’ll notice is the noise. There is none. This little haven is one of Newcastle’s hidden gems and, befitting the quiet air, was once home to Dominican friars who arrived here in 1239. The church that was once here was destroyed during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, but its outline is still visible today. The building the friars used as their eating area is now an award winning bistro/restaurant, Blackfriars, which also has tables outside on the greenery, so you can grab a bite to eat in the tranquil air of this delightful square. Alternatively bring your own sandwiches for a picnic.
Continue across Blackfriars Courtyard to the far side and turn left onto Dispensary Lane. Turn right onto Stowell St and walk to the top where you will see the large Chinese Gateway (Map Point 6) to your left with the imposing St James’ Park football stadium beyond.
Stowell Street is at the heart of Newcastle’s Chinatown and you’ll be greeted by a wonderful array of aromas. Beyond you will see St James’ Park.
St James’ Park, now a gleaming glass, steel and concrete icon of the Tyneside skyline, St. James’ Park is actually one of the oldest association football grounds in the country. Historically, a hospital and chapel named St. James’ stood near to where the Hancock Museum building now stands in Newcastle. In 1542, the master of St. Mary’s and St. James granted a lease of land and plots that extended to Castle Leazes. St. James Place was later built on the site and the area continued to develop to where the football ground now stands, featuring St. James Street, St. James Terrace and Leazes Terrace by the early 19th century. Fast-forward to that first match on the site in 1880 and it’s easy to see why the ground immediately became known as St. James’ Park. At either end of the ground now are the Leazes End and Gallowgate End – one named after the neighbouring Leazes Park and Leazes Terrace, and the other after the city’s infamous gallows – last used in 1844.
Turn right at the end of Stowell St into St Andrew’s St. Continue to the end (on your left is St Andrew’s Church) and turn right into Newgate St.
Structurally, St. Andrew’s Church contains more 12th century work than any other in the area making it “the oldest church of this town”.
Continue along Newgate Street and you cannot miss the arresting façade of the Co-op building.
The Co-op building originally housed the Co-operative Wholesale movement, and is a great example of the Art Deco style, popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Pop into the North or South tower and take a look at the stairwells with the little human figures carrying the handrails, another superb Art Deco touch.
Adjoining the Co-op is The Gate – home to a plethora of swish bars and restaurants. You’ll notice the glass and steel sculpture ‘Ellipsis Eclipses’ by Danny Lane on the corner outside.
Turn left into Clayton St then right into Nun St.
On your left you will find Grainger Market (Map Point 7). Thought to be designed by John Dobson – who worked closely with Grainger (see Grey’s Monument below) – the market contains many shops which have been in the same family for generations, and is still home to one of the original Marks and Spencer’s Penny Bazaars (built in 1895, with its shop front being the smallest, and oldest, still surviving today.)
Walk through Grainger Market and exit onto Grainger St. Turn left to walk up towards Grey’s Monument (Map Point 8).
Grey’s Monument (Map Point 8). When it comes to grandiose views, Earl Grey – former Northumberland MP and Prime Minister – has got it spot on. He’s the fellow perched atop Grey’s Monument, casting his gaze down the street which he gave his name to. Grey Street (voted the most beautiful in the country by the listeners of BBC Radio 4 and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment CABE) is indeed a magnificent sight and the work of visionary property developer Richard Grainger (B.1797). Starting in 1834, Grainger set about transforming Newcastle, with his classically designed streets all part of his “City of Palaces” blueprint. Grey’s Monument itself is regarded by many as the centre of modern Newcastle and was erected in 1838 to commemorate Earl Grey’s achievements in passing the Great Reform Bill of 1832. Behind the Earl is Blackett Street and the Emerson Chambers building, a fine example of the Art Nouveau style.
In this area you will also find Tyneside Cinema (on High Friar Lane), one of the few independent cinemas remaining in England. It still boasts a delightful 1930s Art Deco auditorium and café bar underneath. Also, on John Dobson St you will find the Laing Art Gallery. The Laing celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004. When you’ve availed yourself of the gallery’s wonderful collection and emerge from the glass fronted entrance/exit, you’ll find the next attraction beneath your feet. This is the Blue Carpet – a tiled area completed in 2002 by artist, Thomas Heatherwick and winner of several arts’ awards, though sadly a little faded these days!
Turn right from Grey’s Monument at the top of Grainger St into Grey Street.
Many have fallen in love with Grey Street, none more so than the former poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman, who once commented: “I shall never forget seeing it to perfection, traffic-less on a misty Sunday morning. Not even Regent Street, even old Regent Street, London, can compare with that subtle descending curve.” The street is the jewel in the crown of Grainger Town, a clearly defined conservation area in the middle of Newcastle, which was the brainchild of property developer, Richard Grainger, who began his re-modelling of Newcastle back in 1834.
As you start to walk down Grey St, look out on your right for the entrance to Central Arcade.
This is a beautifully tiled Edwardian arcade built in 1906 and another of Grainger’s creations.
Walk through Central Arcade and out the other side onto Market St. Turn left to head back to Grey St. Turn right onto Grey St, where you will be in front of the Theatre Royal (Map Point 9).
The Theatre Royal opened in 1837, this beautiful Grade I listed building was massively renovated in 1986 and is now the third home to the Royal Shakespeare Company (after London and Stratford upon Avon). It is one of only nine Grade I Listed theatres in England and is regarded by many as the UK’s finest theatre building. In September 2011, a major, £5 million, six-month restoration was completed to recreate Frank Matcham’s classic 1901 Edwardian design. Using Matcham’s 1901 template for the decorative scheme, the original wallpaper has been reprinted, lost tilework reinstated, original fixtures and fittings replaced and original designs faithfully recreated, incorporating truly amazing levels of luxury and astonishing amounts of gold leaf.
Continue down Grey St until you reach the next road on your right, High Bridge.
High Bridge (& Old George Yard tucked away behind it) is one of the oldest streets in Newcastle, and home to some lovely boutiques and independent retailers.
Our walk will be taking us left into Cloth Market from High Bridge, but worth a little look at the end of High Bridge is Bigg Market.
This is where medieval Newcastle citizens once sold and bought a type of barley known as “bigg”. Towards the top end of this paved area (up the hill) you’ll see the Rutherford Memorial. It commemorates John Hunter Rutherford, a Scottish doctor and educational reformer of the mid 1800s, and a strong advocate of temperance. Today the area is the playground for young revellers, drawn by the sheer weight of pubs, and the inscription on the monument – “water is best” – is unlikely to challenge their belief that “Bacardi Breezer is best”. Look above Pop World pub and you can see the small white crescent moons which are a reminder of its past as an old coaching inn. Other notable features of the area include the wonderful tiling of the Beehive pub (spot the bees!); The Old George pub (walk down the alley and notice the building opposite which was once a stable. The pub has been in existence since 1690); and Balmbras (now a brash 80s fun pub, but in the 19th century, where the Geordie anthem, “The Blaydon Races”, was first sung).
From High Bridge turn left into Cloth Market and walk to the end where it meets A186 Mosley St.
Mosley St was the first street in Newcastle to be lit by gas – in 1818 – and the first street in England to be lit by Joseph Swan’s incandescent light bulbs in 1881.
Cross over Mosley St at the crossing when safe to do so to see St Nicholas Cathedral ahead of you (Map Point 10).
St Nicholas Cathedral, the elegant Lantern Tower (1448) is particularly ornate and the cathedral’s crowning glory. Inside there are a host of interesting features (guidebooks are available).
On leaving the cathedral exit onto St Nicholas Church Yard, turn right along this road, then follow it round to the right at the back of the Cathedral.
As you walk along here towards Amen Corner look out for a doorway on your left with a rather strange little animal sitting above it, otherwise known as The Vampire Rabbit (or the Fanged Hare!) One of the more striking sights in town, no-one knows for sure why it is actually there. In the south corner of this enclosed area is a bust of 18th century local artist and wood engraver, Thomas Bewick. Bewick was a pioneer of wood engraving, and his workshop once stood on this site.
Turn right onto Amen Corner and follow this along until it reaches the road called Side. Turn left onto Side and follow it down to the left behind Black Gate that we saw towards the start of this walk.
At the roundabout under the arches, continue straight ahead along Side following it all the way back towards the Quayside and the Guildhall building where this walk began.
Overview of Route:
Certain images and all route information are Copyright Walk Run Cycle Limited – you are free to use if you attribute and link them to “WalkRunCycle.com”