Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

Remember the Tyne
24/05/2010, 20:06
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A couple of iPhone snapshots from Saturday evening by the River Tyne, which divides Newcastle and Gateshead:


Closer to home, the Central bar in Gateshead
07/05/2010, 17:51
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Dear me. I’ve been a little slack around these parts recently. Sorry about that. Lots to tell you about, and I’ll endeavour to do so in the coming days. I’ve loads to share about my trip to NYC in March, and news of perhaps the most daunting challenge of my life to date. More soon.

Meanwhile, the Twitchhiker book is into its third draft – currently there’s 25 per cent off if you order from Amazon; I’m not sure whether a book being reduced before it’s finished is good or bad news, but you could always buy it and judge for yourself. It won’t be 25 per cent worse for it, I’m certain of that.

Closer to home in Gateshead, and at something of a tangent to anything else mentioned so far, one of my favourite buildings is undergoing a facelift. The Central bar dates back to the mid 19th Century, and while it might be a hostelry I rarely frequented until recently (the ash-stained, toothless pensioners preferred their own company), it’s an adorable structure.

Designed in 1854 (the year of the Great Fire of Gateshead) and known locally as the Coffin, it occupies a wedge of land at the south west corner of the iconic Tyne Bridge. At the time it was built, the surrounding streets were the bustling thoroughfares of the town; Gateshead East railway station stood on the bridge immediately behind the Central.

In the decade since I moved to Gateshead, I’ve watched this corner of the world slowly regenerate from a slag-blackened heap of rubble and industry, and I’m delighted that somebody had the foresight to preserve one of the town’s most charismatic buildings. The Central was recently bought by a local bar chain who have spent tens of thousands of pounds restoring the brickwork, and after several months the covers and scaffolding have been removed:

Compare it to how the Central looked before the renovations began, in a photo by Paul White. Now the exterior is finished, work will start on the interior; the Central has a rather dubious past if you listen to the scuttlebutt, with hotel rooms on the first floor rented by the hour.

Soon it’ll be a live music venue with a rooftop bar, and will surely be one of the finest night-time venues in the region. If you’re passing through the north east of England in the coming months, make the effort to drop by; it’s a wonderful building in a neighbourhood that will blossom in the next couple of years, and I’ll probably be propping up the bar once or twice in there a week.

The Tyne of your life
03/08/2009, 09:13
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Twitchhiker - Popolo

My first double page spread for the Guardian – this guide to my adopted home city of Newcastle was published in a travel supplement for the paper on Saturday June 27th, and is lovingly re-created for you here:

The story goes that several years ago Newcastle was declared eighth-best party city on the planet. Not unexpectedly, the good folk proceeded to celebrate.

For too long that image of the people threatened to overshadow the gradual transformation of both Newcastle and Gateshead beyond their monochromatic ship-building roots. Fortunately, in the years that followed, the city matured into one of the most compelling and effervescent places in the country. There are few cities offering such a wealth of diverse experiences. And we know it, too; recent footballing under-achievements aside, everyone here is fiercely proud of what we have, far away from the clutter and splutter of London.


A leisurely stroll along the River Tyne is the best introduction to the history and regeneration of the city, as well as the majesty of the seven bridges that crisscross it. Gateshead Quays is dominated by the orange-brick might of the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, its impressive girth hosting internationally acclaimed galleries and installations. The metamorphosis of this former flour mill was a significant marker in Newcastle and Gateshead’s charge to become one of the country’s cultural focal points. Alongside is the Sage Gateshead, a rolling hillside of glass and steel which plays host to world-famous musicians and global conferences.

Newcastle’s Quayside is the oldest neighbourhood in the city, with graceful Tudor merchant houses nestling among the imperious Victorian properties. It’s here you’ll find the bars that made Newcastle famous a decade ago, but in recent years it’s become a mecca for foodies: walk south from the city centre down Dean Street, and your palette will tingle with delight at the menus on offer. Hei Hei is one of the top locally owned restaurants, a punchy, urban space that reworks traditional Chinese dishes, while the rather grand Indian restaurant Vujon sprawls across the ground floor of a Victorian town house and serves a boro chinghri bhoona (king prawns with garlic, ginger and onion) for which I’d wrestle a man with 10 arms. Continue reading

Twitchcast #1 – in which I plod around a park, say “erm” a lot and set you some homework
05/02/2009, 00:33
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , , , , ,

Several points worthy of your consideration before you watch this, the first of many Twitchcasts:

– It’s barely a month after Christmas and New Year, when I ate and drank an awful lot

– I’m just back from New York, where I ate and drank and awful lot

– At 6′ 4″ so I’m robustly built to begin with

– It’s a scientific fact that Vimeo YouTube adds 10 pounds to you

All of which goes to explain why I have a featureless face as round as the moon. I also seem incapable of forming coherent sentences, but given this was recorded in one take in freezing temperatures, you’ll forgive me on this occasion. I promise to project more and be far more articulate next time:

So there we are. Plenty of you will have travelled far more extensively than I have, so I’d like you help in beginning to determine what routes I can’t take, given that I can only ever plan my journey three days in advance. Any advice, please post it in the comments below. Ta!