Hard to believe that for my 34 years on this planet I’ve never visited Newcastle Castle. Must have walked or passed it on the Metro, heading into town hundred of times. Located high above the Quayside sandwiched between the High Level Bridge and main Railway line going into Central Station. The Newcastle Castle is very hard to miss!
The Newcastle Castle and the Black Gate
On the Friday of February half term holidays we decided to pay a visit. Joined by my friend Maxine and her children Leo (5) and Verity (10) who were also newbies to the castle. My car was out of action due to a scheduled MOT and service, so we were on public transport. This really wasn’t a problem though. The Q3 bus took us directly from our home in Gosforth to the nearest bus stop at The Gate. From door to door only a half an hour journey. No worries about finding a car parking space in the city centre. The Newcastle Castle is split into two buildings The Black Gate and the Castle Keep.
We purchased tickets on the second floor of The Black Gate (accessible by lift) for a bargain £6.50 for adults and £3.90 for children. A family ticket of 4 is available too for £15.90. Open from 10am to 5pm each day, we were all set to explore Newcastle’s Castle.
As we paid for the tickets the attendant informed us that children’s crafts were taking place on the 3rd floor at 11-3.30pm. Our kids love a good craft session, so we headed up and were met by the lovely Kathy. We had the whole place to our self, so no jostling for the pens and supplies. Brass rubbing, split pin knights and masks were on offer and lots of nice sparkly bits to decorate them. Kathy was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the castle and I was asking her about the refurbishments. The castle re-opened 2 years ago after securing lottery funding. To maximise the income stream as a registered charity the castle host meetings, conferences and school visits.
At 12 noon a guided tour of the grounds was taking place so we abandoned the crafts and went to find the guide. We were so pleased that we did! The tour was fascinating! Our guide Bill was clearly used to talking to children as he was engaging and funny. The children were tickled at the mention of wee and poo, which was dumped in the moat to keep out the baddies! Bill talked about the evil Sheriff of Newcastle who was partial to the liberal use of his prison. You would not want to cross this man!
As we moved around the grounds, he brought the history of the castle to life. From The Romans and Normans who had settlements within the grounds and moving to the last century. The Victorians nearly knocked the castle down as it was in the way of the industrialisation of the city and the railway. Thankfully due to public pressure, a diversion around the castle saved it! One of the best facts which I’ve already bored a few people about was that the turrets were a Victorian addition. Being the big romantics they thought it had a better ‘fairy tale’ aesthetic.
The Castle Keep
In an effort to burn off some of the lunch calories, a decision was made to head straight up the 99 stairs up to the viewing area at the very top. Well worth the trek for the amazing view and the chance for a few selfies with the Tyne and Millennium Bridge in the background. It is worth mentioning that the Castle Keep is not accessible to anyone with mobility problems or pushchairs. Take a baby carrier if you have little ones. It’s pretty much as the Normans left it, so be prepared for a lot of climbing, and exploring of the nooks and crannies.
Moving through the rooms, the children enjoyed a sword fight with the rubber swords and shields. So many interesting artefacts and displays to have a look at as you move around. The 30 metre well which at one time supplied all the fresh water to the castle was impressive. A form of medieval plumbing!
Housed in the impressive Great Hall, a Knight School was taking place. Staff explained that children as young as 4 would have been sent to Knight School away from their parents. Like a medieval Hogwarts! Their work would involve assisting the Knight until adulthood when they eventually get the job! Examples of the swords, jackets, chain mail were passed along. It took hours with the help of the trainee knights to be kitted out in the full regalia. Better to take your time though as consequences could be fatal!
At around 4pm, it was time to head back home. The Newcastle Castle was a real surprise to the Half Term lineup and I have been spreading the word. I would really recommend a visit here to learn more about the fascinating history of Newcastle. The views from the top are pretty special too and give you a warm Geordie sense of pride.
For information on opening times and admissions please visit www.newcastlecastle.co.uk. If you are planning a visit soon, please note Newcastle Castle will be closed to the public on 6th and 13th March to allow for renovations to be carried out.