For this months’s ‘My Kind of Toon’ interview, I’ve been catching up with the lovely Alex Iles who runs Iles Tours in Newcastle. As the name of his business suggests, Alex offers guided walking tours of Newcastle and the North East and he is as passionate as I am about spreading the love for Geordieland. I had the pleasure of joining one of his tours last summer and even though I’ve lived here for years, he still opened my eyes to things I’d never noticed before. So I was keen to pick his brains and find out what he loves most about living in Newcastle…
Q: How would you describe your life in Geordieland?
A: It’s fantastic! I came up here eight years ago to study at Newcastle University and decided to stay after finishing my studies. My Mam’s family is from this region so for me it was like coming home. Because I am a tour guide I spend most of my time exploring or reading about the North East, discovering new locations for myself and looking for things to show off the region.
When it comes to my regular haunts the first is my office at the Journey behind the Laing Art Gallery where I am usually found working! The other two are Earl Grey’s Monument and Newcastle Castle. I really enjoy siting at the Monument and watching people walk past in their daily lives. You can really feel the heartbeat of Newcastle when you sit there and I love seeing people going about their daily business. The Castle on the other hand gives me a historical perspective on the city to see the layers of history at the Castle Keep and Black Gate. It is good fun for me to imagine what Newcastle looked like over its history.
Q: Where are your favourite places to eat?
A: When in the office at the Journey I usually enjoy the food on offer which has a great lunchtime offer of a range of world foods from Lentil Dahl through to Chorizo and Chickpea stew. When touring I am likely to quickly pop into The French Oven (in the Grainger Market) for an on the go snack, their pies are a fantastic blend of Geordie staples and French cooking style.
The place I enjoy the most though is Bierrix on Pilgrim street – the smoked meats and the amazing range of beers on offer make it a wonderful night out and I recently had my birthday there with the Banqueting menu – we were stuffed and took food home to be enjoyed later!
Q: Where would you recommend for a fun filled day out?
A: For me this is the most difficult question I get asked on my tours – alongside ‘what is your favourite fact about Newcastle?’
This City has so much to offer to people. I really enjoy walking so I would start off on the Quayside and enjoy a walk along before going up to Newcastle Castle to enjoy the best views in the city. Following that I would go to the Tyneside Cinema in the afternoon for a film and then finish it off by going to the new Wylam Brewery in Exhibition park for a fun night out and some dancing! That would be a fun filled day out!
Q: Do you have any go to places for relaxation?
A: My friends joke that I walk for a living and walk to relax. If I want to relax I find calm in green spaces. I really enjoy Nuns Moor Park and the Town Moor because I live in the West End of Newcastle. If I need to get away from my thoughts I go up there to think. Occasionally I like going out to Northumberland National park or Tynemouth when I really just need to get away from urban life!
Q: What about romantic places for a date night?
A: Having recently started dating a fantastic lass this has become a personal challenge for myself! How do you create a romantic date without repeating the same haunts? One of my biggest successes was to take her on a walk through the Ouseburn and finish at the Free Trade in the Ouseburn at night time. The Beer Garden there gives you an amazing view of the bridges as they are illuminated by the city. The city is also amazing at night time and the Ouseburn is so relaxed that you will always find other couples who have come to relax and laugh at the same time!
Q: Is there an annual North East event you simply can’t miss?
A: For me the one that comes to mind the most is Fenwick Christmas Window. It is becoming a family tradition to try to see it in the first week before it becomes a usual part of Northumberland Street and really look at all the little details – this year with the Beatrix Potter window it was especially special as my mum used to read the stories to me and my brother when we were young.
Otherwise I love New Year – more so than Christmas. For me the idea of fresh starts and celebrating the old and welcoming in the new has a nearly tribal element to it. The Church I am a part of has a new years party and being there to welcome in the new year before going on a walk down through Newcastle and standing on the Tyne Bridge to think about the new and say goodbye to the old is becoming a tradition for me.
Q: What are your top tips to someone visiting Geordieland for the first time?
A: The first thing is to realise that you can walk everywhere in the city centre quite quickly and the Metro is your friend for everything else. You will get the best out of the city by exploring the streets on foot.
Another key element of the trip is to meet the locals; The best way to do that is to go to a pub and get a first-hand taste of the culture and find out how friendly people are up here. That in my opinion is why Newcastle is one of the greatest cities in the United Kingdom.
Q: How do you keep up to date with what’s going on in the North East?
A: For me, keeping abreast of what is going on is mostly done through word of mouth. As I need to know what is going on so I can tell people about it while I tour them, I am always talking to my contacts throughout the North East and finding out what their next projects are to see if I can explain to others what will be happening here next!
Q: Can You Describe Geordieland in 5 words?
Hospitable, Welcoming, Historical, Steadfast, Intriguing
I couldn’t agree more with Alex and I’d like to thank him for sharing his top tips with us! If you’d like to book one of his tours check out www.ilestours.co.uk or for more inspiration take a look at his Youtube channel.
Also, if you’re stuck for a last minute Christmas gift idea, Alex is am also vouchers for Iles Tours, just drop him an email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange!