I’m back from my hiatus to share my experience of visiting Newcastle city centre for the first time since a global pandemic came along and disrupted life as we know it!
Nearly six months had past since I’d been for a mooch around my favourite city and I had missed it soooo much! I was desperate to get back and enjoy some of my favourite pastimes; eating out, going to the pub, shopping on the high street and drinking proper coffee made by a proper barista.
However, if truth be told, six months of hibernation and worrying news reports had turned me in to a bit of a nervous wreck. My emotions have been all over the place recently and my self-confidence has probably never been lower. I knew the only way to get back to feeling like the old me was to start acting like the old me again, so a trip to the Toon was just what the Dr ordered!
NE1, the Newcastle City Centre Partnership, has put a huge amount of work in to making our great city as Covid-safe as it possibly can be. They’ve also come up with a new hashtag to spread the word about all the things you can enjoy in Newcastle again, #joysareback. Anyone else of a certain age want to burst in to song when they see it? I’ve been bellowing ‘The joys are back in town, the joys are back in town’ all week 🙂
I got to see the new safety measures for myself on Wednesday when I hit Newcastle with my trusty companion, Pat the Dog. Our first stop was the Tap Room at Wylam Brewery where I enjoyed a perfectly made, freshly ground coffee, it always tastes so much better when someone else makes it, doesn’t it?
There were floor stickers to encourage social distancing, a simple QR code to register for track and trace plus loads of outdoor seating, so I felt completely safe the whole time. It was a bargain too, the ‘Eat out to Help Out’ scheme meant my coffee was half price.
It was nice to see families enjoying the facilities in Exhibition park again, including the playground and tennis courts. I saw quite a few dog walkers and parents with prams enjoying a walk around the lake which now has a one way system in place.
After gently easing myself back in to being out in public, Pat and I headed towards Northumberland Street. I knew it would be a lot busier there but I couldn’t wait to be back on one of my favourite streets.
As soon as we hit the Haymarket area I could see lots of signs with information about the new one way system encouraging people to stay to the right. There are now arrows on the pavement all the way up and down Northumberland Street to remind you. As well as the usual NE1 rangers who patrol the city I also noticed people in green fleeces with ‘here to help’ emblazoned on them, presumably they were there to monitor social distancing. I saw several police officers on the beat too, it was all very reassuring.
I had wondered if the new rules might take the fun of visiting, but surprisingly my experience was quite the opposite, the extra personal space I had while window shopping made it more enjoyable than pre-lockdown. Plus, if you look closely at the NE1 signs, they’ve got a unique Geordie charm that helps our city keep that friendly, down to earth charm it’s famous for.
I had arranged to meet my boyfriend when he finished work and he arrived before the shops closed. This gave me the chance for the first bit of retail therapy I’ve had in a long time and it was wonderful! Masks are of course compulsory in shops now and nearly all stores have hand sanitizers positioned near the entrance.
It’s new, it’s different and yes it did seem a bit weird at first but it was so nice to browse in a real life store rather than scrolling the screen of my smart phone. I managed to pick up a pair of boots in H&M for £15 too, so there was a massive grin behind my face covering as I approached the till with its new perspex screen!
The great British pub is one of the things our country is famous for, so it was so sad to see them all close their doors back in March. Thankfully they are now re-open and I’m pleased to report that my experience of being back in the pub for the first time post-lockdown was a positive one.
I had made a reservation at the City Tavern, one of our favourite dog-friendly pubs in the North East. I thought it best to book as the Eat Out to Help Out scheme operates Mon-Weds and I was worried that would mean the pub was going to be busy. I had to give my full name and phone number at the time of booking so they could be kept on file for track and trace.
When we arrived there was a sign at the door asking us to wait to be seated and there was hand sanitizer available too. It wasn’t long before pub owner Dave appeared and gave us the choice of a few different tables. We opted to sit outside on the new terrace.
What once was an unappealing alleyway down the side of the pub is now a partially covered terrace area with rustic furniture, fresh flowers on every table and a cinema screen showing classic films twice a day. The new addition to City Tavern is called Cinema Paradiso and it’s a real hidden gem!
We were so ready for someone else to do the cooking (and the washing up!) and we were both famished too, so it didn’t take us long to ask for menus. The menu has been somewhat reduced as the team are still a little short staffed but we still found plenty to tickle our taste-buds. We decided to order three different dishes and share these between us; Beef Nachos, Marinated Chicken Skewers and Halloumi chips.
They’d ran out of a few of the sauces but it didn’t really matter as everything was so delicious. The halloumi chips were probably the best I’ve ever had and the homemade nachos were yummy. A surprise highlight was the charred lettuce that came with the chicken skewers, I’m definitely going to try that at home!
James washed down his food with a couple of pints, I was the designated driver so stuck to soft drinks. The total bill came to £25.57 after the government discount, bargain! James is now of the opinion that we should eat out every Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday and I’m not inclined to argue!
I’m so glad I came out from under my rock to discover that Newcastle is still full of things that bring me joy. Yes, we have to experience those joys in a slightly different way than we’re used to, but for me that’s far more preferable to not enjoying them at all! Our vibrant, welcoming city is open for business and I’m so proud of how it’s taking on the challenges it’s faced with. From the landlords, to the shop assistants and everyone working hard to keep the streets clean and safe, I take my hat off to them all!
Have you had a positive post-lockdown experience in Newcastle? Maybe you’ve been for a much needed haircut or enjoyed a pint in your favourite pub? Perhaps you’ve been making the most of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme? If so I’d love to hear all about it!
(Please note – this post was originally published in August 2020, covid restrictions are regularly being updated so check the local guidance before planning your next visit to Newcastle city centre).