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Previous Pint Pleasures - March 23, 2005

guinness eileen

Crown Posada, 31 The Side, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear

guinness eileen

Offshore 44, 34 Sandhill, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear

My first few impressions of the city of Newcastle were only momentary glimpses caught from the windows of trains between London and Edinburgh. But I was always impressed by the spectacular view of the seven bridges crossing the River Tyne. It reminded me a bit of Portland, Oregon where the Columbia River is also crowned by a variety of bridges.

A couple of months ago we visited Newcastle for a few days, and I found it to be a gorgeous, vibrant, and friendly city. I already thought I'd found the best city in England to live in, namely Sheffield. I may still be right; but I think Newcastle definitely deserves further investigation. Not only is it a beautiful city with stunning modern architectural features harmoniously blending with the classic, but in our short five-day visit we found the city offers a lot in the way of good food, cool art, interesting walks, and a satisfying collection of great pubs.

Constructed by the Normans in 1080, Newcastle became famous for the coal exported from its Northumberland coalfield -- hence the term "coals to Newcastle". The city was the home of Joseph Swan, who invented the electric lightbulb just before Thomas Edison did. (I know this may come as a surprise to my fellow Americans, but it's true!) The city is also home to two universities, which always helps to make a city more cosmopolitan.

On the Saturday of our Geordie holiday we met our friend Siobourn and a couple of her friends at the central rail station and, after a quick pint, we went on a short walking tour of the central area. First we passed the spooky steps of what was once the "New Castle" but of which nothing remains but its keep and one of its gates. Next we walked underneath the "freaky rabbit", a gargoyle which peers down from above a door near St Nicholas' Cathedral and which used to frighten Shiv and her friends when they were young. We ended up in the Crown Posada, a long skinny cask ale lover's pub known locally as the Coffin. The pub dates back to the city's maritime heritage, and legend has it that a Spanish sea captain once bought the pub.

We sat in the tiny snug at the front end which features a pre-Raphaelite stained glass window. Depicted in the glass is some guy in shorts with a sword, and some woman furtively pouring a yellow drink. When we asked who was depicted we were told nobody had any idea, but I suspect there are a number of interesting theories. There is more stained glass featured in the woodwork, and the walls display old photos of the Tyne. The pub is on the National Inventory of History Pub interiors. Andrew and I had a taster of Toon (4.7% ABV, Newcastle Brewery, Tyne & Wear) which tasted like white wine. Since we were in the mood for ale rather than wine we decided on full pints of Gladiator Bitter (4.0% ABV, Hadrian & Border Brewery, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear), which was a great capper for our recent mad-hare experience and an inspiration for fresh theories on the stained glass windows. (Sadly we weren't able to come up with much, except that the man in shorts was probably quite pissed.)

As we continued on our pub crawl a heavy wind blew and it began to hail heavily, so we found refuge from the hail gale in the Offshore 44, a strangely quiet pub with a very dark ship's hull-like interior. We took our pints of Theakstons XB (4.8% ABV, T.R. Theakston Ltd., Ripon, North Yorkshire) to the pirate room in the back, limping on our peglegs and muttering "AARRR! AARR!" as we went. It was a bit unnerving as there were five of us and only four life preservers in the room...ah, well, since I'm the California surfer girl I suppose I'd have to be the one to fend for herself if the pub springs a leak and sinks.

Apparently the Offshore gets quite crowded in the evenings. But on this Saturday afternoon it was spookily silent with not even a whisper of music, and the jukebox was located on some upper deck. As the barmaid went in search of music for us we decided to amuse ourselves by telling ghost stories; even though we were lacking the obligatory tin cups of rum we could almost imagine our pub-ship creaking in the waves. This effect was finally interrupted, however, by the dulcet tones of Cheryl Crow, which wasn't exactly the type of music we were hoping for...ah, well, these landlubbers...