Recently we spent our holidays at Haggerston Castle in Northumberland. While we were we went…
Did you know that Newcastle Upon Tyne had a castle? The clue is in the name. Until recently Newcastle castle was known as the castle Keep but recently it has been refurbished and combined with the black gate to form Newcastle castle. I pass the castle keep every day on the way to work but had never been inside. It is odd I had never been as I have visited other castles in the area like Warkworth Castle and Bambrough Castle. I had always wanted to explore Newcastle castle so one weekend I went along with my son to see what we would discover.
A brief history
Newcastle castle stands on a steep hill overlooking the river. This makes the site easy to defend.
The site of the castle has been occupied for nearly 2000 years, excavations have discovered prehistoric activity. In the second century a Roman Fort, Pons Aelius occupied the land, guarding the crossing over the river. The outline of some of the Roman buildings can be seen in cobbles on the ground.
After the Romans left in the fifth century there is some evidence the site was used as a burial ground and it was possibly used by monks. The first castle to be built on the site was a Norman castle in 1080. The castle keep as we see it today is the remains of the 12th Century stone castle built during the reign of Henry II. It consisted of the castle keep, a wall enclosing the bailey and two main gatehouses. Over time the castle expanded and the buildings that are left today are the castle keep and the black gate, which was the last addition to the castle defences.
The Black Gate
The Black Gate was built around 1247 and added extra defence to the gatehouse, allowing archers to fire down on enemies approaching. Today it provides a way into Newcastle Castle, tickets can be bought here. As you approach you get some idea of how impressive the entrance to the castle must have looked, part of the castle wall can be seen behind.
Entry is under the gateway, where you can still see where the portcullis must have been. The path leads though to the castle keep on the other side, entrance to the black gate is on the right.
After purchasing our tickets we went upstairs and had a look around the Black Gate. Inside is a small museum which has lots of interesting facts about Newcastle. It makes fascinating reading. Did you know that in 1733 a showman said he would fly from the top of the castle keep with homemade wings? When he reached the roof and saw the drop he strapped the wings to the donkey for a trial run. Sadly the donkey did not fly, it plummeted to the floor. Fortunately he survived, probably due to the fact he landed on an onlooker.
There are plenty of historical snippets like this in the black gate. It makes fascinating reading and we lingered here for a while, my son was really interested. Leaving the black gate we passed though the remains of the old castle, the walls over shadowed by the Vermont Hotel in the background.
Under the railway bridge the remains of a medieval church can be found which used to be on the site until the castle sprung up around it.
Having explored the black gate we walked to the castle keep. Entrance was via some rather steep steps up to the gate. My hint for exploring the castle keep is wear sensible footwear. I was wearing flip flops so took ages going up stairs much to my sons disgust.
There is plenty to see in the castle keep as well as plenty of stairs. The castle keep is made up of three levels. You enter the castle in the middle level or lower hall. My son was quick to try out the medieval weaponry, threatening me with a bow.
Off to one side is the Queen’s chamber which is a very snug and cosy looking room. The fire would have kept the drafts out in the winter.
Downstairs on level one we found the garrison room. I was able to get my own back on my son for attempting to fire arrows at me.It was interesting to see how the prisoners were kept in the castle, in a small room with a barred door. On this level was the chapel, with it’s intricate stone ceiling. You can almost hear the ghosts singing Gregorian chants as you walk through the room.
Going up the stairs to level 3 we entered the Great Hall. You can imagine great feasts taking place here, the room ringing to the sound of laughter and conversation. On the walls above a video played giving some insight into the history of the castle.
All that remained was to ascend the stairs to the roof. The stairs did seem to go on for a long time but we kept walking with the promise of the best views in Newcastle when we got there.
It was worth the climb when we reached the top all of Newcastle lay spread out in front of us. We had a view across the river and all Newcastle’s bridges on one side and the city centre on the other. We could see into Central Station and the trains coming and going. From above it was also obvious how the rail track ran though the middle of the castle. Definitely the best views in Newcastle, we stopped for a while in the sun and took photographs.
We really enjoyed our visit to Newcastle Castle and learnt a lot about the history of Newcastle and the castle. It is a walk back though time and definitely worth a visit.
Opening times and cost
Newcastle castle is open daily from 10.00am to 5.00pm. Admission charges are:
- Adults £.6.50
- Concessions £5.50
- Children (5-15) £3.90
You can find more information on the Newcastle castle website
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