Newcastle - a dynamic, diverse and delicious city

PUBLISHED: 11:37 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 18:14 20 February 2013

Picture courtesy of the Market team

Picture courtesy of the Market team

On or off the beaten track, Newcastle's energetic city centre has so much to offer at this time of year, as Louise Brown discovers

The North East both spoils and gives us much to be proud of. We have the rugged, sometimes bleak but always beautiful Northumberland coast, the improbably stunning landscape of the North Pennines and countless quaint and picturesque villages resting sleepily alongside award-winning market towns.

Yet this region, as with others, finds its standard bearers not in these rural or semi-rural retreats, regardless of their acclaimed tranquillity and timeless elegance, but in its large towns and cities, whose urban culture provides the essential contrast of dynamism and drive to complete the regional identity. For Tyneside and the north of the region, Newcastle performs this role to impressive effect, its centre representing the regions principal commercial and retail area.

Newcastle boasts a wealth of shops, boutiques, restaurants, cafes, theatres, museums and galleries, while offering near incomparable nightlife. Brimming with attractions, it represents a vibrant urban hub, drawing large numbers to the area who generally express complete satisfaction from the experience, which is not surprising, to those fortunate to live here.

Newcastles reputation as a retail thoroughbred and so-called party capital may suggest an identity of merely contemporary significance, but an appreciation of the city can only truly be gained from an understanding of its history spanning some 2,000 years.

The citys name is thought to have come into existence in Norman times, when William sent his eldest son to defend the kingdom against the Scots. After the campaign, he set about building a New Castle, a wooden tower on an earthen mound (motte) surrounded by a moat and wooden stockade (bailey), and it was this castle that gave the city its name.

Benefitting from the protection of this fortification and security, Newcastle developed as an important trading community, establishing the regular trade in sea cole to London and other ports by the end of the 14th Century. In the 17th Century, other trades and industries such as iron, salt and glass developed. By the 19th Century, Newcastle had become a centre for inventiveness and commercial enterprise with trades and industries such as the building of locomotives and steam turbines originating in the city.

The resulting prosperity brought about the re-building of the city centre, led by developer Richard Grainger, town clerk John Clayton and architect John Dobson, whose names continue to resonate throughout the city to this day and rightly will continue to do so. Creating classical streets with
wonderful Georgian architecture, the men developed Newcastle into an aesthetic delight.

The major draw of the city centre is its shopping and general retail facilities. Central Newcastles main retail area comprises centres including Eldon Square, Eldon Gardens and Monument Mall, with adjacent Northumberland Street and Grainger Street, all featuring major department stores and popular high street names. Combining high-end retail with more affordable fashion, Newcastle has something for extravagant and budget fashionistas alike.

With the recent introduction of the Alive after Five initiative, increasing city centre trading times, Newcastle has acknowledged a commercial imperative and made itself more accessible to the buying public. Retail opening hours have been extended to 8pm weekdays and 7pm Saturdays, with free car parking over the extended period in eight multi-storey car parks across the city and a programme of events and activities including world-class street entertainment. Alive after Five began on October 25 and is set to be a permanent change to the city rather than a mere seasonal expedient.

Departing the shopping centres and principal streets reveals a hidden Newcastle of narrow thoroughfares and characterful nooks and crannies, introducing an array of unique shops, boutiques and cafes. High Bridge, for example, just off the gorgeous Grey Street, is filled with independent clothing and music shops guaranteed to offer something a little different.

An enduring and true gem of Central Newcastle is Leaf, a clothing store located on Pilgrim Street. An independent family-run store which has been in existence since 1978, Leaf is owned by Brian Smith and run by Brian and his wife, Josie, offering unique, affordable fashion, with stunning collections and exclusive brands for both men and women. When asked about the key to their success, Josie said: Our main aim has always been to combine quality products with quality customer service. We havent been frightened of change and always remain at the forefront of fashion trends.

Newcastle is a great place to run our business as the people are so friendly and willing to experiment. They love getting dressed up and, with Newcastle being such a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, there is every opportunity to do so.

With Christmas fast approaching the upcoming Christmas Market offers the authentic festive shopping experience. The market will be held from Wednesday, December 8, to Sunday, December 12 at Greys monument, Grey Street, Grainger Street and Old Eldon Square.

The market has been running for five years now, getting bigger and better each year with high quality traders. said market support assistant, Doreen Blakemore, adding that, Central Newcastle is ideal, combining great location, great people and a great atmosphere.

There will be a variety of stalls selling everything to satisfy the Christmas shopper.

Venturing into Dean Street, Lydias House, specialising in vintage and bespoke interiors, and offering an exclusive interior design service, comes impressively into view. The attractive shop, opened in March of this year, realises a dream of chief executive Catherine Trill who always wanted premises in this, her favourite street. Combining the demands of commerce with a profound social conscience, Catherine provides training and work opportunities for the disadvantaged and expresses the view of Newcastle as, a brilliant place to start a business as its people are kind-hearted, cultured and loyal.

To borrow a phrase, looking out of a Newcastle hotel bedroom window you wont see Sydney Opera House, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon or wildebeest, but you will see a vibrant, exciting, culturally diverse city co-existing alongside acclaimed treasures and contributing to a regional identity which for us fortunate enough to live here is a source of pride and for others, of admiration, if not envy.

What do you like best about Newcastle? Is it the shopping, the culture, the nightlife, or maybe the football team?Please leave a message.

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