Thursday, 21 June 2018

A Newcastle Food Guide - The Chains v The Independents

I'm a huge supporter of eating in the independent restaurants in Newcastle and, whilst you'll certainly not find any chain restaurant snobbery around here, I am a big believer of supporting our local businesses. We are so blessed in Newcastle to have so many wonderful small businesses treating us to the most delicious dishes from all over the world and I'd encourage you all to make sure you try as many as you can.

So whilst I love devouring pasta at Pizza Express or enjoying a cheeky Nandos as much as the next person I thought I'd share with you a little look at the alternative places in Newcastle to eat if you usually find yourself stuck at the same old chains.  With so many wonderful places it makes me so sad that people are missing out on something truly special!

A Newcastle Food Guide - The Chains v The Independents

Love Nandos? Try Chicken Coop

Nandos is hugely popular with a constant buzz on social media, the favourite for date night it seems everyone is loving chicken! But did you know that here in Newcastle we have our very own independent alternative? Coop Chicken House serve up the finest damn chicken in the Toon! Their chicken is perfectly cooked over a fire pit then served up with a huge choice of sides. When it comes to sauces they rule with a massive selection of small batch craft sauces to choose from including their famous nuclear scorpion sauce.

Coop Chicken House, 25 Collingwood Street, NE1 1JE

Love Starbucks and Costa? Try Laneway & Co 

Ever think that sitting in Starbucks or Costa gets a little boring? Grab your usual, take a seat and you could be sitting in any one of their coffee shops across the country - YAWN!  Here in Newcastle we have the finest selection of independent coffee shops including the mighty fine Laneway & Co who serve the highest quality coffee from the UK's best roasters. Self confessed coffee nerds, these guys know how to make the perfect cup!

Laneway & Co, 17-19 High Bridge, NE1 1EW

Love Five Guys? Try Fat Hippo

Why anyone would choose to go to Five Guys over Fat Hippo is beyond me? Every burger fan in the Toon knows that Fat Hippo serve up the best burgers in the North East! We've enjoyed many burgers over the years and believe me, none have ever come close to beating the Fippo. Their burgers are huge and always stuffed full of so many tasty fillings that you immediately end up with delicious sauce running down your arms. Find me a Five Guys Burger that does that!

Fat Hippo, 35A St George's Terrace, NE2 2SU 
Fat Hippo Underground, 2 - 6 Shakespeare Street, NE1 6AQ

A Newcastle Food Guide - Fat Hippo

Love Krispy Kreme? Try Proven Doughnuts

I used to really enjoy Krispy Kreme, now I honestly can't be bothered with them and that's because I've found local Doughnut Kings, Proven. The Proven doughnuts are hand rolled and filled with the most amazing fresh fillings that taste so good I honestly can't imagine myself ever biting into a Krispy Kreme ever again!

Follow Proven on Facebook to discover where you can get your hands on their doughnuts - they pop up weekly!

Love Barburrito - Tray Zapatista

Zapatista will always be the best place to get Mexican in Newcastle and their burrito bar has the freshest ingredients perfect for making a mammoth burrito that'll fill you up for hours. The friendly service and fun interiors keeps us going back for more - it's our favourite place to head for a quick bite.

Zapatista 9 Grainger Street, NE1 5DQ or 28 Ridley Place, NE1 8JW

A Newcastle Food Guide - Zapatista

Love Patisserie Valerie? Try Les Petits Choux 

Personally I've never really understood Patisserie Valerie, their cakes aren't all that amazing for the price that you pay and with so many fantastic cake shops in Newcastle there's always somewhere better to head to. Les Petite Choux is a family run business that pride themselves in serving up freshly baked cakes using the finest ingredients.

Les Petits Choux, 11 Leazes Crescent, NE1 4LN

Love Wagamama?  Try Meet and Treat

If you love Asian food then you really need to try Meet and Treat in Newcastle's China Town. This unique little spot brings far east asian cafe culture to the North East and their beautiful dishes are packed full of flavour with generous portion sizes and amazing value for money - we can't keep away!

Meet and Treat, 41 Bath Lane, NE4 5SP

A Newcastle Food Guide - Meet and Treat

Love Carluccio? Try Zucchini Pasta Bar

I can't see myself ever going to Carluccio again because we have discovered Newcastle's best pasta at Zucchni Pasta Bar.  Creators of the most delicious dishes in the Toon, Zucchini serve up the most amazing hand rolled fresh pasta, bringing a true taste of Italy to the North East. Oh yes, and did I mention they do amazing desserts too?

55 Degrees North, NE1 6BL

Love Cafe Rouge? Try French Quarter

Nothing makes date night more romantic than heading out for some French food but do you really want to go back to Cafe Rouge when we have The French Quarter just around the corner? Their regularly updated wine selection and tapas style menu makes this little place really special.

French Quarter, Westgate Road, NE1 1SA

Love Crepe Affair? Try Le Petite Creperie

If you like your crepes served up with plenty of flare and personality you need to try Le Petite Creperie. With friendly service and delicious fillings you can watch your crepes being prepared and then tuck into delicious authentic French goodies whilst wandering the aisles of the Grainger Market.

Le Petite Creperie, Unit 166, Grainger Market, 131 Grainger Street, NE1 5AE

A Newcastle Food Guide - Le Petite Creperie

There are, of course, plenty more independent restaurants in Newcastle and if you have any swaps of your own I'd love to hear any more that we should try!

So next time you find yourself heading into the same old boring chain restaurant, stop, have a think and support local. There may be a far better alternative just a few steps away.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

An Officer and a Gentleman The Musical at Newcastle Theatre Royal

I have never seen the film "An Officer and a Gentleman" - my knowledge of it is pretty much limited to "Richard Gere in a white uniform" so when I was invited to the press night of An Officer and a Gentleman at the Newcastle Theatre Royal I took my seat knowing literally nothing about the storyline or characters.

For anyone who, like me, somehow managed to completely miss out on seeing the 1982 Oscar winning film, An Officer and a Gentleman tells the story of trainee US Navy Pilot Zack Mayo who enters Naval Aviation Training with a lot of baggage and leaves a new man having learnt several very important life lessons.

An Officer and a Gentleman The Musical at Newcastle Theatre Royal

A story filled with love, tragedy and a good dose of catchy tunes from the 80s including Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Material Girl, the brand-new musical brings the story from screen to stage in an explosion of perfect choreography and music.

Taking my very own Gentleman along for date night (yes I'm talking about my husband, not Richard Gere!) knowing nothing about the story I settled myself down with no expectations and before I knew it I was completely immersed in the story and fully invested in the characters.

The cast boasts some of the finest talent from the West End including, my star of the night, four time Olivier Award nominated Emma Williams as Paula Pokrifki. Her solos gave me goosebumps and her presence on stage was spellbinding, I just couldn't take my eyes off her.

It was the ladies who really shone for me on stage and their powerful voices gave the story some punch. You may be wondering how the story works as a musical but the talented cast really deliver and the reworking of the classic 80s songs really work in a story that's actually pretty dark!

Officer and a Gentleman The Musical at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Of course I have to give a mention to our hero of the night Jonny Fines who got the theatre into a bit of a tizz with his amazing arms and beautiful voice, and when we finally got to "that" important end scene he appeared on stage to a huge cheer.  It seems like the whole theatre had been waiting for the moment.

When the opening few bars of "Up Where We Belong" belted out over the theatre we all knew exactly what was going to happen as the film's most iconic scene played out in front of us. Sure it's pretty cheesy but at the same time who wouldn't want the love of their life to stride in to their place of work and carry them out the door? It's impossible not to get swept away in the romance of it all.

Officer and a Gentleman at Newcastle Theatre Royal

An Officer and a Gentleman is the perfect night out for old school romantics or those who just love a good 80s classic. Feel good theatre that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy and with an uncontrollable need to pull your old dungarees from the 80s out of the back of the wardrobe.

An Officer and a Gentleman The Musical is at the Theatre Royal Newcastle until Saturday 23 June and tickets start at £23.00 and you book your tickets here or by calling the Box Office on 08448 11 21 21.

I was invited to the Press Night of An Officer and a Gentleman and was given two complimentary tickets in exchange for this honest review. 

Monday, 18 June 2018

Proven - a Newcastle Doughnut Love Story

I can't remember why or when I became obsessed with doughnuts but one day, out of nowhere, I found myself suddenly craving sugary doughnuts, and I don't mean those naff ones you get in Tescos or the average ones you find in Krispy Kreme. I'm talking huge, fluffy doughnuts with the most amazing fillings - the kind of doughnuts that make your Instagram look insane! For a long time it felt like Newcastle had nothing for the doughnut fan, and then Proven arrived and everything changed.

This is my Newcastle Doughnut Love Story!

Proven - a Newcastle Doughnut Love Story
I'm not sure when or how I first discovered Proven Doughnuts, I think I had reached the point where I was so desperate to find some proper doughnuts in Newcastle I had taken to frantically searching Instagram for them and then one day, without warning, they appeared - the doughnuts I'd been dreaming about.

It wasn't long before we got our first try, Simon and I bought ourselves a modest selection from one of the local food markets and from the very first bite, it was love and I knew this was going to be a bit of a problem for my waistline!

Proven - Newcastle Doughnut
Now I wouldn't like to say that I'm a Proven Doughnut stalker, but if I'm being completely honest maybe I am. I love to keep an eye on where they're appearing every week, people send me messages on my Facebook and Instagram telling me where they are and it seems that everyone in the North East now knows that I'm a Proven Doughnut addict!

I count down the weeks until their monthly pop up at Fenwick's Food Hall rolls round, spend every weekend wondering if there's any way I can get myself down to the Quayside market for my fix and consider driving miles out of my way for a morning coffee at Kith and Kin just to get my hands on some Proven sugar.

I am obsessed!

Proven - Newcastle Doughnut Stall

I am doing my best to work my way through all of the flavours, whilst trying so hard not to be too greedy and grab myself an entire box of doughnuts every time I see that beautiful little Proven Doughnut stand in front of me.

Just a little casual glance through their Instagram makes me realise I'm not the only person in Newcastle going slightly loopy for Proven Doughnuts, it seems we all like to spend our time sharing photographs of our treats and I love that there are people out there just like me who enjoy waiving their Proven Doughnuts precariously over the River Tyne to get that perfect shot of a doughnut and the Tyne Bridge!

Proven - Newcastle Doughnut Tyne Bridge

Handmade in Newcastle, small batch and hand rolled these little beauties are made fresh every morning with each batch being proven three times for a total of 12 hours using organic fresh yeast and cold proving techniques to ensure the very best flavour.

All of the delicious fillings are made from scratch using the best local ingredients and each doughnut is stuffed so full that when you take a bite you literally get covered in fruit, custard or cream - bliss! Remember when you were a kid and you used to challenge yourself to eating a doughnut without licking your lips? I'd love to see you try with a Proven Doughnut!

Proven Newcastle Doughnut
Each time I think I've tried them all and can move on they bring out a new flavour that I just "have" to try and their seasonal specials will always keep me coming back for more. My current Summer obsessions are Apricot & Chamomile Jam and Strawberry and Passionfruit Jam, on and don't get me started on the Eton Mess Doughnut (just try eating that without making a big sugary mess!)

There's a Proven Doughnut to suit every taste. Complete sugar fiends will love the bright pink "Homer" (perfect if you fancy bouncing off the walls for the rest of the day!) and those with a smaller appetite will enjoy the mini "Cinnamon Sugar Doughnut Holes" (I've still not tried one of those because I'm too busy wolfing down the giant sized doughnuts to put my sensible hat on!)

Proven Goods Co Newcastle Doughnut
I leave you with a Proven Doughnut tale from yesterday! You know it's love when you set an early morning alarm on a Sunday just to get yourself down to the Quayside Market for the full range of doughnuts. I must have been one of the first at the stall (doughnut nerd alert!) and whilst I meant to quiz them about their VERY exciting announcement that they will be opening up a doughnut shop where we can all get our fix every day I got so distracted by their new "Cherry Cheesecake" doughnut I completely forgot!

Although I say it every time I try one of their new doughnuts I have to say that the Cherry Cheesecake blew my socks off, it's my favourite so far (until next time when no doubt I'll be giving the doughnut crown to whatever amazing creation they come up with next!)

Proven Goods Newcastle Doughnut
Please tell me I'm not the only person completely addicted to Proven Doughnuts, any fellow fans please come out of hiding and show yourselves, we can start some kind of support group! Let me know if you share my Proven Doughnut obsession and your favourite flavour!

Find Proven Doughnuts at:

Every Thursday: 

Kath and Kin from 9:30 am
Pink Lane Coffee from 10:00 am

Every Saturday: 

Laneway & Co from 9:00 am
Fenwick Food Hall from 9:30 am
The Factory Kitchen from 10:00 am
The Free Trade Inn from 11:00 am

Every Sunday:

Newcastle Quayside Market from 10:00 am

First Saturday of the Month:

Cole Cafe and Deli from 10:00 am

Once a Month:

Fenwick Food Hall from 11:00 am

Friday, 15 June 2018

A Summer of Free Events - Explore, Experience and Discover with Great Northumberland

I have declared this Summer the Summer that we truly explore, experience and discover Northumberland. Having spent our recent weekends enjoying the Northumberland coastline and discovering the picture perfect little towns and villages in the countryside I am keen to learn more about the beautiful county that has captured my heart since I relocated to the North East five years ago. So I'm delighted to be able to tell you that this is a Summer of free events in Northumberland thanks to Great Northumberland.

Great Northumberland is 56 days of arts, culture and heritage events happening across the county celebrating all of the wonderful things that make this part of the world so special. Celebrating our rich history, diverse culture and colourful arts there are events to suit every taste and every age.

A Summer of Free Events - Explore, Experience and Discover with Great Northumberland

The eight week Great Northumberland extravaganza opens on Saturday 7 July with a special showcase in Hexham, presenting a family friendly programme of music and street theatre as well as the chance to have a sneaky look at the full events list so you can get your diary filled with fantastic day trips and activities to keep you entrertained for the whole Summer.

All of the county's best loved attractions will be involved including Cragside, Cherryburn, Vindolanda, Alnwick Gardens and Lindisfarne Castle. We are embracing the chance to rediscover some of our favourite spots in Northumberland as well as visiting some places in the region for the very first time.

Great Northumberland - Alnwick Garden

There are over 40 free activities taking place during Great Northumberland, far too many for me to tell you about so here are just a few of my highlights and the events that we hope to be checking out.

Carnival Capers at Seaton Delaval Hall : This year Seaton Delavan Hall celebrates 300 years of dramatic history and, in honour of the Delaval Family, who were notorious for throwing the best parties in town, Carnival Capers promises a big party atmosphere at The Hall complete with music, performances and parades throughout the grounds.

For more details about this event click here

Great Northumberland - Seaton Delaval Hall
Alnwick Alive : Enjoy watching Alnwick Market Place come to life with an open air day of free entertainment including music, dance and performance set alongside a colourful market selling local food and crafts as well as traditional Northumbrian street food.

For more details about this event click here

Kielder Art and Architecture : Explore beautiful Kielder with a tour of the Park's award winning collection of art and architecture which includes more than 20 works including work by the Newcastle University School of Architecture. On certain dates you can join an experienced art curator on a minibus tour to explore the  most well-known artworks.

For more details about this event click here

Great Northumberland - Kielder

Cheeseburn Sculpture Gardens and Gallery : Discover contemporary sculpture and artists projects in the beautiful grounds of Cheeseburn Grange Hall.  Showcasing new work by emerging North East artists and exploring how new technology is interacting with traditional sculpture techniques there will also be two curated gallery exhibitions.

For more details about this event click here

Mark Fairnington, Cherryburn : If you've never been to Cherryburn before then let this be your excuse to visit! The beautiful farmhouse was home to artist, printmaker and naturalist Thomas Bewick and this Summer artist Mark Fairnington will showcase a collection of paintings inspired by Cherryburn, the surrounding landscape and Bewick's life and work.

For more details about this event click here

Great Northumberland - Cherryburn

Make sure you keep an eye on New Girl in Toon this Summer as we head out and about in Northumberland to discover some of the events happening as part of Great Northumberland and if you fancy doing some yourself you can find the full list of events on the Great Northumberland website here.

This post has been written in collaboration with Great Northumberland 

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Walking North Tyneside with Tyne & Wear Metro

Does anyone else have the great "who's going to drive" debate every time they head off for an adventure in Tyne & Wear? Being the designated driver isn't the best way to spend a weekend, stressing over car parking spaces and, of course, not being able to enjoy a drink when you get to your destination. Sometimes we love to leave the car at home so that we can both relax and set off on an adventure on the Tyne & Wear Metro. We're so lucky to have such a well connected network that can get you to some fantastic places in the area, so last weekend we decided to walk North Tyneside with the help of Tyne & Wear Metro.

Walking North Tyneside with Tyne & Wear Metro
The Metro Pop PAYG card is the best way to travel if you want to explore the region this Summer as it's the most cost effective way to get around the network with travel cheaper than single and day tickets and capped to ensure you never pay too much. We ordered our Pop PAYG cards in advance online, they arrived a couple of days later and we were ready and armed with fully loaded Pop cards ready to go on a North Tyneside adventure.

Catching the Metro to Whitley Bay

One of our favourite weekend activities is catching the Metro to Whitley Bay and then walking the 3 miles along the coast to North Shields. Come rain or shine it's something that we love to do and although a sunny walk is beautiful I have to admit that the cloudier days when the tourists are in hiding and the atmospheric mist is drifting along the coast are my favourite - it is so serene and peaceful.

Tyne & Wear Metro

Last Sunday we had one of those days and after days being glued to our desks Simon and I were both in need of some sea air and Tyneside views to blow away the cobwebs and give us a good leg stretch. So we put on our waterproofs and headed to our local Metro station for the quick 30 minute journey to the coast.

We like to begin our North Tyneside adventures at Whitley Bay as their booming foodie scene makes it our favourite coastal destination for brunch and coffee stops. My list of places to try is out of control and with the reopening of Spanish City happening soon, Whitley Bay is going to be the place to be this Summer.

Walking North Tyneside - Di Meos
Whitley Bay Metro Station is in the middle of the town centre offering a nice stroll down to the seafront and plenty of opportunity to distract yourself by all of the fantastic independent shops and businesses - we've been known to take a good hour to get ourselves down to the sea due to the sheer number of places that we "just want to pop into".

Every misty day at the coast should, of course, start with a nice cup of hot coffee and we thought it was about time that we tried Rendezvous Cafe. We have walked past the famous little beachside cafe so many times and it's forever popping up on my Instagram feed yet we'd never been inside.

Walking North Tyneside -  Whitley Bay
Serving the residents of Whitley Bay since the 1930s, Rendezvous Cafe is a must visit if you love a spot of British seaside nostalgia. The walls behind the counter are covered in old style boards proudly displaying the ice-cream sundaes available and I definitely want to return on a warmer day to try out one of their Peach Melbas.

The classic cafe has been owned by the same family for almost six decades and the interior has kept most of its original features, walking through the doors is a little like stepping back in time and as we took our seats with a cup of coffee each I couldn't help but romanticise about all of the people who had visited over the years.

Walking North Tyneside - Rendezvous Cafe

Brunch at Cullercoats

The walk from Whitley Bay to Cullercoats takes around 30 minutes and is a good place to stop if you fancy a ridiculously huge ice-cream sundae or a sit on the beach. We decided to have a little nose through the windows of The Boatyard, somewhere we've been wanting to eat for a good while now. With only a handful of tables inside it tends to get a little busy at weekends but luckily for this trip we had timed it just right and grabbed the last table.

The Boatyard serves a brunch based menu packed full of your favourite breakfast dishes, so many that I'm already planning our return visit so that I can begin working my way through the rest of the menu. For our first visit I opted for the Veggie Breakfast, whilst I'm not a vegetarian the promise of homemade Glamorgan Sausage, Halloumi, Tomato, Spinach, Fried Egg and Mushrooms with Toast sounded too good to resist. Simon ordered the Avocado on Sourdough - red pepper salsa, roasted pine nuts, flaxseeds, chilli flakes and 2 poached eggs. I would have been jealous is my food hadn't been so perfect.

Walking North Tyneside - The Boatyard

Of course, the joy of having a Pop PAYG card is that if you are beginning to feel a little soggy from the rain or you are tired from the walk you can cheat as there's another Metro station at Cullercoats! Simply jump on the Metro to Tynemouth and cut down the time spent on your legs. I promise we're not usually this lazy but sometimes it is a little tempting!

On this visit we decided to do the whole walk, with plenty of food and drink stops along the way and a promise to ourselves that we'd just take it at a gentle stroll (easier said than done when out walking with me because I am a speed demon!) there was no reason not to enjoy the refreshing sea air. Although it was a little drizzly it felt nice feeling the rain water on my face and, as I pointed out to Simon, some people pay a lot of money in spas to get themselves covered in salty water.

Walking North Tyneside - Tynemouth

An Afternoon in Tynemouth

Tynemouth was our next destination and the walk was a pretty quick one (I think we perhaps had some extra energy from our delicious brunch).  We headed straight for the Tynemouth Metro Station which plays host to the famous Tynemouth Market every weekend. Simon likes to visit every time we're in the area to stock up on Benny's Macaroons whereas I just love to mooch around looking at the beautiful paintings and artwork.

Walking North Tyneside - Tynemouth Market
With a bag stuffed full of Macaroons we decided we'd got to the point in the day where a drink would go down a treat so headed down Front Street, home to Tynemouth's collection of bars. There are so many fantastic places to grab a drink in Tynemouth it's pretty hard to choose where to go but after asking Twitter (how did I ever make decisions before Twitter!) we ended up in Coast Kitchen & Bar where I enjoyed a Coast G&T and gawped at the beautiful ceiling of lights - I can imagine this little place must be a beautiful spot to spend the evening.

Walking North Tyneside - Coast Gin

The North Shield Fish Quay

The last part of our walk is perhaps my favourite stretch of the North Tyneside coast, despite it being our least walked part. I will admit we tend to go home after Tynemouth so it was nice to do the quick stroll along the coast to North Shields' Fish Quay.

Unfortunately we'd left it too late in the day to truly explore but it was a welcome reminder that North Shields is a lovely little spot for a weekend mooch and maybe we should pay it more attention in the future rather than heading straight to Whitely Bay or Tynemouth each time we visit.

Walking North Tyneside - North Shields Fish Quay

With a lot of places shutting up for the day we decided to head straight to a bar for another G&T. So many people had recommended that I try The Salty Sea Dog and I'm so glad that I listened because the place is so cute and dinky (I'm such a sucker for a tiny bar!) and has the most amazing amount of gin (surely the best in North Tyneside) with garnishes that can only be described as pieces of art!

Walking North Tyneside - Salty Sea Dog

Buy a Metro Pop PAYG Card

If you fancy planning your own North East adventure with the Tyne & Wear Metro a Pop PAYG card is the best way to travel. You can purchase your Pop PAYG card online here or at a Nexus TravelShop or selected payzone stores. Pop cards are free but you must top it up with a £10.00 balance at the time of order.

Pop PAYG cards are cheaper than adult single and day tickets - they are 30p cheaper than cash single tickets and 40p cheaper than cash day tickets and you can travel as many times as you like in a day. You'll never pay more than the daily cap (£2.60 for one zone, £3.70 for two zones or £4.70 for all zones. There are also Under 16 Pop cards available with journeys costing just 60p for a child's single and £1.10 for a child's all day ticket.

Walking North Tyneside - Metro

This post was written in collaboration with Tyne and Wear Metro who paid for our expenses - all thoughts and adventure experiences are our own.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

River Escapes Boat Tour of Newcastle - Cruises on the River Tyne from NE1 Newcastle City Marina

I love Summer on the Newcastle Quayside, when the sun shines and the skies are blue it's quite easy to imagine you're on holiday.  Walking the palm tree lined pavements, grabbing a deck chair on the Quayside Seaside or enjoying a cocktail by the river is heaven and, just incase you needed any more incentive to visit the Newcastle Quayside, this Summer NE1 Newcastle City Marina will be offering Cruises on the River Tyne.

River Escapes Boat Tour of Newcastle - Cruises on the River Tyne from NE1 Newcastle City Marina

River Escapes have been running tours of the River Tyne for over 25 years, transporting over 18,000 visitors and locals up and down the river on their sightseeing boats and this year, for the first time, they are running two river tours from the NE1 Newcastle City Marina by the Tyne Bridge.

When you live in a city you don't often get to do "the tourist thing" but having watched the River Escapes tour boats sailing the Tyne over the years I have always quite fancied doing it myself. So when NE1 invited us to try out their new "Quay to City" one-hour cruise and share our experience with you, well I just had to say yes! Playing tourist in your own city is something that we should all enjoy sometimes, it's a wonderful way to open your eyes to the things that we all take for granted every day.

River Escapes Boat Tour of Newcastle

We boarded "The Coventina", River Escapes' fully seated sightseeing boat at 12:00 pm and were pleased to see that the boat was fully booked with every seat onboard taken. We were joined by a very enthusiastic group of line dancers from Glasgow who were enjoying their first ever trip to Newcastle and desperately trying to perfect their "why ayes" as we set sail and headed towards St Peter's Basin.

A few minutes into our trip and drinks orders were taken, yes there's a little table service bar onboard making a trip down the Tyne a very relaxing way to spend an hour of your afternoon! Soft drinks cost £1.90 for a 330 ml bottle and there are some local beers on offer including Newcastle Brown Ale (£.4.00), Tyne Bank Brewery Northern Porter (£3.90), Tyne Bank Brewery Summer Breeze (£3.90) and glasses of wine (£4.70) and Prosecco (£6.20).

River Escapes Boat Tour Newcastle

Usually the Quay to City cruise is accompanied by a recorded commentary sharing some history and stories about the River Tyne, unfortunately however the sound system onboard had broken that day so instead we happily chatted, enjoyed the sunshine and the River Escapes team were walking up and down the boat to answer any questions that we had.

Seeing Newcastle from the River Tyne is a great way to travel and I have to say looking up at the Baltic and Malmaison as we sailed underneath the Millenium Bridge was quite a moment - my favourite Quayside landmarks look so different from the river and despite having photographed the Quayside many times since moving to Newcastle five years ago I couldn't resist taking endless photographs as we made our way down the Tyne.

Cruises on the River Tyne from NE1 Newcastle City Marina

Waving to the people sitting outside the Pitcher and Piano enjoying the Bank Holiday sunshine we headed towards my favourite part of the river, the mouth of the Ouseburn with the beautiful little boats bobbing in the water outside The Cycle Hub. This part of the river offers the most perfect views of the Millenium and Tyne Bridges and it's definitely worth taking the time to wander up there some time to enjoy a cuppa and some cake at The Cycle Hub.

Our boat turned round at St Peter's Basin and we sailed back down the river towards the iconic Tyne Bridge. Can you believe that I've been living in Newcastle for years and this was the first time I've ever been under the Tyne Bridge!

Cruises on the River Tyne
The Quay to City Cruise sails under seven of the Tyne's famous bridges and really does make you realise that living in Newcastle turns you into a bit of a bridge geek. Listening to the River Cruise team explaining to visitors about The High Level Bridge, the first bridge of its kind to transport trains, cars and people across the river, made me pretty proud to live in Newcastle. Who knew I could feel so much love for a bridge?

Heading out towards The Dunston Staithes the panoramic view of the famous brides is pretty spectacular and this part of the Tyne is so open and peaceful. The perfect place for a spot of bird watching, I quite often walk down to the Staithes to admire the views and escape the bustle of the Quayside.

Cruises on the River Tyne NE1 Newcastle City

Our hour long cruise on the River Tyne was over before we knew it and we were safely returned to the Newcastle City Marina feeling even more love for this great city than we had when we started.

The Quay to City Cruise runs every Saturday until October and on Fridays during July and August, setting sail at 12:00 pm, 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm.  Tickets cost £7.00 for adults, £6.00 for seniors and £5.00 for children. To find out about the other sightseeing cruises on the River Tyne available check out River Escapes here.

Cruises on the River Tyne NE1 Newcastle City - River Escapes

Find River Escapes Boat Tours at:

01670 785 666

NE1 and River Escapes invited us onboard for a complimentary tour to share our experience with you. All opinions are our own.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Afternoon Tea at Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham

Crook Hall and Gardens is so serene and beautiful it's hard to believe it's in Durham city centre! Yet here we were, enjoying the most amazing afternoon tea surrounded by beautiful flowers just a few minutes walk away from the hustle and bustle of the high street.

 But I'm getting a little ahead of myself ...

Afternoon Tea at Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham
As soon as I spotted that Bank Holiday was set to be a scorcher in the North East I was eager to make sure that I spent my time outdoors enjoying every moment so quickly made a plan with my friend Sarah, who loves sunshine, flowers and cakes just as much as I do.

Hidden on the banks of the River Wear, Crook Hall and Gardens can only be described as magical - as soon as we made our way under the colourful rose arch into the gardens we were stunned by the beauty of the place, it was like stepping into a children's book and whilst Secret Garden immediately popped into my mind, Sarah commented that she felt a little like Alice in Wonderland. Finding somewhere that recaptures feelings from your childhood is very special, as adults it's not often that we get to enjoy that wonderful carefree feeling and for some reason we both instantly felt the magic of Crook Hall and Gardens.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham

Our first discovery was the maze, a small tangled path of hedges perfect for little explorers or grownups like me and Sarah who are useless at navigating our way round anything. I've lost count of the amount of mazes I've got so completely lost in that I've wasted a good chunk of an afternoon getting out of them so I was very thankful that the centre of the Crook Hall maze wasn't too difficult to find!

With the maze conquered we decided to enjoy a good potter round the gardens. We had been welcomed at the entrance with a really helpful sheet with a suggested tour pointing out loads of the gardens features but we decided to just enjoy ourselves getting lost in the walled gardens.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Flowers

We began our adventure with a look at the Silver and White Garden. Created by Crook Hall and Gardens previous owners to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, the garden is covered in silver and white planting. What an amazing idea, very meaningful and romantic!

With just 3 months until our second wedding anniversary I'd best send Simon out into our garden now to get prepared, because now I've seen this gorgeous display no other anniversary present is ever going to do.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Silver and White Garden

Strolling through the Wooded Glade to the Moat Pool we noticed so many families picnicking on the grass, with so much space there are some beautiful places around Crook Hall Gardens to spread out your picnic blanket and I have to admit I was having to work very hard not to turn into Yogi Bear and invite myself along to people's picnics. There were some impressive looking spreads out there and next time I visit the Gardens I'm going to have to come with a picnic basket because it really is a stunning spot to enjoy your lunch.

Crook Hall and Gardens is so peaceful.  Despite being busy during our visit (they had a brilliant Peter Pan event on for children) it was so easy to find a quiet corner of the gardens to relax in. We spent a good hour on a bench out in the sunshine chatting and it was blissful. It's easy to lose hours in the gardens and it's not often in life you can truly switch off like that.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Walled Gardens

A few steps away from the Moat Pool we were over the moon to discover a swing hanging between two trees, it was such a lovely surprise and for a moment all adult worries were forgotten as we raced each other to get on to it first!

We both had a little go and I have to say sitting on that swing feeling the breeze in my hair was so relaxing - what a way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Swing
Our next discovery of Crook Hall was The Secret Walled Garden, the most beautiful traditional English garden with endless gravel paths leading to hidden corners and flowers in the most amazing vibrant colours.

With the sun beating down on the gardens the pops of vivid colour were stunning - it had us excitedly making endless plans for a long hot Summer, it's hard not to get carried away when you're in such pretty surroundings.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Secret Garden

Our favourite area of the gardens was the Georgian Walled Garden, a place that Alan Titchmarsh once described as "a tapestry of colourful blooms" and it's easy to see why - the cottage garden is covered in the most beautiful colours and the views back to the Hall are stunning.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Afternoon Tea Summer

The house is also open to visitors and is one of the oldest inhabited houses in Durham and is historically unique. The stunning Medieval Hall merges into a Jacobean Manor House which then merges into a Georgian Town house - it is a wonderful place to explore and, although we didn't spend much time inside as the weather was just too good.

I'm looking forward to returning in the Winter months to spend some time sitting by the beautiful open fires.

Crook Hall Durham

All of the exploring had left us hungry so we were very happy to discover that it was time to sit down for our afternoon tea. Afternoon tea at Crook Hall and Gardens is served in the beautiful Georgian Drawing Room or, if the weather is nice, one of the gardens.

If it is a sunny day I highly recommend taking tea outdoors because the setting is fantastic. Afternoon tea tables are dotted at different points around the gardens, each table set in its own beautiful area guaranteeing a lovely view in your own little area away from other diners.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Afternoon Tea Garden

Our table was just in front of the hall and I have to say I've never sat down for afternoon tea with such a beautiful view before. As we took our seats we had the biggest smiles on our faces, you really don't get better than this!

There are three afternoon teas to choose from at Crook Hall and Gardens and each one starts with a glass of Sparkling Wine or Elderflower Fizz and two canapes:

The Ploughmans Tea (£24.50 per person) - swap your wine or fizz for a Durham Brewery Ale and enjoy a Ploughman's Platter as your bottom tier along with the usual homemade scones and cakes.

Tipsy Afternoon Tea (£32.00 per person) - afternoon tea comes with the addition of a cocktail filled teapot (how good does that sound for a hen parrty?)

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Classic Afternoon Tea

We opted for the Classic Afternoon Tea (£24.50) which began with a glass of Elderflower Fizz, perfect for enjoying in the sunshine. The fizz is non alcoholic and, in all honesty, I'm glad I picked it over the sparkling wine because it was so refreshing.

Our little board of canap├ęs arrived just before our cake stand, a slice of homemade quiche and mini sausages went down a treat - the perfect start to our feast.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Fizz
All good afternoon teas come served with a bottomless teapot so we were very happy to discover that the Crook Hall Afternoon Tea includes as much tea (or coffee) as you like and every time we needed a refill someone seemed to just appear to take our pot!

I told you this place was magical!

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Pot of Tea

When our three tier cake stand appeared we were stunned by how beautiful it looked, and when we were taken through all of the food I was barely listening as I was too mesmerised by how delicious the food looked - we couldn't wait to dive in!

Savouries first, of course, we had four sandwiches each made on fresh bread with really generous classic fillings. I particularly loved the cucumber sandwiches, I just felt so English sitting in such a beautiful setting eating cucumber sandwiches!

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Afternoon Tea Stand

Moving up a tier we were on to scones next and I loved that we got a pot of jam and cream each. Sharing the same pot is never good as you have to control the amount you take, with a pot each we both spread a pretty crazy amount of jam and cream onto our scones and enjoyed trying to get them into our mouths without ending up with a cream moustache - heaven!

The scones were homemade and a good chunky size - I am so fussy about my scones (I like to think of myself as a bit of an expert!) and these were perfect!

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Scones

The cake tier was the most colourful selection of cakes I have ever seen (and we all know how many afternoon teas I've had over the years!) - decorated in colourful flowers and fruit it was the perfect selection of cakes to enjoy in such a beautiful garden.

Each cake was the perfect bite sized portion and being a pro in how to tackle cakes (always start with the lightest looking cake first and end with the chocolate so you don't get too full up!) we managed to polish off the entire cake stand. There was a cake to suit every taste - a lovely moist carrot cake, a zingy lemon cake, a classic Victoria sponge and, my favourite, an indulgent chocolate brownie.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham - Cakes

We were stuffed and as we sank back into our chairs and chatted over yet another cup of tea out in the sunshine we both agreed that we were enjoying ourselves so much we couldn't really be bothered to leave and go home which lead to a pretty lengthy discussion about how amazing it would be if this was our actual garden and we could just stay!

Crook Hall and Gardens is open Sunday to Wednesday and costs £8.00 per adult and £5.00 per child or you can buy an Annual Pass which costs £19.50 for adults or £39.50 per family (a great idea if you plan to revisit to appreciate the gardens in different seasons). Afternoon Tea needs to be booked in advance and the price of the tea includes entrance into the Hall and Gardens. The Garden Gate Cafe at the entrance is open every day with no entrance fee required.

Crook Hall and Gardens, Durham -  New Girl in Toon
Find Crook Hall at:

Frankland Lane

0191 384 8028

We were treated to a complimentary afternoon tea at Crook Hall and Gardens in exchange for this honest review.

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