Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The Toon Tour - Exploring Newcastle and Gateshead on the Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour

This is an advertisement feature with Go North East 

Whenever I am visiting a new city for the first time a trip on the tour bus is an absolute must - the perfect way to get your bearings and learn some local history, it's one of the greatest ways for a tourist to travel round somewhere new.  It wasn't that many years ago that I was a visitor to the Toon myself, so I'm not entirely sure why I never took a tour bus round Newcastle back then but here we are, six years later, a now (very passionate) Honorary Geordie about to take the Toon Tour - NewcastleGateshead's brand new hop-on hop-off open top bus tour.

The Toon Tour - Exploring Newcastle and Gateshead on the Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour
Now, I don't like to show off, but I like to think of myself as somewhat of a Toon expert, there isn't much I don't know about NewcastleGateshead - the best places to visit, its prettiest viewing points, and all of the history - or so I thought!

Welcome on board the Toon Tour!

Toon Tour - Exploring Newcastle and Gateshead on the Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour


Now you may be wondering what on earth a local can get out of taking a trip on the Toon Tour Bus? Aren't hop on, hop off tours just for visitors? I can honestly say that after spending a day exploring our home on the bus I love the city even more than before.  Most people know how obsessed I am with this beautiful city so it may seem odd that anything could make me love it more than I already did, but exploring NewcastleGateshead in such a different way helped me to notice things that I had never seen before.

Believe me, you haven't truly seen the city until you have seen it from the top of a double decker bus!

Toon Tour  Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour


We decided to start our Toon Tour journey at Central Station, Stop 1 on the map. There are 18 stops on total across the tour and you can join or leave the bus at any of them, I was just keen to get straight on the bus so decided to catch the very first tour of the day.  The first Toon Tour bus departs Central Station at 10:05 with buses running every 30 minutes until 16:05.

Toon Tour - Newcastle and Gateshead on the Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour


Our journey began with the short trip to somewhere that a lot of folk in the Toon would argue is the greatest place in the city - St James' Park, home to the Magpies. Despite Simon and I not really being too fussed about football even we have to admit that you can't do a tour of Newcastle without taking a look at the stadium. The city is very passionate about football and on match day you see black and white shirts everywhere you go. With your Toon Tour Ticket you can get 20% off tickets to the Stadium Tour which doesn't only offer behind the scenes access to the grounds but also a great opportunity to climb the roof for great views across the city.

Toon Tour - St James Park




There are some great deals to be had with the Toon Tour bus ticket and as well as getting money off the Stadium Tour you can also get a free child admission to the Life Centre and 20% off Newcastle Castle (well worth a visit, the views from the roof of the castle are the best in the city and a bit of a hidden gem).

Of course when you're on an open top bus tour it's only right to sit on the top deck no matter the weather. We were lucky that we travelled on a pretty sunny Saturday in September, however even on a warm day it was pretty breezy up there so if you're planning your own tour make sure you wear layers.

Toon Tour Bus


As we travelled around the city we were treated to a recorded commentary offering some great facts, stories and history of NewcastleGateshead. I loved learning more about my home, I don't want to give too much away (you really must go and discover them for yourself!) but let's just say that the origin of the name "Gateshead" made me chuckle and I will think about it every time I venture across the river.

The Toon Tour - Exploring Newcastle and Gateshead Hop-on Hop-off Open Top Bus Tour
We decided to hop off the bus at Ouseburn, one of our favourite parts of Newcastle, the creative heart of Newcastle - we love the street art, the wonderful collection of independent bars, pubs and cafes as well as the Biscuit Factory (the country's largest independent art gallery) and our very own city farm.

It can sometimes feel like a bit of a walk if you're at the other end of the city so it was lovely to have a the bus drop us off a few steps outside Ouseburn Farm. If you're wanting to spend a full day really exploring all that NewcastleGateshead has to offer the tour bus is a great way to get round loads of places in a day without your legs getting tired.

The Toon Tour - Exploring Newcastle and Gateshead - Ouseburn Farm
Making sure we were back at the stop for the next bus we climbed back onboard the Toon Tour to continue our trip down to the iconic Quayside. Perhaps the most famous part of the city the banks of the River Tyne boasts a great collection of bars and there's always something going on.  During our tour the Dragonboat Race was happening along the Tyne and the atmosphere along the river was incredible.

The Toon Tour - Exploring Newcastle and Gateshead - Quayside


Everyone on our bus was very excited when we got our first glimpse of the Tyne Bridge and, despite being a local and already having a lot of photographs of the bridge already I couldn't resist taking a few more. It was great to see a different view of the iconic landmark.

The Toon Tour crosses the Tyne twice, first over my favourite bridge (don't laugh, every Geordie and Honorary Geordie has a favourite bridge!), the Swing Bridge. It offers fantastic views of the Tyne Bridge, Sage and Baltic and it was even more spectacular from the top deck of the bus.

The Toon Tour - Exploring Newcastle and Gateshead - Swing Bridge


After a quick loop round the Sage in Gateshead it was back across the river and this time we were crossing the Tyne Bridge. It doesn't matter how many times I have travelled over the bridge I will always get goosebumps. It feels special journeying across the Tyne Bridge and I have always loved the views across the Quayside from the pavement, travelling that little bit higher up made it even more spectacular.  Did I mention how much I love this city?

The Toon Tour - Exploring Newcastle and Gateshead - Tyne Bridge


The part of the Toon Tour that I really loved though? Driving through Grainger Town. I always say it was this part of Newcastle that truly made me fall for the city - the architecture is just beautiful and it's no wonder it's been named as one of the UK's most beautiful streets.

I have admired the buildings so many times and never take walking down Grey Street for granted, however seeing it from the top of the Toon Tour bus was an entirely new experience. Appreciating the streets that I love so much from such a great view point was so special and I was just in awe of how incredible this city is.

The Toon Tour - Exploring Newcastle and Gateshead
The whole tour from start to finish (with no stops) takes about an hour, we loved it so much we did a loop and a half and would have happily gone round again and again.

But all good things must come to an end, hopping off the bus at the end of our day I felt so inspired to see more and as we set off down the road in the direction of Grey's Monument I wanted to pinch myself.

How lucky am I to call the Toon my home?

The Toon Tour - Newcastle and Gateshead Bus Tour
What you need to know:
  • The Toon Tour costs £8.00 for adults, £6.00 for concessions, £4.00 for children and £20.00 for a family ticket (two adults with two or three children)
  • Tickets can be bought on the bus or on the Go North East app 
  • Tickets are valid for 24 hours unlimited travel and can also be used on the Quaylink bus between Newcastle and Gateshead Interchange 
  • Toon Tour Plus Tickets (allowing unlimited travel on all Go North East buses are also available as well as Toon Tour Add-Ons for those already with a valid Go North East or Network One ticket
  • The Toon Tour Bus is running every weekend until 27 October 
  • For up to date information on the Toon Tour see here
This is a sponsored for Go North East and we also received complimentary tickets for the Toon Tour.
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Thursday, 12 September 2019

Exploring Harrogate - A Day Trip to Knaresborough and Breakfast at The Wild Plum

This includes an advertisement feature with Mother Shipton's Cave

We spent quite a bit of the Summer exploring Yorkshire and I have to say I absolutely loved packing our glovebox with Percy Pigs and heading down to God's Own Country. Considering it's the largest county in England I've definitely given us a bit of work when it comes to properly discovering all that it has to offer but I'm certainly enjoying the challenge.

Our last Yorkshire trip of the Summer took us in the direction of Harrogate but having explored the town centre we decided to experience a different part of the Borough with a day trip to Knaresborough and breakfast at The Wild Plum.

If you fancy a day trip, this adventure will take you about an hour and a half from Newcastle with a little breakfast detour (because stops for food are a must!)

Exploring Harrogate - A Day Trip to Knaresborough and Breakfast at The Wild Plum
Breakfast at The Wild Plum

Yet again Instagram influenced my food decisions and I've found myself a little obsessed about wanting to try The Wild Plum ever since the most beautiful photographs of their dishes have taken over my feed.

To tell you the complete truth this entire day trip was more or less made round me needing to try The Wild Plum, much to Simon's confusion - he didn't quite understand why we needed to get up so early to get to The Wild Plum for opening! But with no reservations available and its popularity I knew we had to be first through the door.

Breakfast at The Wild Plum


The Wild Plum didn't just live up to my expectations, it exceeded them and then some! From the moment we walked through the door the service was exceptional with the friendliest staff welcoming us and giving us an above and beyond experience. I needed to make a few changes to my dish to allow for my nut allergy and they were so accommodating.

When visiting The Wild Plum the pancakes are a must, there is a reason they are "instafamous" and I really have never seen anything like them in my life - they appear in front of you in vibrant colour, packed full of incredible flavours and the biggest stack of food you have ever seen.

I opted for the Classic Pancakes (£12.50) - American style pancakes with seasonal fruit, whipped cream and maple syrup (minus the Nutella and Roasted Pecans) and they were absolutely incredible.

Since our visit they have had the most beautiful refurbishment, which now means that I have to visit again (I haven't told Simon this yet, he thinks that I've now ticked The Wild Plum off my list!)

Exploring Harrogate - Breakfast at The Wild Plum


Mother Shipton's Cave

Mother Shipton's Cave is somewhere I've been wanting to visit for quite a while but it wasn't until I was researching our trip that I realised the cave was in Knaresborough so a trip was a must. The carpark at the attraction is ideally located to walk into the market town or down to the river after your visit and once you've paid for your ticket at the entrance the wrist band allows you to come and go as you please.

Mother Shipton's Cave is the oldest tourist attraction in England and has been amazing millions of visitors for 390 years, it's an incredible piece of history and I love that it's been so popular with so many generations.

Exploring Harrogate - Mother Shiptons Cave


The site is made up of the Royal Forest of Knaresborough, The Petrifying Well and Mother Shipton's Cave - its an absolutely magical place to visit. The entrance fee is £10.00 for adults and £8.00 for children (peak) and if you're planning on visiting with children I recommend checking their website ahead of your visit to see if they have any special events happening which really will make your ticket great value for money.

I have to say I love a good English legend. The tale of Mother Shipton began in 1488 when she was born in a cave on a dark and stormy night after her Mother had been banished from the village after falling pregnant at fifteen with no idea who the father was. Who knows how she survived that night in the cave! After becoming separated from her Mother, Mother Shipton grew up in Knaresborough although spent a lot of her time in the cave, making a living by telling the future and warning locals of what was to come. Some of her predictions came true many years after her death including The Great Fire of London in 1966, she even predicted the year of her own death. Standing in her cave I got goosebumps thinking about all her prophecies that are still yet to come true.

I was most excited about seeing the Petrifying Well, where the magical waters turn all it touches to stone. First recorded in 1538, the Well used to be feared by visitors who believed that if they got too close they would turn into stone or a spell would be cast over them. Of course, it was later realised that the process is actually due to a high mineral content of the water, nevertheless it's still very impressive.

Mother Shiptons Cave


Many things have been turned to stone over the years and you can see some examples hanging from the Well including the famous teddy bears that take three to five months to turn to stone. I was so curious about them so was very happy to discover that in the small museum at the exit you have the opportunity to hold one and they really are turned completely to stone - incredible!

A few short steps from Mother Shiptons Cave you'll find The Wishing Well, it is a very old tradition that if you are visiting the cave you must visit for a wish. The rules are very specific, you dip in your right hand and make a wish, leaving the water to dry naturally and not telling another person of your wish! I obviously can't tell you what I wished for!

Mother Shiptons Cave - Wishing Well


The Museum at the exit of the attraction is well worth a visit with many items donated by celebrities that have been turned to stone. As well as recent items donated by stars of Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Blue Peter there is also a hat worn by John Wayne and Agatha Christies hat. The most valuable item is a shoe left by Queen Mary donated from her visit in 1923.

Mother Shiptons Cave - Knaresborough


Exploring Knaresborough

Until a couple of months ago Knaresborough wasn't on my radar at all but after seeing some truly beautiful photos of the market town I thought it would be worth a visit and it truly was absolutely stunning, one of the prettiest places I have ever visited.

We began our visit pottering along the River Nidd, the perfect place to explore on such a beautiful Summer's day. If you love messing about on rivers in the sunshine then Knaresborough is a must visit. There are a couple of different spots along the banks of the river where you can hire boats and take yourself out for an adventure on the water.
Exploring Knaresborough


We're definitely more observers than action men so loved spending an hour or so sitting by the river watching the row boats go past, chuckling at those that were struggling and enjoying seeing the excited children's big smiles and the romantic couples out for a row. Maybe next time we'll give it a go.

Exploring Knaresborough Yorkshire


If, like us, you love the slow lane there are plenty of lovely places along the river for lunch or a drink. We set up camp on the terrace of the Marigold Cafe, the prime spot for watching the row boats and a nice menu of hot food and light bites. I went for a cheese scone which I enjoyed eating whilst watching the world go by.

It's worth knowing that Marigold also have an ice-cream shop just across the road, selling Yummy Yorkshire ice cream made in Denby Dale. They create the most incredible flavours and Marigold have up to 12 flavours available. I opted for Lemon Mascarpone and Ginger Crunch and it was incredible.

Exploring Knaresborough Yummy Yorkshire Ice Cream


A few people had told me that the best part of Knaresborough was the waterfront and that the town wasn't really worth exploring but I'm very glad we decided to go and have a look because we discovered something quite different. There were some really lovely streets to explore and although we didn't have a lot of time to look properly what we saw we liked and Simon was thrilled to find The Sweet Cabin, a traditional shop that sold all of his favourites.

Exploring Knaresborough Town


For the very best views of The Viaduct (the very beautiful focal point of Knaresborough) a stroll up the hill to the Castle is a must. The views over the gorge are lovely, it's very much the kind of place where you use up your entire memory card snapping photographs because every time you turn a corner you're met with a view even prettier than before.

Exploring Knaresborough Viaduct


Whilst visiting Knaresborough Castle it's only right to say hello to the Castle Ravens but don't be surprised if you get a response. They talk to tourists! Not only do they talk, they talk in a Yorkshire accent and have been known to greet visitors with a cheeky "you alright love?" - they're incredibly mischievous and the most famous of all, Izabella has been known to fake illness only to fly off with concerned people's cameras and dump them on top of the castle roof (brilliant!)

Knaresborough Castle Ravens
We loved exploring the Harrogate area and discovering some new wonderful places to add to our favourites list. If you're after a really entertaining day trip that will appeal to the whole family I highly recommend following in our footsteps.

View From Knaresborough Castle


We were very kindly gifted complimentary admission to Mother Shipton's Cave in exchange for an honest review as part of this feature.
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Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Lunch and a Refurbishment at Jesmond Dene House

This is an advertisement feature with Jesmond Dene House

Jesmond Dene House really doesn't need any kind of introduction, the beautiful luxury hotel on the outskirts of Newcastle has been featured on my blog probably more times than anywhere else. We've been obsessed ever since our first visit, when we popped in for a quick cup of coffee and were so impressed by the incredible service and lovely surroundings that we haven't stopped shouting about what a wonderful place it is ever since.

Lunch and a Refurbishment at Jesmond Dene House
We have celebrated so many occasions at Jesmond Dene House and the hotel has definitely been a very important part of our lives since I first moved up to Newcastle. From romantic overnight stays to Christmas parties with friends and afternoon teas with the Mother In Law - Jesmond Dene House has been there for it all and it is somewhere very special to us.

So when we found out that the hotel had enjoyed a refurbishment to celebrate their fourteen years since opening I was very excited although perhaps also a little nervous. When you love somewhere so much, change can be a bit of a scary thing. What if we didn't like what had happened to our favourite place?

Lunch and Refurbishment at Jesmond Dene House
The changes at Jesmond Dene House have been happening steadily over the last few months with a lot of the public areas of the hotel including the Cocktail Bar and Grand Hall having a makeover as well as the guest bedrooms and suites. The Restaurant and Garden Room were the final part of the project and having only recently been completed we thought it was the perfect time to drop by to take a look.

It had been a while since our last visit to Jesmond Dene House, and with the arrival of head chef Danny Parker last year, we were more than ready to not only see the refurbishment but also enjoy a try of the new menus. Table booked for lunch we headed off to the Dene to rediscover an old favourite.

Lunch Refurbishment at Jesmond Dene House
Shown into the new look restaurant for the first time, Simon and I really couldn't believe the transformation.  I honestly had never really found fault in the way that the restaurant looked before but thinking back to it now it was so dark, tired and dated and was in desperate need of a makeover. Just looking back through the photographs in my afternoon tea review from 4 years ago the changes are huge.

The new look restaurant at Jesmond Dene House is beautiful! So much lighter and brighter than before,  the room has a new carpet, beautiful new tables and chairs and is the perfect spot to enjoy lunch, afternoon tea or an evening meal.

Refurbishment at Jesmond Dene House


If you want my personal recommendation, the very best table in the house has to be the one that we dined at, table number 7 by the window which not only means you can appreciate those beautiful big windows but also offers great contrasting views of both the garden and the next door Garden Room. It's also a pretty romantic spot if you fancy a date with your other half.

Refurbishment at Jesmond Dene House - Restaurant
Just off the Restaurant you'll find The Garden Room, a beautiful conservatory overlooking the garden, it has always been one of my favourite places in Jesmond Dene House and is the room we ask to have afternoon tea in the Summer months. I never thought it would be possible to love The Garden Room more than I already did, but with its makeover it is even more beautiful than before. It truly brings the outdoors inside with the beautiful large windows overlooking the garden becoming a real feature of the room, perfectly complemented by the very swish new chairs and light fittings.

Refurbishment at Jesmond Dene House - Garden Room
Once I'd stopped walking around with my mouth wide open it was time to settle ourselves down for lunch.  As always at Jesmond Dene House I was given my very own "nut free" menu that offered me plenty of dishes to choose from along with the wonderful feeling of knowing that I wasn't going to have to have any awkward allergy conversations and that I was in safe hands.

Of course, I began our lunch by attacking the bread which was served beautifully on a wooden board along with some salted butter (delicious but a little too hard for spreading) and the real treat the parsley butter which was incredible. I will admit I was a little dubious when I spread a thick layer of green coloured butter on my bread but wow it was good and I'm now a firm believer that all butter should be served this way.

Lunch at Jesmond Dene House - Bread


For my starter I opted for the Garden Pea and Mint Soup, Goats Cheese & Lemon with Toasted Focaccia (£6.50) - I'm sure you'll agree it's the perfect dish to compliment beautiful garden views. The soup was incredible, really thick and indulgent and even Simon who forever turns his nose up at the idea of anyone ordering soup for a starter, had to admit it was really delicious. Let's not judge that I also got to enjoy some delicious Focaccia after already munching my way through the bread board!

Lunch at Jesmond Dene House - Pea and Mint Soup
Simon opted for the Salmon & Cod Fish Cake & Roasted Garlic with Lime Mayonnaise (£7.50) - he very graciously offered me a little try and although incredible I still thought that I had won on the starters - he thought it was pretty even so we'll have to agree to disagree.

Lunch at Jesmond Dene House - Fishcake


Next up was the mains and I decided to go for the Roasted North Sea Cod, Tomato & Chorizo Cassoulet with Borlotti Beans, Chickpeas & Butterbeans (£15.50) Absolutely delicious, it was a proper hearty dish.  Never one to resist a good meaty dish, Simon ordered the Braised Shoulder of Beef served with Tender stem Broccoli & Triple Cooked Chips (£22.50). He described it as "deliciously sticky" when I managed to get him to offer his review in the short amount of time I had when his mouth wasn't full. He polished off the entire dish in record time and declared that we should really go out for lovely lunches more often.

Lunch at Jesmond Dene House - Menu


Ordering dessert was the biggest decision as the menu was incredible, I could have quite happily ordered one of everything and even when I narrowed it down I still had five favourites to choose from. I'm quite surprised I'm not still sitting there now trying to decide.

After a lot of mind changing I decided on the Strawberry Mousse, Mascarpone Ice cream, Macerated Strawberries and Ruby Chocolate (£8.50). The perfect Summer time treat, I couldn't believe how pretty the dish looked with all of the vibrant pinks and reds - a real treat for the eyes as well as my belly.  Often I really overindulge when it comes to dessert and pick something that's really stodgy so I really enjoyed the lighter option of the mousse, it was really filling without being heavy and such a great way to finish my meal.

Lunch at Jesmond Dene House - Strawberry Mousse
I, very sneakily, managed to convince Simon to order another dessert that I was desperate to try - the Dark Chocolate, Vanilla & Coffee Opera Cake with Woodruff Ice Cream (£9.00) - not that he offered me much of it, I only managed to pinch a tiny spoonful but wow was it good. I love coffee flavours in dessert and this one really hit the spot.

Lunch at Jesmond Dene House - Opera Cake
We absolutely loved our return visit to Jesmond Dene House and couldn't believe how much the refurbishment made us fall for the place all over again. We can't wait to spend many, many more years celebrating in our favourite spot in Newcastle.

Lunch at Jesmond Dene House


Find Jesmond Dene House at:

Jesmond Dene Road
NE2 2EY

0191 212 3000

jesmonddenehouse.co.uk/

We were treated to a complimentary lunch for two in exchange for this review.
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