If you’re anything like me, one of the first things you’ll want to see in Newcastle is the building that gives the city its name – so what can you expect?
Well firstly, don’t expect a Bamburgh or Alnwick Castle because all that’s left is The Keep and Black Gate.
Northumberland has any number of castles due to its proximity with the Scottish border, and although that border is someway north of Newcastle it has to be remembered that Hadrian’s Wall came right through where the city stands today in order to “separate the Romans from the barbarians”.
In fact, the very spot where the castle is located was the site of Pons Aelius, the original fort on Hadrian’s Wall that overlooked the Roman bridge below.
The ‘New Castle’ was built over the top of Pons Aelius by William the Conqueror’s eldest son Robert Curthose in 1080, but it was most likely a Motte and Bailey construction.
Between 1168 and 1178 it was re-built in stone including the Keep. The Barbican, now called the Black Gate, was the last addition to be built (1247-1250) and is where you purchase your tickets to visit the castle.
During the 13th century a wall was built around the castle and nearby dwellings for protection, but apart from a siege during the Civil War, it doesn’t appear to have been involved in too much action, and eventually became just a prison.
The mid-19th century saw the arrival of the railway to Newcastle and the buildings around the castle were demolished to make way for a viaduct. The viaduct and railway line are still here dividing the Castle Keep from the Black Gate.
Although it’s difficult to see that situation ever changing the good news is that the city has woken up to the fact something needed to be done, and in 2015 renovations were completed bringing the Castle and Black Gate back to life.
The Castle Keep is the most interesting of the two buildings as you would imagine, but for obvious reasons people with mobility problems will find it difficult to get to the top for views over the city and down to the river.
At the Black Gate however, a lift has been installed on the outside so that the facilities on offer can be accessed by everybody. It has to be said though that there’s not so much to see here as in the Keep.
The improvements have made for a much better experience than it was when I first came here in 2005, and with a bit of luck the ‘New Castle’ will start to make people realise that there’s more to Newcastle than just nights out on the ‘toon’ and football.