Hidden Newcastle: The Literary and Philosophical Society

Near the Central Station in Newcastle you will find the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne. The Lit & Phil  as it is more commonly known is just round the corner from Newcastle Castle and old Newcastle. It is easy to walk past without realising the significance of the building. Indeed I have often walked past but last weekend I was enticed by the banner that has appeared outside. This says “We’ve been here since 1825, have you been in yet?” I took up the invitation and went inside.

Lit and PhilIt is really worth stopping for a moment and going in for a look around. Inside you will find the largest independent library outside London holding over 160,000 books. It is more than a library, it is like taking a step back in time to the Newcastle of the 1800’s. Books line the walls on all sides and light comes into the reading room though dome shaped skylights. It is a welcoming place, members are quick to help you and show you round. Members and visitors are welcome to stop and read a while, work or study, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the library.

Lit and philThe Lit and Phil began in 1793 when a few gentlemen got together and created a conversation club. They would meet in various locations around Newcastle. The society became popular and in 1825 they moved into this building which became their permanent home. The society attracted the great thinkers of the day and you can imagine them meeting here and exchanging ideas. Many famous names were presidents of the Lit and Phil, among them Lord Armstrong, Robert Stephenson, Joseph Swan and Charles Parsons.  Statues and portraits of famous members are found beside the bookcases.

Lit and philThe society was a place where technology was shown off and the lecture theatre was the first to be lit by electric light during one of Joseph Swans lectures. George Stephenson also demonstrated his miners safety lamp here.The spirit of innovation is still alive and many events take place here during the year. There are concerts, lectures, workshops, poetry reading and book launches among others.When we visited there a recital was going on. The events are open to the public and many are free.

Lit and philThere are plenty of objects of interest to look at. Old books are displayed around the room and there was even a miners safety lamp. It is easy to spend time just walking around looking to see what is on display. Tables are dotted around the room inviting you to sit and read.

Lit and philLit and philEven children are catered for with the children’s corner. Enclosed by book cases it provides a cosy place for children to sit and read. There are small tables and chairs, boxes of picture books and books for older children on the shelves.

Lit and PhilReading rooms are set off from the main library, we went into the ladies reading room. With paintings on the walls, snug sofas and comfy seats it would be the perfect place to relax and read for a while.

lit and phil ladies reading roomWe accessed the second floor up the winding spiral staircases. The shelves are packed full of books of all types. As well as books the Lit and Phil also has an extensive range of music with over 10,000 LPs and 8,000 CDs as well as audio books and sheet music. There is a place set aside on the top floor where you can listen to the music. It also has a very impressive table, you can imagine heated discussions taking place here.

Lit and PhilLooking down from above you can appreciate how many books are stored on the shelves, it would take a long time to read all of these.

Lit and PhilYou can become a member of the Lit and Phil and borrow books published after 1850 or music from the collection. By joining the Lit and Phil you help to support the library and ensure its future. Anyone is free to drop in and use it as a reference library or just have a look around. It is a really impressive place and I am glad we dropped in to find out more about it. Have you ever been?

When you leave why not have a walk round to Amen corner and see if you can find the vampire rabbit staring balefully at the cathedral.

A visit to Souter Lighthouse

There is something atmospheric about lighthouses. Vital for the safety of ships in bad weather, they often stand on isolated promontories or rocky outcrops in the sea. At night they send their coded flashes across the water, warning of rocks and acting as an aid to navigation. When it is foggy their foghorns pierce the gloom, keeping ships off the rocks. The life of a lighthouse keeper must have been an isolated and hard life. Staying on the lighthouse night after night, making sure everything worked smoothly. Often alone, their only contact with civilisation was when a boat came to bring them supplies. Many old lighthouses are not in use any more but remain on the coast as a reminder of Britain’s naval and shipping heritage. Souter lighthouse is one of these, it was opened in 1871 and is located on the South Shields coast near Marsden. Standing on cliffs at Lizard Point it’s red and white hoops make it instantly visible. It kept ships off the reefs at Whitburn Steel which was one of the most dangerous reefs in the country. It was also the first lighthouse in the world to be designed and built to use electricity to power the light. Whilst it was ahead of its time when it was built it has now been decommissioned, the use of satelite navigation and GPS meant it was no longer needed.

Souter lighthouseThese days Souter lighthouse is owned by the National Trust and open to visitors. The lighthouse is a picturesque sight, its red and white colours look dramatic against the blue sky. Behind it there is a steep drop off the limestone cliffs to the beach. The cliffs are filled with nesting kittiwakes, cormorant and other birds who provide background sound. We visited Marsden to watch the Sunderland Air Show last year and wandered down to the beach which was a steep climb. Today we were content to visit the lighthouse and wander around. There was a beach barbecue going on in the field beneath the lighthouse.

Souter lighthouseWe bought some burgers and sat and eat them in the sun. There are plenty of picnic tables around the lighthouse, set to one side in walled gardens which offered the perfect place to get some sunshine. The dog watched hopefully in case we could spare some burger for him.

Souter lighthouseAfter eating we went down to the field to have a look round. There were other things going on, swing ball and bouncy castles were available in the field by the foghorn. The foghorn looked very impressive, I can imagine that it makes a very loud noise when it sounds.

Souter lighthouseAt the end of the field we came across a Punch and Judy show. My son was fascinated, he had never seen one before. We watched as Mr Punch tried to keep the sausages safe from the crocodile.

Souter lighthouseAfter watching the show we wandered back towards Souter lighthouse to have a look inside. I had visited many years ago and I knew that my son would be fascinated to climb up and see the light.

Souter lighthouse

Inside Souter Lighthouse

Entering inside Souter lighthouse is like going back in time. Everything remains as it was when the lighthouse was in use. There are large generators used to provide the electricity for the light which would have to be well maintained. If the light went off when it was stormy it could have been a disaster for the shipping.

souter lighthouseWhen I was young we used to watch Dr Who on a regular basis. One of the episodes was called The Horror of Fang Rock which is set in a lighthouse. The power is being drained from the light by a mysterious beast and the doctor has to investigate. Souter lighthouse put me in mind of this episode, the large generators, old fashioned radio room and the lighthouse keepers cottage are filled with atmosphere. I was waiting for the dark to fall and the fog to start swirling in.

Souter lighthouseThis was one of the first lights used in the lighthouse, as you can see it was huge. There is lots of interesting information round the lighthouse which tells you all about the history. There is also lots of information about our nautical heritage and objects from that time on display as well as an area with activities for children. I was fascinated by the ships compass and my son was impressed with the large array of knots on display. Imagine learning to tie all those.

Souter lighthouseSouter lighthouseWe lingered a while in the radio room, it was possible to imagine the shipping news and morse code transmissions filling the air.

Souter lighthouseIt was time to tackle the stairs and climb the lighthouse to find the light. Luckily I was wearing sensible shoes this time, unlike on my visit to Newcastle Castle where I wore flip flops. They are not the best shoes for tacking steps. The stairs are steep and narrow with only really enough room for one person to go up at a time. There are passing places on the way up. The spiral stairs stop at a landing and then to reach the light there is a wooden ladder. This is also steep.

Souter lighthouseThere is not much room at the top of the lighthouse. Most of the room is taken up with the light which is incredibly large. There is a small walkway around the light and you are able to look out though the window across the coast. The light must have taken a lot of work to make.

Souter lighthouseAfter we climbed downstairs again we visited the lighthouse keepers cottage. This gave a real feel for what it was like to live in the lighthouse, the rooms were small and cosy. Imagine having to do your cooking on this range.

souter lighthouseThe yard had all the washing hung out, I am so glad that I have a washing machine and do not have to tackle washing with a washboard and mangle.

souter lighthouseWe really enjoyed our visit to Souter lighthouse, it is lovely to have a glimpse into the past and the life of a lighthouse keeper.  I took one more photo of this photogenic lighthouse as we left.

Souter lighthousePrices

National Trust members are free. The prices for tickets are £5.80 for an adult £3.15 for a child and £14.00 for a family. Entry to the grounds, shop and cafe are free. You can find more information on the National Trust website

Dragons and Fairy Dust

A visit to the NE1 Motor Show

The first ever NE1 Motor Show took place on the 11th and 12th July 2015. My family love to visit events involving cars, previously visiting the Kielder vintage car rally and the Whitley Bay bus rally. How could we not go along to the NE1 Motor Show? We woke on Saturday to a grey day which threatened rain. Dark clouds loomed in the distance and a few droplets of rain could be felt in the air. Undaunted we set off into town to explore the motor show.  Luckily the sun was soon shining and the say became warm. The area from Grey’s Monument to Grey Street was filled with cars. Grey Street had been closed to traffic and although it was early the area was full of people who had come to see the NE1 Motor Show.NE1 Motor showAround the monument was the sponsors area where the dealers were displaying their cars. Benfield Motors were showing their Nissan range including the Nissan Leaf which is an electric hybrid. In this area you could buy merchandise and programs as well as try out a driving simulator and other games.  Aston Martin were there with their cars, made famous by James Bond. The Aston Martin Vanquish looked perfect for driving down a steep mountain road, taking sharp bends whilst pressing buttons to release the latest gadgets to stop the pursuers. The engine when running had an distinctive roar.

NE1 motor show
NE1 motor show
NE1 motor showWe also came across a Bentley and a Porsche underneath the shadow of Earl Grey atop his monument. Crowds surrounded the cars, eager to look inside. It was possible to sit inside some of the cars and get a feel for what it would be like driving them. My son tried out a Lamborghini but soon found out it was really difficult to get out of the driving seat once you were inside. The car is so low down it is hard to get up. I half expected a chauffeur to get out of the Bentley and open the door for me.
NE1 motor show
NE1 motorshowA Formula One racing car was also on display, it was interesting to see the difference between it and the other cars. There really is not much space inside for the driver.
NE1 motor showAlong Grey Street down to Mosley Street was the area where private owners could display their vehicles. Metro Radio had set up at the bottom of the street and their tunes added a lift to the event. There was a wide range of cars on display here, Ferraris, Lamborghini’s, Rolls Royce  and many more, from modern day to vintage.

NE1 Motor Show NE1 Motor Show NE1 motor show NE1 Motor ShowNE1 Motor showIt was fascinating seeing the range of vehicles on display. All of them are obviously well cared for. Some of the vintage cars brought back memories and made me think of old television series like The Prisoner and Thunderbirds. I would not have been surprised if Parker had opened the door of the Rolls Royce for Lady Penelope as we walked past.
The NE1 Motor Show was a great free event and we really enjoyed it. I hope that it comes back to Newcastle next year. Did you go along to the motor show over the two days it was on? I would love to know what you thought.


Vintage Bus Rally at Whitley Bay

My husband and son are fascinated by vintage cars and motorbikes. Last year we went to the vintage car rally at Kielder Water and had a great time. When we found out that there was a vintage bus rally at Whitley Bay we had to go. We had been before, many years ago when my son was around five. I have an picture of him standing in front of a big yellow bus looking very excited from that visit. I enjoy visiting Whitley Bay. There is something nice about walking along the sea front, looking at the waves crashing on the beach and seeing the lighthouse in the distance. The other direction takes you to Tynemouth, which is a lovely place to stop and shop. Tynemouth priory dominates the seafront, perched on a cliff and two smaller lighthouses mark the start of the river Tyne. Blue Reef Aquarium is also a nice place to visit for an hour or two.

whitley bay lighthouseThe bus rally was taking place at the Links. When we arrived there were quite a few buses there and others still arriving. It was interesting to see all the buses gathered in one place and the differences between them. Behind them we could see the sea, a couple of small yachts were making the most of the wind.

Whitley Bay bus rallyAs well as the buses there were stalls selling bus memorabilia. There were old bus tickets, timetables and magazines about buses as well as a selection of toy buses. One stall had old photographs of buses going back years, it was fascinating seeing how the designs had changed over time.

Whitley Bay Bus RallyWe set about exploring the buses, some where older than others. I remember buses being yellow in Newcastle around twenty years ago. The smaller yellow bus in the middle looked older and my son ventured inside, taking his place in the driving seat. Fortunately he could not go anywhere, there were no keys. The passenger seats did look very cosy and much bigger than seats today.

Whitley bay bus rally Behind one of the buses the dome of Spanish City could be seen. This has been a feature of Whitley Bay since 1910 and has been a concert hall and funfair during its lifetime. It is currently being refurbished and the Under The Dome festival will be held there over the Summer with plenty of events to look out for.

Whitley bay bus rallyThese London buses made me think of visiting the theatre with their posters on the outside. One even had eyes and was keeping a close eye on the proceedings. A bit later one of these buses started giving rides down to Tynemouth and back which would have been fun.

Whitley Bay Bus RallyBuses kept arriving while we were there, this blue bus was from 1964 and was quite unique. I am sure that there are not many of these remaining. It must be a labour of love to keep them running and to locate the parts for them.

Whitley bay bus rallyThis bright green bus was rather eye catching and smart. 

Whitley Bay Bus RallyLast time we were there I am sure there were a lot more buses, some very old ones had made an appearance. I suspect that some of these buses will not be running for that much longer and it was interesting seeing them while they were still going. It is nice to see them all in one place. While we were at the bus rally I caught sight of Di Meo’s ice cream shop across the road. We had tried their ice cream whilst we were at the Jesmond Food Market and it was delicious. I insisted that my husband had to try some.

Di MeosWe were spoiled for choice, there were a lot more flavours to choose from in the shop. It was a difficult decision. In the end my husband chose strawberry cheesecake, my son chose milky bar and I went for the salted caramel flavour.

Di Meo'sThe ice cream was as good as I remembered and we sat in the sun and ate it at the tables outside the shop. It was a lovely end to an interesting day.

Kuppa Coffee – Newcastle

I love popping into Newcastle city centre at the weekend. There are so many shops to visit along Northumberland Street and in Eldon Square that you can spend a lot of time browsing. There are always buskers along Northumberland Street and my son always has comments on if they are good or bad. There is also one guy who makes detailed statues out of sand and we love to see what he has created. My son is now at an age where he loves to spend time looking in clothes shops so wandering around town can turn into a lengthy trip. When shopping there is nothing nicer than taking the time to sit down and have a cup of tea or a cold drink. Recently I discovered a cosy basement coffee house that is the perfect place to stop for a quiet cup of coffee and relax for a while. Kuppa Coffee Newcastle is situated on St Marys Place, opposite the civic centre and just round the corner from the Haymarket. If you have a moment is it worth walking over and viewing some of the statues in the Civic Centre grounds. It is easy to miss Kuppa Coffee if you don’t know it is there, entry is down a flight of stairs.

Kuppa CoffeeKuppa Coffee is a speciality coffee house which like to explore new varieties of coffee. They offer barista coffee, Espresso, Mocha, latte, they have it all. If you prefer tea there are seven different types on offer and for the sweet toothed there is premium hot chocolate which comes in milk, white or dark. The selection and prices are easily seen on the blackboard on the wall.

Kuppa coffeeIf you are hungry you will be tempted by the cakes on the counter, they looked delicious and my son remarked they were calling out to him. The seeded flapjacks looked amazing. As well as cakes there is a range of sandwiches and kuppanini (panini). The panini are served with salad and crisps. The staff are friendly and helpful.

Kuppa CoffeeThe interior of Kuppa Coffee is welcoming and cosy, the sofas invite you to sit and stay for a while. If you look around there are lots little objects spread around that make it feel like a living room and add to the welcoming feel. The walls also have plenty to look at.  There is plenty of seating so you are able to sit away from people if you wish.

Kuppa CoffeeWe had been invited to try the new smoothies that have just been added to the menu. These are perfect for a hot summer day. There are three different flavours to try and they contain fruit bubbles. This was a new idea to me and I was interested to see what it would be like. My son and I both chose Strawberry Delight. I chose lychee bubbles and he went for melon. The drink was delicious, full of flavour and really refreshing. The straw was big enough to suck up the fruit bubbles and these added a fresh burst of flavour to the drink. I think I may have found a new addiction and will definitely have to go back again soon.

Kuppa Coffee

If you are looking for somewhere to sit and relax after a days shopping you can’t go far wrong with Kuppa Coffee.

I was provided with a drink but was under no obligation to write about my experiences. My opinions are honest and my own.