The Tyne, not the Thames, is the place to be for this summer’s leading British cultural event, says Chris Leadbeater.
Great up north
Go prune yourself, Chelsea Flower Show. Take that mime act to Glasgow and see what they think of it there, Edinburgh Festival(s). Give it a rest, Glastonbury. What’s that? Oh yes, you are this year. Right, good. Anyway – the point is that this summer’s leading cultural event in Britain is not one of the seasonal staples. It’s the Great Exhibition of the North (getnorth2018.com), which started yesterday and is going to spend the best part of three months (until Sept 9) illuminating both banks of the river Tyne. How? An array of events pinned to the grand oeuvres of art, science, music and design, in institutions in Newcastle and Gateshead. Will it be good? Yes, it will.
One of the exhibition’s main venues will be the Baltic. No, not the sea that nuzzles up to Russia. As we’ve seen from the World Cup, there’s been enough nuzzling up to Russia already this summer. This, instead, is the Centre for Contemporary Art, which is set in an ex-flour mill in Gateshead (baltic.art). Front and centre during the exhibition will be “Idea of North”, a study of Northern identity via photography, music, and architecture.
One of the exhibition’s more curious inclusions (at Baltic) is “Ceremony” – a documentary about the transportation of a statue of Friedrich Engels from eastern Europe to Manchester, the city where the Marxist philosopher made his name. It’s by Phil Collins. The Turner Prize-nominated artist, of course. Not Mr Coming-In-The-Air-Tonight, in case you were wondering.
If you are in Northumberland for the exhibition, you should see more of the region. And what better than Hadrian’s Wall, the second century’s evidence that building a big barrier between you and your neighbour will solve all your problems? Ramblers Walking Holidays (ramblersholidays.co.uk) sells a seven-night self-guided trip from £799 a head.
Tyne and cheer
Does Newcastle do boutique accommodation? Of course it does. It’s a significant city. Take Jesmond Dene House (jesmonddenehouse.co.uk) as a fine example. It has afternoon teas. It has a restaurant that serves dishes such as roast veal carpaccio (£14). It has 40 stylish bedrooms, starting at £99 a night, accommodation only.
Why stay in the city when you can opt for the glorious Northumberland countryside? How about Eshott Hall, a Georgian mansion 25 miles north of Newcastle (eshotthall.co.uk). It offers double rooms from £84 a night, including breakfast. Which sounds lovely.
Thrills and hills
OK, it’s pub quiz time. Let’s have a show of hands, please. True or false – the Pennines are strictly a Derbyshire preserve? A cascade of applause for those who said “false”. And a waterfall of derision and tut-tutting for those who chose “true”. The proof? Why, it’s the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is great for hiking, and is (partially, at least) in Northumberland – details at northpennines.org.uk.
As in the opposite of “Newcastle”. As in Bamburgh Castle, the Norman fortress (bamburghcastle.com) on Northumberland’s coast. William the Conqueror would be furious. He went to the trouble of making it a stronghold. Now it offers lodging to all and sundry in its Neville Tower from £196 a night (crabtreeandcrabtree.com).
The 1990 hit single “Fog On The Tyne”, featuring footballer Paul Gascoigne, was another pinnacle of British culture. But there should be nothing to cloud the heavens if you visit Northumberland National Park. Is that an awfully weak link to a snippet about stargazing? Yes, it is. The park website lists the best places in this protected space for encounters with “Dark Skies”. See northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/where-to-stargaze.
We all know that “Octopus’s Garden”, Ringo’s contribution to “Abbey Road”, has proved to be the creative high-tide for the Beatles and, well, humanity. Why mention this? Because, during the exhibition, the Great North Museum: Hancock (in Newcastle; greatnorthmuseum.org.uk) is running “Buried Treasure: In An Octopus’s Garden” – items (such as a Nobel medal) “that inspire great human endeavours”. Ringo would understand.