With a couple of days of much-needed R&R imminent, there was a bit of dilemma.
Whether to choose a city break with culture and bit of energy, or get some chill-out time with countryside on the doorstep?
The solution proved surprisingly simple – get the best of both worlds. All the buzz, handiness and things to do of Newcastle but with a bit of a getaway at the end of the day, too.
To that end, we made Blyth, just a half-hour drive away in Northumberland, our base.
We’d stayed at a few of the Inn Collection properties before – most recently the latest addition, the smart Amble Inn, just minutes from the bustling harbour – and knew they were friendly home-from-home choices.
The Commissioners Quay was the latest not to disappoint. Billed as a contemporary pub with rooms, it couldn’t be in a better location.
It’s on the seafront and our room had a balcony with spectacular views.
The Inn’s bar and restaurant have a nautical theme and looking out from there or the adjacent terrace was a delight.
The beauty of Newcastle is its sheer walkability. After parking in the centre, it was a gentle walk to the Quayside.
A sunny morning showed it off to its best and it’s a must-see part of town.
Straight across the Millennium Bridge to the south bank of the River Tyne was BALTIC, our first stop.
This landmark former flour mill is the UK’s largest dedicated contemporary art institution, with 2,600 square metres of art space.
It’s vast and a couple of hours whizzed by, with both thought-provoking and interactive exhibits. Take a tip and get the lift to the fifth floor, which has amazing views, and then work your way down.
We were ready for a bit of refreshment and the River Brew Co. was a pretty cool place to revive ourselves.
It’s a hip community of stacked, converted shipping containers underneath the iconic Tyne Bridge.
After a coffee at the Backyard Bike Shop we were ready to go again and across the red, Grade II listed Swing Bridge, we took a real step back in time.
The first fortification on the site of Newcastle Castle dates back more than 1,800 years and it was a family-friendly look at warring armies and grim prison executions.
One word of advice, though – there are a lot of steps (one winding staircase has 99). Mind you, the panorama from the top, once we’d caught our breath, down to the railway and the city beyond was worth it.
Next up was Grey Street, the architectural heart of the city centre and home to the Theatre Royal, and then on to Grainger Market.
Its rich history goes back a couple of hundred years and it’s still buzzing with life and packed with stalls selling, it seemed, almost everything.
Our leisurely wander had taken up much of the day and, rather than rush, we headed back to Blyth where the restaurant at the Commissioners dished up cracking kebabs and a great steak.
After a relaxing night and a hearty breakfast and we were ready for a short hop back to Newcastle for something we’d been told we needed to devote a bit of time to, the Discovery Museum.
Housed in the striking old Co-operative Wholesale Building, it certainly merited a few hours with the industrial might of the city and region writ large across three floors.
The scene is set from the moment you walk in, with the Turbinia, the world’s first steam turbine-powered ship, dominating the ground floor.
Discovery is a real hands-on place where you experience the past by touching and trying it as much as seeing it and kids and oldies alike love it.
But the beauty of Blyth was that the attractions of Northumberland including its brilliant castles, Bamburgh and Alnwick, were equally short drives away.
Heading north to Alnwick, we were lucky to have picked a day where medieval jousting was taking place. And with the fascinating location tour telling of the castle’s Harry Potter and Downton appearances, it was the perfect way to round off our city and countryside break
Newcastle is well-regarded for its retail therapy and department store Fenwicks is a perfect place to start. And there’s more opportunity to indulge in neighbouring Eldon Square.
Standard double rooms at the Commissioners Quay cost from £89.96 bed and breakfast. commissionersquayinn.com
For info on Newcastle, see newcastlegateshead.com
Northumberland tourist info is available at visitnorthumberland.com