This cathedral-licking trip to Newcastle was made very special for the fact that it was also a day spent with a very dear friend.
Marc and I worked as Vikings together at the Jorvik Centre in York for just over year, and during that time we bonded over a shared love of history, ghost stories, mead and sick humour. After leaving Jorvik I was a guest at his wedding in Newcastle in September 2010, but since then our paths regrettably had not crossed. His excellent Archaeosoup videos had been one of the few links to my old friend and (please forgive the bromance gush here) made me miss him even more.
It was Marc who first suggested creating a Facebook group for the cathedral quest, and also he who thought that a blog would be a jolly good idea for documenting each lick. Through Archaeosoup he has helped spread the word and as a result I now have followers as far away as India, as well as a few closer to home, who have offered all sorts of assistance and kindness in completing his tongue-wearying task. I have therefore a lot to thank Marc for.
So, with a whole week before me in the North it seemed about time to return to Newcastle, partly to lick its fine 14th-century cathedral, but mainly to see the great Mr. Astles again. Once more I was joined by my amazing (and very patient) girlfriend, Lisa, who as an ex-Jorvik Viking herself can also count Marc as a friend. Being a staunch supporter of my cause she was already a veteran of four licks, and now urged me to make the most of my week off work and get as many done as possible. My complacency, she feared, would ultimately lead to my public nudity and eternal shame. It was time to moisten some stone.
We met Marc off the train with him already documenting the great event on his iphone video camera. After a mighty man-hug and a few back slaps we headed straight for the cathedral, handily only a short walk away from the Newcastle station. Marc was clearly excited about the prospect of the lick ahead and I was equally thrilled by him being there to film it. This was the first time a cathedral licking would actually go on film!
I’m sorry to say that in the excitement of seeing my friend again I may have missed some of the finer details of St. Nicholas’s of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. However, Marc’s film does much to highlight this marvellous building, as well as the complex history and character of this fascinating city. Glimpses of its long history are all around you if you take the trouble to look, though Newcastle’s past is not something many would associate the place with today. An 800-year-old castle keep now sits awkwardly in its modern surroundings, though this is the “new castle” that was once the beating heart of the city. Under its 800-year-old foundations more ancient, Roman fortifications once stood guarding the river crossing nearby. This is also border territory of course and once sat on the front line of the Scottish wars. Newcastle has received its fair share of batterings from our northern neighbours throughout history, with the Anglican cathedral of St. Nicholas being one of the main targets for cannon balls and looters.
Like several of the other smaller cathedrals encountered so far, St. Nicholas’s did not start life as part of a huge monastery complex, but was open to all as a parish church from around 1080 until as recently as 1882. Its unusual 15th-century lantern spire saw use as a navigation point for ships on the River Tyne and is perhaps the building’s most striking feature. This link to the sea is evident throughout, especially at the Danish War Memorial Window, dedicated to the memory of 1400 exiled Danish sailors who sailed from Newcastle never to return during World War II. Having lived in Denmark briefly myself this was particularly poignant and unexpected. The sight of the Dannebrog (the official name of the Danish flag) hanging from a wall had me almost sprinting down the nave in glee. Not only am I Scandinavian and cathedral geek, I do love a good flag as well. Underneath the flag were a few commemorative words of Danish, which I translated out loud to my companions before getting to the job in hand.
One thing that this splendid cathedral lacked was a sign with Newcastle Cathedral upon it, a pretty fundamental failing in terms of positive identification of the licking location. All the signs on offer only mentioned St. Nicholas, which was all well and good, but I craved the name of the city more. But this was no real disaster as I have two witnesses and a high quality YouTube video as proof. You will see that we ventured back outside for the lick itself, onto quite a busy street with many an onlooker passing by. At first this audience made me feel anxious, but the fact that I was with others probably gave the impression to people that we were just mad students having a laugh. Had I been alone however, the sight of a man licking the cathedral wall may have lead to some blood-chilling punishments. A friend had once told me about a tar and feathering incident in Newcastle city centre, something I remembered with a jolt just as my tongue came in contact with the wall. Thankfully the only punishments suffered were a slight salty taste and a few pieces of grit grinding my teeth.
With the task done we could further enjoy the delights of Newcastle, a pub being the first stop for the Archaesoup interview. If you would like to see more of Marc’s work visit http://http://archaeosoup.com/. Hopefully Marc can join me in Wales, his homeland, for the Welsh leg of the quest. God knows, I’m going to need all the help I can get.