It's A Mystery

Newcastle introduces Mag North to a challenge - and a new perspective on our Northern cities
Emma Chesworth
June 24, 2024

Our city centres welcome commuters, shoppers and tourists every day. Heads down people go about their business perhaps grabbing a takeaway coffee or pausing to browse a shop window as they pass through the streets.

But how often do any of us take the time to step back and actually look up or down and see beyond the facades of our high street chains? Our cities are treasure troves of history just waiting to be discovered down cobbled streets and in hidden courtyards.

So if you fancy yourself as a modern day Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes and want to see your city in a whole new light then pick up a history themed puzzle book that turns our streets into outdoor treasure hunt adventures.

The Mystery Guide series are self guided walks tailored to a city with a mystery to solve that is pertinent to the place. Across the North there are cases to crack in Manchester, York, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Chester and Newcastle with Durham due to be added later this year. 

Jack Wells is the brainchild be the Mystery Guides. Having started by compiling a guide for his home city of Portsmouth, the 38-year-old has gone on to create mysteries in more than 24 cities across England, Scotland and Wales, amassing a mine of knowledge along the way. He’s the kind of guy you want on your pub quiz team!

I caught up with Jack to learn more about the Mystery Guides, as well as taking on the case to crack in Newcastle.

The illustrated activity books are incredibly well researched and they take you on an immersive adventure. Each clue is paired with a chapter of a fictional story as well as a true historical fact. Jack says: “The guides must have all the key elements just right. There is the route, the clues and the story. Each story is obviously unique to the city and the route must be a loop of around 3km with clues at equal distances along the way. There must also be a great pub at the halfway point for people to have a break and one at the end of the route.”

The Newcastle adventure involves solving the mystery of the missing match football and in following the clues I learned a lot about a city I thought I already knew very well. Did I know Charles I had been imprisoned in Newcastle during the English Civil War? No, I did not. 

Emma Chesworth trying out a Mystery Guide in Newcastle for Mag North
Clue-Hunting Emma

The mysteries take around three hours to complete so with a copy of the guide my partner and I set about solving the mystery of the match ball burglar starting from Eldon Square one sunny Friday afternoon. As shoppers rested their weary feet on benches outside the shopping centre, we were inspecting the seats for clues to solve the first clue and eliminate a suspect. 

With the first clue solved, we followed the map towards Chinatown and with eyes looking up to the ornate Chinese gate, the Gallowgate Stand of St James’ Park is visible behind. The stand is so named after the route taken by condemned prisoners on their way to execution at Town Moor.   

With another suspect cleared of being the match ball burglar we continued to the old city walls before arriving at Blackfriars for the next clue and a refreshment break. Blackfriars Restaurant sits on the site of the Friary’s refectory dating back to 1239 and it is a perfect pit-stop as we gather our thoughts and weigh-up the remaining suspects.

The map takes us to St Mary’s Cathedral and then onto Neville Street. With the railway station behind us, we inspect a model of historic Newcastle and solve another pleasingly difficult clue to get us nearer to discovering the culprit. 

Creating a route that ticks all the boxes takes meticulous planning from Jack. He says: “I start with a map of the city and then it’s about reducing your options down to where the historic streets are - you look to see where the cathedral is, where the pubs are and where the main attractions are and what streets will link all the places. You need to include all the major points like cathedrals, castles and churches and then it is about finding the other magic parts in between”

Back in Newcastle, the route takes us to the lively Bigg Market which is full of people eating and drinking outside the numerous pubs and restaurants. With a background of laughter and chat we stand on the corner of a cobbled street where we are invited to look up for the next clue. We see a series of painted objects, including a stained glass window, along the wall. These paintings must go unnoticed by the majority of passers by but they are part of the City’s history and a real joy to discover. 

These discoveries make people see their home cities differently, explains Jack. He says: “People often say they don’t like where they live and they put the place down. Yet, when you show them what really good stuff is actually there, they are pleasantly surprised. I love the thought of people almost discovering their city for the first time. There is magic in every city.”

Newcastle's Castle Keep
Newcastle's Castle Keep

Now we are more than halfway through our mystery as we continue to Newcastle’s famous Grey Street with its imposing Georgian architecture before hunting the next clues at the Cathedral and Castle Keep. Our final clue is down on the Quayside and having ticked off the names in the rogue’s gallery we have indeed cracked the case! No spoilers here but the ‘baddies’ were actually helping make Newcastle united!

It was a joyful way to spend the afternoon. As we pondered over stone markings and statue inscriptions looking for clues, passers-by, curious to know what we were doing, chatted to us and offered their bits of local knowledge. The guides tick a lot of boxes. Learn about local history, get the brain ticking with cryptic clues and enjoy being outside as you follow the map. 

So get clued up and see beyond the barbers and beauty bars and the Prets and pound shops. There’s a whole different city waiting to be uncovered.