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On the other side of the river


Newcastle and Gateshead: an uneasy relationship

Gateshead lies on the south bank of the River Tyne, facing its better-known neighbour, Newcastle. Like many neighbours, they have a somewhat awkward relationship, with Gateshead often feeling overshadowed and left out of some of the benefits that have come Newcastle’s way in terms of investment, regeneration and much improved image.

But in recent years they have established a stronger bond, triggered in part at least by their collective (and sadly unsuccessful) efforts to bring the City of Culture to a place they dubbed NewcastleGateshead. While the City of Culture bid may have failed, the concept of NewcastleGateshead lives on in tourism promotions and shared activity to drive further improvements in the region. And that activity, coupled with a drive to emulate Newcastle’s success in reinventing itself in our post-industrial age, has resulted in major change in Gateshead. Many buildings in the town centre have been flattened (at least one controversially) and new ones have taken their place. Despite these however, and despite some iconic cultural attractions, Gateshead retains a down to earth character.

Gateshead on the left, Newcastle on the right

The sights and attractions of Gateshead are far fewer in number than those of its better-known neighbour, but what they lack in number they make up for in impact – so much so that they are often wrongly included in a list of Newcastle attractions (much to the aggravation of Gateshead!) I have fallen into the same trap a little, as I have already described the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in a previous entry, but I justify myself partly because it is so easily visited while on the Newcastle Quayside and partly because it serves as a draw to lure visitors across the Tyne.

Incidentally, the signs in my photo at the top of this page, which I photographed in a Newcastle bistro, are available for sale in the Baltic shop!

Sage Gateshead

The Sage from Newcastle

While you are on the Gateshead side of the river it’s worth checking out the Sage. You can hardly miss seeing it, whichever side you are on, as it’s a very striking building, situated in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge on the Gatehead Quays. It is a concert venue with two main auditoria, a rehearsal space, a music education centre and a leisure destination with several bars and eating places. It is also a must-see, and must photograph, building!

The Sage, early evening

It was designed by renowned architect Lord Foster (Norman Foster) and was his first for the performing arts. It played a major role in the cultural revival of Gateshead and the Quayside in particular, along with the Baltic Gallery, driven by a council eager at the time (late 1990s/early 2000s) to compete with its larger neighbour across the water. It opened in 2004 and immediately became an unmistakeable sight on the river front, with its huge curved roof of stainless steel and glass. That roof, if laid flat, would be large enough to cover two football pitches, while the concrete used in its construction could, according to the Sage website, ‘fill 23 competition-size swimming pools, make almost 5 million foot-square paving slabs – enough concrete flags to build a path 800 miles long from St James’ Park, Newcastle, to the San Siro Stadium in Milan – and still have enough left to pave over the pitch six times!’

I find the building very photogenic, especially in black and white:




Sage details

The Sage and Tyne Bridge

Check out the website to see if there are any concerts happening around the time of your visit. They are many and varied, from world famous acts to the regional professional symphony orchestra based here (the Royal Northern Sinfonia) to local music groups and school children (our cousin’s daughter danced there a while back, watch by a very proud mother and grandmother!) And if nothing appeals visit anyway – to enjoy a drink or a bite to eat, admire (or not – it’s not to everyone’s taste) the architecture, or join a tour of the building to find out more about it.

Reflected in the Tyne

Central Gateshead

There is probably relatively little to detain the visitor in the centre of Gateshead. Years ago this was a traditional northern England shopping street, and we used to visit a lot as my father-in-law ran an Army and Navy Surplus store on the High Street. Today much of it has been demolished, including his former shop, and a new shopping centre built in its place, Trinity Square.

Trinity Square

The largest shop here by some way is a huge Tesco Extra supermarket, where you can buy not only food and drink but also clothing (from their Florence and Fred budget range), household goods and electronics. Other shops in the complex include Boots the Chemist, Greggs (a north east bakery chain now found across the country), Sports Direct (owned by the unpopular owner of Newcastle United), Select (budget fashion chain) and Poundland. There is a multiscreen cinema (Vue) and several chain eating places – Nando’s, Frankie and Benny’s (US style Italian) and a Costa coffee shop. A new independent coffee shop with its frontage on the High Street, Altin, looks appealing but we haven’t tried it yet.

'Get Carter' carpark
in an old photo taken
from the Bridge Hotel

This development is on the site of the former 1960 shopping mall of the same name, unremarkable save for the multi-storey car park that rose above it. Built in the Brutalist style, it came to fame through the film Get Carter, starring Michael Caine, and there was a lot of outcry when its demolition was first proposed in the early years of this century. Those who wanted to preserve it argued for its value both architecturally and culturally, while those who favoured its demolition couldn’t see why on earth anyone would want to preserve such an ugly piece of architecture! They got their way, although ironically the new development was nominated for the 2014 Carbuncle Cup for the ugliest building of the previous 12 months!

The Tilley Stone

There are other shops in the surrounding streets, including Jackson Street which leads up to the Metro and bus stations. The Weatherspoon’s pub here, The Tilley Stone, is a fairly regular haunt of ours as it’s a convenient place in which to meet up with Chris’s family, most of whom live in the wider Gateshead area. The pub is bright and spacious, with plenty of room even though popular and busy at all times of day. It was named after two former local coal seams, and the décor includes examples of local artists' work with a mining theme. The prices, as always in a Weatherspoon’s pub, are low, and the staff very friendly – they never mind when we rearrange the furniture to accommodate our large group (15 people across four generations on a recent visit!) There’s a good selection of beers and other drinks, and while the food isn’t especially exciting, we’ve never had a bad meal here.

Two further, very different, attractions may tempt you to the outskirts of Gateshead.

The Angel of the North

The Angel of the North

Whether you arrive in Newcastle or Gateshead by road or by rail, you'll be greeted as you approach the city by this amazing figure of an angel with outstretched arms, who appears to be watching over travellers. He welcomes visitors and home-coming Geordies – when we see the Angel on our regular trips to Newcastle we know we're nearly there.

The Angel of the North was the work of Anthony Gormley – indeed, is perhaps his best-known work. It is said to be the largest angel sculpture in the world and also one of the most viewed pieces of art in the world as its location so close to the busy A1, and on the London-Edinburgh mainline train route, means that it is seen by more than one person a second, 90,000 a day or 33 million every year!

Visitors at the Angel of the North


The feet

The Angel is on a grand scale. At 20 metres tall (65 feet) it is more than the height of four double decker buses, while its wings are 54 metres wide (175 feet) - almost as long as the wings of a Jumbo jet. It is made of a special weather resistant steel which contains copper. The surface oxidises to form a patina, which mellows with age to a rich red brown colour. There is enough steel in it to make 16 double-decker buses or four Chieftain tanks.

The site is that of a former colliery and Gormley has talked about the links between the sculpture and the industrial heritage of the region:

‘The hilltop site is important and has the feeling of being a megalithic mound. When you think of the mining that was done underneath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. Now in the light, there is a celebration of this industry.’

He also explained his choice of an angel as subject matter:

‘People are always asking, why an angel? The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them. The angel has three functions - firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears - a sculpture is an evolving thing.’

(quotes taken from Gateshead Council’s website)

Several maquettes (scale models) were produced during the development of the Angel. According to wikipedia, one of these is owned by the local council and one by an anonymous individual (who paid £3.4M for it at auction). A third was donated to the National Gallery of Australia in 2009 and stands in the Sculpture Garden in Canberra - my friend Albert includes a nice photo of it in his review of the garden.

The head

From the car-park

Although so many people pass the Angel every day, relatively few visit – but it is well worth doing so. You have to leave the main road (take the A167, signposted Gateshead South) and park in the small lay-by provided, or you can catch a bus from Gateshead Interchange or Newcastle’s Eldon Square. A gently sloping path, wheelchair accessible, leads to the Angel’s feet, and it is only here that you can really appreciate the huge scale on which he is constructed.

To get the best photos you’ll need to go a short distance down the hillside in front, but you can also get effective ‘wingless’ shots from the car park itself. There is no charge to visit, and no facilities here, although enterprising snack-bar holders and ice cream sellers often set up in the car park.

There are those that don’t like the Angel (one of my husband’s aunts among them, who considers it an ugly monstrosity) but it has become part of the fabric of the region and I for one am among the many who really love it!

The Metrocentre

While much of the revival of Gateshead in recent years has focused on culture (led at the time by an ambitious local council), its most visited attraction must certainly be this temple to retail! When it was built the Metrocentre was the biggest shopping mall in Europe. I think it was briefly overtaken by Lakeland, and possibly others, but it’s recently expanded and is now making the same claim. Whatever – it’s pretty huge, and you’ll need plenty of stamina and a real enthusiasm for shopping to do it justice!

Christmas at the

There are apparently nearly 330 shops (no I haven’t counted them for myself!) and these include most of the major high street names plus quite a few smaller and more individual shops. The major department stores include Debenhams, House of Fraser and Marks & Spencer; my favourite UK fashion chain Monsoon has a large branch; there’s Gap, Next, Wallis and so on …… There are also a small number of independent retailers.

To help you navigate, the mall is divided into four colour zones, each on two floors. You can approach this place in several ways. We try to be systematic if we’re there for a serious shopping trip, e.g. during the sales, so take each zone in turn, one floor at a time. But if you’re looking for a particular shop or type of shop there are plenty of maps (located at each junction). Or you could just start walking and see what you stumble across!

In addition to the shops there are plenty of places to eat (over 50, according to the website), from fast food outlets to quite decent family style restaurants, many in the fairly new Metro Qube area near the Odeon cinema. Talking of the cinema, it has an IMAX screen and 11 others. It shows all the major releases and is modern and well fitted-out. The Funscape area in the same part of the mall has tenpin bowling, arcade games and a soft play area for children. At certain times of year entertainment is also laid on for children in the shopping malls, e.g. a panto show at Christmas.

Parking at the Metrocentre is free and there’s plenty of it, though you may have to hunt for a space if you don’t come early when the sales are on. The lots are colour-coded in the same way as the malls, so make sure you remember whether you’re in the blue, yellow, green or red car-park and use the exit from the corresponding mall when you want to go home – or you could be wandering outside for a long while! Alternatively take the bus – there’s a regular shuttle from Newcastle city centre (Monument and Central Station) or from Gateshead Metro station.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:11 Archived in England Tagged art architecture culture shopping restaurants music christmas angel gateshead Comments (10)

What football means to Newcastle

Fans in the Gallowgate Stand, St James' Park

If you want to support a club with guarantees of success and a trophy cabinet packed with silverware, look elsewhere. Supporting Newcastle United is about passion and about solidarity - solidarity with your team, your fellow fans and your city.

I don't believe you can really understand Newcastle and its people unless you've been to a match at St James' Park. Unlike many cities, in Newcastle the football stadium is in the city centre, not on its outskirts, and it dominates life in the city. One of my earliest memories of going to a match is walking back through the city afterwards and being stopped by all sorts of people (young children, old ladies) to ask what the score was.

Pre-match drinks in the
Crow's Nest, Percy St

Everyone takes an interest in what's happening at the football club:
• are there new players joining?
• who will be in the team on Saturday?
• will we have a chance in the cup this year? and so on!

Even if you're not a big sports fan I think you'd enjoy the experience of a match here, and it really is the best way to meet some locals and get to know them. Tickets are hard to come by for the really big games, but for most matches you should be able to get them - try the club's official website for ticket news and box office details.

Plan to have a drink beforehand in one of the pubs in Percy Street or maybe in the Strawberry near the ground, and do the same afterwards too if you can. Get talking to a few fans about the game, buy a round, and you'll have a great time - I guarantee it! People here love their football, and even more they love the chance to talk about it.

St James’ Park

The stadium at the heart of the city

The football stadium has been much modernised in recent years but still occupies a site right in the city centre. Football has been played here since 1880, twelve years even before Newcastle United Football Club was formed in a merger of two teams, Newcastle East End and West End FC. It takes its name from the hospital and chapel of St James which once stood just to the north of here (where the Hancock Museum is today). The chapel leased land to the south for development and a number of streets were built on the land, including St. James Street, St. James Terrace and Leazes Terrace. The latter lies just to the north and east of the stadium and its north stand is still referred to by fans as the Leazes End or simply the Leazes, despite efforts to rename it over the years.

Waiting for the match to start -
view from the Leazes End

The south stand opposite is known as Gallowgate after the street that runs a little behind it. This was the route taken by convicted criminals from the town to the gallows which stood on the Town Moor. There were regular hangings; in 1650, 22 people, including 15 witches, were hanged in a single day. The last execution took place in 1844 (only three decades before the first ball was kicked at the site), although some Newcastle fans will assure you they have watched the team get executed from time to time since then! You will sometimes hear the ground itself referred to as Gallowgate, especially by older fans.

The Gallowgate Stand

Of course the ground has been extensively developed over the ensuing years. Contrast this old postcard from 1908 (downloaded from the club’s website – I assume copyright has long since expired!) with my more recent photos – my photo from the Leazes, above, was taken from a spot somewhere among the trees to the right-hand side of the postcard’s viewpoint.

St James’ Park in 1908

You can read in more detail about all the phases of development on the club website: History of our Home. This has at times been somewhat constricted by the city centre location, and in particular by the houses of Leazes Terrace which press close to the East Stand.

When I first started to go to matches in the early 1980s the stands on the east and west sides were covered and had seating, while Gallowgate and Leazes were still traditional open, all-standing, stands - much as in the slightly later photo below:

St James' Park in the late 1980s -
the old Gallowgate Stand in the foreground

At one point in the 1990s there was talk of a move to Leazes Park just to the north, or even across the river to Gateshead – much to the consternation of fans. Fortunately these came to nothing, and instead the three other sides were extended, creating the stadium we have today – and an impressive sight it is!

St James’ Park from the Metro station

For anyone interested in football, a tour of St James’ Park is a great opportunity to go behind the scenes. We did this some years ago and got a real thrill from sitting on the bench, visiting the changing rooms and imagining all the great Geordie heroes who’d prepared for matches there over the years, and seeing the stadium from pitch level as the players do.

Wear the strip with pride!

Shoppers on
Northumberland St

In Newcastle the wearing of the football team's black and white striped shirt isn't something restricted to matchday. The Toon Army wear their colours as a badge of honour and not only when going to the match, but also shopping on a Saturday morning, going to the pub on a Friday night, to church on a Sunday morning (yes, really!) and so on.

If you'd like to blend in, or just want a sporting-related souvenir of your visit here, head for one of the official Newcastle United club shops to be found in several places in the town. The obvious purchase is a black and white top, but for something cheaper you could look for a scarf or woolly hat, pictures of the players, a mug or beer glass, pen or key chain ...Or if you really want to proclaim yourself a fan, it's possible to decorate a whole room in black and white stripes!

Dressed for the match

Local hero: Sir Bobby Robson

Sir Bobby Robson statue at St James' Park

Most football fans, and not only those from England, will know the name of Sir Bobby Robson. First as a player (with Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, and briefly with England) and later as manager of a series of clubs including Fulham, Ipswich Town (where he is fondly remembered), the English national side, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Porto (where a young Jose Mourinho learnt his trade under him), Barcelona, and in his final managerial role, here in Newcastle.

He was manager of Newcastle United for five years (September 1999 to August 2004) and remains one of the best-loved managers the club has had. He was a passionate Geordie who supported Newcastle as a boy and once said he had “black and white blood” in his veins. He died from cancer in 2009, and was mourned by football fans from all over the country.

He received many awards during his life time, including the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year show in 2007, in recognition of "his contribution as both player and manager in a career spanning more than half a century, and posthumously in December 2009 the FIFA Fair Play Award, for the "gentlemanly qualities he showed throughout his career as a player and coach". I still remember the lengthy standing ovation he was given on the BBC show, when the great and the good of the sporting world stood and applauded for what seemed to be ages.

Memorial to Sir Bobby

Now an appropriate memorial to the great man has been established in the shadow of the stadium where the team he loved most plays – St James’ Park. It consists of five stone slabs carved with appropriate words and images. From the left they show:

Slab 1:
Some images of his youth in the mining village of Langley Park in County Durham:
pit wheel, miner’s lamp, football and boots

Slab 2:
The names of the various clubs with which he was associated over the years,
either as player or manager

Slab 3:
A portrait of the man himself

Slab 4:
The three lions of England and account of his England career,
as player and manager

Slab 5:
A design intended, I think, to represent the nearby St James’ Park Stadium
and commemorating Sir Bobby's legacy, the charity he founded to support people fighting cancer

On the top of the slabs are the names of players associated with Sir Bobby – some of the best of the many players he managed. These include Newcastle stars such as Alan Shearer, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Speed, but also those from other clubs, such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, and from his time managing England.

The memorial is relatively new and the birch trees that grow between the slabs a bit young and spindly, but already you can see how this will become a lovely corner of the city where fitting tribute is paid to one of its greats.

Up at the stadium itself there is a bronze statue of Sir Bobby (above), the work of Morpeth artist Tom Maley and placed here in 2012.

Local hero: wor Jackie

Statue of Jackie Milburn

Although present-day fans may not know the name as well, Jackie Milburn was as big a hero at St James’ Park in his day as Alan Shearer in his, and today he is commemorated with this statue near the ground and also in the name of one of its stands.

He was born in 1924 in Ashington, Northumberland – a mining town that was also later home to Jack and Bobby Charlton (the sons of one of Milburn’s nieces). In those days of course, football was not the major industry it has become, as various anecdotes about Milburn make clear. He famously arrived for his trial at Newcastle with a pair of borrowed football boots wrapped in brown paper, and his lunch – a pie and a bottle of pop. And many older Newcastle fans will describe how they used to meet him on the bus from Ashington to Newcastle on match day, on his way to the match. During the period of the Second World War he combined playing for the “Toon” with his work as a fitter (repairing heavy machinery) down the mines. He played 353 matches for Newcastle during the period 1943-1957, wearing the famous number 9 shirt, and he remains the club’s second highest scorer with 200 goals (Alan Shearer is top, with 206).

This 1991 statue of the great striker (by Susanna Robinson) is an early example of the growing fashion for monuments to great footballers. It has had several locations in the city, but currently stands in Strawberry Place, in the shadow of the South-East corner of St. James' Park.

Local hero: Joe Harvey

Memorial plaque to Joe Harvey

Also commemorated with a memorial at St James’ Park is Joe Harvey, who played for Newcastle from 1945-1953 and returned to manage the club from 1962-1975 – those were the days when most managers stayed at a single club for years, being given time to build a successful team.

Harvey is associated with most of the greatest achievements of the club in (relatively) recent years. He captained the team to two successive FA Cup victories in 1951 and 1952, helped to coach the side that won the FA Cup again in 1955, and then as manager, in 1969, led Newcastle to victory in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (the predecessor to the UEFA Cup), their last major trophy to date. The memorial plaque also mentions victories in the Anglo-Italian and Texaco Cups, but neither of these would be considered major. For Newcastle United, the long wait goes on …

Local hero: Alan Shearer

St James' Park decorated for Shearer's testimonial match, 2006

One local hero whom you won’t see commemorated at St James’ Park is Alan Shearer. Or at least, not at present. When he retired from playing in 2006 he was rightly awarded a testimonial match (against Celtic) and the club took all the appropriate steps to ensure it was a night to remember, with free scarves as mementoes for fans who attended, a team of past stars and worthy opposition. I was there! Soon after that, the newly-opened bar in the Gallowgate Stand was named in honour of the most successful striker in the club’s history – Shearer’s. But soon after this a new owner, Mike Ashley, bought the club. Despite appointing Shearer briefly as interim manager at the end of the 2009 season (in a failed attempt to stave off inevitable relegation), the two have never seemed to get on well. At the end of that season there was a falling out between them, as Ashley failed to communicate with Shearer and proceeded to appoint another manager without even telling him that he was to be replaced.

Since then Shearer’s has been renamed the Nine Bar, much to most fans’ disappointment. With the current (autumn 2017) rumours that Mike Ashley plans to sell the club, I wonder if the time is ripe for a fitting memorial to be created for our record striker?

Some more local heroes

Although you can easily walk to St James' Park from anywhere in the town, there is a Metro station right by the stadium and it's worth a look inside the ticket hall even if you aren't travelling by train, as the football theme is extensive and there are a number of interesting photos and other mementos to be seen. One area of the floor has been tiled in green to look like a football pitch, and several former players have literally left their mark here - boot prints for outfield players, gloves for goalkeepers. Meanwhile black and white photos around the walls show players from all eras as well as fans.

St James' Park Metro Station

Local heroes all

The Strawberry

While most of the pubs in the city are packed with Toon fans on a match day, the Strawberry has a particular association with the football club, located as it is in the shadow of St James’s Park. Outside a giant black and white shirt adorned with a strawberry forms the pub sign, while inside its walls are lined with Newcastle United memorabilia and old photos. This is a genuine collection too, not some sort of opportunistic theming to take advantage of the location.

The Strawberry pub, outside and in

A sign on the pub’s outer wall explains the history of the name, which is taken from the streets on whose corner it stands, Strawberry Place and Strawberry Lane, and is derived from the nuns of near-by St Bartholomew’s who grew strawberries in fields here and made strawberry wine to sell to support their convent.

Unless you’re a committed fan you may find it too crowded on match day, or even impossible to get into. But visit at another time to see all the memorabilia and enjoy a drink in this historic local pub. There’s also a roof terrace with excellent views of the ground, which like the pub itself is especially popular before and after a match.

The Back Page

The Back Page

This is a must-visit shop for any sports fan. It has an extensive range of books, all with a sporting theme, and many other sports-related items too.

The focus is firstly on Newcastle United (inevitably!), secondly on football in general and thirdly on other sports. There is a large selection of old football programmes featuring most of the league teams in England and Scotland, and a similar range of fanzines. There are usually also some fascinating football memorabilia on sale, again with a particular emphasis on Newcastle United – on one visit I spotted a framed Newcastle shirt signed by Alan Shearer (for £230) and another, unframed, signed by several players for £200. Other items include postcards of Newcastle and of football stadia around the country, black and white Newcastle United flags, mugs and key rings and much more.

In the Back Page

Prices vary from 50p for a postcard to several hundred pounds for signed shirts, as described above. Many of the books are signed too, and these usually cost no more than an unsigned copy from elsewhere.

The shop also runs a travel club for Newcastle fans wishing to go to away matches, with very reasonable fares on their coaches. And if you don’t have a chance to visit they do a very good and comprehensive mail order service from their website. I know I sound as if I’m on commission but I’m not – it’s just a very good shop run by people who know, and have a passion for, their subject.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:44 Archived in England Tagged football monument shopping pubs Comments (7)

The Geordie nation

Sign in a Newcastle shop

People who come from Newcastle (and usually the surrounding Tyneside area) are known colloquially as Geordies. There are various theories as to the origin of the nickname, although all take as their starting point the premise that it is a diminutive of George. The most popular is probably that it originates from the use by north east miners of the safety lamp designed by George Stephenson (rather than the Davy lamp more popular elsewhere). Another links it to Newcastle’s support for Hanoverian George during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715, when other parts of the region mostly favoured the Jacobite cause. The latter explanation is the more likely, as the term Geordie for a native of Newcastle was in use before Stephenson invented his lamp, and also because that lamp was used in a wider area than Newcastle alone. But there seems though to be no evidence for either theory and it may simply be that George was an exceptionally popular name among the local mining families, becoming synonymous with that occupation and in turn with anyone from the region.

Geordies are among the friendliest people in the country, always ready to welcome and chat to a stranger – although their strong dialect may mean that their conversation is at times unintelligible even to fellow English speakers!

Geordie dialect

Fans at St James' Park, at a time when we had lots of French players

Perhaps more than any other in the country, the Geordie dialect can seem impenetrable to a non-Geordie. The differences between this and standard English fall into three main groups:
- words that are pronounced differently
- words that are unique to Geordie
- words that are used differently, i.e. in phrases you won't hear elsewhere in the country.
Here are some examples of each:


Sign on sale in a Newcastle shop
[The netty is the toilet]

A lot of vowels are diphthongs in Geordie pronunciation, and many words acquire an extra syllable when spoken by a Geordie. Film becomes ‘fillum’ and soap ‘so-ip’.

‘A’s are always short, as in axe, so the town is never pronounced, as it might be elsewhere in the country, as ‘Newcarrstle’ but always ‘Newcassel’, with the emphasis on the second syllable (get that one right and Geordies will warm to you!). But 'all' is pronounced with a long 'a' and usually written 'aal' - just to confuse you ;)

Other vowels are just plain different (!) so ‘first’ becomes ‘forst’, ‘burst’ becomes ‘borst’, ‘shirt’ becomes ‘short’ and so on, while the short English ‘ea’ is lengthened to a double e – ‘deed’ means dead, and ‘deef’ is deaf.

In another example of typical pronunciation, ‘ow’ is usually said ‘oo’ – so a cow is a ‘coo’, down is ‘doon', and town is ‘toon’ – more about the latter word later!

‘Aareet’ is ‘all right’, – a common greeting when friends meet (meaning ‘How are you?’, ‘How are things going?’)

Different words:

Geordie tea towel

There are so many of these, and a lot of them can be traced back to early invaders of this region, the Angles or Vikings. Speakers of Scandinavian or Germanic languages will recognise some similarities.

As an example, Geordies use ‘bairn’ for a child (like the Norwegian/Swedish/Danish ‘barn’) – a popular local saying is ‘shy bairns get nowt’ meaning ‘if you don't get ask, you don't get’.


T-shirt produced to celebrate the
Toon's recent promotion
(and relegation of bitter rivals, Sunderland)

Similarly, ‘gan’ means go (like the German ‘gehen’). When you learn that ‘hyem’ means home, you can work out that ‘Ah'm gannin hyem’ means ‘I'm going home’.

‘Wor’ means our, or sometimes my (‘wor lass’ means ‘my wife’, while ‘wor Sarah’ refers to a family member called Sarah)

‘Hinny’ means honey, and is a term of endearment used for women and sometimes even for men. Another term of endearment used very frequently is ‘pet’, usually for a woman ('Wey-aye pet' = 'yes dear').

‘Canny’ can mean several things, including fairly/quite, nice and shrewd - you'll hear it a lot in phrases like ‘canny good’ (quite good) or ‘a canny pint’ (a well-poured, pleasant-tasting beer). Another common positive adjective is ‘champion’ – you can be feeling champion, have a champion night out, etc.

Coffee stall at the Quayside Market

‘Wey’ is another of those multipurpose words scattered across sentences but can be translated as ‘well’ (used for emphasis, not the opposite of ill) – ‘wey Ah divvint knaa’ ('well, I [certainly] don’t know'), or ‘Wey it's nee use at aal’ ('well, that’s of no use at all').

If someone says they are ‘clamming’ they are hungry, possibly for their ‘bait’ – a packed meal, usually taken to work.

‘Clarts’ is mud, and ‘clarty’ is therefore muddy. ‘Claes’ are clothes, so ‘bairns’ will often come ‘hyem’ with ‘clarty claes’!

‘Divvint’ means don’t, as in ‘Ah divvint knaa’ – 'I don’t know'. And to ‘fash’ is to bother or take trouble, as in the phrase ‘Ah’m aareet – divvint fash yersel’ ('I’m fine, don’t trouble yourself'), if someone is fussing over you unnecessarily perhaps.

Political poster, Geordie-style

‘Howay’ is another very common word, with several meanings including let's go (‘howay hyem’ – let’s go home), or come on. As ‘toon’ means town, and by transference the town's only football team, Newcastle United, anyone shouting ‘Howay the Toon!’ or ‘Howay the lads!’ is cheering on the football players - 'Come on the Town!' It can also mean ‘get away’, as in expressing incredulity – ‘howay man, he nivver did!’

By the way, ‘man’ just adds emphasis when talking to someone and can quite easily be used when speaking to a female. The phrase ‘Howay-man-woman-man’ might be addressed to a woman who needs to catch up or speed up (yes, really!)

It's important to know that ‘haway’ is the Sunderland version of the same word. Don’t let anyone in Newcastle hear you saying ‘haway’ rather than ‘howay’, as you’ll find the friendly welcome you’ve almost certainly have received will turn decidedly cool! The rivalry between Geordies and ‘mackems’, as they call their near neighbours, is intense, never more so than when it comes to football.

‘Hoy’ is to throw (‘hoy that ower here’) but ‘gannin on the hoy’ is to go out drinking. And if you do that you could get ‘mortal’, meaning drunk.


Shop in the Grainger Market

A ‘tab’ is a cigarette – someone leaving the pub briefly to smoke outside might say ‘Ah’m away ferra tab’ (I’m going out for, i.e. to smoke, a cigarette’).

‘Nee’ means no, but not as in the opposite of yes – it’s only used adjectively in a phrase such as ‘nee bother’ – a common reassurance if you suggest you might be putting someone to any trouble.

Words and phrases used differently:

Some regular English words are also used differently here, so ‘bad’ can mean ‘ill’ – ‘wor John’s reet bad so ah kept him hyem the day’ (‘my son John isn’t at all well so I kept him at home today’). And long before the current unfortunate general habit (mainly among younger English speakers) of using 'like' as if it were punctuation, Geordies have been using it to add emphasis to a sentence or question - as with the football fans in my photo above.

Another variation on standard English is that the plural form of ‘you’ will often have an ‘s’ added to it, as in ‘Yous aal aareet?’ meaning ‘Are you all well/OK?’

And here are a few phrases that I like:

‘She suits red’ = she looks good in red, or as we'd say elsewhere in the country, red suits her.
‘He belongs London’ = he comes from London.
‘You’ll get wrong off your Da’ = you’ll be in trouble with your father.
'She takes a canny photo' = not, as you might think, she's a good photographer, but she's photogenic and looks good in photos.
‘His name’s William but he aalways gets Billy’ = his real name is William but everyone calls him Billy.

If you want to get to grips with all of this there’s a popular book, sold in shops ‘aal ower the toon’, called ‘Larn Yersel Geordie’ – ‘Teach Yourself Geordie’. While tongue in cheek, it does include all the main differences between this and standard English and is a fun read. But it’s no substitute for a visit to Newcastle to hear how the natives do it!

Posted by ToonSarah 02:12 Archived in England Tagged culture city language customs dialect Comments (8)

By Metro to the coast: Tynemouth

One of the joys of Newcastle is that its compact size makes it easy to explore, but also to get out of the city when you feel like a change. If you want to get right out into the countryside the delights of Northumberland are on your doorstep – stunning coastline, ancient castles, the wild Cheviot Hills and of course Hadrian’s Wall. But you don’t have to go that far. My next few entries will offer some ideas for easy outings from the city centre, using the efficient Metro, and starting with my personal favourite.


The mouth of the Tyne

Where the River Tyne flows into the North Sea lies Tynemouth, my favourite of the several seaside communities within easy reach of Newcastle.

Tynemouth Priory from St Edward's Bay

And why do I like it so? Tynemouth for me has a bit of everything – a rich history, some great beaches, lively nightlife, scenic walks and good shopping – all in a pocket-sized town with lots of character only half an hour from the city. You can take a walk on the beaches or the long pier that juts out into the sea, explore historic buildings such as the Priory and Watch House, or enjoy good food and drink in its restaurants and pubs.

It is not surprising that such a strategic river mouth location should have been settled for so long – since the Iron Age in fact. The Romans had a settlement here and the Saxons founded a monastery on Pen Bal Crag, the headland that rises above the mouth of the Tyne. The Vikings came here, sacked the monastery and used Tynemouth as their base to sack the surrounding area. Kings are buried here and a national (if over-looked) hero commemorated.

Tynemouth’s beaches have drawn pleasure-seekers since sea bathing first became fashionable in the late 18th century, while the Black Midden rocks at the river’s mouth have sadly destroyed many ships and lives.

Today’s Tynemouth is a holiday resort popular with those who want their seaside experience to be relatively quiet, a magnet for Tyneside families on a day out, and a low key alternative to Newcastle’s sometimes frantic nightlife. I think it could also be a rather nice place to live – providing you are willing to brave those North Sea chills!

Footpaths by the mouth of the Tyne

One of the nicest things to do in Tynemouth is to take a walk on the network of paths beside the river. One path follows the river itself (and is flat and easy for anyone to use) and others climb the small hill above but are not challenging unless you have serious walking difficulties (I saw one man coping fine with these on his mobility scooter).

View from a riverside path

All the paths offer super views of the river mouth and its two piers, the Black Midden rocks (exposed at low tide), South Shields on the other side of the river and upstream to North Shields, Wallsend and beyond. You can also climb the small grassy ridge where the monument to Lord Collingwood stands.

View from a riverside path

On a sunny day this is a fantastic place to be, but in winter too, if you don’t mind the stiff winds that blow in off the North Sea, it’s a great bracing, cobweb-dispatching walk! And it’s also a good starting point for any exploration of Tynemouth as it gives you a good sense of why and how the town came into being in this strategic spot.

Monument to Admiral Collingwood

Admiral Lord Collingwood monument

What better position for a monument to one of the country’s greatest seamen than this, high above the mouth of the Tyne with a view out to sea?! Yet in many ways Collingwood is something of a forgotten hero, barely known outside his native North East. If you are one of the many who hasn’t heard of him, his “claim to fame” is that he was Nelson's second-in-command at Trafalgar, and completed the victory after Nelson was killed. He was also a great friend of Nelson’s. Born and educated in Newcastle, he had joined the navy when only 12 years old and met Nelson when they were both serving in Jamaica in 1772. His naval career took him all over Europe, North America and the West Indies and he was totally devoted to the service and to his country, as was his great friend. It is said that during his long career of almost 50 years he only spent a total of three of them on dry land.

Everyone knows, or at least believes, that Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar and saved the country from invasion by Napoleon, and there is of course a monument to recognise this fact in London’s Trafalgar Square. But maybe Collingwood should stand there too, as there were two heroes that day. Even as his best friend Nelson lay dying, Collingwood took control of the situation and rallied the troops. Commanding them from his ship, the Royal Sovereign, he routed the French and Spanish enemy forces. Had the Royal Navy lost the battle, Napoleon and his 115,000 troops would have been free to sweep across the channel from his base in Boulogne and invade England. But thanks to Collingwood the British Navy did not lose a single ship at Trafalgar, and the country was saved from invasion.

Admiral Lord Collingwood monument

Collingwood also recognised the great degree to which the Navy relied on oak trees to build the ships it needed. He knew that it took 2,000-3,000 oaks to build a ship like Victory or the Royal Sovereign. So he bought land in the Cheviots and developed forestry plantations there, and on the rare occasions he was home he planted acorns wherever he could to boost the stocks of timber for British ships. Ironically, by the time these trees were fully grown technology had moved on and ships were being built from iron rather than wood, but he was not to know that. He died at sea near Menorca in 1810, having been made a Baron for his great exploits at Trafalgar.

Visitors at the Admiral Lord Collingwood monument

This marvellous monument to him was erected in 1845, and was designed by John Dobson, with the statue sculpted by John Graham Lough. It stands about 23 feet (7.0 m) tall on a massive base incorporating a flight of steps flanked by four cannons from the Royal Sovereign, the ship he commanded at Trafalgar. The inscription on the base reads:

One of the cannons at the monument

was erected in 1845 by Public Subscription to the memory of
who in the Royal Sovereign on 21st October, 1805 led the British Fleet
into action at Trafalgar and sustained the Sea Fight for upwards of an hour
before the other ships were in gunshot which caused Nelson to exclaim:
He was born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1748 and died in the Service
Of his country on board of the "VILLE DE PARIS" on 7th March 1810

The Watch House

I first came to Tynemouth on my very first visit to Newcastle with Chris in 1980, and have been enjoying the sight of the Watch House on its elevated position looking over the river mouth ever since.

The Watch House

The Watch House is the base of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, founded in 1864 as a direct result of a particularly terrible night of storm and destruction on the rocks at the mouth of the Tyne, the Black Middens. That year these rocks claimed five ships in three days with many deaths, even though the wrecks were only a few yards from the shore. On 24th November two ships, the schooner "Friendship" and the passenger steamer "Stanley", took shelter in the mouth of the river when a gale blew up and were driven onto the Black Middens. Despite several local lifeboats going to the rescue and over 30 people being rescued, 24 lives were lost that night, including two lifeboat crew. The disaster was witnessed by hundreds of people on shore, who were powerless to help.

Sign on the Watch House

One of those watching was an officer in the military volunteers based in Tynemouth Castle, John Morrison, who recognised that a well-trained group of volunteers similar to those under his command might have been able to assist the Coastguards in deploying the breeches buoy apparatus that could potentially have saved everyone on the stricken ships. He talked to local dignitaries who called a public meeting where it was agreed to set up a such body of men to assist the Coastguard in future in the event of such disasters. Over 140 men volunteered and the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade was formed – later becoming a model for similar groups around the country.

This was the second time that the River Tyne and the dangers it presents to shipping had given rise to a national response to save lives, the first being the establishment of the world’s first purpose-built lifeboat in South Shields, just across the river from Tynemouth - but that is for a future entry.

The Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade is still in operation today. It is based here at the Watch House, which was built in 1887. They provide maritime search and rescue support to the Coastguard and other emergency services on a voluntary call-out basis. They train here and store their equipment.

Inside the Watch House

But the Watch House is also a museum, displaying artefacts and rescue equipment dating from the wreck of the Stanley in 1864 to the present day, as well as assorted nautical memorabilia. These include a number of lovely figure-heads, all taken from ships that ran aground here. The first photo below is of the figure-head from the 'Fame', which was lost on the rocks off the North Pier in October 1894, although all on board were rescued by the Brigade. The other figure-head is that of the 'Hannah and Eleanor', a schooner which was driven ashore in Prior’s Haven. The crew were rescued by the local lifeboat 'Willie Wouldhave' (named for William Wouldhave of North Shields who came up with the radical idea of cladding a copper boat with cork to prevent it sinking which was adopted in the building of the world’s first lifeboat in neighbouring South Shields).

Figure-heads in the Watch House

Rescue equipment in the Watch House


Brigade Cottage garden

As well as the artefacts, the Watch House is worth visiting to see the views from the two towers and the searchlight equipment in the southern of these. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday; admission is free but donations are encouraged – and are merited, especially when you consider that what you give will be used not only to maintain the museum but also, and perhaps more importantly, to support the work of the Brigade. The caretaker lives in the picturesque Brigade Cottage next door so ring the bell if the door is closed and she will come across and let you in.

Prior’s Haven & the Spanish Battery

Of the three beaches/bays in Tynemouth, Prior’s Haven (or simply “The Haven” as it is more commonly known) is the southernmost and the smallest. It lies in a sheltered spot within the mouth of the Tyne, protected by the pier that extends from near its northern point. In Victorian times it was popular with bathers but today is the preserve of Tynemouth Rowing Club and the local sailing club. It is a good spot for photos of the Priory and in the past has also featured on paintings by a number of artists, most famously Turner.

Boats at Prior's Haven

Above the Haven to the north are the ruins of Tynemouth Priory and Castle, and to the south the grassy hill known as the Spanish Battery. Both have been important over the centuries in defending the Tyne (so essential as a channel for iron, coal, shipbuilding and the manufacture of armaments) against naval attack. The Spanish Battery was fortified in 1545 to protect King Henry VIII's fleet as it assembled before invading Scotland and remained an important defensive position until the early years of the 20th century. It takes its name from Spanish mercenaries who were the first to be garrisoned here.

The Priory and Prior's Haven from the Spanish Battery

As well as serving a defensive purpose the guns here used to be used to summon the life brigade if a ship ran aground. In World War One the Royal Engineers operated a searchlight battery from the Spanish Battery, and like the Castle battery it was updated and operational during the Second World War too. Today though it is a fantastic spot in good weather to sit and watch the passing ships and boats, and when it is maybe less clement to take a brisk reviving walk in the energising North Sea winds!

On the Spanish Battery

Tynemouth Pier

The River Tyne is protected to the south and north by two long piers. The southern one, in South Shields, is 1,570 metres long while Tynemouth’s is rather shorter at 810 metres. It was constructed over a period of over 40 years (1854–1895) and was originally curved, but in 1898 the centre section was destroyed in a gale and the pier was rebuilt in a straighter line to better withstand future storms, being finished in 1905.

Tynemouth Pier, winter views

A winter walk on the pier

Today, like its southern counterpart, it is popular for walks in all but the worst of weathers. The path extends along its upper part, while a lower level on the more sheltered river side once carried train tracks and cranes used in loading ships. At the far end is a lighthouse which was first lit in January 1908 and is still in use today.

Tynemouth Castle and Priory

The Castle Gatehouse

The most significant historical site, and indeed sight, in Tynemouth is the ruined fortified priory on a headland just north of the river mouth. This promontory has been a strategically important spot since the time of the Saxons, who named it Pen Bal (or Benebal) Crag and founded a priory here in the 7th century. In 651 King Oswin of Deira was murdered by the soldiers of King Oswiu of Bernicia and his body brought to Tynemouth for burial, the first of three kings to be buried here. He was later canonised and his burial place became a shrine which was visited by pilgrims. The Roman Catholic church in Tynemouth, a very short distance from the Priory, is dedicated to St. Oswin.

The second king to be buried here was Osred, the deposed king of Northumbria who was murdered in 792. The third was Malcolm III, king of Scotland, who was killed at the Battle of Alnwick in 1093, but his body was later reburied in his native Scotland.

The priory was sacked by the Danes in 800 and repeatedly during the following century, including in 865 when the nuns of St Hilda, who had come here for refuge, were massacred. The Danes succeeded in destroying it in 875 and used Tynemouth as their base to sack the surrounding area.

By the 11th century the priory had long been abandoned and the burial place of St. Oswin forgotten. Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumbria (and brother of King Harold who was killed by William the Conqueror at Hastings), had a fortress here. When a young hermit, Edmund, reported seeing St. Oswin in a vision in which the saint showed him his tomb, that tomb was rediscovered and Tostig resolved to restore the monastery. But he was killed in the Battle of Stamford Bridge and never fulfilled his vow. However a later earl, Robert de Mowbray, did so a few years later, re-establishing a religious house here with a group of Benedictine monks from St Albans Abbey (being in dispute at the time with the Bishop of Durham). The building of the Norman church began in 1090, and the whole monastery was substantially completed by the end of the 13th century.

The castle at Tynemouth Priory

When the monastery was re-founded there were already some fortifications here (earthen ramparts and a wooden stockade), but in the 12th century these were strengthened, firstly with stone walls and later with the addition of a gatehouse and barbican on the land-facing side. In 1312 Edward II took refuge within the castle and the nearby beach, King Edward’s Bay, is probably named for him.

The priory was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538 and the king took ownership of the castle and strengthened the fortifications of this strategic site. The church also was left standing, possibly because of its importance as a landmark for shipping along this often treacherous coast.

Tynemouth Priory church

Tynemouth Priory with the church on the right

When Tynemouth Priory was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538 the monastic buildings were all destroyed, but the church was left standing and remained in use as the town’s parish church until 1668. Now however it is mostly in ruins, although part of the west front, rebuilt in the 13th century, remains. You can see the entrance where the main door would once have been, and the niches that would have held the statues of saints, but the 14th century tracery window that once sat above the central doorway has not survived.

West front of the priory church

Beyond this you can trace the church’s layout in the stumps of the pillars that once marked out the aisle and the outlines of various chapel walls. The north side is almost completely destroyed but much remains of the south side and of the east too, each with the remains of what must have once been graceful lancet windows, as well as an unusual oval-shaped one above the altar.

Priory church from the south (left photo) and east (right)
Interior wall detail

Extending from that eastern end is the small 15th century Oratory of St Mary or Percy Chapel which has been heavily restored and is still intact. It has an ornate painted ceiling with coats of arms and other symbols on the bosses where the ribs of the vaults intersect, some stained-glass side windows portraying various saints and a small rose window in the east wall above the altar.

Inside the Oratory

Ceiling detail

The battery at Tynemouth Priory

It is perhaps not surprising that a site as strategic as that of Tynemouth Priory was not left to become a picturesque ruin but instead has been used over the centuries for both defensive purposes and the protection of shipping. A lighthouse was built on the headland in 1665, using stone taken from the priory, to guide shipping into the Tyne, and was rebuilt in 1775. It was taken over by Trinity House (responsible for all lighthouses and lightships in the country) in 1841 and remained operational until replaced by the still-working St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay a few miles to the north in 1895. It was demolished three years later in 1898. More recently the coastguard have been based here, but the coastguard station closed in 2001.

Gun battery

Gun at the battery emplacement

The other strategic function performed here has been defence. During the 18th and early 19th century the walls of the castle were adapted to house coastal gun batteries in response to the threats of a French invasion. These batteries were modernised at the end of the 19th century to house breech-loading and high angle guns. It was essential to provide adequate protection for the Tyne and its role as the main outlet for the iron and coal, the armaments and the ships produced on Tyneside. Today a row of gun emplacements dating from the late 19th and early part of the 20th century can be seen and explored on visits to the castle and priory. These were updated and operational during World War I and again in World War II.

In the restored magazines at the battery

As well as the batteries themselves you can go inside the restored underground magazines which stored ammunition and supplied the guns. These are quite atmospheric and, thanks to the various objects and contemporary signs, give a good sense of what life would have been like for the soldiers stationed here to operate these guns. The army remained in residence at the castle until 1960; since then much of the modern military equipment was removed but these wartime defences remain.

Tynemouth Castle and Priory are today in the ownership of English Heritage and can be visited every day in the summer and at weekends in the winter.

King Edward's Bay

King Edward's Bay, looking south

King Edward's Bay looking north

The middle of Tynemouth’s three beaches, in both geographical position and size, is King Edward’s Bay. This is thought to have been named after King Edward II who took refuge in Tynemouth Priory in 1312. The priory stands on the promontory to the south of the beach and provides a great back-drop to the seaside fun. Low cliffs rise to the north and west as well, making this a very sheltered spot, and several paths and flights of steps lead down to the sand. The relative narrowness of the bay means that the waves of the North Sea can be quite large and you do sometimes see surfers here, although the neighbouring Longsands Beach is the most popular for surfing. At low tide there are plenty of rocks exposed if you want to go rock-pooling, and these also attract a fair number of birds. Although nearer the town centre this beach tends to be a little quieter than Longsands.

Enjoying the waves, and view of the lighthouse, King Edward's Bay

King Edward's Bay in winter

Above King Edward's Bay is the best-located pub in Tynemouth, the Gibraltar Rock. The downstairs is a carvery which we haven't been to (not being fans of these), but happily the first floor is still a pub and although decorated in rather bland pale wood, it still has what has always been the ‘Rock’s best feature – a large bay window with great views of the bay below and the North Sea beyond. The pub naturally faces east (this is England’s east coast after all) so you won’t get to enjoy a sunset here, but it is still lovely to sit here on a summer evening and watch the light fade over the sea. And there are also a few tables outside at the back of the pub which enjoy the same great views.

The Gibraltar Rock, and its view of the bay

On our last visit we observed that a sort of informal protocol applied. Obviously those who had arrived first had grabbed the positions right by the windows with the uninterrupted views. But as some of these left, those at the remaining tables courteously indicated to each other which had arrived before the other and should move forwards into the vacated place. We however were happy with our seats which although set back a little allowed us to see out of both windows, so we sat back and watched this little performance without joining in!

Longsands Beach

Longsands, with the old swimming pool in the foreground

When it comes to beaches, the pride of Tynemouth is definitely the Longsands (always spelled as a single word). If it weren’t for the sometimes off-putting northern climate, this could even rank as one of the best beaches in the world. It stretches over a kilometre in length from the smaller King Edward’s Bay to the south to the next bay, Cullercoats, to the north. It has a Blue Flag award for cleanliness and is a popular summer destination for local families as well as visitors to the north east. It is also very popular with surfers who don wet-suits and brave the cold North Sea even in winter.

At the southern end of the Longsands is the currently rather forlorn-looking old outdoor pool. This was built in the 1920s when this coast saw many more holiday-makers than it does today, but was left to gradually decline as the visitor numbers fell away with the advent of cheap package holidays to Spain in the 1970s. In the 1990s it was closed down and the various buildings such as changing rooms demolished. There was a half-hearted attempt to turn it into an artificial rock pool (I have no idea why, given how many natural ones there are in the vicinity) and later talk of creating an artificial beach (again, why?!) Today it stands derelict but a local campaign group is trying to raise money for its restoration. They have a website and a presence in the Tynemouth WW1 commemoration project’s shop on Front Street, where you can see some pictures of what the pool looked like in its heyday.

More views of Longsands

The church that rises rather dramatically just to the north of the Longsands is St George’s in Cullercoats, the next community to the north. The beach is sometimes used for training runs by footballers from Newcastle United and featured in the film 'Goal'.

Some famous names

Jimi Hendrix sign

And talking of footballers, for a small place Tynemouth has some famous names associated with it. Here are just a few:

Jimi Hendrix apparently came here in 1967 after a gig in Newcastle (at the Club A’Gogo) and bought fish and chips at Marshall’s in Front Street which he ate on a bench overlooking the sea (presumably at the end of Front Street, somewhere near the Priory)

Marshall's fish shop

Plaque on the Martineau Guesthouse

Harriet Martineau, a well-known novelist, feminist and England’s first female journalist, came here to recuperate from illness in 1840 and lived till 1845 in a house on Front Street that is now a guesthouse and named after her. Incidentally the guesthouse looks lovely (we have never stayed there however) and you can stay in the same room that she slept in.

Another famous resident was Stan Laurel, of Laurel and Hardy fame, who as a child attended the King’s School here in Tynemouth between 1897 and 1902. Later he returned here with Oliver Hardy, on several occasions staying at the Grand Hotel on the seafront by the Longsands while performing at the Newcastle Empire. Their last stay was for two weeks in March 1952, and a room at the hotel is named for them. Other famous visitors to the Grand, Tynemouth’s landmark hotel, include the wartime “Forces’ Sweetheart” Dame Vera Lynn, actress Margaret Rutherford, the comedian Dave Allen and more recently Bob Geldorf and local hero Sir Bobby Robson.

Grand Hotel, and plaque to Garibaldi

The film director Ridley Scott also attended the King’s School. And there are many who have holidayed here over the centuries, including authors Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll and artist Algernon Swinburne. Giuseppe Garibaldi also paid a brief visit in 1854. But perhaps the most surprising visit is that reputed to have been made by Peter the Great of Russia who is thought to have stayed here while on an incognito visit to learn about shipbuilding on the Tyne, a subject that fascinated him.

Tynemouth Market

Tynemouth Metro station

The easiest way to get to Tynemouth by public transport is by Metro from the centre of Newcastle. It is on the yellow line, which makes a loop from St James’ Metro station east following the line of the Tyne to Tynemouth and then turns north up the coast to Whitley Bay and then back into the centre via the northern suburbs and through to Gateshead and to the towns south of the Tyne beyond – a sort of back to front Q shape.

If you are here on a Saturday or Sunday, do allow time to check out the market at the Metro station. It is well-known across the region and many locals visit regularly from Newcastle and further afield. The station dates back to 1882 and was originally a mainline station before being brought into use for the first stretch of Metro line in 1980, which ran from the Haymarket in Newcastle to terminate here. The station was completely renovated in 2012 and it is now a Grade II Listed Building.

Station roof - details

There has been a market here for a long while but since the station refurbishment it has grown in size and (from what local relatives tell me, who visit often) is better than ever. It is held on both platforms, which are very wide and easily able to accommodate all this activity as well as the regular business of people boarding and alighting from trains! It has something of the feel of a flea market, but in addition to antiques and bric-a-brac you will find fresh local produce, arts and crafts, plants, books, clothing and more.

Tynemouth Market

Even if you don’t want to shop here you can easily while away an hour or so browsing the stalls and enjoying some of the light refreshments available. On every third Saturday of the month there is a Farmers’ Market and there are book fairs held quarterly. Trading starts at 10.00 AM and ends around 4.00 PM.

On sale at Tynemouth Market

Add some excellent restaurants (I recommend Davanti's Italian restaurant or the quirky Barca Art Café, both on Front Street), interesting shops (try Razzberry Bazaar for unusual gifts and clothing, or the Green Ginger Shopping Arcade, a cluster of shops spread over two floors of a converted church) and that fresh sea air, and maybe you can see why I like Tynemouth so much!

Posted by ToonSarah 07:54 Archived in England Tagged beaches castles architecture monument history ruins views market river pubs seaside Comments (13)

By Metro to the coast: South Shields

South Shields is one of several seaside resorts in the north east of England, strung out along the coast north and south of the River Tyne, and like others has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years, helped by significant improvements such as landscaping and beachside redevelopment.

The mouth of the Tyne from South Shields

The town lies at the mouth of the river, on its south bank. That explains ‘South’, while ‘Shields’ is derived from a small traditional fisherman’s house known as a ‘Schele’ or ‘Shield’ (and yes, there is a North Shields on the opposite bank).

South Shields has many of the ingredients of a typical seaside resort – good beaches, a funfair, ice cream parlours (Minchella’s is famous locally), promenades, a boating lake and crazy golf. Perhaps more unusually, it is famous for having, allegedly, the greatest density of Indian restaurants anywhere in the world – including even in India itself! So you won’t go hungry if you enjoy a good curry.

Littlehaven beach

But South Shields also has plenty of history. It developed originally as a fishing port on the site of a Roman fort, which was a supply centre for soldiers garrisoned on Hadrian’s Wall. Later it was home to a considerable salt-panning industry and later still, like most Tyneside towns, relied on coal mining and ship-building. As these declined during the twentieth century the town suffered, but has recovered somewhat thanks to new industries and a revival in tourist trade.

More recently South Shields has become well known as the home town of author Catherine Cookson who set many of her popular historical novels here.

The mouth of the Tyne

One of the pleasures of a walk near the sea in South Shields, especially the northern stretches, is the variety of the outlook – not just the sea but also the River Tyne and all the shipping activity it generates, plus views across the river mouth to Tynemouth and North Shields.

Perhaps the most distinctive features of these views are the two piers on either side of the river’s entrance, called (prosaically) North Pier and South Pier. These were constructed in the mid 19th century to help prevent silt build up within the river’s shipping channel and to provide some protection for as it entered or left the river. The South Pier, here in South Shields, was finished in 1895. It has a lighthouse at its far point which is still operational today, guiding shipping into the river along with the North Pier lighthouse and that on the smaller Herd Groyne pier which juts out at the north end of Littlehaven, right in the river mouth. The pier is 5,150 feet (1,570 metres) in length and is a popular walk although it is closed in bad weather when waves regularly break over it.

South Pier

Looking north from this part of South Shields you can see Tynemouth just across the river, with its ruined priory, statue of Admiral Collingwood and Watch House. To the west (i.e. left) is North Shields, but mostly hidden from view on this sea-facing side of town, though easily seen from the river side.

Monument to Admiral Collingwood and Tynemouth Priory from South Shields


Skimming stones at Littlehaven

There are two good sized beaches in South Shields, plus a string of smaller ones to the south of town. The main one is larger, busier and sandier than its quieter neighbour to the north, Littlehaven. The latter is 500 metres long and sheltered by the south pier of the Tyne, so it’s a popular spot for water sports such as kayaking, canoeing, and boating. Not being as sandy as the main beach it’s maybe less of a draw for families but if sandcastles aren’t your priority this a good place from which to watch all the activity of ships sailing into and out of the river mouth.

The beach was formerly used as a World War I RAF airbase. On certain days you can apparently still see faint traces of the old landing strip near the Groyne at the northern end. The airbase was used by sea planes, land planes and airships used to monitor coastal defences and report on enemy movements.

Today it has a newly rebuilt promenade, a leisure centre nearby and a modern hotel right at the point where the river meets the sea.

The Watch House

The Watch House

I have long known about the Watch House in Tynemouth but only very recently learned that there is another here in South Shields, on the opposite side of the river mouth. It sits in a prominent position at the land end of the South Pier, a wood-framed building with carved eaves and an octagonal tower. It was built in 1865 as a base for the newly-founded South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade, and the tower added in 1875. It is Grade 2 listed and is one of the oldest all-wooden Victorian buildings in the country.

The Life Brigade was established to help saves lives endangered by shipwreck in the treacherous waters at the mouth of the Tyne. It is famous as the first such brigade to save a life from a shipwreck using the breeches buoy, when the Sunderland schooner Tenterden was wrecked on the South Pier on 2nd April 1866, the pier being still under construction at the time. It is one of only three such organisations to remain in existence today, out of the more than 500 that there once were (the other remaining ones are also in north east England, at Tynemouth (the first ever) to the north and Sunderland to the south.


Crest on the Watch House

It holds a collection of ships’ figureheads, name boards and other artefacts from shipwrecks, plus displays of rescue equipment, including the famous breeches buoy used in the Tenterden rescue, and old photographs.

But it is also the base for the still-active Volunteer Life Brigade, and while they are more often these days called to help with cliff rescues than shipwrecks, the latter are not unknown and the brigade are from time to time called upon to assist. The brigade’s motto, “Always ready”, can be seen on the crest on the wall of the Watch House.

The Eye

Near the north end of Littlehaven is this eye-catching (pun intended!) sculpture by Stephen Broadbent. It is a popular spot for photos as people like to pose with the eye as a frame, though I preferred using it to frame the view beyond – of the beach, the sea and Tynemouth Priory across the river. Around the 'iris' are the words: ‘but my eye could not see it, wherever might be it, the barque that is bearing my lover to me’.

The Eye

This is taken from a traditional Northumbrian ballad, 'Blow the wind southerly' – the full lyrics are:

Tynemouth Priory
seen through 'The Eye'

‘Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow the wind south for the bonny blue sea.
Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow, bonny breeze, my lover to me.

They told me last night there were ships in the offing,
And I hurried down to the deep rolling sea.
But my eye could not see it, wherever might be it,
The barque that is bearing my lover to me.

Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow, bonny breeze, o'er the bonny blue sea.
Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly,
Blow, bonny breeze, and bring him to me.

Is it not sweet to hear the breeze singing,
As lightly it calms o'er the deep rolling sea?
But sweeter and dearer by far when 'tis bringing
The barque of my true love in safely to me!’

The same sculptor also created another piece at the southern end of Littlehaven, ‘The Sail’. Both pieces were installed here as part of recent improvement works to this stretch of coastline.

Conversation Piece

Conversation Piece

Some sculptures are all the better for being in just the right place - think of the Angel of the North or Statue of Liberty, for example – and in its own less dramatic way that is true of the Conversation Piece. A group of 22 figures are dotted around a paved area near the sea at the north end of South Shields’ Littlehaven Beach. They could be locals stopping briefly in their daily routine to gossip, or holiday-makers meeting for the first time perhaps. With the dunes as backdrop they make for a striking piece.

Conversation Piece

The figures are of bronze and were created by Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz, who created similar pieces elsewhere (the ‘Last Conversation Piece’ in Washington DC, for example). Their rounded bases mean that locals sometimes refer to them affectionately as the ‘Weebles’ or simply ‘the wobbly men’. They are for obvious reasons a popular spot for photos and children in particular seem to love to pose with, or try to climb on, the figures – it took some patience for me to get these people-free images!

Conversation Piece

The Tyne lifeboat

The world’s first purpose built lifeboat was built here in South Shields in 1789 to help rescue seamen from ships in danger off the treacherous coast or swept onto the rocks at the mouth of the river Tyne, known as the Black Middens. This boat was called the ‘Original’ and built by Henry Greathead.

The Tyne lifeboat

The lifeboat Tyne now on display on Pier Parade in the town was built to a very similar design in 1833 by local ship-builder J.Oliver, and is now Britain's second-oldest preserved lifeboat (the oldest is the Zetland, on display in Redcar just down the coast). The cost was £170. The boat was crewed by 13 men and was stationed initially at Coble Landing before being moved to the South Beach boathouse. Her first rescue mission was in 1833 when twenty people were saved from the steamer Lady of the Lake. She was South Shields’ main lifeboat until 1882 and then served as reserve boat until 1884 when she was handed over to South Shields Corporation by the Trustees of the Tyne Lifeboat Institution and placed on public display to serve as a permanent reminder of the skill and bravery of the men of the Tyne Lifeboat Institution. Both the boat and the decorative cast iron canopy that protects it have recently been restored.

The Jubilee Lifeboat Memorial

Jubilee Lifeboat Memorial

This prominent memorial stands next to the restored Tyne lifeboat and commemorates the inventor of the world’s first purpose-built lifeboat. Or rather inventors – not because it was a joint effort but because two men lay claim to that honour. William Wouldhave and Henry Greathead (what fabulous names!) both entered a competition as launched to reward any inventor who could provide a craft for the purpose of saving lives from a shipwreck, prompted by the tragic loss of life from the Adventure, a Newcastle ship that went aground near the coast at the mouth of the Tyne in 1789. Woodhave was a parish clerk in the town, having been born in neighbouring North Shields, and Greathead was a boat builder, born in Yorkshire but having grown up in South Shields.

In the event neither of their designs was chosen as the winner but both influenced the final design which was drawn up by the committee running the contest. Wouldhave’s proposal of a copper boat clad in cork to prevent it sinking was considered too radical, while Greathead’s oblong wooden boat was completely unsuited to these waters and the model turned upside down when tested! Despite this he was given the job of building the boat and it was he that suggested the keel be curved to keep it part out of the water. Meanwhile Wouldhave’s ‘radical’ proposal to use copper and cork was actually employed!

A third man, Lionel Lukin of Essex, is also considered by many to have invented the lifeboat but as he was not a resident of South Shields he is unsurprisingly not mentioned on the memorial!

And as if it weren’t enough that this memorial celebrates not one but two local luminaries, it was actually constructed primarily to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. When the decision was taken to mark that event with a memorial, a planning committee decided that ‘nothing commended itself more than a memorial to the founder of the lifeboat, their noble townsman William Wouldhave’. However they agreed that, ‘in consequence of the diversity of opinion as to who was actually the inventor of the lifeboat, the monument should be called the “Wouldhave and Greathead memorial of the Lifeboat”’ (quotes taken from a plaque at the site).

Whatever the truth about the inventor, the memorial to the lifeboat’s origins is a striking one. It consists of four tiers. The lowest one originally had drinking fountains on two sides (north and south) and also contains a small door giving access to the clock and lighting mechanisms. Above this each face is carved – on the west side a portrait of Wouldhave, on the east one of Greathead, and on the remaining two sides reliefs showing a shipwreck and the return of the lifeboat. Above on the third tier is a clock with a dial on all four sides, and above this a dome with a weather vane.

Jubilee Lifeboat Memorial

So Shields

These large billboards on the back of the amusement arcades at Ocean Beach Pleasure Park, facing the sea, are part of the output of a team of artists who in the summers of 2011 and 2012 spent time down on the sea front in South Shields meeting local people and visitors to the resort. The project was known as ‘So Shields’, with ‘So’ here being both a word used for emphasis and also an abbreviation of ‘South’. The artistic team comprised poet Jake Campbell, photographer Damien Wootten and artists Alison Unsworth, Stuart Mugridge and Jo Ray, and the works they created reflected their personal impressions of the town and its people.

There are nine billboards altogether. Here are just three of them:

The coast will wait behind you

‘The coast will wait behind you’ is part of a poem by Jake Campbell which incorporates different moments in the town’s history (the Roman fort, a shipwreck) with his own memories of a day trip here.


‘Semaforks’ by Jo Ray captures the small wooden forks traditionally provided with fish and chips, here with the addition of local dialect phrases – on one side with their definitions and on the reverse with their equivalent in semaphore. The forks themselves were distributed by fast-food places on the seafront in the summer of 2011.

The Visitors

‘The Visitors’ by Damien Wootten depicts the mix of visitors to the resort during the course of one summer – students from New Delhi, Zimbabwean ladies on a day trip from Byker in nearby Newcastle, and students from Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.

Other billboards include Jo Ray’s ‘A Common Treasury’ which combines typical plants of the dunes with fairground-style signage, and ‘The Sandpiper’, a mock local newspaper created by Stuart Mugridge with stories ranging from Turner’s visit to South Shields to elephant rides on the beach.

Arbeia Roman Fort

I can't really write about South Shields without a brief mention of this reconstructed Roman fort, as it is the main sight there, although as we have never yet got around to visiting I have no photos to share. Arbeia Roman Fort guarded the main sea route to Hadrian's Wall. It was a key garrison and military supply base to other forts along the Wall and is an important part of the history of Roman Britain. Today's modern reconstruction of several of its significant buildings (West Gates, Commanding Officer's house and a soldier's barrack block) serves to bring the early history of this region to life, and must make an interesting complement to a visit to the remains of forts and milecastles along Hadrian's Wall. We really must go some time!

Posted by ToonSarah 04:31 Archived in England Tagged beaches art boats monument history seaside Comments (6)

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