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Entries about river

A city and its river

Newcastle intro

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River Tyne view

Rarely is a city defined so clearly by one single feature in the way that Newcastle is defined by its river. The city’s history has been shaped by the river, especially by ship-building, and now that the ship-yards are largely lost to history, the life of the city, especially its cultural and social life, continues to flow from the banks of the Tyne.

But the city has another heart, its football club, and that is where my love affair with Newcastle began. Well that, and with my husband and his welcoming Geordie family. I have been visiting the city now regularly for almost forty years and have gradually come to feel as at home there as I do in London, the city I have lived in almost all my life.

This will not be a usual blog, documenting the days and events of a visit, but rather an amalgam of all my visits, bringing together in one place all the sights of the city, my favourite areas and trying to capture for you the essence of this very special place.

A bit of history

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The castle keep

Newcastle started life as Pons Aelius, founded by the Romans at a strategic crossing point on the River Tyne. It sat near the eastern end of the defensive Hadrian’s Wall (a Newcastle suburb bears the name of Wallsend to this day). Later, William the Conqueror’s son Robert Curthose built a castle here, in 1080, giving the city the name it still bears today. Thanks to the river it became an important centre for the wool trade in medieval times, and later for ship-building – the traditional boat known as the keel comes from here.

Like many northern English cities, it reached its heyday with industrialisation, which brought great prosperity to the region. Coal from the surrounding coal fields was exported from Tyneside and its shipyards built some of the finest ships in the world.

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Plaque to Richard Grainger

The city expanded from the river bank up the hills to the north, with elegant streets designed by some of the best architects of the day.

The Depression of the 1930s hit Newcastle badly, and the Jarrow March of 1936 became one of the country’s defining events of that period (Jarrow is another Newcastle suburb). But industry continued to dominate the city’s economy until the late 20th century saw the closure of the shipyards on which its economy rested. In the late 1970s, when I first began to visit, it was clear that the city had seen better days – unemployment was high, the Quayside area largely derelict and many of the most attractive buildings were covered in the dark deposits laid down by centuries of coal smoke.

Efforts to modernise the city in the 1960s had had a mixed success – the dark often slum-like terraced houses that had been demolished were replaced (as in so many places) by tower blocks that divided communities, while the city itself was literally divided by the building of the Central Motorway that slices through its eastern side.

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Newcastle from the air

But the city bounced back. Geordies, as the locals are called, are a resilient bunch. Government and European investment attracted new industries to take the place of the old, the quayside was redeveloped as a cultural and leisure destination (in partnership with Gateshead on the other side of the river) and the old buildings cleaned so that their beauty shone through. The city’s traditional friendliness, coupled with lower prices than many other parts of the UK, saw it become a magnet for young people looking for a good night out and it was dubbed the ‘party capital of Europe’. It also became a mecca for shoppers, with excellent city-centre shopping and in Gateshead, the then-largest shopping mall in Europe, the Metro Centre.

Today’s Newcastle is a modern, lively city with a strong sense of identity and of its own history, while looking firmly to the future. Its two universities attract students from all over the world, giving it a youthful and cosmopolitan air in parts, while other areas remain perhaps more traditionally British. Its nightlife offers something for everyone, not just the somewhat infamous ‘stags and hens’ who flock there, and there are restaurants for every taste, from the all-you-can-eat buffets of Chinatown through great inexpensive Italians to gastro-pubs and a Michelin-starred restaurant on the quayside. There are excellent cinemas, art galleries, museums and theatres. And if you tire of the city you're only a short ride by Metro from the coast, or an easy drive or bus ride from some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain.

In the following entries I will focus in more detail on some of the most interesting areas of the city, my own personal favourite spots, and say something more about the culture of this fascinating corner of England.

Getting to Newcastle

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Train arriving in Newcastle

Although it is one of England’s most northerly cities, high speed trains mean that you can get to Newcastle in less than three hours from central London. Trains leave from Kings Cross (two an hour for most of the day) and follow a mostly scenic route, the highlight (for me at least) is the stunning view of Durham Cathedral just 15 minutes before arriving at Newcastle’s Central Station. From that station you are just a short walk from many of the city’s main attractions (including St James’ Park), or you can jump straight on the Metro to travel to more outlying areas.

Alternatives to the train include driving (it’s about 300 miles on good fast motorways); coach (the most economical and slowest option – check out National Express for details and prices); or air (Newcastle has a good international airport, with access by Metro to the city centre in about 30 minutes).

The Centurion

But if you do arrive by train, or find yourself at the Central Station at any point in your visit, do take a look at, and maybe have a drink in, what claims to be the most beautiful station bar in the country, and was voted 'Newcastle's most impressive watering hole' by the Observer newspaper. I haven't been able to check all the country’s station bars (!) but the Centurion would certainly be hard to beat. It started life in 1839 when it was commissioned by George Hudson (the Victorian "Railway King") to be the best first class lounge of any station in the world. The interior was designed by local architect John Dobson and is decorated with tiles made in Leeds and valued today at over £38 million! The lounge was in use until the 1960s when it closed, and the for a while the space was used by British Transport Police as holding cells. Despite its Grade 1 listed status, British Rail destroyed parts and painted over the tiles in a lurid red.

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Centurion bar

It was rescued in 2000 and restored for use as a pub, and is today one of the most popular places in the city for a drink, and an almost obligatory stop for a farewell pint for any departing Geordie. It serves a full range of the usual drinks and pub foods, and has screens showing live football and other sports, as well as occasional live music. The pub also has a deli / café attached, on the station side, selling decent sandwiches and salads etc. to eat on the premises or takeaway – useful to take on the train as they are rather superior to on board catering!

Getting around

The easiest way for a visitor (or anyone else) to get around Newcastle and the Tyneside area is to take the Metro. The system is easy to use, clean, reliable and generally efficient. There are just two lines – the green one runs between the Airport to the north west of the city and South Hylton on Wearside, while the yellow runs in a “loop with a tail” to connect the coast with the city centre.

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Metro train

The main stations in the city centre are
Haymarket – for the Civic Centre, some good pubs (including our favourite, the Crows Nest) and the top end of Northumberland Street (start of the shopping district)
Monument – for the shops of Eldon Square and many others, the Theatre Royal and shuttle buses to the Quayside and Metro Centre
Central Station – as the name suggests, for the Central Station and mainline connections, also a fairly easy walk to the Quayside
St James – for the football stadium and also Chinatown

For a bit of extra fun, especially if travelling with small children, try to get the seat at the front of the train – you’ll get a great view ahead down the tracks and the kids can pretend to drive the train!

The only downsides to the Metro that I can see is that it doesn’t run on Bank Holidays and also that it stops running rather early at night – the last train from the city centre is before midnight even on a Saturday, and this is in the so-called “party capital” of Europe!

Hop on, hop off bus

Like most cities these days, Newcastle has a “Hop on, hop off” sightseeing bus tour available. Before deciding to take this tour however, bear in mind that Newcastle is a compact city so you might find it just as easy to explore on your own; but for anyone with mobility problems and/or very limited time, this could be a useful option.

The tour starts at the Central Station and to do the complete loop takes one hour (if you don’t hop off at all, that is!) There’s a pre-recorded English-only commentary. Stops include St James’ Park Football Stadium, Haymarket, the Quayside (including Baltic and the Sage music centre) and the Tyne Bridge.

In the entries that follow I will try to capture the essence of the city – its sights, its pubs (an integral part of the culture), its passions.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:56 Archived in England Tagged trains football castles history river pubs city Comments (4)

The Quayside and its bridges

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View from the Millennium Bridge, looking west

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The four central bridges,
looking east

Our favourite walk in Newcastle, and that I suspect of most visitors, is along the Quayside past the city’s famous bridges. There are seven in total that straddle the Tyne in this central area. From west to east these are:

Redheugh Bridge – a modern road bridge, opened in 1983 (replacing an earlier bridge at this point)
King Edward VII Bridge – a railway bridge, opened 1906 to ease congestion in the Central Station
Queen Elizabeth II Bridge – carrying the urban Metro trains, opened 1981
High Level Bridge – carrying road and railway, opened in 1849
Swing Bridge – a road bridge, opened in 1876
Tyne Bridge – also a road bridge and the city’s most famous, opened in 1928
Millennium Bridge – used by pedestrians and cyclists, opened in 2001

Of these, it is the easternmost four that are the most interesting and photogenic for the majority of visitors. I will describe them in more detail as we come to them on our walk, along with the other major sights of the Quayside.

High Level Bridge

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The High Level Bridge with the Swing Bridge in the foreground

The High Level Bridge is possibly not the most attractive of the bridges over the Tyne, but it provides an angular, dramatic contrast to the curves of the Tyne and Millennium Bridges, and the views from a train crossing it can’t be beaten. It was designed by Robert Stephenson and built here between 1847 and 1849. It was the first major bow-string girder bridge to be built, designed to solve the challenge of spanning such a wide river valley. Six of its spans are over the waters of the Tyne, on masonry pillars up to 40 meters high, while on each side of the river a further four spans complete the bridging of the valley. It is a truly impressive piece of engineering, and it is easy to see why its local 19th century nickname was 'lang legs'!

The bridge provides a river crossing for both road (vehicle and pedestrian) and rail. The road is on the lower of the two levels, while the railway runs on the upper deck. The bridge was built for the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway as part of the London to Edinburgh line (today usually referred to as the East Coast Line). However, when the King Edward VII Bridge was built a little to the west of this one in 1906 the East Coast trains started to use that one (as they do today) and the High Level is usually instead used by trains running to Sunderland and Middlesbrough. But the two lines are connected through the Central Station and on the Gateshead side, allowing trains to circle through the cities to turn around and use either bridge when necessary.

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Train crossing the High Level Bridge

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Pedestrians crossing the High Level Bridge

I think the High Level Bridge looks at its best in the fading light of late afternoon, when a passing train is silhouetted against a dramatic sky. And if you’re lucky enough to arrive in the city on one of the rare intercity trains that still cross this bridge (a few are still routed this way when the station is especially busy), you will have one of the best vantage points for a “Welcome to Newcastle” view of the Tyne (if you aren’t that lucky, or arrive by road, then of course you can take a walk out onto the bridge during your stay for the same view).

Swing Bridge

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Swing Bridge reflection

While many of the bridges that cross the Tyne do so at some height above the water, the Swing Bridge is much lower, and solves the challenge of allowing shipping to pass not by allowing it space, but by moving out of its way!

The bridge stands on what was probably the site of the first bridge across the river in this area, the Roman Pons Aelius, and certainly that of the 1270 Tyne Bridge, so this is the earliest crossing point in the city. It replaced another bridge built here in 1781, which didn’t allow larger ships to pass. This was a major concern for William Armstrong, who owned a manufacturing works a little further up the Tyne, at Elswick (making hydraulic cranes which were used on the Quayside to unload ships, and weapons, among other things). To solve the problem Armstrong proposed funding and designing a new bridge, with a hydraulic mechanism to turn it through ninety degrees to allow ships to pass on either side. This mechanism is still in use today, although large ships no longer come up the Tyne and the bridge is only rarely required to move (I have never seen it do so).

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The Swing Bridge tucked beneath the Tyne Bridge

Incidentally, Armstrong himself is an interesting character. Among other achievements, he invented a gun that was used on both sides in the American Civil War, built the steam-driven hydraulic pumping engines for Tower Bridge in London, was an early advocate of renewable energy sources, and built Cragside House near Rothbury in Northumberland which was the first in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity (and is today open to the public and well worth a visit, incidentally). You can read more about him on a website devoted to him: http://www.williamarmstrong.info/. Today his name lives in in a road in the west of the city (Elswick, home of his manufacturing works), in a park in Heaton in the north east and a bridge over the Ouseburn in Jesmond Dene.

Tyne Bridge

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The Tyne Bridge, early evening

The Tyne Bridge is the most famous of the seven bridges that cross the river between Newcastle and Gateshead. It was built to replace an earlier (1781) stone bridge and was opened by King George V and Queen Mary in October 1928. Instantly recognisable, it has come to symbolise the city.

It’s often said that the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia was based on the Tyne Bridge, though I've also read that it was the other way around and that the Australians got in first – but try telling that to a Geordie! In fact, both are modelled on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City, but again, no local will want to believe their bridge wasn’t the first and best.

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Tyne Bridge and Sage (music venue on Gateshead Quayside)

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Bus crossing the Tyne Bridge

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City skyline with Tyne Bridge

The road is 84 feet above the water and the bridge has a 531 foot span. Its towers are of Cornish granite and were originally designed to serve as warehouses, with five storeys. But the inner floors were never completed and, as a result, the storage areas were never used. Lifts for passengers and goods were built in the towers to provide access to the Quayside but they are no longer in use. The Tyne Bridge Towers are usually opened to the public as part of Heritage Open Days in September.

Kittiwakes and other birds

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Kittiwake nesting
on the Tyne Bridge

Look up at the stone towers that support the great span of the Tyne Bridge and you'll spot the nests of the kittiwakes. This is the world's furthest inland breeding colony of these birds, who unlike other gulls haven't adapted to living off man's scraps but still live entirely on fish.

Now that the River Tyne is clean again after many years of pollution there are plenty of fish to be caught there as well as out in the North Sea beyond the river's mouth. The kittiwakes nesting here must think these great stone towers are cliffs of course.

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Kittiwake nesting on one of the Tyne Bridge towers

The bridge is now considered an important breeding site for these birds, but their nests are threatened by the complaints of nearby residents who dislike the noise and mess they cause. I don’t live here so perhaps it’s unfair of me to comment, but I think it would be a real shame if they were prevented from nesting through the introduction of netting round the towers as has been proposed.

You'll probably also be able to spot cormorants down by the water near here too – they often perch on the columns on either side of the Millennium Bridge and stick out their wings to dry. And on a couple of occasions we have spotted a heron!

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Heron by the Tyne

Quayside Sunday Market

Visit the Quayside on a Sunday and you will encounter a Newcastle institution. The market has been operating in this same spot for several hundred years. On a Sunday morning the road along the Quayside is closed to traffic and the stalls are set up. The nature of the goods on sale may have changed somewhat over the years but local families are still drawn here in search of a bargain as they always have been, although increasingly these days are joined by visitors to the city.

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Closed to traffic for the Quayside Market

In the past you might have seen such novelties as escapologists, monkeys dancing to organ-grinders’ music, and pets such as mice and budgies for sale. No longer … but some typical traditional stalls remain: fish and seafood caught locally in the North Sea, cheap plastic toys and pseudo designer clothing, random electrical and household items. These tend to congregate at the Tyne Bridge end of the market, while further down, near the Law Courts, you will find the more modern and upmarket newcomers – hand-crafted jewellery; artistic photos of local landmarks such as the Angel of the North and the various bridges; rustic loaves and fancy cup-cakes; leather goods and decorative items for the home. And if you are hungry there is plenty to choose from. On a recent visit I spotted Polish sausages, locally-farmed roast pork, Middle-Eastern wraps, hot-dogs and classic burgers, and more.

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Market stalls

The stall in my last photo above is a regular and something of a market institution. It sells a variety of leather goods (wallets, phone cases etc.) and the stall-holder has a fun line in advertising captions, making ludicrous claims that if anyone were to believe them would surely see him hauled before a Trades Description Act court! Here's an example from the photo, as it is hard to read:
Prince George's Phone Cases!
When the Queen recently made one of her regular visits to my stall (see her hand-written letter to me hanging up at the back right) she asked me to dedicate a product to her great grandson. I said that I would think about it and told her later, over a pint and a fag, that I had chosen these. I think that's what clinched my OBE for me!

And I can't resist also including this one:
Prince William's Credit Card Case
Dear David
I can't thank you enough for this splendid wedding gift! I go nowhere without it and it is much admired by all who see it. Kate and I would love to use your caravan for our honeymoon and knowing that you will be there at the same time is marvellous news!
Kindest regards
William

The market gets going at about 9.30 and lasts most of the day, though some stalls seem to close mid-afternoon.

The Custom House

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Crest on the Custom House

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Custom House plaque

This imposing building on the Quayside, a short walk east of the Tyne Bridge, was built in 1766 after the original town walls which ran along this stretch of the river bank were demolished (in 1763). It replaced an earlier Customs shed that had stood at the point now occupied by the Tyne Bridge’s support towers. It was further developed in 1833, with a new frontage, and the Royal Arms added over the new porch. Its original purpose was to collect tax and duties from the many ships that moored here, but today its location close to the Law Courts has made it a prime spot for barristers’ offices, and it is not open to the public.

When the Custom House was first built here, the Quayside was a very different place. The road of that name ran parallel to the river, with buildings on one side and ships moored on the other. Timber piers jutted out into the river to aid the unloading of goods, and at intervals narrow lanes known as 'chares' led to steep steps up to the town on the higher ground beyond the river. Some of these alleys remain today – Plummer Chare, Trinity Chare and Broad Chare. The latter, as the name suggests, is a wider road and was in the past the only one wide enough to accommodate a horse and cart.

Local Heroes

In the spring of 2014 a “Walk of Fame” was launched on the Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides. A series of 20 bronze plaques is set into the pavement at intervals, each commemorating a 'local hero' – someone from the region who has made a contribution to sport, the arts, science or in some other way has achieved success and put Newcastle on the map. The list of those represented is like a 'Who’s Who' of famous Geordies and includes:

~ footballer Alan Shearer
~ footballer and football manager, Sir Bobby Robson
~ traditional musician Kathryn Tickell
~ athlete Brendan Foster
~ photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen
~ children’s author David Almond
~ entertainers Ant & Dec
~ paralympian Stephen Miller
~ actor Robson Green
~ Cardinal Basil Hume
~ TV writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais
~ 70s group Lindisfarne

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Local Heroes

More are added each year, nominated by members of the public. The plaques can be found along the stretch of pavement from the Newcastle end of the Swing Bridge to the Millennium Bridge, and on the other side of the river in Gateshead they continue along the Quayside back to the Swing Bridge.

Art on the Quayside

As you walk along by the Tyne look out for the many pieces of public art here, including

River Tyne by Neil Talbot: a relief depicting thirty miles of the course of the Tyne carved on a sandstone wall by the Wesley Memorial Fountain (near the Law Courts). The Tyne is shown as a map with various views from along the river’s course realistically carved to a relief with a maximum depth of a centimetre. The work is 30 metres in length, and it’s fun to follow the river’s course on it and spot the well-known landmarks.

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River Tyne - High Level, Swing and Tyne Bridges

River God: a male figure with a torso and head, and holding a staff and chain, on top of a steel column, and its companion piece, Siren, at the top of the steps that descend to the Quayside from Sandgate. Both are the work of Andre Wallace.

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River God and Siren

The Blacksmiths’ Needle: This eye-catching modern sculpture on the Quayside is the collective work of the Members of the British Association of Blacksmith Artists. Made from forged steel, it takes the form of a 7.6 metre high cone which is consists of six sections, one above the other. Each of these is decorated with objects which relate to one of the senses, including what was described as “the mysterious sixth sense”. These objects were made in public “forge-ins” held all over the country and have a mainly maritime theme. The work was inaugurated in May 1997 by the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who rang the bell which hangs inside the needle.

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The Blacksmiths’ Needle

A beach on the Tyne

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Palm tree and
Millennium Bridge

It has become popular in recent years to introduce a little of the seaside atmosphere into our cities, and Newcastle has joined the trend. Every summer a small patch of sand on the Quayside offers deckchairs, a volley-ball net and plenty of space for the children to make sandcastles. There's a pop-up café and even some palm trees!

And what it lacks in size (and possibly weather – though this photo was taken on a warm and sunny August morning), it gains in views. Not many beaches, with the possible exception of some in Sydney I guess, can offer such a stunning bridge as a backdrop!

So if you’re here with the kids, the sun is shining, and you don’t want to spend a fortune on keeping them amused, why not pack up the buckets and spades, and a picnic, and head on down to the Quayside where they can play in the sand while you soak up some rays and watch the world go by?

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The beach on a chilly April day - still popular despite the weather!

Sandgate

Historically, Sandgate was the area of the Quayside to the east of the city centre where the 'keelmen' lived and operated. A keel is a traditional boat of this region which was used to transfer coal from the river banks to the waiting colliers, for export to London and elsewhere. A famous song, The Keel Row, is set here:

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Carving of keels on
the Sandgate

‘As I came thro' Sandgate,
Thro' Sandgate, thro' Sandgate,
As I came thro' Sandgate,
I heard a lassie sing:
“O, weel may the keel row,
The keel row, the keel row,
O weel may the keel row
That my laddie's in.”’

Today the opening lines of the song are carved into the flight of steps that descends to the Quayside from Sandgate. The keelmen were highly skilled boatmen. They wore a uniform of a short blue jacket, slate-coloured trousers and yellow waistcoat, and a black silk, flat-brimmed hat. They were a strong, tight-knit community who formed a benefit society and founded the Keelmen’s Hospital which still stands on the City Road.

By the way, you will see some sources which suggest that The Keel Row is a Scottish song, but the references to the Tyne (“He's foremost 'mang the mony Keel lads o' coaly Tyne”) and to Sandgate indicate its Geordie origins.

Millennium Bridge

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The Millennium Bridge

This is the most recent addition to the iconic set of bridges that span the Tyne in the centre of the city, and possibly my favourite. But please don’t offend the Gateshead folk on the other side of the river by describing this as a bridge in Newcastle! The full name of this bridge is in fact the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. It was commissioned by the council to commemorate the millennium and link new developments on either side of the river, including the gallery at Baltic, the old flour mill. It certainly succeeds in doing that and makes it easy for anyone on the Newcastle side to pop across to check out the latest exhibits or have a meal in the restaurant there.

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The Millennium Bridge from Baltic

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Pedestrians and cyclist on the bridge

The bridge is for use by pedestrians and cyclists only, as there is no traffic by the river at this point. The brief was to create a bridge allowed ships to pass underneath and didn’t overshadow or spoil the world famous view of the existing bridges. The design solution was to create this light structure which contrasts really well with the solidity of the other bridges, and to engineer it in a way that allows it to tilt upwards for ships to pass. When it does so it looks just like an eye winking! These days there aren’t a large number of large ships navigating the river so it isn’t required to do this frequently. But you can find out the times when the bridge will 'wink' on the Gateshead Council website. One regular occurrence is each Sunday just after midday so if you’re on the Quayside at this time, perhaps for the market, do go along to watch, as it’s quite a sight. Each opening and closing takes four and a half minutes and both arches tilt at once – the one that carries the walkway/cycleway, and the one that supports it from above.

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Millennium Bridge tilting

Video of Millennium Bridge tilting

(The incongruous German music in the background on the video above is coming from a sausage stall at the Quayside Market!)

Another sight worth catching is of the bridge at night. It is lit up in an ever-changing spectrum of colour, and, from what I’ve observed, the patterns can be different on different nights. Sometimes there are rainbow colours (befitting the shape!) and sometimes each colour appears separately. This is a sight I never tire of, and I will happily detour on an evening out in Newcastle to include a stroll on this stretch of the Quayside.

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Changing colours of the Millennium Bridge at night

Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art

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Baltic

The Baltic isn't technically in Newcastle but in Gateshead; however it is just across the river and easily visited on foot, crossing the Millennium Bridge.

This amazing gallery is housed in an old flour mill which was gutted to create a fantastic space that provides the perfect setting for the modern art on display.

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The stairwell
There are also lifts!

There are no permanent exhibitions - instead the programme changes regularly so you see something new every time you visit, and it could be anything from a major exhibition to work by local artists. The best thing for me is how the curators really make the most of the large spaces on offer, so you'll often find huge paintings or striking installations. The art isn't too everyone's taste, and even if you like contemporary art there's a good chance not everything will appeal, but with (usually) three different exhibitions on at a time there should be something to interest you. And if you have children, check out the website to find out about the many free activities here.

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Art installations at Baltic

But even if you don't like modern art it’s worth coming here simply for the views of the river which are fantastic. There's a glass viewing gallery attached to the fifth floor exterior wall (which you can see in my photo, above) and an outdoor terrace on the fourth floor, on the river side.

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View from Baltic viewing gallery
Reflections unavoidable on a bright day!

And best of all, it's free!

Shuttle bus to/from the Quayside

It's quite a steep walk between the city centre and the Quayside so on the way back up especially you may want to take one of the bright green Quaylink Shuttle buses. There are two routes:

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Quaylink bus

Services Q1 and Q2 run from Newcastle Central Station to Gateshead Interchange via the Quayside, Baltic and The Sage, and loop through the suburbs south of Gateshead. The different numbers refer to the direction they take on this loop, but as visitors are unlikely to be travelling beyond Gateshead Interchange they can be regarded as the same route.

Service Q3 runs from Great Park, a suburb to the north of Newcastle, via Haymarket Bus Station and through the city centre to Ouseburn and St Peter's Basin via Newcastle’s East Quayside area

A section between the Newcastle Quayside and the Monument, via Dean Street and Grey Street, is covered by both routes, so you can easily switch from one to the other.

Buses run every 15 minutes at peak times, dropping to every 30 minutes in the evening (until about midnight) and on Sundays, although I’ve found them to be rather erratic. Fares (autumn 2017) are £1.50 for a single or £2.20 for an all day ticket (good value if you're exploring the Quayside for the day).

Posted by ToonSarah 05:56 Archived in England Tagged bridges art birds architecture market river city Comments (2)

A walk to Ouseburn

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View looking back towards the city from Ouseburn

In recent years the development that first started around the central part of the Quayside has spread eastwards, and the area around where the smaller Ouseburn flows into the Tyne, in particular, has benefitted from regeneration. It makes a great destination for a stroll along the river, and there’s plenty to see when you get there. It’s only about a 15 minute walk from the Tyne Bridge to the mouth of the Ouseburn, although you’re bound to stop along the way!

The first part of this route is covered in my previous entry on the Quayside, so I will pick this walk up near the Millennium Bridge. Just before the bridge, the Quayside walk becomes pedestrianised, with the road veering away to join City Road and run parallel to the river just above the apartment blocks that line the banks here. You could follow the road, but the riverside walk is far pleasanter. It’s worth a detour however when you reach Horatio Street, where you can climb the short distance to two interesting sights.

The Sailors’ Bethel

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The Sailors’ Bethel

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The Sailors’ Bethel

At this point in your walk your eye is very likely to be drawn upwards to the sight of the slim spire of the Sailors’ Bethel.

Climb cobbled Horatio Street for a closer look and you will find that this spire sits somewhat incongruously on a solid-looking brick chapel. It was built in 1877 to serve non-conformist sailors, mainly Danish, from the many ships that used to dock in Newcastle’s busy port just down the bank from here, bringing butter, eggs and meat, and returning with Tyneside coal. But the port fell into disuse as ships became too large to navigate this far up river, and as the trade in coal declined. Today’s ships carry huge containers and dock at the Port of Tyne near the river mouth in South Shields.

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Plaque

The chapel is no longer needed by sailors and today has been converted into offices. You can’t therefore go inside but the Sailors’ Bethel is nonetheless worth a quick visit to see that unusual lead-clad spire and what is said to be Newcastle’s only gargoyle.

The artist L. S. Lowry painted the Sailors’ Bethel in a painting called ‘Old Chapel’ and this is now on display in the city’s Laing Art Gallery (have a look at http://collectionssearchtwmuseums.org.uk/#details=ecatalogue.299667 to see how Lowry depicted it).

Statue of William L Blenkinsop Coulson

This imposing Victorian statue stands on City Road just above the Quayside and a little east of the central area. It commemorates a local benefactor who, as the inscription explains, was noted for his efforts on behalf of not only the weaker members of society but animals too. Appropriately therefore the statue incorporates two drinking fountains – a large one for humans at the front, and a smaller one for animals round the back!

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William L Blenkinsop Coulson

On the back is another inscription, a quotation from the man himself:
'What is really needed is an allround
education of the higher impulses
true manliness, and womanliness
justice, and pity.
To try to promote these has been
my humble but earnest endeavour, and until
they are more genuinely aroused,
the legislature is useless,
for it is the people who make the laws'

The inscription on the plinth reads:
'William Lisle Blenkinsopp
Coulson
1841 – 1911
erected by public subscription
in memory of his efforts
to assist the weak and defenceless.
among mankind and in the
animal world'

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On the plinth

Coulson's statue originally stood in the Haymarket, near the Boer War memorial, but has been moved twice – firstly in the 1930s to a location further down Percy Street, and then in 1950 to this present spot.

Coulson was born in Haltwhistle, Northumberland, in 1840 and, as I think his pose and expression suggest, was a colonel in the army before retiring in 1892, after which he served as a magistrate and on the boards of many charities concerned with child and animal welfare. He toured schools and borstals giving lectures on morality, and published essays on the welfare of women and children. He is depicted wearing the distinctive plaid cloth that he was in the habit of wearing.

The statue is of bronze and double life-size. It was sculpted by Arnold Frédéric Rechberg and stands on a stone block, underneath which is a slab of red granite from which the two drinking troughs are carved. It commands a lovely view of the river, although Coulson is perhaps surprisingly positioned to face away from the view and is looking instead at the Sailor’s Bethel church across the road – surprising that is until you remember his devotion to the welfare of others.

The mouth of the Ouseburn

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Mouth of the Ouseburn

You could carry on from here along the main road which soon crosses the Ouseburn on the Walker Bridge, and to do so will save you repeating the climb up the bank, but I recommend retracing your steps to the riverside and following the path to the mouth of the burn. At low tide the boats will be stranded on the muddy banks, or at high tide bobbing at their moorings – either way, they make a colourful scene.

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Ouseburn moorings

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Waymarker for cyclists

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In the boatyard

Turn left here and the path will take you to a smaller bridge and past a small boatyard to three great spots to stop for refreshment on the far side. Ahead to your right is the Hub, a focal point for keen cyclists in the area, especially those following the cycle route along the Tyne to the sea. But you don’t need to be a cyclist to grab a sandwich and drink in its welcoming café, which has seating by the water for good weather visits.

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View from the Hub

Alternatively, there are a couple of pubs on the other side of the road, overlooking the Ouseburn. The lower one is the Tyne Bar, which I haven’t visited, as we prefer the Free Trade Inn on the small hill above. This characterful pub isn’t fancy and it’s not smartly decorated, but it oozes atmosphere, serves a great selection of beers and has great views of the Tyne from both the pub itself and the small garden area opposite. Oh, and there’s a friendly welcome from both bar staff and the resident cat!

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In the Free Trade Inn

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The cat even features on the beer mats!

Although it serves snacks, really this pub is mainly about the beer. Many of the rotating selection on tap are from local breweries, while there’s also a good range of bottled beers from further afield, including Belgium. And if you’re not sure what to choose the bar staff will let you try a sample (of the tap beers, obviously, not the bottled!)

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Beer with a (rainy day) view

It’s also about the view. So settle down at the window with a glass and enjoy the river scenes below. You’ll be glad you came and will quickly forgive any lack of fanciness in the décor.

Following the Ouse

From the mouth of the Ouse you can follow the footpath called Riverside Walkway along the eastern bank (on your right as you leave the Tyne), or take Ouse Street and Lime Street along its western bank – the latter are recommended if you like to spot street art. Either route will bring you to the heart of Ouseburn.

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On Lime Street

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Ouseburn street art

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Stepney Bank Stables

Here you will find lots to do. There’s a nationally acclaimed museum devoted to children’s literature, Seven Stories, which seems to have loads going on for families – crafts, author visits and exhibitions of original work by illustrators, for instance. As a former children’s librarian, I really must visit one day!

There is a city farm here too, an acclaimed music venue, the Cluny, and another traditional old pub, the Ship Inn, plus several small galleries on Stepney Bank, where you will also find a working stable.

The Biscuit Factory

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Biscuit Factory entrance

Not far away on Stoddart Street is a large independent art gallery, the Biscuit Factory. This is an art, craft and design gallery housed in a former Victorian warehouse in an area of the city that is gradually being transformed from its industrial past and becoming increasingly arty, with a number of small studios nearby. The gallery hosts four major exhibitions a year which are changed every quarter. The focus is on art you can buy – everything is for sale, much of it at reasonable prices, and the 'Own Art' scheme means that any piece can be bought and paid for in instalments.

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In the Biscuit Factory

We went a couple of years ago for the summer exhibition and were very impressed by a lot of what we saw, although the sheer amount made the exhibition a little hard to take in and focus on individual artists at times. There were a lot of great prints at reasonable prices (we resisted temptations), original paintings, sculpture and also a lot of applied art – jewellery, glassware, ceramics and even furniture.

There is a light, airy café on the first floor, with great views over the eastern part of the city, and a more formal restaurant, Artisan, downstairs with an appealing menu.

When you’ve finished your explorations here you can return by the same route, or catch a bus back into the city centre on New Bridge Street a few minutes’ walk away. Alternatively, you can continue your walk and follow the Ouse all the way to Jesmond Dene, a couple of miles to the north of the city.

ADDENDUM

Walking at this eastern end of the quayside you are likely to catch glimpses of the Byker Wall.

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Part of the Byker Wall

Byker is a suburb just to the east of the city centre. Like many of Newcastle’s outlying districts it was developed in Victorian times as housing for the working classes – tiny terraces in rows, with no bathrooms and little space or fresh air. By the middle of the 20th century they were little more than slums, and throughout the city a massive clearance programme was underway, as in many UK cities. In most places the solution was the same – high rise blocks that were designed to simulate terraced housing but vertically. These “streets in the sky” were later almost universally condemned – they failed to recreate the sense of community felt by those living in the terraces they replaced while creating huge social problems because of the isolation felt by many residents and the hidden corners of their stairwells and passageways which provided fertile ground for gangs and criminals.

The Byker Wall was in part an attempt to try something different – an intensive housing scheme that didn’t rely on piling people on top of each other. One end of the continuous sweep of buildings (620 maisonettes) does reach upwards, purposely designed to shield the site from a motorway which in the end was never built, but in most parts it is only a few storeys high. It was designed by Ralph Erskine (a London-born architect heavily influenced by Scandinavian style) and built during the 1970s – and it soon became as criticised as the high-rise blocks it sought to improve upon, mainly on aesthetic grounds as it challenged conservative ideas of what homes, and architecture, should be like. In more recent years its innovative approach has become more appreciated, helped by a major refurbishment and modernisation of the entire Byker Estate (of which the Wall is just a part) in the early part of the 21st century.

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View towards Byker from the café at the Biscuit Factory

Today Erskine’s approach to the development of the Byker Estate seems much more in tune with concepts of community involvement than was the norm at the time. He designed the new homes to fit around existing pubs, schools and churches, so people wouldn’t lose their connections to each other within the community. And he sought residents’ views, responding to desires for gardens and meeting places. Because the development was carefully phased, people could move straight from their old house to the new, without having to temporarily leave the area – another factor that contributed to keeping social cohesion intact. Erskine also included some environmental design elements that were significantly ahead of his time, with homes heated by a power plant that ran on the rubbish collected from them, and a micro-climate created by the shelter of the Wall that allows trees to grow that would normally need a more southerly latitude.

To read more about the development check out this website: Future Communities, from where I drew some of my information. You can see the Wall from the eastern end of the Quayside and other spots at that end of the city, but for a close-up look you can catch a bus on New Bridge Street to Byker (the opposite direction to the city centre).

Posted by ToonSarah 07:34 Archived in England Tagged art buildings boats architecture monument history church river pubs city museum street_art Comments (4)

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.

Tynemouth

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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One of the cannons at the monument

'THIS MONUMENT
was erected in 1845 by Public Subscription to the memory of
ADMIRAL LORD COLLINGWOOD
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:
"SEE HOW THAT NOBLE FELLOW COLLINGWOOD TAKES HIS SHIPS INTO ACTION"
__________
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
AND WAS BURIED IN ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
__________
THE FOUR GUNS UPON THIS MONUMENT BELONGED TO HIS SHIP THE
ROYAL SOVEREIGN'

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Figure-heads in the Watch House

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Rescue equipment in the Watch House

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Tynemouth Pier, winter views

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Priory church from the south (left photo) and east (right)
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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.

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Inside the Oratory

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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.

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Gun battery

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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.

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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

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King Edward's Bay, looking south

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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)

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Marshall's fish shop

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 (4)

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