The City Walls
The North East’s most famous wall is of course that built by and named after the Roman Emperor Hadrian, which starts (or finishes!) here in Newcastle, at Wallsend. But Newcastle has its own wall too, which once circled the city – the medieval town wall. This was built during the 13th and 14th centuries, and was approximately 3 kilometres (2 miles) long. It was intersected by six main gates: Close Gate, West Gate, New Gate, Pilgrim Gate, Pandon Gate and Sand Gate. The names of some of these remain in the city’s streets and buildings – Westgate Road, Pilgrim Street, Pandon Quays. The Sandgate was even immortalised in a song, “The Keel Row”:
”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."
As well as these place names, parts of the wall itself remain, and you could spend an enjoyable time searching it out during your walks around the city. The tower in my photo is the Corner Tower, at the junction of City Road and Melbourne Street just along from the Sandgate area of the Quayside. There are more substantial remains near Stowell Street in the heart of Newcastle’s small Chinatown, and along nearby Bath Lane, as well as some smaller fragments in St Andrew’s Church. If you’d like to try to trace the full length of the wall you can download a walking trail at http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/hadrianswall/uploads/Around%20the%20Town%20Walls(2).pdf.
- Historical Travel
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. But we had never got round to visiting that part of the city until our most recent visit.
You can get to the Ouseburn valley either by walking along the Quayside, or by taking a bus or walking from the town centre. We chose the former route and despite a strong wind had a pleasant 15 minute stroll from the Tyne Bridge to the mouth of the Ouseburn. With the tide low, the boats here were stranded on the muddy banks, but made a colourful scene. We climbed the steps to one of the two pubs located near here, the Free Trade, which is a characterful small pub with great views. It was a little early for lunch but we had a very good real ale from the local Wylam Brewery. The other pub, the Tyne Bar, is lower down right on the Ouseburn’s bank and also looked promising, with live music some nights – something for our next visit.
From the mouth of the Ouseburn you can follow the footpath called Riverside Walkway along the eastern bank (on your right as you leave the Tyne) and climb up to the heart of Ouseburn. 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 also a large independent art gallery, the Biscuit Factory, which is also on our “must visit” list. But short of time on this occasion we focused instead on a couple of the smaller galleries. The F-Stop Gallery on Stepney Bank was a bit disappointing – a very small exhibition space with a handful of photos that didn’t especially appeal to us (most of the building is devoted to photographic printing and framing). Better was the nearby Northern Print, where, despite the slight chaos of a children’s printing workshop in progress, we enjoyed browsing the many small prints on display.
By now it was lunch time, so we retraced our steps up Stepney Bank to the Ship Inn, tucked under Byker Bridge. This is another traditional old pub, and we enjoyed a good toasted tuna and cheese sandwich before getting the bus back into the city centre on New Bridge Street a few minutes’ walk away.
A lovely day out – but loads more here to come back to another time. As well as the Biscuit Factory and Seven Stories, there’s a city farm and additional smaller galleries to explore. Watch this space!
When we want to get a good dose of sea air, one of our favourite short trips is to Druridge Bay. It is far less developed and more wild than the seaside resorts closer to town, such as Whitley Bay or Tynemouth, but not too far for a short outing, though you’ll need a car to get here.
The beach stretches for seven miles and is designated as a country park, affording it a degree of protection. So although you will see signs of industry close to here, on the beach itself you will feel pleasantly cut off from the modern world. There are rock pools to explore and some great views along the coast. It’s an excellent place for kite flying as it is nearly always windy, but when the sun shines, winter or summer, it makes for a wonderful walk, whether you just stroll a few hundred yards or walk the whole seven miles (which we never have, I should add!)
There are several places to park along its length, so don’t necessarily stop in the first place you see, as that is likeliest to be the busiest (although in winter, “busy” means that you may see only a few other people). From any parking area, a very short path will take you over the dunes and on to the sands. As you arrive on the beach, you may spot some large concrete blocks half-buried in the sand. These are anti-tank blocks, placed here during the Second World War when Druridge was seen as a likely place for any German invasion.
Behind the bay is the country park itself. We have never visited this, but last time we were in the area I spotted that it appears to have been nicely developed, so I think we’ll go in next time. It has a lake with surrounding meadows and woods which has been restored from an old opencast coal mine – the lake seemed to be attracting a large number of sea-birds and waders so could be good for bird-watchers. There is also a visitor centre which has information about the park, toilets, a cafe and gift shop (apparently open most weekends and school holidays). Check the website below for contact details if you want to find out more about what’s going on there when you plan to visit, and for a map showing the location.
- Hiking and Walking
Newcastle Central Station - Memorials
Heading for the Left Luggage office, I was surprised by the strong scent of flowers. On a nearby table were laid arrangements and bunches of flowers. On a window sill were more flowers and a Memorial Service sheet.
On 28th February 2001, a London-bound East Coast Main Line train, travelling from Newcastle, hit a Land Rover which had careered off the M62 and crashed on to the track at Great Heck, near Selby. The partly de-railed train was then struck by a Freightliner train, whose driver, Steve Dunn, 39, was among those killed. John Weddle, the driver of the GNER train, also died, along with two other GNER staff and six passengers. More than 80 other passengers were injured.
This plaque was erected in Newcastle Central Station by the train operator GNER to commemorate the lives of the three crew members that died in the crash at Great Heck. (pic 3)
My visit was on the 2nd March, a couple of days after the 10th Anniversary of this disaster. The flowers etc were to commemorate the event.
Also on a nearby wall was a plaque honoring Fiona Neil, who was Station Manager at Newcastle Station, who died in 2009 (pic 2)
Entering the station, the Left Luggage is to the right of the main station concourse. Access is through the ticket barriers-a member of staff is available to let you pass through.
- Historical Travel
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Part castle, part religious site, Tynemouth Priory dominates the northern entrance to the River Tyne and makes a striking back-drop to Tynemouth’s beaches and small sailing harbour, the Haven. The first known building here was a 7th-century Anglian monastery, the burial place of Oswin, sainted King of Northumbria. It was destroyed by Danish raiders in the 9th century and a Benedictine priory re-founded on the site in the late 11th century. The east end of its priory church, built a hundred years later in 1200, still stands, and is the most striking sight among this group of structures (photo 2). Its graceful arches will make you wonder how lovely the rest of the church might have been. Near it is a small and very well-preserved chapel, the Oratory of St Mary, with a rose window and an ornately sculpted roof vault. This was built in the middle of the 15th century and is also known as the Percy Chapel as it was used as a resting-place for the souls of the powerful Percy family, Earls of Northumberland.
At one time the religious buildings would have been completely surrounded by a fortified wall, which circled the headland, making this one of the largest fortified areas in England, and an important defence against the Scots. Parts of these fortifications remain (on the left in this photo), although those on the north and east sides have long since tumbled into the sea, and most of the south wall was demolished. These fortifications were probably begun by Edward I in 1296, and they were strengthened and updated in the 15th century. In 1539 the priory's 19 monks surrendered Tynemouth to Henry VIII and he immediately adopted it as a royal castle, dismantling the monastic buildings but thankfully keeping the church. This remained in use as the town’s parish church until 1668 when a new one was built nearby. In more recent times the fortress headland has continued to play its centuries-old part in coastal defence, both against Napoleon and during the two World Wars. The magazine of its gun battery (photo 3) has been restored and can be visited at weekends.
The more modern buildings on the site belong to the Coastguard.
The site is now managed by English Heritage and can be visited daily during the summer (1st April – 30th September) and in school holidays, and on Mon, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun during the rest of the year (apart from 24th- 26th December and 1st January). Admission is £4.20 for adults, £2.10 for children and £3.60 concessions, or you can get a family ticket for £10.50.
Directions:From Tynemouth metro station walk along the main shopping street (Front Street) to its far end and you will see the Priory almost in front of you. If driving, there is parking in Front Street.
- Historical Travel
A day out in Morpeth
If you’d like to spend a day outside the city but don’t want to travel too far, Morpeth could be a good choice. It’s a traditional Northumberland market town about 30 minutes drive north of Newcastle, and has plenty to keep you occupied for a day, or even several. The pretty River Wansbeck runs through the town, although the severe flooding of 2007 made the river more of a threat for a while than an attraction, and some buildings still bear the scars. There is a weekly market, several interesting independent shops among the high street chains (do go into Rutherford’s to see how department stores used to be), attractive pubs and cafés, a craft centre and even a bagpipe museum.
One of the most dominant buildings in the town centre is the Clock Tower in one corner of the market place. It was built in the early 17th century from medieval stones thought to have come from a gatehouse that previously stood at the west end of Oldgate to protect the town from raiders marauding from the north. It is one of only eight secular towers in England never to have been associated with a Church, and during its time it has served a variety of functions for the town, including a gaol and a meat store. The tower contains the oldest peal of bells in Northumberland, and the curfew is still rung every evening at 8.00 PM as it has been for 300 years.
Famous past inhabitants of Morpeth include the landscape gardener “Capability” Brown. Emily Davison, the Suffragette who was killed by the King’s horse in the Derby of 1913, is buried in the churchyard of the 14th century parish church of St Mary, and Lord Nelson's deputy commander, Admiral Lord Collingwood, whose statue stands proudly above the Tyne estuary at Tynemouth, used to live in Oldgate.
Directions To get here by public transport catch a train from Newcastle Central Station or a bus from the Haymarket.
Washington Wetland Centre
The Wetland centre is several miles from Newcastle, four miles from the A1(M) and 1 mile from the A19. It is about 25 mins by bus from Newcastle. It is set on the banks of the River Wear and covers 45 hectares of land. It is part of the WWT (Wildfowl and wetlands Trust), a leading conservation organisation preserving wildlife and habitats. There is a lot of wildlife to be seen in the many hides provided and along the river, lakes and ponds including gery herons, woodland birds, flamingos, and many insects and other wildlife.
We also saw newly hatched ducklings in the waterfowl nursery, bullfinches, woodpeckers, hedgehogs and rats while in the feeding station hide.
Tyne Cyclist and Pedestrian Tunnels
Anyone with a bit of time to kill and an interest in unusual structures would do well to visit this wonderfully eerie location.
These tunnels link Howdon on the north bank of the river Tyne to Jarrow on the south bank. They were opened to the public in 1951, and were once used by thousands of shipyard workers daily. Today, the tunnels are lightly used, and exist to some extent as a living museum, a ghostly monument to a bygone era.
From the surface, you descend to the tunnels on a long and very old wooden escalator; it's a bizarre experience, and feels almost as though you've gone back in time to the 1950s. You then proceed through one of the long, curving tunnels and ascend on the other side - most probably without seeing another soul, or hearing any sound other than the echo of your own voice or the ghostly roar of the river above.
To get there, take the Metro to Howdon station and walk down Howdon Lane and Clavering Street towards the river, then turn east into Bewicke Road. Keep walking for about a quarter of a mile, then turn right into Stephenson Street and walk towards the tunnel buildings.
Once on the Jarrow side, cross the road and follow the footpath south towards Chaytor Street. Walk west along Chaytor Street then south along Ellison Street, then follow Station Street to get to Jarrow Metro station.
- Historical Travel
Seaton Sluice - sea air and history
Seaton Sluice is one of several interesting little villages north of Newcastle. It lies right on the southern border of the Northumberland coastline at the mouth of the Seaton Burn, 3 miles SE of Blyth. These days Seaton Sluice is a quiet village but it has an important industrial heritage. Salt production was established here before the 16th century, and in the late 17th century the local landowner Sir Ralph Delaval built a sluice at the harbour mouth as both the salt and coal trades were increasing and the harbour was too shallow and small to cope with the higher demand. A new entrance to the harbour mouth was created in 1764, by blasting an opening out of solid rock – once again to facilitate the growing coal trade. This “Cut” was one of the most important engineering feats of its day and can still be seen at Seaton Sluice. There was also a glassworks here, established in 1763, as all the requirements for the manufacture of glass were on hand (sand, kelp, coal – and the improved harbour). Bottles from The Royal Hartley Bottleworks were transported all over the British Isles, and it is said that John Wesley preached from the steps of the old granary in Glassworks Square in 1744. The glass “cones” can no longer be seen, having been demolished in 1897.
The village makes a good destination for a sea-shore walk. You can explore the area around the Cut and walk along the banks of the Seaton Burn. There are small fishing boats in the harbour to photograph, and several good pubs for lunch or just a refreshing pint.
Angel of the North
The Angel of the North is probably the most famous outdoor sculpture in England. It was funded by National Lottery money and created by the Turner Prize winning sculptor, Antony Gormley.
The steel sculpture was erected by the side of the A1, just south of Gateshead, in 1998. It is 20 m tall, has a wingspan of 54m and is the largest sculpture of an angel in the world.
- Arts and Culture
Just north of the city centre is the wide open space of the Town Moor, popular with dog walkers and kite flyers. Walking here you'll get a good dose of fresh air and sweeping views of the city to the south - look out for the landmarks of the Civic Centre and St James's Park football stadium. The Hoppings, said to be the largest travelling funfair in Europe, is held here every year in June and is well worth a visit if you enjoy traditional fairground rides and candy floss.
If you should ever be awarded the Freedom of Newcastle you'll be permitted to graze your cows here on the Moor. And unlike in other cities where similar rights exist, people really do take advantage of this, so don’t be surprised if you see cows grazing here so close to the city centre – watch out for those cow pats! Honorary freemen include Bob Geldof, Nelson Mandela and of course Alan Shearer, but I have a feeling none of the cows is theirs!
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.
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.
The photos for this tip were taken by Chris, who has a better zoom lens than I do!
Heaven will be missing this Angel
The Angel of the North stands at the entrance to Tyneside, it is a main attraction to visitors
which has a warm, appealing colour. it's arms stretched out to welcome people into tyneside.
It is 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.
It stands 20 metres high and its wings span are 54metres wide.
Museums at Newcastle University
There are three museums in the grounds of Newcastle University which you can visit for free. The Hatton gallery is probably the best known of these though we decided to go see the Museum of Antiquities as, according to our guidebook, it had some exhibits on Hadrian‘s Wall. The description of the museum promised more than it delivered and we found it a little dull. If you're in the area, it's something to do on a rainy day, otherwise I wouldn't recommend it.
The Swing Bridge is yet another elegant bridge crossing the Tyne (there are 7 in all) and it dates from the 19th century. Like the Millennium bridge, it crosses the Tyne at a low level, hence to allow ships through it must be rotated. As its name suggests, it does this by swinging 180 degrees allowing ships to pass on two sides. The Swing Bridge is built on the site of the oldest bridges in the city and it’s very easy to spot given it’s distinctive red and white colour.
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