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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Walk 68 Newcastle to North Shields

Walk 68          Newcastle to North Shields (Tyne and Wear)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R 88
Distance: about 9 miles
Difficulty:  Easy 
Terrain: footpaths and pavement
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Regular Metro connections from both ends

There is a cycle path that can be followed from where the last walk finished at South Shields but much of it is along road and away from river's edge. I decided that you get a good view of the southern part of the river from the northern bank so decided not to bother with the cycle path along the southern side.

Although the walk starts on the northern river side near the bridges at Newcastle it is well worth a day looking around the city. The picturesque Grey Street with the monument to Earl Grey at the end (impressive shopping arcade off this street), St James’s Park (or whatever it is called now) home of Newcastle FC, the Chinese Quarter and the various museums/galleries are just some of the attractions. The statue of Earl Grey celebrates the Reform Act of 1832. He was the prime minister at the time and also MP for Northumberland and was responsible for ensuring that the industrial cities had representatives in the House of Common; he also got rid of the ‘rotten boroughs’ (places where very few voters were able to elect an MP). Even so only one in six men over 21 were eligible to vote in Newcastle at that time.

The city owes its name to a castle built in 1080 by Robert 11 of Normandy – brother of William the Conqueror or William the Bastard as he was known then. The main industries have been wool, coal mining and ship building but all these are in decline. The city is largely a business and cultural centre with a vibrant night life and is popular with tourists.

Six bridges cross the Tyne link the city to Gateshead on the south bank and all are impressive in their own way. Perhaps the most iconic is the Tyne Bridge which was completed in 1928 when it was the largest single span bridge in the world – it was also a model for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. Kittiwakes nest on the Tyne Bridge and are reckoned to be the most inland colony of these sea birds in the world. The lower red and white bridge is a swing bridge built in 1876 and uses hydraulic power to operate it and let shipping through.

A little further eastward is The Millennium Bridge for pedestrians and cycles. It cost 22 million pounds to build and was opened to the public in 2001. If you get a chance to see it open you will see something unique as it is the only tilting bridge in the world. It swings/tilts through 90 degrees to allow boats through and is known locally as the ‘blinking eye bridge’ (for reasons that become apparent when you see it).

On the opposite bank is an impressive large glass structure. This is The Sage in Gateshead which was opened in 2004 and is an international centre for musical discovery, performance and education. It was designed by Sir Norman Foster and reportedly has superb acoustics. A little further along the Gateshead side is an old flour mill which was owned by Hovis and closed in 1981. From 2002 this became the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

The walk continues along the river side which has a number of interesting sculptures to see. A particularly striking work is called The Blacksmith’s Needle built in 1996 by The British Artist Blacksmith’s Association.

About a mile further along the Ouseburn River joins the Tyne. You will need to cross a bridge here which is on the site of an original one known as the Glasshouse Bridge (originally connected to a glass making works). Past this point and into the more rural part of the river is the St Anthony’s area. A large lead works stood here, it was built during the nineteenth century with its own rail connections. It closed in 1932 when a number of new processes failed to produce the profits that were expected.

Soon after St Anthony the walk moves inland to follow the Hadrian’s Wall Path (which stretches over to the west coast in Cumbria). After a couple of miles the path arrives near the Roman fort of Segedunum near the appropriately named town of Wallsend. If you have time this is worth a look around – an impressive lookout tower enables you to get a panoramic view of the site. The fort marks the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall and the end section is still there; an inscription on the side gives the names of the Roman soldiers known to have taken part in the building of the wall. The building was occupied for 300 years starting in 200 AD. A Roman bath house and water storage tank have been reconstructed on the site.

From here part of the walk follows the Hadrian Cycleway and involves some pavement walking. A little diversion at Willington Quay brings you to the site of George Stephenson’s cottage. It was after his humble beginnings here as a brakes-man on a steam powered winding engine that he went on to success as a locomotive builder.  Soon after this the walk passes the entrance to the Tyne Tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists. Twenty thousand people a day once used this route to get to the shipyards and industries on both banks of the Tyne.

Following the cycle route around the roads you arrive at the Royal Quay – this was originally the Albert Edward Dock. A ferry service to Amsterdam operates from here and there is a well-equipped marina with 350 berths. From this point plot a route to the metro at North Shields. The next walk starts at North Shields.

Photos show: Shopping arcade off Grey Street in Newcastle, bridges across The Tyne at Newcastle, two of the sculptures along the bank of The Tyne; the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall; a view across the Roman fort at Wallsend. 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Walk 67 Sunderland to South Shields

Walk 67          Sunderland to South Shields (Tyne and Wear)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R 88
Distance: about 9 miles
Difficulty: Quite easy 
Terrain: footpaths and pavement
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Regular Metro connections from both ends

Start on the north side of the River Wear near the bridge and walk past the university buildings towards the estuary. At the mouth of the river is Roker Lighthouse which was built in 1903. The pier going out to it is very popular with local anglers who seem to brave all conditions.  On occasions, coastguards have had to use the emergency tunnel which runs under the length of the pier.

The beaches here are sandy and attractive. A little further along you will need to go slightly inland through a part of Roker Park and over a bridge. The park was originally a Victorian pleasure park and near to here was the old home of Sunderland FC also called Roker Park (used until 1997 when the club moved to The Stadium of Light). In between here and Whitburn Bay is the Bede Memorial Cross. Bede was born in the Sunderland area in 672 AD. At the age of 12 he moved to St Paul’s monastery at Jarrow where he lived as a monk. He wrote many books on history, nature and astrology and is a unique source of English history up to 729. In 1899 he was made a Doctor of the Church by the Pope; this entitled him to be officially known as ‘Venerable’. More can be found out about him at a museum in Jarrow.

Whitburn Bay looks to be a well cared for and attractive settlement. Near the sandy beaches and grassed frontage is a unique lighthouse. It was originally built in 1856 on Sunderland’s south pier. It was dismantled and re-erected here in 1983 to allow for harbour improvements.

On this walk you will notice two restaurants which feature train carriages. One is The Pulham Lodge Hotel and the other nearer to the end of the walk at South Shields is The Rattler. This was the name for the railway line that ran from South Shields to Whitburn Colliery. The carriages were gleaned from different railway companies and the line became known as ‘The Rattler’ because of the noise they made. The line was officially closed in 1953.

Just before Whitburn the path follows the cliff top around to Marsden Bay. There are firing ranges here so care needs to be taken to follow any instructions on display. On the walk around this point is a cove called The Wherry which had its shape defined by natural erosion, quarrying and mining. Part of the bay was known as The Lads and Lasses Wherries (a light rowing boat for carrying passengers) because of the fishing and picnics that were popular.

Near Lizard Point is Souter Lighthouse; the first one in Britain to power its light and foghorn using electric current. It was built in 1871 and the light was provided by carbon arcs rather than a giant bulb. A steam engine on site generated the power. The fog horns were powered by compressed air and the sound was so deafening that the lighthouse keepers were paid 2 old pennies extra and hour for the inconvenience (or to save for hearing aids?) The lighthouse is now owned by the National Trust.

There is a choice of footpaths across The Leas, I took the one nearest the coast. However, do not miss the odd looking buildings alongside the road; these were the old Marsden limekilns. Lime was used on farms and in the making of steel. A village was built around here in the 1870s. It had 135 houses, a church and other buildings to serve the lime-works and Marsden Colliery. The village was demolished in 1968 when the works closed.

On the coastal side look out for Marsden Rock; this is the remaining part of a much larger rock. There was once an arch of larger rock to the right but stormy seas brought it down in 1996. Victorian visitors flocked here to climb the stairs to the top – at one stage a choral service was held on top of the rock (picture on an information panel nearby shows this).

This part of the coast was a smugglers haven. John the Jibber, a local smuggler, betrayed his colleagues to a local custom man and was hung in a basket half way down the cliff and left to starve! Legend has it that following a family dispute in Saxon times the ghost of a mare of one of the protagonists wandered the cliffs hence it was called The Mares Den.

Also near here is Velvets Bed (because of the fine springy turf) and Camel Island (because of its shape). The path has been rerouted because of erosion; at Frenchman’s Bay part of the cliff face collapsed as recently as 2010. The bay was once popular with smugglers and gained its name from a French ship which ran aground here in the 17th century.

To the south of South Shields is Trow Quarry where lime was extracted until the 1960s. It was then used for industrial landfill and, although now an open public space, a notice warns people not to dig on the land, eat or handle anything on the shore! At Trow Point there is a restored World War 2 gun. It is called a ‘disappearing gun’ as it popped up from its fortifications to fire – apparently the design was not a success.

Flat golden sands at South Shields include Little Haven beach. Look out for the odd bronze sculptures near the car park they are by Jean Munoz and are locally known as the ‘weebles’. Those of us around with children in the 1970s will know why!

Around the estuary of The Tyne is an impressive view of the structures on the opposite bank. The walk continues along here past many fishermen and then is mainly by road into South Shields. The design of the first lifeboat originated in the town. ‘The Original’ was commissioned in 1790 – the designer William Woodhouse refused the guinea he was offered for his trouble and died in poverty. More information is in the local museum.

While in the town it is worth while finding your way through houses to Arbeia the local Roman fort. This guarded the Roman port at the mouth of the Tyne. In 208AD the emperor Septimus Severus came to Britain and turned the fort into a supply house for his troops fighting in Scotland and then used it to support the soldiers on Hadrian’s Wall 4 miles to the east. In the 4th century a naval unit was sent from the River Tigris (now in Iraq) to garrison the fort. This was when it gained its name Arbeia – ‘the place of the Arabs’. You can visit the fort at certain times. Local roads tend to have names with a Roman connection.

Photos show: Marsden Rock, the'weebles' at South Shields and Frenchman's Bay.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Walk 66 Seaham to Sunderland

Walk 66          Seaham to Sunderland  (Tyne and Wear)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R 88
Distance: about 8 miles
Difficulty:  Easy to moderate 
Terrain: footpaths and pavement
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Rail connections from Seaham to Sunderland

Start the walk to the south of Seaham. The shopping area is called Byron Place and reflects the connection that the poet Lord Byron had with the town; more about this underneath. Overlooking the seafront is The Londonderry Building with a statue of the Marquess of Londonderry outside. He was responsible for the creation of Seaham Harbour in the nineteenth century. It was built initially to facilitate the transport of goods from local industries and expanded in 1905 to deal with millions of tons of coal from local collieries. Prior to the building of the harbour Seaham was mainly an agricultural community. While I was walking there some extensive work was going on around the harbour.

A memorial can be found on the cliff top near the harbour asking readers to ‘remember the heroes’. In 1962 the town’s lifeboat capsized drowning 5 crew and 4 people rescued from a fishing boat (including a 9 year old boy). Further along the promenade is an interesting sculpture celebrating the local mining communities. Seaham Colliery was known as the ‘nicky-nack’ because this was the sound that the pulley wheel made when winding men back to the surface. In 1880 164 miners and 181 pit ponies were killed here in a mine explosion. The bodies of the men and boys were left sealed in the seams causing many local protests including strikes.

The walk on the cliff-top seafront ends at a car park on the headland to the north of the town. The original cliff path has been closed from this point for a mile or so due to erosion. A sculpture and stone circle in the car park includes information about the area, for example, the headland is now known to have been a sacred place for at least 4000 years with the discovery of ancient burial mounds.

Looking across the road Seaham Hall and St Mary the Virgin Church can be seen. The hall was the venue of Lord Byron’s marriage to a local landowner’s daughter in 1815 – their marriage was short lived. The church stems form the 7th century and is regarded as one of the 20 oldest churches in England. Ramsay McDonald (first labour prime minister), who was MP for the area, and Paul Gascoine, who lived here when playing for Middlesbrough, are two well known past residents.

The walk, rather tediously, continues up the main road until after a mile or so  a railway bridge crosses the road. This is to the south of Ryhope and looks very dangerous for pedestrians to walk through. Just before the bridge is a path on the east side of the road which you can follow right down to the coast. From the shore you get a good view of Pincushion Rock. Retrace your steps back inland and you will see some steps which give access to the northern cliff path. (There is a chance that any of the cliff paths along here could be closed due to erosion). From this path Sunderland and the docks can be clearly seen. Eventually, the walk involves roads and I used the map to navigate a route to the Eastern Docks. From here the walk is a pleasant one along the River Wear into Sunderland.

The port at Sunderland originally took shape after the city sided with Cromwell in the Civil War and gained the coal trade. People from Sunderland are often known as Mackems (various spellings) – the origin seems to have been in the ship building industry. The impressive Wearmouth Bridge dominates the view along the river and is well worth walking across to get a view down towards the estuary. The first bridge here was built in 1796 and helped greatly in the growth of Sunderland. It was rebuilt in 1857 by Robert Stephenson and the current steel arch bridge was constructed in 1927.

There are a number of impressive buildings in the centre of Sunderland including terraces of late Georgian and Victorian houses. In the town’s museum a stuffed Walrus inspired Lewis Carroll to write The Walrus and the Carpenter – the carpenter was a local shipwright.

Top photo the mining sculpture at Seaham; Seaham Hall; late winter afternoon view along the River Wear at Sunderland.