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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. 

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