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Monday, 11 June 2012

Walk 69 North Shields to Whitley Bay

Walk 69          North Shields to Whitley Bay (Tyneside)

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

Map: L/R 88
Distance: about 4.5 miles or 7km
Difficulty:  Easy to moderate
Terrain: footpaths and pavement
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Metro at North Shields and Whitley Bay

The walk starts on the cycle route which follows the road to the south of North Shields. The town’s name derives from ‘schele’ which is Middle English for sheds or huts used by fishermen. There is still evidence of these as you approach the quayside. An old dry dock near here is known as The Haddock Shop as it specialised in the building and repair of steam trawlers. Along the quayside you get a good view of The Tyne estuary and South Shields can be seen on the opposite bank.

Continue following the road which cuts a little inland. You should come across an interesting pub called The Prince of Wales Tavern. Outside is a larger than life wooden doll. In 1814 a female figurehead of a collier ship was placed at the entrance to Custom House Quay until it was vandalised in 1850. A second wooden doll replaced it but several pieces were cut from it by seafarers and used as good luck charms on voyages. There were several more dolls until this one was placed here in 1992.

Further along is the Fish Quay with its distinctive ‘low light’ white tower. The area around here is known as Peggy’s Hole – named after a naval ship moored on an area on the outermost part of the quay known as The Gut. During the French wars of the 18th century North and South Shields were regular victims of press gang raids. The many skilled seamen in the area were forced on to ships and some fought in the Battle of Trafalgar. During the 1800s North Shields sent whaling fleets to Greenland – a 3 year voyage. Later, Scottish girls used to work on the quayside gutting the herring catches before stocks were depleted.

Look out for the shops near the quay which boast fresh food of all sorts. Stan Laurel lived in the town for a few years before he became famous.

The walk continues out towards Tynemouth following the cycle path and promenades. On the way out of North Shields I thought I would find the restored Clifford’s Fort one of the oldest coastal gun batteries in Britain – it was built in a hurry in the Anglo-Dutch war of 1872. Despite asking around, I could not find it – there was a lot of excavation/building work going on at the time so I have an excuse!

Further along the promenade towards Tynemouth you come across an area called The Black Midden. This is an area of exposed rock and was once a notorious shipping hazard, for example it claimed 5 ships in 3 days in 1864 with the loss of 34 lives. As a result of this the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade was formed and even now it provides a back up service to the coastguard. A museum about this organisation can be visited near the cliff top.

You won’t have missed the impressive statue of Admiral Lord Collingwood which stands on the cliff top. He was born in Newcastle and was a resident in the nearby town of Morpeth. He was second in command at The Battle of Trafalgar and the cannons on the huge base of the statue come from his ship The Royal Sovereign. The memorial was erected in 1845.

Further round is the North Pier which is the most easterly point of Tynemouth. It is 1000 metres long and took 40 years to build (started 1854). The light house on the pier was built in 1903 and is still functional.

On the hills of Tynemouth are the ruins of Tynemouth Priory which was destroyed by the Danes in 800. Nearby is Tynemouth Castle – three kings are buried within including the Scottish king Malcolm 111 (died 1093). Three crowns still appear on the North Tyneside Coat of Arms. The queens of Edward1 and 11 stayed in the priory and castle while their husbands were campaigning in Scotland. Both these buildings are open to visitors. On a lighter note the 1980s TV series Supergran was filmed in the area.  

It is worth taking a stroll up the main road into Tynemouth opposite the priory. Two of the buildings of note are the Martineau Guest House and The Turks Head Hotel. The guest house is named after Harriett Martineau who was England’s first woman journalist. She stayed in the building to regain her health between 1840 and 1845. The pub gets its name from a sailors’ knot, so called because of its resemblance to a Turkish headpiece (similar to a turban). In 1880 the pub was nicknamed The Stuffed Dog after Wandering Willie (a dog) famously survived after being thrown from a ferry and was mounted and displayed after its death.

Walking out of Tynemouth are Long Sands and St Edward’s Bay. The  former is a championship surfing venue and the whole area was a fashionable place to bathe in the 18th century.

About a mile north of here is Cullercoats. I was stopped by Mormons when walking the Isle of Sheppey and was again stopped for a conversion attempt by, what looked like, the same two men. Is someone trying to tell me something? The salt and coal trade flourished in this area in the 17th century. In the 1800s Cullercoats was described as the best fish market in the north. Many artists have lived and worked in the town with some contributing to the Royal Academy – it was recognised as an ‘artists colony’ from the early 1800s. Winslow Homer the famous American artist was one of those who stayed here to paint.

Walking through Cullercoats you will come across the Fisherman Lookout which is now used as a community centre. A lifeboat disaster in 1849 prompted the local landowner the Duke of Northumberland to set up an RNLI station and sponsor the design for the self-righting lifeboat. The Percy was built and delivered to Cullercoats in 1852. To the north side of Cullercoats is the site of a remarkable rescue which was re-enacted on the BBC programme Coast. In 1861 the local community, including many women, dragged a lifeboat 2 miles across difficult land to enable a rescue of sailors to take place. Sadly the only victim was a cabin boy.

The walk finishes at Whitley Bay.

Photos show: the wooden doll and pub; shop window at North Shields; Tynemouth abbey; Cullercoats lookout.

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