Both Sides of the Tyne Walk
Mon 28th January 2013
Guided Walk date - Sunday 27th January 2013
We met at the Low Lights car park adjacent to the site of the former Clifford’s Fort which was completed n 1672 to defend the entrance to the River Tyne during the Anglo-Dutch Wars. It was a bright, windy and cool day but a joy to be out and about following the grey overcast, snow and ice of the previous week. The thaw that had continued overnight and conditions underfoot were excellent. It was almost low tide as we walked along North Shields Fish Quay with the aim of catching the first ferry of the day to South Shields. The mastheads of fishing boats tied up alongside the refurbished quay between The Gut and the Ice House were level with our feet. The short walk to the Ferry Landing demonstrated the tremendous amount of redevelopment, regeneration, modernisation, conservation and even gentrification that has taken place all along the waterfront on all categories of buildings in recent years. The steep slopes now devoid of sub-standard housing and the remnant sets of steps, or chares, contrasted with the new riverside apartments and the converted residential accommodation above the quayside shops. The conversion of some of the old fishing related buildings to the catering and hospitality trade was particularly noticeable. We reached the Ferry Landing just before the first ferry from South Shields arrived. A few minutes later and we were “abroad” in South Shields and greeted by Ian who acted as Passport Control – he lives “South of the Tyne” and had a lie-in, and probably a second breakfast too.
The keen wind whipped along the Tyne as we turned north to follow the riverside past the newish residential developments towards Wapping Street. The way that old slipways and docks had been retained in the landscape design, integrated with the modern housing was impressive. Some were really unexpected such as the armada of seven stainless steel galleons in one of the former docks at Captain’s Wharf. Both new and old were integrated together in ways that created a new residential area and all very convenient for the town centre. The riverbank walkways provided impressive views of the Tyne and towards North Shields. The river traffic was interesting with one of Nissan’s car ferry’s being tugged towards their European export terminal which is only seven miles from their factory. Passing the merchant navy fire training school and South Tyneside College’s specialist offshore training facilities we climbed the steps towards Lawe Top to get even better views along the Tyne. North Shields Fish Quay was opposite and towards the mouth of the Tyne it was easy to appreciate the advantages of the original site of Tynemouth Castle and Priory and the former Coastguard Station in the grounds which closed in 2001. We passed the site of the Roman Fort of Arbeia and its impressive reconstruction of the main gate and wall en-route to the coast via North Marine Park, the hilltop providing clear views of the Tyne Piers and southwards along the coast towards our lunch destination at Marsden Grotto. On towards the South Pier and time for elevenses adjacent to South Marine Park – most of us had tea or coffee from a flask but someone who shall be nameless, called Ian purchased chips. This comfort stop also included a trip to the toilets in the park, the “boys” excuse to see the narrow gauge railway in operation.
Our next stop was to be lunch at Marsden Grotto via The Leas path passing through disused quarries and following the cliff-top path from Trows Point via Frenchman’s Bay to Marsden Bay. Lots of interesting geology and botany, ornithology etc but after “only” a brief twenty minute orientation lecture, seats provided, with the assembled audience presenting their backs to the wind and sun (note the excellent customer care) at Trows Point I was really disappointed that follow-up questions were not forthcoming. Even more surprisingly no-one offered to submit a paper on “The Significance of the Magnesian Limestone in the Economy of South Shields Extractive Industries” – perhaps everyone was getting hungry having seen Ian eat his chips at the previous stop? We arrived at Marsden Grotto for 1.00 pm with the choice of a pub lunch or a picnic on the beach; I don’t think Ian had both? I wandered along the beach taking photographs of sea stacks, natural arches, wave-cut platforms, cliff-face exposures of the dip and strike of the Permian strata etc while everyone else kept their distance, can’t think why? It was time to start the return journey and climb the numerous steps back up to the top of Marsden Bay cliff for the return journey. Reassembling outside the entrance to the Grotto the beer and coffee on offer was judged to be OK and two of our number, one an employee of the company, announced that they were staying for more beer and not accompanying us back thus demonstrating a certain lack of team spirit. The fact that they lived relatively locally seems hardly the point.
The return journey was relaxed and light-hearted. We included things we didn’t see on the outward route but mostly had a good laugh along the way. Considerately everyone left me to my own devices; they must have thought I was tired from watching Ian eating or something. Back in Wapping Street the door to Fred Crowell’s boat-building workshop was open; he was in the process of restoring an old RNLI lifeboat and keen to explain the process. We couldn’t stay long, we were aiming for the next ferry but it was a joy to listen to a real craftsman - enthusiast for a few minutes before the final dash to the ferry. You will have to ask Fred about his collection of rubber ducks, all collected from the Tyne, another time. The fish quay on the North Shields side was really busy with families at the various eateries and pubs’; parking was at a premium, a bustling scene for late on a Sunday afternoon. Thanks to everyone for attending what was a different style of walk to our usual rural ones. My special thanks go to Ian (coupled of course with profuse apologies) and Andrea for their help and good humour. It was lovely to see some of the old team reassembling – Marion, Conrad, Christine, Julie and Martin. We now also have budding regulars with Gwen and Chris and it was nice to meet John and Stephen for the first time, I hope everyone enjoyed the day. Oh, and don’t worry, I have a cunning plan to improve our collective “ologies” over the next series of walks! Not really, just kidding, I hope to see you again soon. Best wishes.
Sunday, 27 January 2013