North Shields Fish Quay to St Marys Island
Tue 14th January 2014
Walk Blog: Sunday 12th January 2014-01-13
North Shields Fish Quay to St Mary’s Island returning via Monkseaton Metro Station
Sorry Martyn but we did keep a look-out for your arrival but it wasn’t to be. Jon rang me about 10.30 to confirm that you wouldn’t be attending and at the time we were still in sight of the car park near Knott’s Flats, better luck next time.
It was nice to see all of the regulars again for the first walk of the New Year and although the breeze blowing down the River Tyne was a bit chilly at least we were starting-off in dry, bright conditions. Having watched the large vehicle carrier entering port escorted by three tugs we set-off along the promenade heading for Tynemouth. Along the way we had a quick look at Knott’s Flats, an innovative development when it was built in the 1930’s. The Black Middens reef just below the flats has claimed many a ship and was the inspiration for establishing the Tynemouth Voluntary Life Brigade. The Black Middens was the site of one of two early lifeboat stations near the mouth of the Tyne (before the building of the Tyne piers) which opened in 1865 and closed in 1905. The other one was in Priors Haven where the sailing and rowing clubs are located today, opened 1862 and also closed in 1905. The views to the south were good, Souter lighthouse and the sea-stacks and arches showing-up well in the weak sunshine.
Up to Collingwood’s Monument and using the shelter of its north side revealed Castle Tynemouth and Priory from an unusual angle. From here it was easy to appreciate the defensive site on the headland that has definitely been used since at least Anglo-Saxons times. It didn’t always prove a secure site however, it was sacked by the Danes in 800 AD and repeatedly throughout the ninth century and finally destroyed by the Vikings in 875. The former religious site was not refounded until 1085 by the Benedictines. Three kings were initially buried here (one is thought to have been reinterred elsewhere at a later date) and accounts for the three crowns included in the North Tyneside coat-of-arms today. Some of those present will be very amazed to know that I didn’t have time to tell you lots of things like the fact that there used to be a lighthouse on the Priory headland, constructed of Priory stone (parallels with Hadrian’s Wall) in 1775 which operated until 1895 when St Mary’s Lighthouse replaced it. The former was demolished in 1898. From our vantage point it was easy to see and appreciate the various defences of the Tyne entrance over time from Clifford’s Fort dating from 1625 up to and including the guns and searchlights protecting the entrance to the river, the shipyards and docks in the First and Second World Wars. Even the land that Knott’s Flats were built on was originally a barracks and the cellars of the complex functioned as air raid shelters in the Second World War. We could even see one of the guns in-situ within the Priory grounds not far from the now mothballed former Coastguard Station. Even the car park overlooking Prior’s Haven had military associations, it is known as Spanish Battery allegedly after the Spanish mercenaries who manned the guns commanding the approaches to the Tyne in the 16th century.
From her we could also see the North Shields lifeboat out on exercise but really there as support and customer care for our clients! Next stop was Longsands Bay via King Edward’s Bay where the main road is cantilevered out over the former cliff. Here we saw the tension gashes in the paths leading down to the promenade, proof the slopes are still moving. I found it really interesting but people kept patting me on the head and seemed more interested in the elevenses I’d promised them at Crusoe’s a little furtheron. We walked purposefully north along Longsands taking-in the surfers, people in shorts and T-shirts (it was about 3°C with a cold wind), the Sunday beach soccer matches, dogs, children and much to Julie’s amusement, Nordic walkers who weren’t i.e. had completely the wrong technique! Coffee and ice creams consumed there was fortunately a “comfort stop facility” at the Cullercoats end of Longsands – sorry, I’ve obviously taken too many American’s along the Wall in the last year. We couldn’t get into Cullercoats Bay due to the tide but saw the Dove Marine Laboratory (Newcastle University) and the Inshore Lifeboat Station – we take our clients safety very seriously as you will see from the accompanying photographs.
On past the oldest house in Cullercoats (1774) and the former Brown’s Point Radio Station now converted to a private home. Down into Brown’s Bay using the promenade where some of our number insisted on skidding on the ice despite the warnings and all we’d done to keep them safe – there was even a Royal Navy ship cruising offshore as back-up.
Table Rocks and the former sea bathing pool, site of the proposed 270 m Whitley Bay Pier at the end of Esplanade, first proposed in 1908 and finally abandoned in 1935, flashed by as we approached Spanish City which like several other places we passed en-route (e.g. Collingwood’s Monument, St George’s Church, Cullercoats) are Grade II listed buildings. This area is still a reconstruction site and some of our number had contrasting opinions about whether or not it should have been conserved never mind the time and cost involved. I thought I’d better not go on (what me?) about the 1980 Dire Straits hit “Tunnel of Love” which was set here. Anyway I have no idea how some of our clients might react coming as some of them do from south of the River Tyne and even Western Australia, people can be unpredictable! Yet more trips to the adjacent “comfort stop facility” before exploring The Links, site of former bell pits for both coal and iron-ore also the original site of Whitley Bay Golf Course. Lunchtime was looming and the pressure was on to find a suitable place to sit out of the wind. This meant that we raced past the Rendezvous Cafe, except for Ian who went to try and purchase chips, no luck but there is a happy ending later. I was going to read the Newcastle playwright and fiction writer’s Julia Darling’s (1956 – 2005) poem Rendezvous Cafe here but apparently hunger trumps culture (kulture?). Below is a taste of what you missed:
“I would like us to meet
where the Horlicks is sweet
I could tell you a story
With a nickerbocker glory”
After lunch we were on the final leg to St Mary’s Island along a rapidly diminishing beach, it was now high tide. I thought the boulder clay cliffs were really interesting with evidence of several ice advances, the team were very patient. Almost up to the steps for the final few hundred metres to St Mary’s Island and a big puddle, an inlet of the North Sea, cut us off from them. I was volunteered as a sacrifice so that the clients could walk over me and remain dry! I offered other alternatives and went into consultation mode. In the meantime Christine made an independent executive decision and went off up some other steps without even so much as a dynamic environmental risk assessment, extraordinary, I felt usurped. We tracked along the side of the dangerous putting green (danger of rolling golf balls) and went to inspect the site of the recent incident when someone went down the slope, over the grass, through the promenade railings and onto the beach in what had been a perfectly good car. Further access to a handy “comfort stop facility” at Curry’s Point by the lighthouse the derivation of which I had explained earlier – if anyone was listening?Success, Ian got some chips at the “catering facility” whilst the others in what used to be my team purchased various hot beverages and watched sanderlings feeding up and down the beach between waves. Here we met the Coastguard patrol previously arranged to ensure client safety. Time for the last leg of the walk now cross-country to Monkseaton Metro Station and a unique end to our walk by train back to North Shields – if you can walk by train that is? On the road section between St Mary’s Island and the golf course we were passed by an emergency ambulance, also laid-on “just in case” but thankfully not required.
Then came the muddy bit, it certainly had a high squelch factor and reminded us of the person we’d seen almost a year previously in the same place waiting for an ambulance due to slipping in the mud – somebody should do something about it. The last bit to the Metro Station was easy and there are photos of the now reconstituted team actually smiling on the Metro. Some of us, unfortunately not all but you can’t have everything, even remained standing on the Metro all the way to North Shields as this was supposed to be a walk. Iain and do I try hard to set a good example. Once off the Metro and out of the station it was all literally downhill (in more ways than one) and hard to keep up with the “team” as they sensed peace and quiet, the car heater, an absent guide etc. I always enjoy being put in my place (I think?), and my wife would love it. Lovely to see everyone again and hope to see you all soon once you come out of therapy.