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Mon 26th January 2015

Tyne Bridges & Victoria Tunnel

Tyne Bridges & Victoria Tunnel

Tyne Bridges & Victoria Tunnel Blog for Sunday 25th Jan 2015-01-26

The walk was certainly different to our usual diet and hopefully enjoyable for the 28 people who met at The Cycle Hub, Ouseburn.  A morning walking four of the seven bridges crossing the Tyne Gorge between Newcastle and Gateshead and part of the afternoon underground in what would at first sight seem to be an unprepossessing  area of industrial Tyneside.

It didn’t take me long to decide to ignore the twenty-one pages of A4 notes that I’d prepared and treat it as an pleasant walk in an unusual location (for Shepherds Walks) instead.  Generally speaking we don’t “do” urban areas but on the basis of this walk they have much to offer.  The logic of offering this particular walk was to provide a day out in a location that we knew participants could reach easily even if the weather was unhelpful.  As it happened the weather was benign for late January and improved as the day progressed.  Remember the sunshine on the bridges and at coffee time in the Newcastle Garth by the Black Gate next to the remnants of the old city wall?

Even the starting point proved convenient with the advantage of free parking and access to hot drinks and toilets at the beginning, I even saw a few of our number stocking-up on food supplies there before we started – and none of them were Ian.  The overview from near Glasshouse Bridge and the walk along Newcastle Quayside towards the bridges provided a brief introduction to the contrasts between the previously heavily industrialised Lower Ouseburn valley and the historic site of Newcastle.  The changes brought about by the redevelopment of the quayside could easily be appreciated by comparing upstream and downstream on both sides of the river.  Despite passing it along our route we ignored the newest addition to the Newcastle-Gateshead bridges as we’d be returning over the Millennium Bridge at lunchtime.

Our first bridge of the day was the iconic Tyne Bridge constructed between 1925 and 1928 and definitely not the model for the much larger Sydney Harbour Bridge which was constructed between 1923 and 1932.  This urban myth is often quoted but untrue.  From the bridge deck the roofscape of Newcastle and the proliferation of building ages and styles was quite striking, the more so as the sun came out along with the cameras.  Lots of us are used to driving, or more usually queuing, across the bridge but few actually walk across it and some of the views are amazing e.g. towards the other Tyne bridges, the Sage, the Baltic, down towards Bessie Surtees House etc.  Having rounded the corner at the Gateshead end we passed the refurbished Central pub, popularly known as “The Coffin” because of its shape, before walking back across the river via the road deck of the double-decker High Level Bridge.  At 166 years old this is the oldest of the seven bridges.  The rail deck was opened first by Queen Victoria on 28thSeptember 1879 followed later by the opening of the lower road deck on 5th February 1850.  More photographs were quickly followed by morning coffee adjacent to the Newcastle Keep in the sunshine and out of the wind.  

Next it was down Dog Leap Stairs past the remains of the old city walls to pass the Guildhall and Bettie Surtees House at ground level having seen them from high above on the Tyne Bridge previously.  Onto the Swing Bridge which opened in 1876 and along with the efforts of the Tyne Improvement Commissioners, transformed the fortunes of the Tyne by opening-up the river to shipping by providing access upriver to Armstrong’s Elswick works where the Swing Bridge and its operating gear were manufactured.  Several of our number had memories if the Tuxedo Princess which used to be moored on the Gateshead side of the Tyne close by.  

We were getting hungry now so a quick walk along to The Baltic meant everyone could get a hot drink etc before crossing the Millennium Bridge (officially opened 7th May 2002), the world’s first tilting bridge.  The bridge actually opened to the public 17th September 2001 following its installation on its 19,000 tonne concrete base by one of the world’s largest floating cranes (Asian Hercules II) which brought the 800 tonne steel deck upriver from Wallsend where it had been assembled.  We didn’t want to get trapped on the wrong side of the river in case the bridge tilted at lunchtime, we needn’t have bothered as it didn’t happen.  Lunch was taken on the Newcastle side of the river before we walked along to the Victoria Tunnel entrance on Ouse Street for 1.30 pm.  
Tunnel tours are limited to 15 individuals so the lucky ones went underground and the remainder had to stay with me for a walk around the Lower Ouseburn Valley to see how this relatively small valley had been a key area in the industrial history of Tyneside since even before the industrial revolution.  The whole area is in transition and it is amazing how new stands in juxtaposition with the old and derelict, how buildings have been converted to completely different uses, old factory sites cleared and redeveloped.  This work has been in progress has since the 1980’s but is gathering momentum despite the recent recession.  There were lots of unexpected surprises such as the Seven Stories Centre for Children’s Books, the Cluny, a John Dobson designed flax spinning mill which later became a flour mill, then a bonded warehouse for McPherson’s Cluny Whisky (hence the name) and is now a pub, restaurant and music venue as well as the home of a large artist’s studio group.  The former Maynards Toffee Factory site has been converted into a hub for creative businesses.  The former Mayling Pottery site is being redeveloped for residential accommodation etc.  Another former warehouse has been converted into an upmarket hotel.  Even the three bridges that dominate the upper part of the valley are significant in the transport history of the area such as the newest, and pre-cast, Metro Bridge which was the first bridge in the UK to be bonded together by epoxy resin.  Alongside it is a mainline railway bridge, still in daily use, which has cast-iron metalwork which replaced the woodwork original i.e. it pre-dates modern steelwork!  Even the Ouseburn Farm Environmental Centre occupies the site of a former lead works.

Having done a quick figure-of-eight around the lower valley we arrived back at the tunnel entrance to say goodbye to the emerging first group and Ian escorted them back to their cars.  Our turn to be troglodytes for an hour and it proved to be a really interesting experience, next time we must do the two hour tour and learn a lot more.  On our return to the cars several of us repaired to The Hub cafe for a hot drink and something to eat before going home.  It was a very different day to normal; I hope that you enjoyed it.  If anyone feels cheated that you didn’t get the full twenty-one pages of information (or alternatively, you are a chronic insomniac) an email to Jon will stimulate him to send me your email address so that I can send it to you – I won’t hold my breath but we do hope to see you all again soon.

Richard and Ian

Mon 19th January 2015

Nordic Walk - Souter Lighthouse to South Shields

Nordic Walk - Souter Lighthouse to South Shields

This was our first Nordic walk South of the Tyne from Souter Lighthouse to South Shields Seafront and back, which was part of the feedback we had received from our questionnaire we asked to be completed last year.

I checked the Met Office and the forecast for the day didn’t look great, rain or sleet from 9 am until 3pm.  Nevertheless car packed with poles, warm clothes and waterproofs I set off to the car park at Souter lighthouse, which was locked!  Detour Julie strikes again, we all headed off to the car park beside the Grotto pub/restaurant, which would make the walk slightly shorter.  

The group consisted of people who had never tried Nordic walking, people coming back to Nordic walking and some of our regulars.

Poles sorted out I started off with a training session for those new and coming back to Nordic walking.  They took to it very easily and we were soon ready to start.  

We did a very quick warm up as everyone just wanted to get started and down to Minchella’s for a cup of tea.  Also we wanted to avoid any wet weather as it had stopped raining/sleeting at that point.

As always everyone went at their own pace and the group soon stretched with Debbie and Rachel taking up the lead at a fair old pace.  We were walking on the grass as the path was slippery but as the grass was very short this didn’t hamper anyone’s technique or enjoyment, apart from slightly damp feet.

As we walked past the Gypsies Green Stadium the beach was spotted and some members of the group went along the beach whilst some others stayed on the path.  As we all know the beach is a great surface to Nordic walk on and the group on the beach were very happy to be able to really push their technique.

Minchella’s was busy but luckily we all managed to get seats and the cups of tea and cappuccino were very welcome just to warm everyone up (no ice cream for anyone).  I checked that everyone was okay and as one lady was struggling with the length of the walk following recent knee operations the group split into two sections one section followed the path we had taken down and the others took the shorter path.  

The weather had stayed dry on the way down and as Angela and Geoff looked over to Tynemouth we realised we couldn’t see the Priory and we all picked up the pace so we could hopefully miss the bad weather.  As we were elbows were starting to bend so I gave a little encouragement to everyone to straighten them and everyone soon realised that once we were walking quicker the elbows didn’t bend.  We got to the Grotto and we decided to walk to Souter Lighthouse (as we had had to start elsewhere) just to make sure we walked the whole 7 miles, chancing the weather.

We were very lucky as it didn’t start raining until we had got into the Grotto and were sitting drinking our tea and coffees.  

This was a very enjoyable walk, despite the cold, with a lovely group of people who I hope to see very soon.

Our next walk is on 8th February 2015 which is Bamburgh to Seahouse and return – lots of beach walking to be had – and I hope to see you all there.


Sun 30th November 2014

Holy Island Walk

Holy Island Walk

Saturday 29th November 2014

The grey and misty day with restricted visibility contrasted markedly with the day Ian and I did our recce a month ago when we sat in the sun for lunch and even observed mirage phenomena where the Farne Islands appeared detached and “floating” above the water.  No such temperature gradients today, it was uniformly cool, with no sun and definitely no view of the Farne islands.  The bonus was that we were restricted to looking closer-in at detail rather than the usual big sky and far-horizon landscapes.  Following a quick introduction and walk onto the island proper our first real stop was adjacent to St Cuthbert’s Island (aka Hobthrush).  This overlooked the mud and sandflats and the salt marshes of the pilgrim route from the mainland over Holy Island Sands, most of which was still under water as the tide receded.  The seals on the emerging sandbanks provided interest to the east but the south-easterly breeze carried their “song” away from us.  Whilst there we had a quick look at the structure and features within the boulder clay cliffs displaying evidence of the most recent glacial period.

The south coast contrasted between the high viewpoint from the old Coastguard Lookout on top of the Heugh (with excellent views into the Priory) to the old storm beach at sea level by The Ouse now occupied by the iconic sheds made from upturned boats which provided shelter from the north-east wind.   The Heugh forms part of the Holy Island Dyke complex and is made of dolerite, a hard intrusive igneous rock.   During the walk along the road towards the castle we encountered more people that we saw for the remainder of the day.  Walking between the castle and the Gertrude Jekyll designed walled garden, we arrived at the shingle spit, on the south-east corner of the island, on which limekilns were built in the 1850’s for the trade with Dundee.  This site provided a relatively sheltered, if somewhat draughty, location for lunch.  At least we were protected from the gentle drizzle and the scale of the kiln complex itself was impressive.  

Here we picked-up the former waggonway that led north along the east coast where we could easily pick out the raised beach that resulted from the glacial rebound, a result of the melting of the overlying ice towards the end of the Pleistocene glaciation.  From here we could easily appreciate the changing landscape produced by hard and soft rocks, erosion and deposition etc as we approached the white panted navigation marker on Emmanuel Head at the north – east corner of the island.

Turning west provided yet another marked change of environment where massive sand dunes concealed two broad sandy bays.  We crossed Sandham Bay at beach level, the point of Emmanuel Head providing some protection from the wind.  The relative sense of wildness, tranquillity and remoteness contrasted starkly with the tourist honeypot activity on the south coast just an hour previously.   We climbed over the slippery, folded rocks of the headland of Castlehead separating Sandham Bay from Coves Haven.  A different landscape again, a former limestone quarry was revealed, now largely reclaimed by nature.  The whole area comprises both a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).    The contrast between the hard and soft rocks, erosion and deposition and natural and human impacts was easy to see and appreciate.  

The broad sweep of Goswick Sands north-west towards the Berwick coast would normally have been clear but the visibility hadn’t improved and all we could see was the grey breakers rolling-in.
We turned south near Snipe Point to cross The Links, the sand dune belt that forms a broad strip across the whole of the northern part of Lindisfarne.  From here it was possible to see the westward extension of the dune belt that forms The Snook.   We could just make out the grey silhouette of Snook Tower approximately three kilometres away from us at the eastern extremity Lindisfarne, the visibility was improving.  This area had been the location of an old settlement called Green Shiel which may date from the ninth century.  It is interesting to view the area on Google Earth.  Walking across the dune slacks between the lines of dunes provided shelter from the cool breeze before emerging from the dunes to walk back to the cars by way of the lonnen passed St Coombs Farm. A brief shower at this stage gave us the only proper dampening of the day but we were now only half a mile from the vehicles.  The sky displayed a few tiny patches of pale blue with a brief pink glow as sun was beginning to set; it was the first sky colour we’d seen all day.  

Thank you to Andrea, Margaret and Ian for their assistance throughout and also for Ian’s role as photographer.  We hope you enjoyed the day, we certainly did and we look forward to meeting you again soon.  Our next walk, on Sunday 25th January, is a bit different.  It is in central Newcastle and we shall be visiting the Tyne Bridges and the Quayside Sunday Market in the morning which will doubtless include a genuine coffee break.  In the afternoon we are going underground for a guided tour of the Ouseburn Tunnel which involves a couple of hours out of reach of any inclement weather.  We would be delighted to see you there.    

RNH 30th November 2014