Trains and boats and . . .


Actually bus, then ferry, and finally train. Not exactly Burt Bacharach/Hal David, nor Dionne Warwick (or Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas for that matter).

Yesterday, Steph and I took full advantage of our concessionary travel cards to make a round trip by bus to the ferry terminal at North Shields, crossing the River Tyne by ferry to South Shields, and returning home by the metro to our closest station at Northumberland Park.

Our travel concession permits unlimited bus travel after 09:30 each day (nationwide in fact), and with an additional Gold Card payment each of £12, unlimited travel on the local ferry and Metro as well.

The Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive, branded as NEXUS, manages an integrated transport system in the northeast of the UK around Newcastle upon Tyne.

NEXUS brings together the bus, ferry, and Metro services across the five metropolitan boroughs of North Tyneside (where we live) and Newcastle upon Tyne north of the River Tyne, and Gateshead, South Tyneside, and Sunderland south of the river, that together once constituted the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear.

So, with that in mind, we planned our excursion that would use all three of these services to get around.

Our journey started at 10:25 from a bus stop less than a couple of hundred meters from home. The No 19 service was supposed to operate every hour, although there was some confusion yesterday since a new operator had just taken over the route, and some services did not show up. Ours was about five minutes late, and the journey to the ferry took about 35 minutes.

The journey was quite interesting since it took us through areas of North Tyneside (south of where we live) that we have never explored. It was a little bit longer than we anticipated, since we did not recognise the ferry bus stop, and so stayed on board while the bus completed its route around North Shields before returning to the ferry stop.

We just missed the 11 am ferry to South Shields. But that didn’t matter. Although quite cold (just 2-3°C), it was a bright and sunny day, so we enjoyed exploring the ferry quay and reading about its history before our ferry, Spirit of the Tyne docked around 11:20.

The trip across the Tyne takes about seven minutes, with interesting views along each bank where heavy industries like ship building once thrived. Nowadays some of the land has been converted to choice waterside apartment buildings, although further up river there is an active Port of Tyne, and quays for the ferry service to Amsterdam and where cruise ships also dock. In port yesterday was the Fred Olsen Bolette, preparing for a cruise to Iceland later that same evening.

The ferry quay on the South Shields side is just a stone’s throw from the town center.

Just beyond the quay stands The Word – that National Centre for the Written Word, which we didn’t visit but we must make a plan to return to.

We didn’t actually have any plan at all yesterday, apart from making the round trip. But as soon as we had landed in South Shields we discovered that the remains of an important Roman fort (which I had read about but totally forgotten) were less than a mile away. So we headed through the town center to reach Arbeia, on a plot of land known as The Lawes high above the town.

And we were in luck as yesterday was the first day of opening this year. Entrance was free.

Founded around AD 160, Arbeia was a key garrison and military supply base to support the troops who constructed and afterwards manned Hadrian’s Wall further west. The remains of numerous granaries (there were, at one time, up to 24 of these store houses) can be clearly seen from the ramparts of the reconstructed West Gatehouse.

In addition to the gatehouse, there is a reconstructed barracks showing what life might have been like for Roman and auxiliary soldiers all those centuries ago.

The first archaeological investigation of Arbeia began in 1870. More photos of the site and inside the reconstructed buildings (with explanations) can be viewed here.

After a quick picnic lunch, we had a look round the museum, before heading to view the mouth of the River Tyne and across the river to Tynemouth and its priory.

By about 14:00 we had arrived back at South Shields’ new Metro station at the Interchange Square, where we took the metro back home.

South Shields is the end of the line, and just as we stepped on to the platform, the next train was pulling into the station.

Trains from South Shields (yellow line) head into Newcastle city center, before turning east to Whitley Bay and Tynemouth on the North Sea coast and looping back to the St James terminus.

Our stop, Northumberland Park, was 24 stops, and almost 50 minutes. Sitting in a stuffy Metro carriage, surrounded (for part of the journey from South Shields to Jarrow) by a class of high spirited and noisy schoolchildren who we’d seen at Arbeia) was a bit trying, but crossing the River Tyne between Gateshead and Central Station (where the line goes underground for a few stops) and seeing all the bridges downriver always lifts one’s spirits.

About 15 minutes later we pulled into Northumberland Park, and the train headed off on its continuing journey to the coast.

Then it was a short 10 minute walk home, relief at being able to put my feet up (we’d walked about 4½ miles), and enjoy a welcome afternoon cup of tea. All in all, a good day’s excursion.