The River Tyne is actually two rivers, North and South, until they converge at Warden Rock, a couple of miles west of Hexham in Northumberland in the northeast of England. From there, the river flows east, eventually meeting the North Sea at Tynemouth, east of Newcastle upon Tyne. The river is tidal upstream as far as Wylam, just under 24 miles (38 km) from Tynemouth.
The river is the southern boundary of Newcastle, and the adjoining authority of North Tyneside. On the south of the river lie Gateshead and South Tyneside. It’s a bit like the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul in Minnesota, where our elder daughter Hannah and her family reside.
Tyneside was, for generations, a site of heavy industry, especially shipbuilding and coal mining. The lower reaches of the river are lined with the remains of once proud shipyards.
Large ships still enter the Port of Tyne. Most conspicuous, and always attracting large crowds of spectators are the cruise ships, even Cunarders like Queen Victoria or Queen Elizabeth.
And almost all the most coal wharves or staiths that brought coal by rail from mines north and south of the river for export worldwide have disappeared. The mines finally closed in the 1980s or earlier.
Only Dunston Staiths has survived, on the river’s south side, from where coal was exported from the North Durham Coalfield.
Families lived in the rows of crowded, smoky, dirty, and noisy slum terraced houses on both sides of the river, now mostly demolished to make way for new upmarket housing and commercial developments, even a marina.
What a renewal the area has enjoyed in recent decades, and a stroll along the Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides is now a pleasure. But not one that we had experienced until just a few days ago although we had visited more than ten years ago.
After we moved to Newcastle on 30 September 2020, we spent the first five months in rented accommodation in the Shiremoor district of North Tyneside (towards the coast, east of Newcastle city center), but within a couple of weeks of arriving here had put in an offer on a new house in Backworth, moving in at the beginning of March 2021. Being in our early 70s, we’d made the move north from Worcestershire to be closer to our younger daughter Philippa and her family.
Given the Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns that came into play beginning March 2020, we still wonder we could sell our house that year and make the move north. We’ve now been here for 21 months, but only recently ventured into the city center for the first time. That was last week, when we attended a wine and cheese tasting at the Newcastle Wine School, that I wrote about immediately afterwards.
We have been ultra-cautious about mixing with crowds. Even though the government has signaled (falsely) that the pandemic is over and done with, there are already worrying signs of a new wave of infections. So whenever we are out and about, and likely to encounter crowds, Steph and I always wear masks. And so like sore thumbs we stick out in a crowd. Almost no-one else is masked these days. Having avoided infection so far (although I’m not pushing my luck by saying this, I hope) we don’t intend to expose ourselves to infection.
Last Wednesday dawned bright and sunny, and warm, quite a change from the unseasonable weather we’ve been experiencing recently. Just after 10 am we headed to our nearest Metro station at Northumberland Park (less than 10 minutes walk) for the 20 minute ride into the city center, to Monument station.
For most of the network, except for a short section from Jesmond to the city center at Central Station, the Metro is an overground service. But at Jesmond it dives under the city.
We emerged at Monument, beneath the hugely impressive pillar monument (135 feet or 41 m) to Charles, 2nd Early Grey, Prime Minister and father of the Great Reform Act of 1832, that stands at the head of Grainger Street and Grey Street.
Working our way south towards the river, through Grainger Market and Central Arcade, passing by the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, one of the Tyne’s iconic bridges came into view. Close by the city center there are seven bridges taking road and rail traffic over the river.
The Tyne Bridge, opened in October 1928 by King George V (and remarkably similar to the Sydney Harbour Bridge since it was designed by the same architects), has almost come to symbolize Newcastle.
What is pretty special about this bridge (and other tall buildings in the vicinity) is that it is home to an inland colony of kittiwakes, a bird that normally nests on wind-swept coastal cliffs.
Along the Newcastle Quayside, about a quarter of mile east from the Tyne Bridge, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge is a foot and cycle bridge across the river connecting to (the) Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art (a converted flour mill) and the Gateshead Sage (an international home for music and musical discovery, affectionately known as The Slug on the Tyne). We took the lift to Baltic’s 4th floor viewing platform to appreciate the impressive panorama of the river, its bridges, and Newcastle city center.
Opening to the public in 2001, the Millennium Bridge tilts to allow tall river traffic to pass through. It quickly became a must-see feature of the Quaysides.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch on the Newcastle Quayside across from (the) Baltic, and beside the rather impressive Blacksmith’s Needle, erected in 1997.
Then it was a slow walk back to the Metro at Central Station via the steep climb up Sandhill (a quayside used since Roman times) and Side (a medieval Street) and Dog Leap Stairs to exit beside Newcastle castle (which we must really return to visit soon).
On our return Metro journey, we were again the only passengers wearing masks. I still can’t fathom why so many folks, many elderly and potentially more vulnerable, are oblivious to the continuing Covid threat that could be reduced by the simple measure of wearing a mask.
We arrived home by 4 pm, tired but cheerful, ready for a welcome cuppa, having walked almost 5½ miles around the city (according to the pedometer app on my mobile).