Tuesday, August 23rd 2016
We have travelled NE to visit the attractive and interesting city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We first came here in 2010 (see Newcastle 2010) and again during a visit to Durham (see Durham 2013). These visits charmed us and persuaded us that it would be worth returning to spend more time in this fine city. (To see its location on the map, click here.)
We took the train Edinburgh from King’s Cross and arrived in Newcastle about 3 hours later. We had booked a hotel in the area known as Quayside which, as the name suggests, lies beside the River Tyne, once famous for the mighty ships that were built here. The Tyne results from the union of two rivers, called North Tyne and south Tyne, respectively. The origins and meaning of the name Tyne are, alas, lost in the mists of time and cannot now be recalled beyond vague speculation.
A settlement has existed here since at least Roman times when these invaders built a bridge called Pons Aelius and a fortress beside it. The present name, though, dates from Norman times. In 1080, King William sent his son Robert north to deal with Scottish raiders in the region and Robert built a motte-and-bailey castle upon the ruins of the Roman fort, calling it Novum Castrum Super Tynam, literally ‘New Castle Upon Tyne’.
We made our way to our hotel which is in Lombard Street, beside and almost underneath, the great Tyne Bridge. This impressive structure dominates views in this section of the city and, despite what you might think, we became quite fond of it!
Surely an engineering triumph and now as much a symbol of this city as Tower Bridge is of London, the Tyne Bridge was opened by King George V in 1928. It passes over tall buildings and…
…frames all views in the area. We had a good view from our hotel room of the bridge crossing over buildings. This circumstances has proved useful to certain members of the wildlife community: a colony of black-legged kittiwakes has established a nesting site on roofs under the shelter of the bridge. The kittiwakes have become famous and our hotel room proved to be a good vantage point for bird-watching! The bridge is Grade II listed.
Having checked into the hotel, we set out on a ramble. We had no fixed route or destination but went where fancy took us. The photos are therefore are of things and sights seen en route without any particular order or narrative. Newcastle is hilly in places and we saw several flights of steps connecting different levels.
The picture above is of the picturesquely named Dog Leap Stairs. This passage is famous, not least because ‘In 1772 Baron Eldon, later Lord Chancellor of England, eloped with Bessie Surtees making their escape, according to folklore, on horseback up Dog Leap Stairs. Must have been quite some horse! It is difficult to imagine any horse being able to navigate such steep stairs today!’ (See Newcastle, Dog Leap Stairs).
Every city in England has at least one statue of Queen Victoria and Newcastle is no exception. By Alfred Gilbert, the bronze sculpture was not unveiled until 1903, two years after the death of the Queen. Whether or not it was intended to honour the monarch and the achievements of her long reign, its true purpose was to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Shrievalty (the institution of administration by a Sheriff) of Newcastle which was set up by a charter of Henry IV in 1400 and had therefore fallen due in 1900. The monument was the gift of Sir William Haswell Stephenson (1836-1919), seven times mayor of Newcastle and a generous benefactor of the city. The design is somewhat cluttered with the Queen appearing almost lost in the furnishings, including the overshadowing canopy, but for its artistic and historic interest it has been given a Grade II* listing.
This Renaissance-style red sandstone drinking fountain was erected by the Band of Hope temperance society but financed by public subscription. It honours J.H. Rutherford, a Presbyterian minister and campaigner for temperance and sanitation reform but also a popular figure. Originally unveiled in 1894 outside St Nicholas’s Cathedral, it was moved to Bigg Market in 1903. It gradually fell into disrepair and was removed in 1996 for conservation work to be carried out on it. It was re-erected in its present position in 1998 (100 yards further up the hill) and I believe that the lion-head taps still produce water. It is altogether a rather handsome work.
We stepped into the Central Arcade, the Edwardian equivalent of one of today’s shopping centres. With its glass roof, it has a light and airy feel to complement the elegant design and the handsome decor of faience tiling. Designed by Oswald and Son of Newcastle, it was built in 1906. It has been given a Grade II* listing.
What is arguably the centre of Newcastle, at the top of Grey Street, is marked by the Earl Grey Monument. Not as tall as Nelson’s Column (roughly 10 metres shorter), it is nonetheless one of the more impressive columnar monuments visible today. Moreover, the statue of the great man was completed by Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867) who also created the statue of Nelson atop the latter’s column. The monument was erected in 1838 to honour Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, in recognition of his role in the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832. Curiously, the statue’s head was dislodged by a bolt of lightning in 1941 and smashed. In 1947, a new head, based on the broken fragments, was fashioned by sculptor Roger Hedley (1879-1972). It is Grade I listed.
This large abstract sculpture stands in Pilgrim Street in front of Swan House, and this gives a hint as to its purpose and meaning. It is entitled Articulated Opposites and was made Raymond Arnatt. Newcastle City Council commissioned the work as a memorial to Sir Joseph Swan, known particularly for his invention of the incandescent filament light bulb. Swan gave the first public demonstration of the light bulb at a lecture for the Tyne Chemical Society in Newcastle on December 18th 1878. Though you might not guess by looking at it, the sculpture is supposed to be a ‘visual analogy of Sir Joseph’s invention, the electric filament light’.
This is a view of part of the façade of Holy Jesus Hospital. It is impossible to photograph satisfactorily because it lies below street level and is accessed by a fairly narrow forecourt. It was built in 1681, financed by public subscription, to house retired freemen of the town and their family members. Conditions were fairly draconian: as was common in the regimes of almshouses, inmates were required to attend church and take the sacraments once a week and, were locked in their apartments between 9pm and 6am. I believe that the building is now used as offices by the Council but it is of architectural interest and includes parts of older buildings (an Augustan Priory occupied the site between 1291 and 1539).
Off Pilgrim Street in Sallyport Crescent is to be found this gable end incorporating a jolly mural made with bricks of different colours. Entitled simply Mural in Coloured Bricks, it is by Robert Olley and was created in 1981. I think it alludes to the seafaring and shipbuilding history of Newcastle.
Down in Quayside itself we found a two-part sculpture by Andrew Wallace. The first part, called Siren, is the easiest to photograph as it is not very tall and it situated in a garden.
The companion piece is harder to photograph because it is on a taller pole and tends to be visible only with the sky as background. I think I was lucky to get any detail at all. It is entitled River God and consists of the head and torso of a male figure holding chains and a staff and apparently blowing at something.
Thus we arrived at the river where the Gateshead Millennium Bridge stands. In the background you can see what was once the 1930s-vintage Baltic Flour Mill and is now the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts. The bridge is for pedestrians and cyclists only, with separate tracks for each. If you walk or cycle across it, you find yourself in Gateshead. This is an entirely separate town with its own Council and not part of Newcastle.
The bridge was opened in 2001 and was designed by Wilkinson Eyre. It is known popularly as the ‘Winking Bridge’ because of its shape and the way that it moves when it is raised to permit the passage of taller ships. It does then rather resemble an eye winking in slow motion.
Opposite is what looks like a misshapen and abandoned tin can. Opened in 2004, it is called the Sage Gateshead and is a concert venue and centre for musical education. You’ve probably guessed that is another architectural extravaganza by Norman Foster, flashy and and quite out of harmony with its surroundings. Actually, its better inside than outside so I suppose we should count our blessings…
From the Millennium Bridge you of course have good views both up and down the Tyne. Here, we are looking up the river, roughly south-west, with the great Tyne Bridge in the distance. In that direction, too, lies our hotel where we shall spend our first night of this trip in Newcastle.
Wednesday, August 24th 2016
The destination we have in mind for today is an unusual one. It will take a train journey and a bus ride to reach it and will be accessible only at certain times. Maybe that has given you an inkling as to where we are going.
Leading up from our hotel is a steep street called simply Side. It passes under a railway bridge and on the other side of this is to be found the curiosity pictured below.
I mentioned in my previous entry that Newcastle is hilly in places and that there are flights of steps. This must once have been a staircase like Dog Leap Stairs but the area at the bottom has been cleared to make a car park, leaving the stairs truncated. I hope the top end is closed off as you would not want to stumble down them in the dark.
The first part of our trip was a train journey to Berwick-upon-Tweed (Berwick is, of course, pronounced ‘berrick’). This small but historic town sits, as its name suggests, at the mouth of the River Tweed, north along the coast from Newcastle. This map shows its location and you will see how close it is to the modern border of Scotland. Founded by the Anglo-Saxons within the Kingdom of Northumbria, Berwick became a bone of contention between the Scottish and English nations and changed hands many times before finally becoming an English town in 1482.
Our way into town led through Scots Gate in the town wall built in Elizabethan times. Through the archway, in the background, you can see the tall clock tower of the Town Hall.
Near the wall we found another historical vestige, a drinking fountain raised to commemorate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. Its spouts are in the form of the head of the imperial lion:
Is there any significance in the fact that this monument lies outside the fortifications, rather than within? Probably not, but, given Berwick’s history, the question hovers in the back of my mind.
The clock tower of the Town Hall, 150 feet tall, makes this building the most prominent landmark of the town. Completed in 1754, it is an impressive site with a main entrance framed with four massive columns. The top floor still has bars on the windows from the time when it served as the town jail. This is now a museum. The building is Grade I listed.
We did not stay long in Berwick, having just enough time to have lunch and take a quick look around. We then returned to the station, to catch, not a train but a bus. A number 477 would take us to our intended destination.
That destination is the island of Lindisfarne, also known (as many islands are) as Holy Island. This map shows the island’s location relative the Berwick and you can click the image to see the corresponding Google Map.
You might be wondering how you travel from the mainland to an island by bus. The answer is: cautiously! The above map shows the island and also the road to it – that vulnerable-looking white line.
Lindisfarne is in fact a tidal island, connected to the mainland by a sandy region that is covered by the sea at high tide. You can therefore access the island on foot or by vehicle only at certain times. The route for vehicles is a road called the Causeway and there is also a footpath called the Pilgrims’ Path, marked by tall poles standing in the sand. Because both the road and the footpath disappear beneath the waves as the tide rises, it is essential to make sure you understand the times when it is safe to cross.
We felt perfectly safe because we were taking the scheduled bus service, number 477. The bus runs at different times each day, depending on the tides, and the timetable is displayed at bus stops.
We duly caught the bus at the railway station and set off. The bus was a small single-decker and as we proceeded, we picked up more and more people until the driver decided, correctly, that no more could be allowed on board. She radioed base and they agreed to send an extra bus. The driver also requested that they provide a larger bus for subsequent journeys in view of the number wishing to travel.
While we were crossing to the island, the tide was out and the road ran over what seemed to be a broad, flat expanse of sand. Cars were parked on the sand beside the road and there were people strolling on the sands, children running about and it was hard to imagine that this would all be covered by water in a few short hours.
The island is quite small and on such a fine, sunny day, the place was crowded. My preferred scenes, therefore, were views away from the inland areas, such as the one above, on the southern end of the island looking out to sea. Straight ahead, across the water is visible part of one of the smaller islands, known as Hobthrush or St Cuthbert’s Isle, now a nature reserve. Near the left edge of the photo you see Lindisfarne Castle. This was built in the 16th century when there were still tensions between England and Scotland. It can be visited but we did not do so. Perhaps another time.
Lindisfarne has its own resident community whose activities include fishing and farming. It has also been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We spotted these huts made from old boats upturned, a good example of recycling!
This view shows part of the ruins of the priory and, on the left, the Lookout Tower. (More about these below.)
We climbed up onto the Heugh (pronounced, I think, like the name ‘Hugh’), a 17th fort and the island’s highest point. From here you get better views of certain features than you do lower down.
These views can be compared with the earlier ones taken lower down.
Now known as the Lookout Tower, this structure was built in the 1940s for the coastguard but has now been adapted as an observation platform for visitors, providing panoramic views of the island.
The ruins of the ancient priory are one of the landmark historic features of the island. It was the priory, of course, that gained Lindisfarne its epithet Holy Island.
In the 7th century, Northumbrian King Oswald invited the Irish monk Aidan to be bishop of his kingdom, giving him Lindisfarne on which to build a monastery. A monk named Cuthbert joined the monastery, rising to become its prior and the bishop of Northumbria and eventually the North’s most important saint. The priory became a centre for scholarship and learning and in the 8th century produced the Lindisfarne Gospels.
In the face of Viking raids from the late 8th century onwards, the monks retreated from Lindisfarne, abandoning it entirely in 875. Carrying with them the remains of St Cuthbert, they eventually settled in Durham. In 1069, however, the violence of the ‘harrying of the North’ by the forces of William the Conqueror, caused the Durham monks to seek temporary refuge on Lindisfarne. Although this was a brief visit, it seems to have led to a re-establishment of the Holy Island priory though on relatively small scale. The site of St Cuthbert’s original burial came to be regarded as a sacred site and attracted pilgrims.
The priory survived the 12th-century Border Wars, being fortified and for a time garrisoned with soldiers for protection but finally met its end in 1537 with the suppression of religious houses by Henry VIII. Though the buildings survived for a while because they formed part of the Tudor northern defences, by the 18th century they had fallen into a ruinous state but had become a tourist attraction, a position that they continue to hold.
We sat for a while absorbing the atmosphere of the island which, despite the crowds, was fairly peaceful. We had checked the times of the bus back to Berwick but were a little concerned because the bus had been full on the way here and we didn’t want to risk being turned away because there were more passengers than the bus could hold. So we went to the bus stop good and early to make sure of a seat. We found that others had had the same idea and there was already a queue!
After a long wait, the 477 arrived, driven by the same driver as before, but this time she was at the wheel of a motor coach, not just a small bus, so there was plenty of room.
Interesting as the historic buildings and traces are, my preferred memories of Lindisfarne are its views of sea and sky, as below:
Thursday, August 25th 2016
‘Living museums’ are great fun and we enjoy visiting them. It so happens that one of our favourites (though, come to think of it, all of them are our favourites!) is fairly near Newcastle. We visited it during our 2010 trip and are going there again today. The map below shows its location relative to Newcastle and Durham.
Set in 300 acres of countryside, Beamish Living Museum seeks to recreate past periods of life in North East England. With buildings, vehicles, animals and costumed ‘re-enactors’, it provides scope for the serious historian and for families who simply want a fun day out. Below are some photos taken in Beamish today and you will find more in the post on our previous visit (see Newcastle 2010 – Day 7).
To reach Beamish we first took the train to Durham. From Durham we travelled by bus, changing at Chester le Street. There is a special lay-by beside the museum where buses for various destinations pull in to pick up passengers.
We reached the imposing entrance of the museum at about 11 am (the clock on the façade is showing the wrong time!). The price of a ticket is £18.50 for an adult and though this might seem expensive, the ticket is valid for one year from the date of purchase and you also have the warm feeling that you are supporting a worthwhile enterprise!
The museum is divided into several sections and more are planned. You will find a map here. Depending on how you count them, there are about half a dozen main sites and a number smaller, more specialized ones, each set in a past time period. A road circles the grounds and on this road run the trams and the buses and sometimes limousines that will take passengers. There are services in both directions, clockwise and anti-clockwise, but it doesn’t really matter much in which direction you travel as they all stop at all the sites.
The vehicles date from different periods, making a picturesque if anachronistic combination. We tried the bus (and, on our previous visit, a luxurious limousine) but we prefer the tram because there is more room and it is easier to get on and off. The drivers and the conductors wear the uniforms appropriate to the period of their vehicles and can answer all the questions you are ever likely to ask. Use of this public transport is of course free.
We went first to the 1900s Town. This is perhaps the most substantial of the exhibited sites and tends to be the busiest. Trams and buses pass a long the main street in either direction and stop to pick up passengers.
There is a bank and shops of all kinds. These can of course be visited and the shops are amazingly well stocked with all the goods and requisites that would have been on sale during the period represented. There is also a restaurant when you can have tea or a full meal.
As well and the bank, shops and pub there are private houses belonging to such key figures of society as the music teacher, the dentist and the solicitor, all open to visitors.
The Park, complete with band stand, provides somewhere peaceful to rest from your explorations. Children can also run around and work off their pent-up energy.
We next went to see Pockerley Old Hall. This would have been the home of a well-to-do tenant farmer and appears now as it would have done in the 1820s. We went first to the kitchen and chatted with a couple of 1820s cooks engaged in cooking biscuits. Happily, the costumed personnel do not try to pretend that they are actual people of the period but they are very knowledgeable and are often engaged in tasks as these would have been done at the time represented.
You can also visit Pockerly Gardens and the Farmstead where the stables house working horses.
Stepping out from the Old Hall, we glanced down the hill and saw a moving plume of smoke. Looking more carefully we spied a railway train and so went down to take a closer look.
Thus we came to the Pockerly Waggonway. Waggonways were the forerunners of the railways and were installed in working environments such as collieries. This short track emulates an early 19th-century waggonway but carries visitors, not working materials. Beamish owns several replica locomotives and this one, with its tall chimney, is the Steam Elephant. The original was built in about 1814 and it was thought until recently that it had been designed by George Stephenson but Beamish researchers recently uncovered evidence that its author was William Chapman who made it for John Buddle’s Wallsend Colliery. In action is is very impressive as this video shows.
This engine shed proudly displays its date of 1825 and carries a beautiful wind vane on its roof.
Taking the tram once more, we reached the 1940s Farm where I photographed these chickens and a goose, taking their ease. There are plenty of animals at beamish, fulfilling the same roles as they would have done in the periods represented. They are quite used to visitors and so you can usually get quite close to them.
Why choose the 1940s as the period for the Beamish Farm? During the Second World War when Britain was blockaded and in danger of running out of essential supplies, a national programme of food production was set in motion. Farms were of course at the heart of this.
Farms were hit by shortages like all other industries and had to improvise as best they could while being as productive as possible. Farming is always important to the nation but this was a time when this was particularly the case.
One of these farm cottages (they would have housed farm workers) is open to visitors while the other is closed. The notice of the gate amused me but it does show how Beamish always seeks to be ‘on script’, in this case by providing a plausible period-related reason for the closure.
Even though we had seen only a small part of what is on offer at Beamish, that had absorbed a fair amount of our time and energy. We were therefore happy to make our way to the barn in search of rest and refreshments. What we found was something a little more nuanced than a modern cafe. It was set up as a British Restaurant with a typical menu of the period. These Restaurants were communal kitchens set up during the war to help people whose homes had been destroyed by bombing or who were otherwise having difficulties obtaining food. The food served would have been basic, but nourishing. We tried the vegetable soup, which was very good.
We returned to the entrance and thence to the bus stop. A bus soon arrived and we began our journey back to Newcastle. Beamish Museum is a fascinating place in which to spend the day. You could, perhaps see it all at one go but that would mean rushing round and not spending enough time on the various exhibits. That is why your ticket is valid for one year: you need to come back again and again. Also, the museum is evolving and new exhibits are being planned. It was a good day out and I hope we can repeat it in the not too distant future.
Friday, August 26th 2016
This is the last day of our short stay in Newcastle but as our train departure time is later in the day, we can continue exploring for a while longer. We checked out of the hotel but have left our bags in their care until we are ready to go to the station.
We didn’t want to go too far away from Newcastle as our train tickets are valid only for one specific train and we daren’t risk not getting back in time.
So we went to Tynemouth, a pleasant seaside town, situated, as its name suggests, at the mouth of the River Tyne. (The name is pronounced as you would expect, so that the first syllable rhymes with ‘shine’.) We did not have long to spend here, as we wanted to return to Newcastle in plenty of time, so we were only able to to gain a quick and superficial impression of the town. That impression was favourable so perhaps we will visit it again when we next come to the region. What follows are pictures of the odd few things or scenes that claimed my attention.
At first sight, I thought this might be a grand house or other principal building with a gateway leading to a courtyard.
There seems not to be much information about this structure but from what I have found I gather that first there was a street called The Parade; then the Bath Hotel, an 18th-century coaching inn, was built on one side of it; next, in the mid-19th century, the passage was covered over and a facility called the Bath Assembly Rooms was built opposite the hotel; after various changes of hands and purposes, the building came to be occupied by retail outlets, bars and restaurants. The doorway on the right bears the date 1859 and wording which I take to be ‘PATTERSON AND BURSTALL’, though I do not know the significance of those names.
As we made our way to the seaside, we came upon this elaborate Venetian Gothic clock tower and drinking fountain. Made by Oliver and Lamb it was installed in 1861. It was erected neither by the town council nor by public subscription but as a handsome gift by London resident William Scott in gratitude for an improvement in his health which he ascribed to a stay in Tynemouth. It is now a Grade II listed building.
We reached the sea at the headland known as Pen Bal Crag or Benebal Crag. Upon it stand the ruins of a priory and castle. The priory was founded at some point in the 7th century, though its exact date and founder are uncertain. During the 9th century, the priory was subjected to raids by the Danes and fortifications were erected to protect it though these proved insufficient and the priory was eventually abandoned. It was re-established by the Normans in 1090 and they also strengthened the castle. The priory was finally dissolved in 1538 by the edict of Henry VIII.
Three kings were buried here. The first two were Oswin (d. 651), King of Deira, and Osred II (d. 792), King of Northumbria, both of whom met their death by murder, while the third was Malcolm III of Scotland, killed in the Battle of Alnwick in 1093, though his remains were later reburied in Scotland. Oswin (also known as Oswine and Osuine) was later made a saint and became a cult figure as a result of miracles ascribed to him.
I imagine that most visitors to Tynemouth hurry to the beach as we did. The above panorama shows the smaller beach in King Edward’s Bay. There is a much longer beach north along the coast but we did not reach that far in today’s visit. This smaller beach is sheltered between two headlands and seems a very pleasant spot to sit in the sun or bathe in the sea.
This is as close as we came to the larger beach which is known as Tynemouth Longsands. At the bottom of the picture on the right is the Outdoor Pool which has been disused and has fallen into disrepair though there are plans afoot to restore and improve it.
The visit had been enjoyable and we might have stayed longer were we not pressed for time but, with our eyes ever on the clock, we returned the Newcastle.
Back in Newcastle, and still having a little time to spare, we went up onto the Tyne Bridge. As previously mentioned (see Newcastle 2016 – Day 1), this huge bridge was opened in 1928 by George V and has been carrying traffic over the River Tyne and part of the city, ever since. It offers spectacular views of the Tyne and the city. In the above view we are looking down at the building occupied in part by our hotel and the surrounding streets.
We had heard the the Millennium Bridge was going to open at about this time and as the Tyne Bridge provides a good viewpoint, we settled down to watch.
This photo shows the bridge just before it opened. If you look carefully you can see two security personnel in hi vis jackets who are making sure the bridge is cleared of pedestrians and cyclists.
During the opening and closing of the bridge I took photos at various stages and have combined 10 of them into the above Gif. You should be able from this to see why it is called the ‘Winking Bridge’.
As soon as the bridge has returned to its rest position, the waist-high metal doors at either end are opened and pedestrians and cyclists start crossing again. You will find a time-lapse video of the bridge here but as it was taken from the side, the ‘winking’ effect is not so clear.
We took a last look down the river from the Tyne Bridge towards the Millennium Bridge. On the left is the Quayside district of Newcastle and on the right, Gateshead, with the Baltic Flour Mill and the Sage.
Walking now on the Gateshead side of the river, we went a little way upstream where there is another famous bridge. You can see it painted red and white in the above photo.
Bridges are necessary but potentially create a barrier to shipping. The two main ways to avoid this problem are, firstly, to make the bridge so high that any shipping likely to sail on the river can pass underneath or, secondly, to make the bridge capable of moving out of the way to allow ships to pass. The Tyne Bridge is an example of the first and the ingeniously designed Millennium Bridge, an example of the second. Another example of this is the Newcastle Swing Bridge.
The Swing Bridge opened in 1876 after it was built to replace an earlier bridge. There are various designs of swing bridge and, for this one of such size and weight, the obvious solution was to pivot it in the centre and rotate the span to open it. That way, the whole thing remains in equilibrium. We were not fortunate enough to see the bridge swing open but this video shows it in action.
For us, time had run out. We took a last look at the river and the Tyne Bridge from the Swing Bridge and then walked back to the hotel. We reclaimed our bags and dragged them and ourselves up the hill for the last time en route for the railway station. Soon we were being wafted southwards towards London.
Though our stay was short, we had filled the time well and managed to see what we hoped to see. Newcastle still has much more in store for the visitor as we shall no doubt discover when we next return.