28. Walking about a bit

When I retired in 2000 I returned to my home town of North Shields. Having been away for 34 years, with only occasional visits, I decided that I would explore the, much changed, area and keep fit by ‘walking it’.

To begin with, I was obviously restricted to the distance I could walk in a day, but once I worked out the bus routes and the benefits of a free bus pass/Metro Gold Card (unlimited travel on the local rail at a small fee), then I could go as far as I wished and walk from station to station, station to home or vice versa. Sometimes the absence of public transport meant the use of the car, but rarely.

Around the town

The first revelation was the conversion of the Albert Edward Dock and the adjacent timber yard to Royal Quays Marina with the adjacent Redburn Dene and Chirton Dene. Closer to home was Smith’s Dock where it was possible to walk and take photographs until the ‘cleaning-up’ began.

Up the coast

Of course the coast from the North Shields Fish Quay to Blyth is always a joy. I actually walked from Tynemouth pier to Blyth keeping entirely to the rocks and beaches where possible (not in one day!). It means a bit of tide-table watching, but very interesting. What had been done to Blyth Harbour while I was away  was a revelation, but the refurbishment is already starting to look a bit tired. The Tall Ships Race this year (2016) should jazz it up a bit.

Heading West

Moving West from Royal Quays drives one away from the riverside and although there is a bit of industrial heritage to see, it’s mainly pavement-plodding until you get to Willington Gut, although there were some good photos to be had when they were building the second tunnel. If you want to stay with the interesting stuff then it is probably best to take the Metro to Howdon and find your way through Willington Quay to the footpath and bridge over Willington Gut, under the viaduct and out on to Hadrian Road. You could, of course, miss out this bit and take the Metro to Hadrian Road.

In passing, there is another route from Howdon down to the viaduct along Wallsend Burn, through Richardson Dees Park, then South to Swan Hunter’s and the riverside.

Although you are away from the river, there is a view of A&P Tyne ship-repair yard from Davy Bank, but nothing worth going down the bank for. Just beyond the roundabout there is a path on the left marked by a red steel whalebone arch which leads to Hadrian’s Wall Path/cycleway. This walk takes the route of the old Riverside Line railway. Passing the former Swan Hunter Shipyard and Segadunum Roman Fort (well worth a visit), the path comes to a temporary end where the railway line crossed the road.

You now have two options: you can return to the ‘footpath/cycleway’ at the other side of the road and follow the railway-line route all the way to Byker , and the bridges over The Ouseburn or  return to the pavement for a far more interesting walk.  The footpath/cycleway has trees on one side and buildings on the other,  most of the way, so there only a few places where there is a ‘view’. However further along the path there is a spur which takes you down to the riverside route.

Taking the ‘Low Walker’ route keeps you in sight of the river and the new developments at the former Neptune Shipyard. Further along, you turn down towards the giant yellow cranes at what was ‘The Naval Yard’ and is now a busy enterprise park dealing with offshore technology. At the furthest end of the site there is an entry to a riverside walk, which is joined by the other footpath from the spur.

The riverside walk is one of my favourites, as the river is on one side and trees where the industrial heritage once was. Tar-works, lead-works, shipyards stood cheek by jowl along the bank and only warning signs to stay out of the river give the slightest hint of their existence, although the paint works on the opposite bank give some idea that it was ever there. Eventually you will reach St. Peters Basin marina with its ‘bascule’ bridge; then onward, after a stop at the pub, takes you eventually to Newcastle Quayside.

The Ouseburn/Jesmond Dene option

An alternative route now would take you up through the Ouse Valley, past a number of pubs, a tunnel under Newcastle, an urban farm and even stables. The route then cuts left towards Manors Metro and Newcastle, right towards Byker or under the bridges for quite a long trek overland to eventually reach Jesmond Dene at Armstrong Bridge. As I said at the start, all of these routes go in either direction, and this one is best pursued by starting at Jesmond Dene via one of the Metro stations and travelling downhill to the river.

Newcastle-Gateshead Riverside

I will not attempt to describe the myriad of walks in Newcastle, but there are a number of routes from the quayside to the city, my favourites being the ones leading to Christ’s Hospital or through the old castle itself.

There are a number of short walks on both sides of the river, taking in the ‘tilting’ Millennium Bridge, the Baltic gallery of modern art, with its splendid views of the city, the Sage Music Centre and the St. Mary’s Heritage Centre.

The Loop

On one rather ambitious day I took the Metro to Gateshead, walked down to the Swing Bridge and set off West on the South side of The Tyne. There are a number of ‘artworks’ in the early stages of this route which then settles down to a nice flat path along the river, under several of the Tyne bridges. After a bit of weaving in and out of housing you reach the spectacular Dunstan Staithes. Once a centre of coal exporting, the disused staithes were restored for the National Flower Show some years ago, but despite some vandalism and neglect since, there is talk of their restoration. However I digress. The route carries on over the river Team, past the Metro Centre and over the river Derwent to the next river crossing at the much-maligned Scotswood Bridge.  Once over the bridge, the home run is along the famous, but much-changed, Scotswood Road to a point where a path drops down along the riverbank, with its several artworks, and so back to the quayside. The whole route is about 9 miles and my knees were better then.

South to the coast

There is little to commend walking East from the Swing Bridge on the South bank, but the walk from the Pedestrian Tunnel  between Howdon and Jarrow, itself an experience  (should it ever reopen) or from the replacement bus though the tunnel, gives a nice route along the river past Bede’s World (worth a visit) and The Venerable Bede’s own  St Paul’s church. However there is a long urban stretch along the main road which eventually dips down to the riverside, past The Customs House (theatre), ending at the South Shields ferry landing and back over the river, where a bus is always waiting to take you up the bank.

The Lees

There is a very good, if long, walk from South Shields ferry landing out to the river mouth and along a beautiful coastal path right on the cliff edge. Assuming you want to leave the mile-long South pier for another day, the route passes Frenchman’s Bay, Marsden Grotto (worth a stop-off) Souter Lighthouse (worth a visit – National Trust) past the Lime Kilns to the beaches at Seaburn and the piers at Roker. A trip back by bus to South Shields or from Seaburn or Monkwearmoth Metro, home, completes a 9 mile walk. If 9 miles in one go is too much for you then starting from the South Shields  ferry landing, passing through the centre of town and South Marine Park, takes you to the end of the pier. There is then a much more direct route avoiding the winding cliff path which follows the later stages of The Great North Run to Marsden Grotto, Souter Point and Seaburn Park before heading West to the Metro at Seaburn (about 7 miles).


Photos of many of the places mentioned are on my website at www.jimscott.co.uk

Recommended reading: Tyne View by Michael Chaplin and published by Port of Tyne £18.99 at Amazon

I was going to recommend Metro Walks by Peter Donaghy and John Laidler published by Nexus in 2006 at £3.99, but  I see that it is out of print and available at Amazon at £55! I think I’ll hold on to my copy.




27. The church and me

I may have mentioned, somewhere along the line, that I am a church bellringer, yes a campanologist and have been so since an early age. At that time I was also a chorister in a choir of around twenty boys and a dozen or so men, most of whom has been boys in the same choir. Now there is no choir and we find it hard to get enough ringers for a Sunday service. Indeed when I lived in Devon there were five or six churches with bells, within half an hour of my home and only one of them could get a regular Sunday band to ring. As is my wont, it got me thinking how things have changed.

My paternal grandfather and his antecedents were bellringers, both on Tyneside and in Derbyshire, so their church-going credentials go without question. My maternal grandfather had been raised a Primitive Methodist, but never attended church in my memory although his bible knowledge was so good that my grandmother feared the ‘knock’ of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who he used to tie in knots until they almost begged to leave. As he could not read or write, this was some feat.

The generation before them was altogether different, particularly if the family were non-conformists. Sunday, The Sabbath’, was strictly observed; meals were prepared on Saturday, cooked on Sunday, and the washing-up waited until Monday. Activities in the strictest homes would be confined to walking or reading, but only The Bible!

Before the time of Cromwell, you could be fined for non-attendance at church, but this was mainly to keep a check on Catholics. When non-conformists came to power, then that Elizabethan law was repealed. However most people, even in my time, would attend church on Easter Day and everyone would have knowledge of the important festivals, Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day, and Whitsun. Most of these were bank/school holidays and even Ascension Day was a half-holiday. Most children of my generation and before were expected to attend Sunday-school either during the morning service or separate from it.

Good Friday, until fairly recently, was celebrated in my home town, by the many non-conformist churches with a March of Witness. Hundreds of people in their best clothes would parade through the town, each chapel with its own ‘supporters’ accompanied by bands of The Salvation Army and The Boy’s Brigade. The streets would be lined with people watching, and a service would be held in the town square. There were several Methodist Churches in the town, Presbyterians, Baptists, the Salvation Army and probably others. Such have the numbers dwindled that last year it rained heavily and for those who turned out to march, a service was held in what has become the United Reform Church in that same square.

The Church of England did not get involved in’ the march’, but the main church had two or three ‘satellite churches’ around the town to cater for those in different areas, as there were so many regular church attendants. Then, of course there were The Roman Catholics who always did their own thing.

Apart from the traditional weddings, although they are now more likely to take place on the beach, and christenings, which appear still to be an occasion to wear the full ‘Ascot’ outfit, there were the civil functions. Mayor’s Sunday was a day with processions, soldiers and bands to fill the church and singing to raise the roof. Harvest Festival, not only filled the chancel with gifts of produce, but the gallery was adorned with nets for the ‘harvest of the deep’. That reminds me that the same church had galleries on three sides; such was the size of the Victorian congregations. These were removed as long ago as 1951.

Churches of whatever denomination have always had more to offer than ‘religion’. They are social communities and always have been. The Church Hall kept the secular side separate and whist drives, pie and pea suppers, and later discos kept the church at the centre of the community.

As a once-convinced Christian I still find it hard to see the dwindling congregations of mainly middle-class elderly people who keep the services going with rising costs and dwindling collections. More and more of these once vibrant and elegant buildings have been demolished or converted to another use. Where will it end? I cannot guess, but fear the end is not too far away.

See more of Christ Church and bellringing