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Posts tagged as “Tyne and Wear”

Photos from around Lower Northumberland

A building demolition in progress around a busy intersection.

It’s the end of an era in Newcastle, however short it was, as the temporary shipping container food court–cum–public square–cum–shopping centre Stack comes down after three years. The former site of an Odeon cinema was set to be turned into a mixed-use development, but the pandemic caused a change of direction from the developers. The plans have since been slimmed down to just comprise what lockdown proved was truly, 100% necessary:


A grassy path surrounded by bright green bushes and trees and a clear cerulean sky.

You’d never guess it, but this luscious green path (carefully cropped so that you don’t see the yawning gravel service road behind the camera) is on the former site of a colliery in Bedlington. There’s not much left to see — the neighbouring pit town was bulldozed in the ’70s, and the farmers have done a bang-up job of hiding any traces of the mines that lie underneath.

An old-fashioned railway station.

After 2.3 million pounds and a skyscraper’s worth of scaffolding, Morpeth’s central station has finally been restored to its former Georgian glory, red fences and all. The locals will be pleased to know that Lumo, a sparkly new Ryanair-ified third-class train service from Edinburgh to London, have no choice but to stop here thanks to a sharp bend in the track.

Eulogy for a food court

I was on my usual city constitutional the other week when i noticed that my favourite bubble tea place1 had shuttered. Hm, that’s odd, i thought. Last time that happened was lockdown. Don’t know why they’d do it again. I assumed they’d be back again swiftly, and went on with my day.

Then the week after i noticed that the entrance to the über-hip shipping-container food court of which it was a part was blocked off. Hm, that’s odd, i thought. Ah, well. It’s probably just construction. These things happen all the time.

It was only yesterday that i saw the crane lifting one of the shipping containers away and realised something (other than the container) was up. Sure enough, one quick google reveals the flashy new development that’ll be taking its place — originally it was going to be mixed-use, but covid crunch caused them to scale back to the thing that covid really, conclusively proved was absolutely 100% necessary and in demand, definitely: offices.

“Pilgrim’s Quarter” is part of a broader redevelopment of the neglected Pilgrim Street, which may or may not include a pedestrianisation — i don’t know; it’s all in jargonese and i can’t make heads or tails of what Enhancing The Public Realm is meant to mean. (Or, for that matter, why they’ve misspelt it as “Pilgrim’s Quater” on the official brochure.)

The permission slips are all in place — so here’s to you, Stack. You might have had some exorbitant prices (sorry, Korean place, but i’m not paying £12 for a few chicken wings and fries), but otherwyze you were a shining beacon of small businesses in the city centre — you were too good for this world. *Pops open a bottle of champagne*

The mystery of Newcastle’s vampire rabbit

Down a narrow alleyway to the back end of St Nicholas’ Cathedral, in Newcastle, one can find a rather curious decoration garnishing a door on the opposing façade. The “vampire rabbit” has stood watch over the cathedral for at least half a century; while records are scarce (a quick search of Google Books doesn’t bring up anything until the twenty-first century), it could well date back to the building’s construction in 1901.

Here’s a noticeably brighter bun, as it looked in 1987.

Here’s the thing, though. Nobody knows how it got there. Indeed, even the name “vampire rabbit” is a misnomer; its jet-black fur and red claws were added on some time in the 1990s,i as were its distinctly batty ears. Some say it was put there to scare away wannabe graverobbers, but i have my doubts that twentieth-century crooks would be so dumb.

Yet others posit that it represents a mad March hare, arising at the time of Easter, or that it refers to Thomas Bewick, a nearby engraver who had a fondness of all things lagomorphic. Most fascinatingly, a theory advanced by one Mr Adam Curtis suggests a Masonic pun in reference to one George Hare Phillipson, a local doctor (hence vampires) and active Freemason, as was the lead architect, one William H. Wood. It being a secret society in-joke would also explain why it’s located around the back, rather than the front, which faces onto one of the busiest streets in town.

Perhaps we might never know for sure. In any case, it’s a fascinating little secret — what do you think is most likely?

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Walking the Blyth and Tyne, part one: Northumberland Park to Seghill

Last time on The Garden: the axe falls on the Blyth and Tyne line, and i foolhardily decide to walk its length

A modern looking metro station divided into two platforms, opening up to the sky above.

Our journey begins at North­um­ber­land Park, in North Tyneside. Though it’s the first station we’ll be visiting, it was the last to be constructed, having only opened in 2005 — and it’s quite easy to tell, even after sixteen years of wear and tear; the place is outfitted with modern amenities, lifts, ticket machines flush with the wall, and, more lately, pandemic-themed graffiti opposite the platform. This unassuming metro station will, according to the county council’s plans, serve as the interchange between the old and new lines, heavy rail and metro meeting one last time before splitting apart and going their separate ways.

A colourful graffito of the word "Pandemik", spelt with a K for reasons unknown.
A modern car park with frosted glass panels juts into the cloudy sky.

Setting off from there, the first thing that caught my eye were twin giants: a frosted glass-covered car park and a red-brick Sainsbury’s, unexpected icons of the modern British condition. It didn’t get much better from there; down the road lies an American-style strip mall lined with bookmakers trying to get people to piss away all their money.

A shopping trolley lies half submerged in a sorry looking scummy stream.
This sorry-looking trolley was, i presume, abandoned from the local Sainsbury’s.

This southernmost tip of North­um­ber­land is criss-crossed by innumerable public footpaths, cycle paths, bridleways, and other routes for non-metal-box-related transport; ducking onto one of the reclaimed “waggonways” once used to transport coal, i found myself on the site of the second station on the list.

Twin rail tracks stretch into the background.

The leafy suburb of Backworth has a habit of burying its history. A hoard of offerings from Roman times was found underground in the 1810s, the last vestiges of the colliery that once was are long gone, and the tale of this sorry ex-station is rather similar. Opened in 1864 to replace a nearby station closing the same day, Back­worth station served its community for over 100 years, surviving the Beeching cuts. But when the Tyne and Wear Metro was announced to come to town, the old station finally closed… for good. It wasn’t until the opening of North­um­ber­land Park that there would be a replacement.

As i wandered through the village's verdant streets, i couldn’t help but think of its resemblance to the straight, cycle-friendly streets of my old hometown. A little greenery can go a long way.

Behind wire fences and train tracks, a van belonging to Network Rail is visible.
A jet-dark pedestrian underpass, its entrance covered in graffiti.
The graffiti reads “Monty Brown is a grass”. I would never say such unkind things about Mr Brown.

Network Rail were hard at work at the site of the aforementioned original Back­worth station, whose plot of land now sits vacant, marking the city’s last hurrah; the further i walked along the dirt back roads, the further the sounds of bustling cars receded, until, ducking under a shady underpass, i found myself utterly alone amongst pastoral fields (and the overwhelming scent of manure).

Hay bales cover a rolling field of wheat.

That peace and quiet was swiftly interrupted by a troupe of boy racers on motorcycles and quad-bikes, but you can’t win them all, you know?

The border between Northumberland and North Tyneside is highlighted in the middle of an unmarked dirt path.
After the county borders were hacked up in 1974, this line became the divider between rural Northumberland and ostensibly-urban Tyne and Wear.

The (post-1974) border town of Seghill occupies only the tiniest fragment of the collective English consciousness, popping up briefly in an anti-scab miners’ folk song called “Blackleg Miner”:

It’s in the evening after dark,
when the blackleg miner creeps to work
With his moleskin pants and dirty shirt
there gans the blackleg miner!


So, divvint gan near the Seghill mine
Across the way they stretch a line,
to catch the throat and break the spine
of the dirty blackleg miner


So join the union while you may
Divvint wait till your dying day,
for that may not be far away,
you dirty blackleg miner!

A corner shop by the name of "Station House Stores"

For our purposes, it’s chiefly notable for the fact that it’s the first disused station on the list whose buildings are still intact and in use, this time as a corner shop, from which i of course bought a copy of the local rag — prominently including a Q&A about the restoration of service on the line, which i thought a fitting reminder of why i set out on this silly old journey in the first place.

After getting some well deserved rest, i headed on off towards the next town over, awaiting what fresh stories i would find...

Next time on “Walking the Blyth and Tyne”: your author is reminded of her own mortality, finds himself in the company of a noble family, and shudders at the thought of having to go to Blyth, of all places on Gods’ green Earth

The Victoria Tunnel

The Victoria Tunnel runs beneath the streets of Newcastle, from the Tyne up to the Town Moor. It traverses not only space, but time, through nearly every corner of England’s history: built to transport coal in the Industrial Revolution, on the site of an old Roman spring, it was used during the second world war to house those fleeing German bombs. It was even considered for use in the cold war, before the government realised that some musty old coal tunnels would probably not provide the greatest protection against a nuclear blast.

And now you can go down it. In 2007, Newcastle City Council decided to refurbish the tunnel and open a small stretch of it — the rest is either unsafe for sending humans down or currently in use as a sewer — up for public tours. Entry is via a side street along the Ouseburn, where the guides will cheerfully show you a map and some old photographs of the entrance. Once you get inside the tunnel itself, hard hats and torches are compulsory, and covid restrictions are still in full force. This was both a benefit and a malefit: yes, the tour was shorter than it would otherwise be, and masks get quite uncomfortable when you’re wearing them for an hour in a dank, dark tunnel, but on the other hand, our small group of family and friends got the place practically all to ourselves, without having to be shepherded alongside other members of the public.

The water from the ancient Roman spring is directed through a side channel, to avoid it getting all over the tunnel floor. Sometimes it even works!

The tunnel is just barely wide enough to fit three people side-by-side, and if, like me, you’re of a certain height, bumping your head on the roof is practically guaranteed. By every blast door, there’s a plaque about what’s above you, and how it factors into the tunnel and the city’s history, stories with which the guides will gladly regale visitors (including some rather grim tragedies).

Coming back out the entrance, i felt more informed about this wonderful county’s industrial history — just in time to pop over to a gentrified vegan “superfood pub”. The wonders of modern life.

Information for prospective visitors

  • Tours can be booked on the Ouseburn Trust’s website.
  • Price: £9–11 per adult depending on the length of the tour; £4 per child
  • Address:
    Victoria Tunnel Entrance, Ouse St., Valley, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 2PF
    — just next to the CrossFit gym.
  • Accessibility: The tunnel was built in the 19th century and without accessibility in mind, so is not wheelchair-accessible. The Ouseburn Trust do, due to the pandemic, offer a virtual tour.
  • Getting there: The Q3 bus from the centre of town stops nearby; otherwise, getting there poses a bit of a hike, due to its location.

Notes from a walk through Newcastle

The gorgeous gorge that is the Tyne valley has no shortage of winsome views, but the most beautiful, in my opinion, is that which appears to one who goes down the Side.α In the Monument’s shadow, after passing the classical columns of the Theatre Royal and descending Grey Street as it becomes Dean Street, finally taking a turn onto the Side at the bottom, the lucky traveller will find themself towered over by the behemoth that is the Tyne Bridge:

The Tyne Bridge, a soaring green arch over the river, held up by two hulking sandstone-brick towers.
Photo by Alex Liivet. Licenced under CC BY-2.0.
A rickety old set of stairs leads into an area obscured by overgrown shrubbery.
The rotting wooden stairs, as seen on Google street view.

I’m not sure any photograph can ever match what it’s like to be there under that bridge. One of the most remarkable things about this view, though, has nothing to do with the view itself, but rather what happens if one walks down the Quayside for a little while, reaches an empty brownfield plot, and clambers up a set of rotting wooden stairs to its right. Because, inexplicably, just a few metres from the most beautiful view in town, one can find the second most beautiful view in town, a glorious lookout on every bridge linking the two banks of the river.

Seven bridges across the Tyne, flanked by Newcastle’s old buildings on the right and Gateshead’s modern regeneration on the left.

We don’t deserve this city.

I had initially neglected to bring a water bottle along with me; i had only intended a quick jaunt to the centre of town and back, and the foolhardy idea of walking all the way to Wallsend came to me spontaneously. This quickly proved a bad idea, and so i made a trek up to the corner shop, who thankfully had all the bottled water anyone could ever want or need.

After leaving fully rehydrated and ready to walk back, i noticed the most wonderful little thing. A parklet, this small opening of green space with some benches and inscriptions, tucked between a housing area and a construction site. I took some pictures — i would have loved to show them to you, but alas, my phone got stolen in the intervening time between this trip and me writing this post, taking the photographs with it.

Nevertheless, if you’d like to visit (or live vicariously through Google street view), it’s that little park adjacent to 5 Belmont Street. (Google stubbornly refuses to give a proper address, but you can’t miss it!)

An *exceedingly* evil looking office building next to a gigantic white cube bearing the logo "TechnipFMC".

An account of my thought process upon seeing the above building complex:

  • That building looks exceedingly evil, but i can’t quite place my finger on why…
  • I’m going to look the company up.
  • Ah, a fossil fuel company — they are evil!

Just a few yards ahead, crossing a foot-and-cycle bridge, i happened upon some strikingly relevant graffiti, alongside some other pieces which really sum up the modern English psyche: an Extinction Rebellion poster, a crossed out “EDL”,β and a cock and bollocks.

Graffiti on a blue bridge wall. Left to right: An XR poster saying 'Act Now', 'Kyle', 'EDL' (crossed out), 'Erok', 'FLK', and a cock and bollocks.

I carried a record from HMV (the Killers’ Hot Fuss, if you must know) the whole way, and let me tell you, my arms were positively aching by the end of it! At least i had a bag…γ

To sign off, here are some photos whose stories weren’t interesting enough to make the cut, as well as a map of the journey. Thank you for reading this disjoint mess.