The signs were not so good: a night of heavy snowfall earlier in the week had left its mark across the landscape and the temperatures had not by the weekend risen sufficiently to remove the ice underfoot; and the forecast for the Sunday predicted further snowfall during the afternoon. So it was with some pleasure to see that six optimistic and hardy participants appeared for the start of our walk at Central Station in Newcastle.
Actually the conditions underfoot turned out to be not as bad as some had feared. The planned route followed well-used paths throughout, and for most of the way the ground was dry and ice-free. We were able to take note of several interesting historical sights and features, not least the signs of Hadrian’s Wall at our starting point. A display board showed us the historic and famous Central Station and its portico occupied the site of an even more historic Roman fort.
After descending to the north bank of the river Tyne our route proceeded westwards and we had a grand view of all seven of the Tyne bridges – all opened by royalty, including the Metro bridge by the Queen in 1981, and the slightly later modern concrete Redheugh Bridge by Princess Diana. Alongside we saw the abutments of the original Redheugh Bridge, a very spindly construction in its time, just about remembered by a few of our party.
A little further upstream as we moved away from the city the river became wider, and a series of information boards next to modern business parks reminded us of the former mass of quaysides, warehouses and factories that previously occupied this area. Key to the development of this area was William Armstrong the 19th-century industrialist, inventor, scientist and philanthropist who was also responsible for Jesmond Dene in Newcastle and Cragside country house in Northumberland. The inventor of the hydraulic crane, he was an advocate of renewable energy, forseeing the replacement of coal as an energy source; although the pictures we saw of the past industrialised riverside were in marked contrast to the quiet and empty business parks we now passed through.
On the opposite bank we saw the restored coal staithes which marked the site of the 1990 Gateshead Garden Festival. We crossed the busy Scotswood Road; this was referred to (according to another information board) in the song Blaydon Races – it was at this location known as Paradise where “the bus wheel flew off”. The original Blaydon Races took place in Blaydon, I believe on an island in the river, but there’s been a more recent revival of the event which happens on 9th June each year, the date mentioned in the song, taking the form of a road race from the city centre along Scotswood Road.
We veered off Scotswood Road onto the course of a former railway line and reached Scotswood village, with little sign now of the sidings and junctions that occupied this space until about 20 years ago. In the centre of Scotswood we passed a statue commemorating the Montagu View Pit Disaster of 1925; named Past Present and Future it featured a pitman as well as a woman going forward with a mobile phone.
After crossing the A1 western bypass on a slightly unnerving footbridge we passed through Lemington, and following the former railway again we arrived at Newburn. Here we saw a number of rowers, and apparently rival rowing clubs: the Tyne Amateur Rowing Club on the north bank facing the Tyne United Rowing Club opposite. By this time unfortunately the snow was starting to fall and it was becoming a little colder, so we were pleased to reach a small café where some of our party were glad of the chance of a cup of tea. The rowers not surprisingly had by now disappeared.
We had a short break and then continued into open wooded countryside, still following the river along its north bank, and into falling snow. Sadly we were not now quite so inclined to enjoy the scenery, which included Stephenson’s Cottage, birthplace of the railway pioneer and now a National Trust property. We were also finding ourselves a little short of time, bearing in mind the trains back to Newcastle were only once an hour. So we ended up with a bit of a route-march for the final mile or so; but we eventually reached the historic village of Wylam and crossed the river to the station. Perhaps this part of the route in better weather would justify a more comfortable visit on a future occasion.
Thanks are due as always to all who participated in this event, and we look forward to our next walk during February in the Richmond area of North Yorkshire.