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Fog on the Tyne
The day dawned at some point. When we got up, it was foggy. But we hadn’t slept in the mist again, for we had slept in an AirBnB. It was luxurious to have solid walls everywhere, and to be able to stand up inside to get changed, and to have slept in real beds with real beds and real duvets, and, most importantly, not to have to cross a (wet) field (with sheep and therefore sheep poo in it). We still had a long way to go, though, so we didn’t have time to luxuriate in luxuriating for long.
Hadrian’s Wall Path took us along ‘a shady walk with some beautiful trees’ (p.178 of the guide book), but we could mainly see some trees, fog and downhill. We didn’t see the rugby pitches, but we did see the car park we walked through, and we were aware there was a gold course. I don’t know how the early morning golfers could see where to aim their balls.
We came out at the river, where we saw fog on the Tyne (YouTube – go on, I dare you to watch this video – unmuted – all the way through. The original version is also available for your delectation on YouTube; interesting lyrics. As a Wearsider, they’re welcome to it).
The path along this part of the Tyne was dull: Wylam Waggonway, a dismantled railway. The guide book (p.180) tells of how George Stephenson was born on the outskirts of Wylam and must have watched the horses pulling the wagons to and fro. When he was 32, built a steam engine then that was ‘slow and clumsy’, but that made a technological breakthrough that is beyond me.
‘Sixteen locomotives later and in 1819 Stephenson … was asked to construct an eight-mile line from Hetton to Sunderland. It was his – and the world’s – first major steam project’ (p.180). This was the project that taught him to build on flatter land. It’s pretty hilly between Hetton and Sunderland (and I should know), so Stephenson’s engines needed ‘significant help from fixed hauling engines’ to get up the steeper parts. Maybe that’s where I was going wrong on Whin Sill.
We continued along the river on the edge of the Tyne Riverside Country Park. Saw a ‘dilapidated steelworks’ (p.182) that, from the noise, was still working steel. Where we crossed over the A6085, a strong chemical smell arose; it smelt like how I remember pyridine smelling from my days in the lab. I couldn’t decide whether it was better or worse than the land of the Smogmonsters, Middlesbrough. We left the river to its meanderings and went through the village of Lemington, where we didn’t see the ‘Lemington Glass Cone’ (p.183), which is not made of glass, but is conical, apparently.
We rejoined the river after its meandering briefly, leaving it to go through an ‘urban park’ (p.184) to cross the A1 on a bridge. That was quite scary because I was convinced I was going to drop my poles over the side and cause some terrible pile-up. The chances of that happening were next to none, especially as I was gripping my poles as tightly as I could.
There was a moment of confusion when we had to walk past The Scran Van (unmarked in the guide book) towards Kelly’s (marked in the guide book), a warehouse or some such, then take a sharp turn to the right down a hidden, dodgy-looking lane. It was the right thing to do though, and we ended up on a path on the opposite side of the busy A693, which runs close to the river.
We crossed the road before the old Vickers building instead of after it, and walked past Paradise, which didn’t look overly heavenly, unlike that sign to the campsite when I was scared up on Whin Sill.
At some point, I was berated by a mad appearing-to-be-drunk Geordie for saying Wallsend was in Newcastle. Meh, what do I know? I’m not from Tyneside.
The path moves away form the dull roadside and onto the dull riverside. The walking was all on paved surfaces, which isn’t as nice as walking on natural surfaces like grass and bare earth. It’s harder going on the feet, and with not using the walking poles, it’s harder going on the legs and everywhere else. It seemed a good idea to stop for elevenses at a café on the corner of a business park near/in Elswick. It had started pitter-pattering by this point, so we were glad to get an outdoor seat but under cover.
(Have you still got ‘Fog on the Tyne’ in your head? Had you just nicely forgotten about it?)
Rain stops play
After elevenses, we hadn’t got far when the pitter-pattering changed to some quite substantial rain. It was time to put our waterproofs on – tops and bottoms.
The rain got even heavier as we approached Newcastle’s trendy Quayside area, and we saw a couple of cyclists who looked like a couple like us stopped under one of the bridges for shelter while they put their waterproofs on. We passed the time of day for a moment, then continued.
Bridges over the Tyne
There are many bridges in quick succession between Newcastle on the north bank of the Tyne and Gateshead on the south bank.
First, there’s the Redheugh Bridge (1983, p.186), ‘obviously’ pronounced as /ˈrɛd.jʊf/ (red-yuff), (p.205), which is a road bridge. Not sure if I’ve ever been over this one.
Next, there’s the King Edward VII Bridge (1906, p.205 – erroneously labelled as ‘King Edward VIII Bridge’ on p.187), a rail bridge. I might have been across this one on the train.
Then there’s the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge (1981, p.187), the Metro bridge. The Tyne and Wear Metro for a long time only ran on Tyneside, despite Wearside allegedly having paid more for it. Now it does run on Wearside, but nowhere near as extensively as on Tyneside. I’ve almost certainly travelled across this one, but it would have been a long time ago.
After that is the High Level Bridge (1849, p.187), a road and railway bridge. It is very high up indeed. I think this is the one our train up from Peterborough approached the Central Station on so long ago.
The next bridge is the red and white Swing Bridge (1876, p.187), which is very low down, hence the need for it to swing open when ships and tall boats pass by; probably not that many ships now that shipbuilding is defunct in the north east. The Swing Bridge occupies the site of the Roman bridge Pons Aelius. It amuses me that the bridge is red and white. I don’t think I’ve ever been over it.
After that is the Tyne Bridge (1928, p.187), a road bridge that I’ve driven over before. The Tyne Bridge is the same type of construction as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, both based on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City. The Tyne Bridge’s construction is similar to the Runcorn Bridge, which I’ve also been over. Colin has climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge!
The Millennium Bridge (2002, p.187), a pedestrian and cycle bridge, is the westernmost and newest one. I think we just missed it coming back down. I’ve never seen it tilt open or closed before. I’m not sure Colin had ever seen it in real life before. I’d not seen it up close and personal before.
The rain was stotting it down by this point, so we sheltered in a pub, the Pitcher and Piano, that we’d seen earlier had vegan food. However, their menu states ‘Where a vegetarian or vegan dish is deep-fried we indicate this with an * against the V/VE as we cannot guarantee that they have been cooked in dedicated vegetarian/vegan fryers.’ This meant no chips again.
We showed our displeasure by spurning their food. What’s the point of having a vegan menu if you can’t guarantee it’s actually vegan?
We took our drinks to a corner table and stripped our waterproofs off. We hung them on chairs where they dripped large puddles on the floor. The cycling couple from earlier arrived just as we were settling down and also hung their dripping waterproofs up, creating yet more puddles on the floor. Probably just as well they were one of these metal-and-glass modern pubs with no carpet.
The rain eased off after a while, and we got going again. We had no time for all this dilly-dallying, and we still had to find somewhere to have lunch. The Tyne Bar seemed promising.
After a minor misunderstanding about the route, we got to the Tyne Bar, where they did a vegan burger and chips. The pub was exactly the sort of place I might have frequented in my youth, and I liked it. The burger and chips were very good indeed. I would go back if I were in the area and hungry or thirsty.
Replete once more, we set off back along the Tyne, avoiding the car park as instructed: ‘If you’re walking east, don’t enter the car park – you’ll get trapped!’ (p.188 of the guide book). The car park turned out to be massive, with no way out at the eastern end. Lucky we’d avoided entering it.
We walked right along the water’s edge, along Merchant Wharf, through St Peter’s Basin, past the Ropery and on into Walker Riverside Park, ignoring, as instructed by the guide book, all the little paths leading up and away from the waterside.
The area looked pretty dodgy to me, and I didn’t like it much. The guide book says ‘Unfortunately, one or two hikers have also been subjected to insults and threats from local kids on this stretch and have written to say that they felt threatened in these areas’ (p.185).
There was a group of kids hanging about with a dog on this stretch when we passed by. I felt wary, but they gave us no trouble at all. Their dog tried to follow us – twice – in a non-threatening way, and I told it each time to go back to the kids, which it did. It all seemed good-humoured enough to me.
Eventually, after seemingly miles and miles and miles of this dull stretch with some sort of industry bustling away on the opposite bank a surprising distance away, we went up a steep squiggly path northwards, just shy of where the river followed suit (but less squigglily). We went behind a housing estate with green security fencing, then downhill.
Nature was calling but there was nowhere suitable to stop. We got to a dodgy-looking bridge with a dodgy-looking hotel down below. There was nowhere else suitable to go, so we went down some dodgy steps with dodgy handrails and took a look at the place. It seemed well dodgy, but we went in.
Inside, it was very purple and smelt of paint or varnish, and we ordered a bottle of Bud each: quick and simple. We sat round the corner, well away from the small clientele already there, but nevertheless with a decent view of the stage with its purple back-curtain. The facilities were used, the drinks were drunk, and we left quickly.
Back up the dodgy steps with their dodgy handrails, we were glad we’d gone. We’ve used worse facilities than that before.
Are we nearly there yet?
Continuing on, we followed ‘the route of a disused railway’ (p.191) where ‘bridge abutments and the odd girder decorate the trail’ (p.191). The girders were placed like benches, but the rivets made them look very uncomfortable.
I was feeling very weary at this point – but we were very close to finishing! This thought spurred me on past the factories and Swan Hunter, which is still open but doesn’t build ships any more. We saw the last piece of Hadrian’s Wall where it diverted towards the Tyne.
Inside Segedunum, the Roman fort at Wallsend, the official finish/start point is a statue of a made-up Roman centurion, Sentius Tectonicus. We had done it!
We had walked 84 miles (plus extra to and from accommodation) along rivers, up and down crags, in perfect weather, in inclement weather, refreshed, knackered. I’ve never walked so far in a week in all my life. We got our passports stamped, bought the obligatory fridge magnet souvenir and a badge, and looked for the Metro station.
We got the Metro back to Newcastle, getting off at Monument and walking to our hotel from there. There’s a bath!
Because of the rain, I haven’t been taking many photos, so I haven’t checked my phone much. I did notice at some point during the day that seven senior royals were flying to Aberdeen. Given that Queen was at Balmoral, it sounded like she was on her last legs. Unpacking at the hotel, I saw I’d got another notification: the Queen is dead. Long live the King.
It feels a bit weird having a king instead of a queen. I’ve only ever known a queen as the UK’s monarch, although my mam remembers her coronation. They all piled round to her nana’s because she had a television set. It could be a long time till we have a queen again: the next two people in the line of succession to the throne are both male (William and George), with George’s sister being the first female (until George has kids of his own).
But back to more personally pressing matters: I asked Colin to run me a bath. He did so, and it was even more heavenly than that signpost, so long ago.
(Still singing ‘Fog on the Tyne’?)
- (2020). Hadrian’s Wall Path, 6th edition. Trailblazer Publications: Surrey, UK