Time on the Tyne (and Wear)

Last month we were lucky enough to enjoy a weekend away from home in an area I had never visited, but heard lots about, Tyneside. Rather than getting a direct train from Peterborough to Newcastle, I’d planned a slightly more unusual route to enable me to try out a new Train Operator (for me), with us changing at York for a Grand Central service to Sunderland (read about that here).

Sunderland Minster and the adjacent Almhouses

At Sunderland, we had just under an hour to change before catching a local Northern service to Newcastle, so opted to do a whistle-stop tour of the city centre to see what sights there were. With limited time, we decided to first head to look at Sunderland’s Minster located on the west side of the city centre. There has been a church on the site of the minster for over a thousand years, and until 1998 was known as St Michael & All Angels’ Church when, following the granting of city status, it was redesignated ‘Sunderland Minster’. The Minster continued to be a parish church until 2007 when it ceased to act in this role for the parish of Bishopwearmouth.

Outside the Minster is Bishopwearmouth square, the former village green of Bishopwearmouth before the parish and village were subsumed into the ever-growing port of Sunderland. The square is now peaceful place to take a break and provides a beautiful view of the Minster and adjacent Almhouses. With limited time before our train to Newcastle, we moved on, heading back to the station via the Old Firehouse, a events venue and restaurant in the redeveloped (as the name suggests) Victorian fire station.

Crossing Newcastle’s High Level Bridge

Approaching Newcastle station over the High-Level bridge (the oldest of the current seven bridges), we were treated to one of the best views of the Tyne Bridge, opened in 1928 and possibly one of the most defining symbols of Tyneside, having become Grade II* listed in 2018. The Tyne Bridge is also home to a colony of around 700 pairs of Kittiwakes, the furthest inland colony in the world, and the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership has been formed to protect the colony.

Having arrived in the city of Newcastle, our first stop was our hotel on the city’s Quayside, on the north bank of the Tyne below the city centre. After a brief rest, we ventured across the Tyne (and another of the seven bridges – the Swing Bridge) to Gateshead and the well recommended ‘By the River Brew Co.’. Located in a collection of shipping containers, under the Tyne Bridge itself, there is a brewery and tap room, a restaurant, a bike shop and a hawker market with street food and independent traders. Unfortunately most traders were closed on our visit, however we were able to enjoy a couple of beers and some excellent food from the Fat Hippo burger company.

The Hawker Market at By the River Brew Co.

With the sun rising and a distinct lack of fog on the Tyne, our only full day in Tyneside began with a wander around the corner to a little coffee shop called Quay Ingredient for breakfast. Opting for the traditional Breakfast Trio Stottie, we sat by the river to eat, before heading east along the north bank to our next destination. The Ouse Burn is a small tributary of the River Tyne, and since 2009 and the installation of a tidal barrage maintaining high water, the lower Ouse valley has become a hub for arts and creative industry.

On the west bank of the Ouse Burn, in the shadow of the Ouseburn Viaduct is the Ouseburn City Farm, a small green oasis which has existed since 1976. Now a registered charity, the farm has placements for adults with learning difficulties and alongside this, provides 36,000 visitors with the opportunity to learn about nature. Completely free to look around, the charity runs on donations and, as an outside attraction, was bustling with children and adults during our visit.

Our breakfast view of the Millennium & Tyne Bridges

Climbing out of the Ouse Burn valley, we headed for the nearest Metro station, in one of the few districts of Newcastle we could name, Byker. From Byker’s metro station, we caught the Yellow line west, following the Tyne to where it meets the North Sea, Tynemouth. The journey was fairly uneventful, although Nexus (the Metro operator) have added some nice touches to the station at Wallsend, with the signage being in English and Latin to highlight the area’s importance for being the end of Hadrian’s Wall.

My first impression of Tynemouth station was awe, with the station providing access to a popular tourist destination in the early years of its operations. With cast iron and glass, the station was full of natural light and it was odd to see such a large space being served by the small, two carriage Metrocars. The station underwent a £3.68 million restoration project in 2011/12 which resulted in it being removed from the heritage at risk register. The large open space adjacent to the ends of the former bay platforms is used to host a market every weekend, which doubles as a farmer’s market once a month.

Under Tynemouth station’s canopy

Tynemouth town centre was just as beautiful as the station, and it was just a five-minute walk down the main street to the seafront, Castle and Priory. With the town located on the cliffs overlooking the mouth of the Tyne and the sea, we didn’t head down to the beach itself (and the delightful looking fish restaurant) but remained at ‘town-level’ and opted to eat at the Gibraltar Rock pub situated next to the entrance to the Castle & Priory.

After a huge portion of fish and chips and a pint to wash it down, we headed next door to make the most of our English Heritage (EH) membership and explore the Tynemouth Castle & Priory. The site of the castle and priory is an odd mix of the 9th century priory, 12th century fortifications, and the brutalist 20th century former coast guard station and coastal defences. Free for EH members and £8 for non-member adults, the Castle & Priory is worth an explore for both the history and the stunning views out over the coast.

Tynemouth’s castle, priory and former coastguard station

Following our explore of Tynemouth, we headed back to the Metro station to continue heading east/west/north on the Yellow line, as once it’s reached the coast at Tynemouth the line loops to the north, before heading back into the city, crossing itself at Monument, and heading across the river and back out to the coast, terminating at South Shields. Alighting at Jesmond, we had a walk through some of the grand Victorian/Georgian streets of the area before reaching Exhibition Park and our next destination, the Wylam Brewery.

The Palace of Arts was built as part of the North East Coast Exhibition of Industry, Science and Art, and is the only building remaining from this exhibition. The building hosted the Museum of Science and Industry for 50 years before it moved into the city centre and was replaced by a Military Vehicle Museum. With the being sold by the council in 2011, it was unused for a period, but became home to the Wylam Brewery in 2016, with beers now brewed on site and served in the beer garden to the side.

Wylam Brewery in Exhibition Park

Due to the timing of our visit, and the Covid restrictions in place, the inside of the brewery wasn’t accessible however you could see the large, copper brewing stills through the windows and I’d definitely like to visit again to see the inside of the former Palace of Arts. As well as tours for £10, the brewery also hosts events, so it definitely looks like a worthwhile place to spend an evening post-Covid.

After a day involving plenty of walking, climbing hills and exploring, Beth decided to have a break before we went out for dinner and so headed for the hotel, whilst I headed back to Central station to tick off some stations. As I walked towards West Jesmond metro station, I found one of the e-scooters currently on trial in Newcastle and decided to give it a go for the short journey to the metro. The journey cost me less than £2 and was lots of fun, although the following morning we established that the scooters are great on the flat but don’t like hills!

One of Newcastle’s E-scooters

Back at Newcastle station, I had timed my bonus rail journey almost perfectly to catch the evening Chathill train. With the exception of Morpeth and Alnmouth, the local stations on the East Coast Mainline between Newcastle and Berwick are poorly served, only receiving two services a day in each direction, with them being an extension of the regular Morpeth service.

With Chathill being essentially in the middle of nowhere, the only way out was to wait 20 minutes for the service back to Newcastle, giving me time to explore the station and tiny village it serves. Standing at the entrance to the station car park (3 spaces), I was able to see every building in the village before wandering onto the southbound platform to discover the waiting room had a heritage display but was locked (supposedly for social distancing!)

Chathill station

For our final evening on Tyneside, we headed into Newcastle city centre to find somewhere to eat, and after trying a number of places to find them full, a member of staff at the YOLO Townhouse saw us wandering and invited us to take an empty table in their outside seating area. We had an excellent meal, sharing a lovely bottle of wine, with both our meals (steak & fries and Chicken skewers) being cooked to perfection. I also had an amazingly decadent desert calzone which essentially caused me to have to roll back to the hotel for sleep!

With booked tickets on one of CrossCountry’s HST services (read about that here) we were up relatively early on our final morning to head to the station. Opting for some traditional Newcastle food, we headed to the Greggs opposite the station for a sausage roll (and a breakfast cob & coffee), before heading inside to catch the train to York.

Our excellent food at YOLO Townhouse

Our short time on Tyneside was enough for me to fall in love with the area, and there is so much more to do in both Newcastle itself and the wider region. We’ll definitely be heading back to the North East and exploring Tyneside some more, as well as other towns and cities in that part of the country.

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