On Monday 23 May I caught the 0720 bus from Hexham police station through to Heddon-on-the-Wall. At Hexham bus station a Go-Ahead bus leaves just in front of this Stagecoach and they leapfrog their way to Newcastle. In what sane and sensible world does this make sense? I started walking at NZ134670 before 0800. It was a beautiful morning. There is a little park in the village given in memory of the Knott sons – see my blog of St James and St Basil in Fenham. The track follows the Vallum ditch, then down to the into the village.
There is a stretch of the Wall on the outskirts of the village – the circular feature is a medieval oven. This is the longest stretch of broad, 3 metre wide, wall.
It is ironic that this stretch of Wall is not on the Trail, and it is also ironic that the Trail now heads back west through the village.
Killiebrig is an old name – at the bottom of the hill is Killiebrig Quarry. A bit of research (and today’s walk is one that will lead to quite a lot of internet research) tells me it started operation in 1887. It had a reputation throughout the north-east for its fine quality sandstone. The engine foundations still exist but the chimney was pulled down in the 1980s. The stone was carried in wagons, down the incline from the quarry, to the corner of the Close House cricket ground and then eastwards to join the Wylam Waggonway. In the official Trail Guide Anthony Burton comments that some of the houses have been designed for the Costa del somewhere – but they all have lovely views over the Tyne Valley. I am one of those odd people who find pylons – sorry, Transmission Towers – quite interesting.
The track brings you down to the grounds of Close House – now a posh hotel. I have never been here, though Hannah organised the music for a wedding reception several years ago. She got the fee, I did the driving – and I’m still waiting for payment for my petrol. The site has been occupied since at least the C13, the current house dates from 1779. There is a good piece on the excellent Heddon History website.
Along passed the walled garden, through a small copse where the rhododendrons are coming into flower, to the golf course. My only contact with golf is post-funeral bunfights at the Golf Club in Ponteland, and I have to say – with apologies to my golfing friends – that I can’t see the point of the game. I don’t enjoy the landscape it makes very much either. You might also get the impression that Close House is not welcoming to those who walk beside their pitches. I propose a scientific study. Count how many people walk on the pitch when faced with a large sign like this. Then replace it with a small, polite sign. I bet there wouldn’t be much difference.
We have now reached the level of the Tyne, and join the Wylam Waggonway – this website and many others. This line was built circa 1748 for John Blackett, who owned Wylam Colliery, and carried coal from the Colliery to staithes on the Tyne at Lemington where it was loaded onto keel boats. The rails were originally made of wood, then re-laid in iron in 1808. Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly (photos in my Beamish blog) were built in 1813 and 1815 respectively for Christopher Blackett, and they ran until the 1860s. The colliery closed in 1868 and the waggonway became disused, being incorporated into the Scotswood and North Wylam railway, a branch of the Newcastle and Carlisle opened in 1875. The line closed in 1966. This is John Gibson’s 1788 map.
Here are two books about this waggonway and the many others in this area. Alan C. Clothier, Beyond the Blaydon Races, Ely: Melrose Press, 2014 – a huge amount of information, but very badly presented. I have to ask why have a title which bears no relation to the fact that this book is about mines and waggonways? Les Turnbull, Railways before George Stephenson, 2012 was a book I really enjoyed.
As the track is metalled (as is most of today) it is quite hard on the feet, but the blossom and the river made up for that. There is a high level play area for those who can’t be bothered to walk. I’m not sure what this piece of sculpture is all about.
The Country Park centre and café was closed, but it was not even 0900 so I can’t complain – website. The ice cream van hadn’t arrived.
The Battle of Newburn Ford of 28 August 1640 was a Civil War Battle – even my clever wife hadn’t heard of the Second Bishops’ War. 20,000 Scots on the north bank, 5,000 English on the south. The Scots won and the city of Newcastle surrendered to them two days later. The website contains the marvellous line “Contrary to first impressions, a visit to Newburn is particularly rewarding” – there is a slogan for the Tourist Board. A less academic website is this one.
I am sure they are very proud of their new boat house, but does it have to be such an ugly, forbidding building, with the security lights blazing away in broad daylight? Next door is The Boathouse Pub. There is a plaque commemorating George Stephenson and his father Robert. Now I know a lot about George’s relationship with his son, Robert, but nothing about his father. I should have noted that when I joined the Waggonway a few miles back, if I had turned right towards Wylam instead of left towards Newburn, I would have passed the National Trust property, Stephenson’s Birthplace – website. I have not visited it in my time in the North East. When I spoke to the Stephenson Locomotive Society the other week and mentioned I was moving to Derby, someone commented that it was good enough for George – he is buried in a church in Chesterfield which northernvicar will visit.
The pub also has stones marking the depth of water in the Tyne floods of 1856, 1830, 1815 and 1771. The Great Flood of 1771 destroyed every Tyne bridge except the one at Corbridge. There is a newspaper article about it here.
Newburn Bridge was built in 1893. There is a good website about all the Tyne bridges – you can spend hours reading about them all.
Stephenson was married in Newburn church, which is one I have never blogged as it is kept locked. I will send them a message and see if I can arrange access.
Walking the trail, which runs along the old railway, you avoid all the settlement. All the pylons converge on the site of the old Stella power stations – photo here. They were coal fired stations, one on each side of the Tyne, with coal delivered by rail, but the ash taken away by boat. They lasted until 1991, and you can read about the £4 million demolition here.
You pass a sign for “Percy Pit” which sounds like something out of an Awdry Railway Story, and can read the details here.
The Lemington Centre is next to the trail. It is a centre for keep fit, Children’s centre – a healthy living centre – website. They have a very nice café – tea and cake for £1.50. Highly recommended! The history of the area can be read here, and there is more about the parish in my blog on Sugley church.
In order to cross the A1 you leave the old railway and head north, then back south with a view of the old Scotswood Railway Bridge – website. John Wilson Carmichael painted the original bridge. Until 1982 trains between Carlisle and Newcastle used this line – so I have travelled it – then they diverted them via the Metrocentre on the south bank. There is another refreshment opportunity at a “burger van” parked here. I walked past!
This statue is called “Yesterday, Today, Forever” and was unveiled in 2012. It commemorates the 38 men and boys who lost their lives in the Montagu Pit Disaster of 30 March 1925 when an inrush of water from a burst seam flooded the mine shaft. The children represent the future – note the iphone. I like the frog in the boy’s pocket. The sculpture was made by Xceptional Designs – sad that the name of the artist is not recorded. There is a newspaper report here.
The trail leads on through landscape that has changed hugely in the last few decades. Lord Armstrong built his engineering works on this part of the river – have a look at this website and there are various youtube clips too.
You come down and cross the Scotswood Road (now a fast dual carriageway) and then walk beside the Tyne. There are various information boards and some interesting art – this one is by David McMillan. The boards are all labelled NBPMC, but information only goes so far. Nothing tells me what NBPMC stands for!
I stopped at a rather nice Deli – last time I sat here my daughter was taking her driving test.
Here is an even weirder piece of art – it is called “Tipping off the World” and is by Anthony Burton. Apparently the elephant is ridding itself of its load – see this website. These circular bricks are “Spheres” by Richard Coles.
Across the river are Dunston Staithes – website. Once 5.5 million tons of coal were shipped from here every year. They were apparently open to walk along last year, but the website has not been updated for this year. There were similar, but smaller structures, on our side of the river.
Then you catch the first view of the Newcastle Bridges – the Redheugh Bridge (1983), King Edward Bridge (1906), Metro Bridge (1981), High Level Bridge (1849), Swing Bridge (1876), Tyne Bridge (1928) and Gateshead Millennium Bridge (1999).
The Rivergod Tyne is on the wall of one of the hotels beside the river.
I then climbed the steep steps up to the Castle Keep and the Cathedral – time for lunch with a Canon (hello Clare). The state of the railway bridge is appalling – Hadrian’s Wall is in a better condition. Network Rail should be ashamed.
After lunch I went into the Cathedral and paid my respects at the tomb of John Collingwood Bruce, author of the guide to the Wall. Thank you!
I walked back to the station and jumped on a train. I think I had walked a good 12 miles. Just a handful to go!