2 May 2009

A Short Break in the North East

I've been away for a few days, staying in a cottage at a lighthouse in South Shields. The location of the lighthouse, close to the cliffs was fantastic. There is a fascinating industrial heritage to the area of Marsden/Whitburn where we were staying. Until the late sixties the whole area was home to a massive coal mine under the sea, a large village and railway sidings etc. Following the closure of the mine the railway was dismantled, the village demolished and the site has been restored as a sort of cliff-top park.

On the way up, I called in at a diesel railway gala on the Battlefield Line. I'd not been to such a gala before - and it was interesting that many of those present seemed just as thrilled at the puff of smoke produced by these locomotives as followers of steam trains. Many of the people there (including me of course) will never remember the days when steam trains were in service in Britain. The term for producing such smoke I have learnt is 'clagging'. The engine in the picture I think is a class 37.

The line is called the Battle Field line on account of its proximity to Bosworth Field...

No visit to the North East would be complete without a trip to Hadrian's Wall. Its bleak and remote location and length from Tynemouth to Carisle make the wall seem even more spectactular. The fort at Housesteads is particularly good.

And Hexham, with its abbey is well worth a visit too.

I made a brief visit to Holy Island - returning after a week long stay sometime in the early eighties. The island was a bit changed and I have changed a bit too. The Island is far more commercial and busier than I remember it previously.

...and a picture from my files.

Of course I had to make a visit to Newcastle, which I combined with meeting a school friend who I'd not seen for about 15 years. Loads of great buildings in the City and of course bridges. Thankfully there isn't a 6-lane motorway across the Tyne here - and no plans for one.

Not that I am obsessed with lighthouses, they always make a good picture. I came across this lighthouse, St Mary's, just north of Whitley Bay. A good arty shot!

And just to prove that it's not all grim up North, here's an example of the Nortumbrian Coast - truly lovely long clean and empty beaches!

These turbines were spotted at Blyth. An information plaque at the port explained that there are ambitions for industry in the North East to develop renewables - much like our call for Lewisham top open a Green Technology Park - proving that where the political will exists these things can happen.

I also called in at the 'Historic Market Town' of Alnwick - I wasn't sure that we were building new market towns. Similarly, Gravesend is described as 'Heritage Riverside Town' or similar on the signs on the A2. Perhaps I'm getting a bit old, but it seems a bit daft to me.

And this gruesome find is not what you want to stumble across whilst driving across the moors in the twilight! The gallows are at Elsdon. The wikipedia entry has a bit more information about the victim, William Winter. Let's hope that we have something less gruesome in Coulgate Street if it gets pedestrianised.

A rainy day (you get a few of these in the North East) and a visit to the 'branch' of York's National Railway Museum, called Locomotion. The museum houses amongst other things the prototype for the Deltic, the Timothy Hackworth steam engine that raced (and lost) against Stephenson's Rocket and this rather interesting gem, an electric locomotive built for North Eastern Railway (NER) No 1, LNER No 4075-6480, Ex BR number 26500. It was built in 1905 for working the Newcastle Riverside Branch. Notice the third rail collector and the pantograph. I think I'd be delighted if something with this amount of style rattled through Brockley rather than the rather boring EMUs used on the Thameslink.

The museum is at Shildon, which until 1984 was home to a massive coach building plant for British Rail Engineering Ltd employing half of the town. The decision to close the plant, presumably presented at the time as being about 'efficiency' is particularly poignant as we remember the thirty years since Thatcher came to power. Another great product of Shildon is interestingly fake fur.

Chocolate lovers will be pleased to see this shunter that worked at Fawdon, the Newcastle plant for Rowntrees.

Perhaps Boris could have made good use of this when this February?

And do you think passengers on this carriage, from the first passenger railway, the Stockton-Darlington would have suffered from the same levels of overcrowding commuters regularly experience at Brockley?

And finally the trip home, via the Middlesborough Transporter Bridge. Built in 1911 and still working. Made particularly famous by the Auf Weidersehen Pet series about its supposed dismantling and sale to the Americans - presumably a taken on the story of London Bridge. It took me a while to work out why it doesn't look as old as it is - and I think it's the paint colour. This blue is not very Edwardian - but still the structure can be seen and has an excellent form. Recommended if you're in the area.

I really enjoyed the North East and intend to go back sometime soon to spend some time on the beaches and to explore some more of the archaelogical and historic monuments of this great part of Britain.

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