The railroad rumbles past the back of our cottage on a high viaduct, but to get to the station we must walk up the blocked off cobblestone street, down Newcastle market past the gigantic social security building, under the four-lane through a pedestrian subway, into the shopping center parking garage, up a ramp and then stairs, through the shopping center, past the mailbox and the betting parlor and the new Australian pub under construction, past the bus station and the Chinese buffet, up the spiral staircase and over another four-lane on a pedestrian bridge, across the station approach road while dodging roaring taxis, and up the hill; for all that the beautiful old stone station is not in use; a rather ugly modern building has replaced it.
Newcastle on the Tyne is only a fifteen-minute trip from Durham by train, and judging by the popularity of this run it is where Durham loves to shop and play. It was drizzling just enough to wet the streets and our hair when we left the train, so we opted for a museum to start out. /An attractive clock
We had a bookshop errand: to try to find Book Five of the Dorothy Dunnett 6-book series, the Lymond Chronicles. Tourist Information gave us a map with three bookstores and a half-dozen museums marked, and we were on our way. We invested three pounds for an all-day Metro pass. Since the Metro goes as far west as the airport and down to the shore and south to Sunderland, and includes the South Shields ferry, this is a fine bargain indeed.
Most of the Metro was built by reusing old railway lines, which were no doubt built for the coal trade and later used for holiday excursions to the shore. The new part was one line beneath the city that was clean and smooth-flowing, but still related in design to its London cousin.
Up on the surface, Newcastle was bright and cheery, the sun having emerged while we rode the Metro. We walked along a prosperous shopping street, past a jewelry store bearing a striking gold Rolex clock and displaying a gold-covered mobile phone costing 8,000 pounds. We weren't even tempted! Newcastle skyscraper
The Laing Museum offers a charming entrance. Strips of paving tile have been curled up and folded back to form benches -- or so it appears. The woman entering ahead of us complained about the bright specks of azurite in the paving; it was too slippery. We liked the architect's extension of artistic expression from the interior of the museum to the plaza. Indoors, we found a pleasant collection of paintings and a rather non-descript traveling art exhibit featuring various conceptions of Paradise.
We almost missed the best part of the museum, a rendition of the city's history over 300 years through its arts and crafts. We stood spellbound before a lovely video of the art of bookbinding. We enjoyed the work of illustrators, whose wood engravings rivalled the later work of those who used steel plates. This history / art display was a favourite with visitors young and old. Whitley Bay beach house
We tried all three bookstores without success, but enjoyed another appealing view of city squares in the university district, near a church with a lovely hollow square tower crowned with pinnacles. Then we decided to ride the Metro out to the beach.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Tyneside, Whitely Bay, and North and South Shields were well-known and well-loved English Seaside Resorts. The old ornate railway stations are now Metro stations. Newcastle's Metro, like a lot of modern urban transit, has learned to cut costs by running on the honor system, so there was scarcely an official to be seen as people boarded and got off at one station or another.
But the seaside resorts are only a shadow of their former selves, as holiday goers are lured by inexpensive air fares to warmer Mediterranean spas or exotic continental cities.
At Whitely Bay, the North Sea was empty and flat, at least on this sunny Spring Day. The houses line both sides of the streets down to the beach, with Bed and Breakfast signs in most windows. Peeling paint on several hotel fronts indicate that it has been some time since this resort was highly North Shields pub profitable. One or two people strolled along the promenade, above moss-covered rocks and brown sand.
A side street full of cafes and discos indicated that the beach resorts today are weekend venues and not holiday destinations. The B&B's all had signs welcoming contractors, and we saw several clutches of young soon-to-be workingmen, but we couldn't figure out what they were planning to build. Something big, it appears.
By the way, the nickname for Northeasterners is "Geordie." There are books of Geordie jokes for sale, but we have delicately avoided using the term in public because we wouldn't want to offend one of these large ugly-looking men whose joys are probably football, mates, beer, in some order.
North Shields was the next stop, where we were greeted by a square full of pubs, betting parlors, amusement parlors (filled with those complicated-looking English slot machines), and a rank of taxis waiting for business; it was a little too early. Signs displayed the cab fares for a ride back to Newcastle.
We walked down the hill to the ferry station, and as we crossed the river we saw two ships at the dock: ferries to Scandinavia or perhaps one ferry and one small cruise ship. We have seen the ads for three-night cruises to Amsterdam; one night on the ship, one night in Amsterdam, and the third night Wear River, Sunderland back on the ship. Didn't seem like much of a cruise for day people!
We enjoyed the ferry ride -- we enjoy all our travelling about -- and found South Shields no lovelier than North Shields, so we rode the Metro to Sunderland and then back to Central Station.
We like Newcastle. It's a brisk, prosperous city, with lots of variety in its attractions. Our next trip we'll want to go down by the quays and walk across the Millenium Bridge, which opens and shuts like an eyelid when a ship wishes to pass beneath it. We'd also like to see the BALTIC center for contemporary art.
Northeastern ports were immense in the nineteenth century; Hartlepool was even bigger than Newcastle. Although we don't expect the heavy industry to return, shipping could continue to grow, and northeastern England is closer to the Baltic. Sea traffic is a natural for Europe, because the railroads are predominantly for passengers, and the highways are already packed with lorries.
Northeast England has a heavy blue-collar history, and we find we like it a lot.