For this trip we were literally sat at home the night before wondering what we would be doing all week, and this was about 7pm at night, when I suddenly came up with the idea of heading over to North and South Shields near Newcastle, as I hadn’t been that far down the River Tyne. We checked the trains, found connections on the metro service from Newcastle to North Shields and decided to do it. So less than 12 hours later we were getting up ready to travel…
Status: North Tyneside District, Tyne & Wear (historically Northumberland), Town, England
Travel: Northern Rail (Carlisle – Newcastle Central), Tyne & Wear Metro (Monument – North Shields), Shields Ferry (North Shields – South Shields) Tyne & Wear Metro (South Shields – Newcastle Central)
Eating & Sleeping: Cafe Nero
Attractions: River Tyne, Shields Ferry, Quayside, High Lighthouse, Low Lighthouse, Tynemouth Lighthouse, Wooden Dolly, North Pier, South Shields South Pier, South Shields Lighthouse, Herd Groyne & Lighthouse, Seafarers Anchor Memorial etc
We arrived in the town of North Shields after hopping on the Tyne & Wear Metro network at Newcastle. The Metro is quite extensive, and serves Newcastle, North Shields, South Shields, Sunderland and everywhere in between. North Shield’s station is located centrally in town, and we soon arrived in the main shopping areas.
There are a number of shopping centres in the area, with the main one being called “The Beacon Centre”. It contains all the usual shops you would expect from a town centre. After a quick browse we moved on, towards the sea front, to get a view of the River Tyne and the town on far bank of the river, called South Shields.
We soon arrived in a small square which is sat on top of a hill overlooking the river and the surrounding area. Within the square are two items of note:
1) Anchor Memorial
The 1st is a Memorial to seafarers lost out at sea, in the form of a large Anchor, a fitting tribute to those who have dedicated their lives to their ships and their comrades.
2) 1 Howard Street
This rather impressive looking building is Grade Listed, and has a completion date of 1807, when it was built as a home for the Tynemouth Literary & Philosophical Society. The building has 2 storeys, and the roof is topped by stunning Welsh Slate. Apparently the roundel visible on the side of the building was also once home to a clock, much like the one in the centre above the pillars around the doorway.
From the hill you get a great view of the various Beacons and Lighthouses which have helped guide sea travellers into the town. I apologise for the slightly blurred photograph, but its the best one I got. Aside from the Lighthouse at the end of the sea wall, there are two others, in the form of the tall, white square towers, sat down near the wharfs.
The one at the bottom is the Low Lighthouse, the original one built here in 1807 by Trinity House. It is attached to a small house to the right of the main Lighthouse, which was built later in 1816. The Light actually replaced the original Low Light, which was built along with an original High Light during the 16th century. In the 17th century Cliffords Fort was built around it, a large fortress designed to protect the town (and port) from a Dutch Attack. The Light eventually became redundant and the new Low Lighthouse was built. The original Light is still important however, as it is the oldest building in this area of the town.
A similar story exists with the High Light, the original of which sits behind it out of view. The new High Light dates from around the same time as the new Low Light, and both have a commanding presence here at the waterfront.
The 3rd Lighthouse, located at the end of the Sea Wall in the distance, which encloses the entrance to the Tyne, isn’t actually part of North Shields, but is instead located in the town of Tynemouth, and the Lighthouse is called Tynemouth Lighthouse. The building was completed in 1896, to mark the position of the Tynemouth sea wall (also known as the North Pier) which was completed in tandem with the South Pier on the far side of the River. Together the two Piers helped to shelter ships that were entering or leaving the Tyne here, and also stopped sand being washed in by the tide, and silting up the river. The Piers took an incredible 54 years to complete, due to rough seas and the huge task of battling an ever present sea. In 1897 the waves grew so mighty that part of the North Pier was washed away, leaving a large hole part way along it, but it was restored by 1909.
In this picture you can see over to South Shields, and the South Pier which I mentioned earlier. It too has a Lighthouse, completed at the same time as the Tynemouth one.
In the foreground, you may have spotted a secondary pier on the far bank of the river, which has a small red building at the end, behind the large antenna on the above picture. This is called Herd Groyne, and it, along with it’s small red Lighthouse, predates the two piers, as it was finished in 1882. It is still in use, although largely superceded now by the larger Lighthouses.
The view up here is brilliant, and you can see back West along the Tyne towards Newcastle, and the huge ports which serve the area, with the towering cranes of the busy docks visible in the distance.
There are information boards around the town that tell you a bit of history about buildings and bridges in the area as well as suggesting the best route to take to see everything. We had quite a long walk around the town once we left the square, and eventually ended up at the bottom of the hill, walking along the rivers edge.
One of the other landmarks of the town is the Wooden Dollies. In 1814 a figurehead of a Wooden Dolly was placed at the entrance to Custom House Quay, and replaced by a second in 1850. The sailors used it as a good luck charm and would cut bits off it to take with them, until eventually the second dolly was too badly damaged to continue, and a third was placed on the spot 14 years later, which then lasted through to 1901 when the fourth dolly arrived. A fifth was placed in the town but in a different location, in 1958, over in Northumberland Square, but a sixth was put in the original dolly position in 1992 and is still there today, standing next to the Prince of Wales public house.
We kept moving, and passed a number of interesting buildings, such as this one, although sadly I can’t find a build date for it. The quays here are quite extensive, and a lot of them have been redeveloped for the modern era.
Sat across from it though is “The Porthole Free House” which is actually made up of two separate buildings, as there are two separate listings covering the whole structure. The 1st of these relates to this front portion of the building, which is just called “The Porthole Free House” and is listed as dating back to 1897, replacing a previous building that once stood here. It was designed by a company called W & T R Milburn from the nearby city of Sunderland, and is a typical Victorian building with fine red brick used to great effect.
The 2nd Listed Building makes up the left edge of the building, which continues on down the side of the building out of site. This is known as Numbers 65, 66 & 67 Tynemouth Borough Road, and was built in 1856 by Benjamin Green for the 4th Duke of Northumberland, Algernon Percy (1792 – 1865), and was home to local sailors. It was later converted into offices, which it remains today.
As North and South Shields lie at opposite sides of the River Tyne, and there is no Metro crossing between the two, the easiest way to get between them is the Shields Ferry. If you have purchased an all day all zone Metro Ticket then this will cover the ferry otherwise you have to pay. They are hourly and it doesn’t take long to do the crossing. The North Shields Ferry Port is located just down from the Porthole, and the crossing affords great views up and down the River.
As the Ferry left, we got a great view back at the High & Low Lighthouses, and behind the High Light the original High Light came into view, a similar yet slightly smaller construction. In the distance we could also see the ruins of Tynemouth Castle, but we would get a much better view of that when we arrived in South Shields, so I’ll cover it later. The sun was shining, and glistening across the river, and looking back from where we had left we could see the long rectangular form of the Old Customs House, a lovely building which fits in well with the character of this area of town, serenaded by the long trail the boat had left.
There has been a ferry here between North and South Shields for centuries, but the modern version is known as the Shields Ferry, which replaced the Market Place Ferry in 1972. There have been 4 vessels in used on the service:
1) Freda Cunningham (Later Sold and Replaced)
2) Shieldsman (Later Sold and Replaced)
3) The Pride of the Tyne
4) The Spirit of the Tyne
We sailed on the Spirit of the Tyne, a great little boat which made our day. Overall it was a lovely day and sailing across the Tyne was lovely, with great views down at the docks, and just getting to go on a ferry was great because it was our first one together. It docked at the other side and we set off to explore South Shields, the larger of the towns…