Quayside seaside

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When you live close to a place, it’s easy to take it for granted.  Newcastle upon Tyne is my nearest city, only ten miles away, yet I rarely visit.  Walking down to the quayside on my first day of jury service, I feel as though I’m in a foreign city.  It’s early, so the streets are almost empty.  The sun, during this heatwave, gilds the sandstone of the buildings.  Tables and chairs lining the pavements outside the restaurants are unoccupied.  Lorries are unloading, preparing for the day ahead.  I walk, coffee in hand, at a leisurely pace.  At times like these, I can imagine being happy living in the heart of a city.

To reach the quayside, where the law courts are located, I walk down Grey Street.  I begin at the monument to Earl Grey, whose achievements as prime minister in the 1830s are possibly over-shadowed by the tea that is named after him.  From the monument, the street sweeps steeply downwards in a grand arc.  Some of Newcastle’s finest architecture is found here: imposing Georgian buildings of honeyed stone.  This is the grandest street in the city and has been voted one of the most attractive in the UK.

At the bottom of the bank, the impressive arch of the bridge that carries the railway over Grey Street is the gateway to the street known as Side.  This is one of only two medieval streets left in the city.  I turn the corner and hear a cacophony of kittiwakes.  The kittiwakes of Newcastle are unique, the most inland colony of the birds in the country.  Kittiwakes aren’t like other gulls, which are now used to living in towns and cities and scavenging our leftovers.  They are true sea birds, who live here for a few months of the year to breed.  The first kittiwakes arrived in the 1950s to roost on the Tyne Bridge and the buildings surrounding it and they have returned every year since.  In August they head out to sea once more.  (Cameras weren’t allowed in the court building while I was on jury service so these photos were all taken on my phone.  Those of the kittiwakes don’t do justice to the volume of birds nesting here.)

Bessie Surtees’ House

Here at the quayside is ‘Bessie Surtees’ house’.  Actually, it is a pair of merchants’ houses from the 16th and 17th century.  One of the tenants was Bessie’s father.  She climbed from a first floor window to elope with John Scott, later the Lord Chancellor of England, in 1772.  They travelled to Scotland to get married.  The houses are five stories high and would have had shops at street level and residences above.  Inside, there are rare examples of Jacobean domestic architecture.

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Swing Bridge (foreground) and High Level Bridge

Newcastle is famous for the bridges that span our river, the Tyne.  The bridges are important to those of us who live here.  They’re a source of pride, but also a recognisable sign of home.  Travelling back here from the south by train, I would sigh with pleasure as the train rolled onto the High Level Bridge and the vista of the bridges told me I was home.  There has been a bridge here since Roman times, when it was a stone bridge known as the pons aelius.  Others came and went, until the current Swing Bridge, which rotates 360 degrees to let river traffic through.  It opened in 1876 and is on the site of the old Roman bridge.

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From front: Tyne Bridge, Swing Bridge, High Level Bridge, Metro Bridge

The Tyne Bridge is the most famous of the bridges on the river.  It was opened in 1928, designed by the same architects who designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932.  But there are five bridges within this short stretch of river.  The High level bridge opened in 1849.  It has a road and pedestrian walkway on the bottom level and a railway above.  The Queen Elizabeth II metro bridge opened in 1981 a few days before the city’s metro started running.

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Gateshead Millennium Bridge

Gateshead Millennium Bridge is the most recent bridge to cross the Tyne.  The bridge carries cyclists and pedestrians to the south of the river, where the Baltic art gallery and Sage music centre are based.  It opened in 2001 and is known as the ‘blinking eye’ because of the way it tilts open.  I’d never seen the ‘eye’ open, until one lunch-time, when, freed from the jury assembly room, I walked along the quayside at just the right moment.  The quayside has been re-branded as the city’s ‘seaside’, complete with a ‘beach’ and deck chairs.

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The Sage

There are periods of time that feel like gifts.  The moments I spent this summer walking by the river in the early mornings, were an unexpected bonus of carrying out my jury service.  Pieces of stolen time, accompanied by a soundtrack of kittiwakes.

58 thoughts on “Quayside seaside

  1. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge is spectacular, Andrea. You’re so right about living somewhere and taking it for granted. I lived in Washington, DC for almost 40 years and I took the monuments, museums and history for granted. Beautiful photos…I’m so happy you had jury duty. 🙂

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    • It is Jill. One of the guys on jury duty with me said he saw it being delivered – apparently it came fully made, carried down to the quayside on a huge crane. It must be interesting living in one of the world’s most famous cities as your home – I can just imagine taking it for granted as you go about your normal business, forgotten how great it is to live there.

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  2. You are so right about the fact that we often neglect the places near us the most. Taking advantage of your jury duty to explore this city is a great idea, especially since you bring us so many lovely photos and interesting stories related to Newcastle. Living in the US, I’m always fascinated to find similarities between the UK and the States, either through the architecture or the names of the towns and cities. We have our Newcastle in Delaware and in Washington State.
    I am a big fan of bridges and Paris has its share of beautiful bridges. Yours are pretty gorgeous too.
    Thank you, Andrea, for sharing the beauty of unexpected moments.

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  3. I admit to having had a completely different picture of Newcastle upon Tyne and had no idea it was steeped in such history. Big town and cities look so different first thing in the morning. I remember arriving in Paris just after dawn once and it seemed so tranquil and spacious. Also, the City of London on a Sunday — that’s the best time to appreciate the amazing architecture.

    Thanks for taking me on a tour that explains why some of my friends that went to university to your nearest city, stayed on there afterwards.

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    • Thanks Sarah, yes, Newcastle has a huge amount of history – I only scratched the surface here. Generally it’s a very attractive city and quite small, so it doesn’t feel overwhelming like some cities do.

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  4. Lovely; I feel as if I am walking along Grey Street with you. My grandmother, Alice was from Newcastle and I imagine her walking along Grey Street and possibly visiting Besse Surtee’s House. You can find beauty everywhere in any circumstance if you have the eyes to “see.” Thank you for this beautiful post.
    x

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  5. Awesome photos, love! It was fun to take a leisurely stroll through a city with you for a bit. You know I have equal fascination with both cities and nature. There truly is something about a city, especially in the morning as it is waking up, that can be very magical. The calm before the storm. : )

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  6. I loved this tour around your city, Andrea, and for the first time I wondered if you have a Geordie accent. It’s my favourite – I’ve been chatting to another blogger this week about regional differences and this came up, so it was on my mind when I read your post.
    Also, I remember seeing a news item about a lady who got her sight back after an operation, and went to see the kittiwakes because she had spent much of her life walking under that bridge and hearing them. It was a very moving article, and one that stayed with me. The kittiwakes are obviously a feature there.

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    • Thanks Jenny. Yes, I do have a Geordie accent. Apparently Geordie accents are quite popular, which is why we have a lot of call centres up here. I hadn’t heard that news about the woman and the kittiwakes, but it’s wonderful, thanks for sharing that.

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  7. Really nice to read about your ‘hometown’ Andrea. Your renewed interest in your surroundings and to have explored these sights in such unexpected circumstances comes across so enthusiastically and I was pulled right in as I walked with you. I love your photos always and these of all the different bridges with the narrative made for an enriching read. I love all the little stories and background you added, fascinating about the kittiwakes too. I had no idea! It’s great isn’t it to be a tourist on our own doorstep. Lovely post, thank you 🙂

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  8. I like your description of the buildings as ‘honeyed stone’ – so apt. I’ve never been there but some of the buildings in Paris, where I’m originally from, are this color too.

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  9. Love ‘a cacophony of kittiwakes.’ My son works in Newcastle but I was only ever there briefly. Grey Street looks magnificent.

    One of the first albums I owned was ‘Five Bridges’ by The Nice, after the bridges across the Tyne, though I gather there are more than five these days.

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    • There are more than five now Roy, though the others are further upriver – these are the most spectacular ones, especially in such a short stretch. You’ll have to go for another visit with your son sometime and have a good look around 🙂

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  10. There’s something about a city in the early morning that most people never see. Cities are such an interesting place for me to experience because each part of the day has a different feel. I enjoy watching the changing populations and their focus as morning shifts to afternoon to evening to night. Thank you for the lovely tour of Newcastle!

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    • You’re welcome JM. Yes, early morning most definitely has a different feel to the rest of the day and because it was so warm, there was a lot of activity throughout the day that wouldn’t have taken place normally.

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  11. We do tend to take things for granted, I agree. When we decided on moving to the States I suddenly became so interested – and frantically began visiting at last minute – in places I still had on my to go list..funny, and to think I lived in such a small country.
    Lovely post, Andrea. Thanks for the tour. I love that Millenium bridge. Awesome design!

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    • Thanks for visiting with me Karin, yes if I was to leave the UK, there’d be so many places I still haven’t visited, because we always tended to take holidays abroad, rather than seeing what was wonderful on our doorstep. Now we have the dog we’re holidaying at home, so we’ll hopefully discover some of those places.

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  12. Andrea,

    I spent a few hours wandering along the quayside at Newcastle in about – let me see – 1974! It’s probably the only time I’ve ever been there. But I had my father’s old camera with me and took some photographs of the bridges and their reflections in puddles on the quayside. When my friends saw the prints they said “oh, they’re good, you should be a photographer” Well to cut a long story short I became a professional photographer in about 1990 and I’m still going.

    I enjoyed your piece – it really brought the area to life. You make the most of your moments.

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  13. Thank you so much for all this great description. I enjoy taking walking tours when I travel and I felt like you were my guide! Now to see this all in person. Lovely photographs to along with the writing.

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  14. Beautiful post. I lived in Darlington for a while and visited Newcastle a few times. I also knew another doctor who leave on the Quayside and could see the boats coming in… Like many other cities it has changed plenty recently. Probably time to visit again soon. Thanks for reminding me 🙂

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