Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Walk By The Tyne - Part 1 - Metro Centre to Dunston Staithes

Yesterday I went to the Metro Centre.  It's not my favourite place.  Some people enjoy going there regularly and have a fun day but for me the range of big chain stores, big chain cafes and restaurants and wandering through big enclosed corridors of commerce does not appeal.  If I must shop I'd prefer to be among smaller shops and more inspiring architecture.  As large shopping malls go the Metro Centre could be a lot worse.  But it's not my idea of an ideal fun day out and I was not inspired to take photos of the place yesterday.

However I was at the Metro Centre.  I've been going there regularly in the last year for laser treatment.  This is for hair removal on my face.  Scroll down to the photos if you want to avoid my transgender talk.  I know there are very hairy women and some with conditions that mean they have as much facial hair as any man.  A century ago some of them were exhibited in freak shows.  Now we think ourselves far more civilised so we just stare at them, point, or make rude comments if they don't shave thoroughly or have painful hair removal treatments. 

Anyway, I don't want to be looked on as either the bearded lady or as a guy in a frock.  So I've been visiting the Metro Centre.  The simple reason is that the clinic there is the cheapest for laser treatment in the area.  It's still not exactly cheap, just less expensive.  In theory there is funding for laser treatment for facial hair removal on the NHS for transsexual women, but first you need to be thoroughly diagnosed.  This takes time.  I have not been diagnosed by a "medically qualified" person so I cannot be referred for treatment.  So in practice many, perhaps most, transgender women pay for lots of the treatment themselves.

For me it's been important.  I live as myself full time and wear skirts almost constantly.  Feminine skirt combined with masculine stubble doesn't make walking round Newcastle easy.  The plan is that I won't have any more treatment until the NHS helps but that may be a while.  They now say my appointment with that "medically qualified" person may not be until June (it was meant to be in March) and I could well have to see her twice before she gives a diagnosis - which would take another eight weeks.  And then who knows how long it takes for the laser referral process to happen?

Anyway, this isn't meant to be another lengthy transgender monologue.  Back to the Metro Centre.  Not a place that inspires me to great raptures of excitement.  But I had a plan.  I decided that since the weather was good I would walk from there into Newcastle.  Much of the route is along the river so it seemed a good idea.   And there would be photos.  Too many photos.  Too many bad photos.  I'll post some here, and then some more later.

It's not a long walk from the Metro Centre bus station to the river.  Just across the road you join the Keelman's Way.  This is a cycleway that runs for 14 miles along the river or near the river and is part of a longer national cycleway that starts in Darlington.

Keelmen were men who rowed keels - smallish boats.  I say "smallish" but they were 40 feet long by 19 wide and I can't say I'd have enjoyed rowing such a boat if it were empty, let alone fully loaded.  The keelmen would row up and down the river from collieries, where they would be loaded with coal, to collier ships down the river.  The collier ships were too large to navigate up the Tyne.  Their work looked a bit like this - at least according to JMW Turner in 1835 in this painting "Keelman Heaving In Coals By Night."  

It was hard, hard work, with low pay.  The Keelmen would make a decent blog subject but there's a perfectly good wikipedia article already.  And there's a song, which some of you will know.  Here's an instrumental version played by Kathryn Tickell.  The words are included on that page.

Back to the walk.  On joining the Keelman's Way it's a short walk to join the river for the first time.  Here, the first view down the river towards the centre of Newcastle and Gateshead.  A police helicopter is in view in the top right corner, but I didn't know why at the time.

And two views across the river.  The spire is of St. Stephen's Church, Low Elswick, which closed in 1984. Only the tower remains.  Behind it is St. Michael's Catholic Church.  Just about visible poking above the trees on the right of the second photo is another tower, that of Newcastle Central Mosque.  That's a pretty new building - their previous mosque was burned down by racially motivated arsonists.  I must wander round that area sometime and explore it properly.

And so I came to Dunston Staithes.  The was a sad situation ongoing yesterday.  Police had been called to the river at 12.26 because there was a woman on the wrong side of the barriers on Redheugh Bridge.  That's the high bridge in the background of one of the photos below.  By the time they arrived the woman was in the river.  By the time I passed, which was only about one o'clock there were police and fire officers lining the river at intervals, several boats scouring the water, ambulances waiting on both sides and the helicopter searching from above.  The tide was coming in quickly so they were searching upstream.  They found the body of the woman last night as the tide fell, downstream near the Millennium Bridge.

If you want to you can read about it by clicking here.  A sad story.  There are photos there too and you can see Dunston Staithes as viewed from the other side of the river if you're not too overcome by the story.  It did seem a bit weird to be taking tourist pictures with such things going on but it wouldn't have helped in any way for me not to take these pictures.  I did at least wait for the police boat to move on before taking the pictures!

Yes, that's Dunston Staithes.  But what is this thing?  It was built in the 1890s and had rails on the top so coal could be transported from the coal fields direct to the river and transferred directly onto big ships.  At their peak, 140,000 tonnes of coal were loaded here every week.  It is claimed that they are the largest wooden structure in Europe with over 3,000 tonnes of wood.

They're not looking too healthy as they haven't been used in decades and there have been two fires since 2000.  Apparently there is lottery funding to restore them and work is meant to begin very soon.  Yes, lottery funding to restore something that is of no use to anyone beyond being a curiosity of industrial history.

Three Dunston facts:  (1) If I turned round I'd be looking at some flats and houses partly designed by Wayne Hemingway of the Red or Dead clothes fashion label.  They're rather nice, for a new development, but would be better if money existed to finish the estate.  (2) Brian Johnson, who has been lead singer of AC/DC since 1980, grew up in Dunston.  Yesterday there were rumours that the band may be retiring. (3) Dunston Power Station (now demolished - Costco is built on the station ash pits) is visible in the movie Get Carter.

Things looked a little different a century ago:

Onwards.  There was more walking to be done.  Looking towards my destination from Dunston.  Bridges.  Lots of bridges - sorry about the low resolution.  Believe me, six bridges are visible here.  From front to back:  Redheugh Bridge (road), King Edward Bridge (rail), Metro Bridge (Metro), High Level Bridge (road and rail), Swing Bridge (road), and Tyne Bridge (road).  Not visible is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (pedestrian) as that's just round a bend in the river.

Next time I'll take a little look at a few of the bridges - yes, more photos - and finish the walk.  It really isn't a long walk.  With photo stops and at a very relaxed pace it only took 90 minutes to get from the Metro Centre bus station to the centre of Newcastle.  Not far at all and I recommend doing it if you have the time and opportunity.  If you aren't into spending a day in a shopping mall then get the bus there and walk back.  If you are wildly keen on such a fun day out then walk there and enjoy the river and the sunshine, rewarding yourself with food and drink when you arrive.


  1. Loved reading this
    Your photos show you have a good eye and insight into the world around you
    Real shame about the long wait.

  2. Thank you, Clare, for describing your walk so well - so much nicer than that soulless Metro Centre. A couple of years ago I had an enjoyable walk between Newburn and Wylam, and I know the stretch downstream from the swing bridge quite well, so it's nice to read about the bit in the middle.

    I have mixed feelings about preserving structures such as Dunston Staithes. Being the largest timber structure in Europe gives it a certain value and appeal, but it's context - all that noise and filth of its operational days - has been lost for ever. To me, your photo from 1910 says far more about the history of the Tyne than today's remains ever can.


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