Staying in the North East for a few days we had half an afternoon to spare and decided to spend a couple of hours inTynemouth.
Tynemouth is readily accessible being half-an-hour from centralNewcastle-upon-Tyne on the Tyneside Metro. It has its own station which the Metro took over from the original railway station. That building is late Victorian (opened 1882) and it now has Grade II listed status. The railway which was the means of bringing thousands of seaside trippers to the coast and it must have greatly contributed toTynemouth’s prosperity. Arriving on a May day with the sunshine coming through the skylights the Victorian ironwork made a striking and most favourable impression.
The town itself is well-kept having a wide high street with parking in the middle and tasteful shops and restaurants either side. As we passed through in late afternoon pupils in the uniform of the King’s school were just coming out at the end of the school day. The school was named after the three Kings buried inTynemouth and amongst its famous alumni is Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy who starred in many silent films, and with his partner Oliver Hardy unusually made a successful transition from silent films to the talkies. The education he received inTynemouth must have been good because many silent film stars could not cope with the entirely different acting skills that the talkies demanded.
It takes about ten minutes to walk from the station through the town to reach the coast. You come to a cliff-top with steps down to the beach which boasts a long stretch of flat sands extending in both directions from the headland walling off the next beach in the south to Cullercoats in the North. You can descend to the sands and walk to Cullercoats on them.
The municipality has thoughtfully provided benches both open and within a sheltered hut at the top of the cliff. This allows you to take a rest and look out to sea where you will see shipping passing by on theNorth Sea and some pleasure craft as well. It is a thoroughly agreeable thing to do from this high vantage point and time will pass quickly as you relax doing so. There is also a passenger service from the Tyne estuary to the continent, so you can watch these ships come over the horizon and glide into the estuary.
The beach itself offers sand and rock-pools and surf-boarding. Seen on a sunny May afternoon it was idyllic, with calm seas but enough breakers to make surfing worthwhile and several surfers were taking advantage of the opportunity. But of course sea and weather can be treacherous and in winter the gales can be severe. One of the local restaurateurs told us that a strong wind had blown away pier structures in Cullercoats and there are accounts of how building the harbour walls took several attempts due to weather damage.
Looking down the coast you can see the two harbour walls each with a lighthouse at the end. The walls guard the Tyne estuary, the northern one extending from Tynemouth and the southern one from South Shields. The northern one is about 700m long and the southern one over a kilometre so the need for lighthouses comes as no surprise. Before you reach them, the other side of the rock pools is another beach facing King Edward’s Bay. This also has a wide stretch of flat sand, sheltered by the cliff on which the castle and the Priory were built.
Tynemouth is almost exactly due west of Denmark and therefore where you would arrive from Denmark having taken the shortest route. It was thus a natural target for Viking raids in the 9th century. The Priory was a cliff-top abbey and it was destroyed by the Vikings but rebuilt a couple of centuries later.
Around it, on top of the cliff, you see a castle with extensive defences built in to the hill side. This is an ideal defensive position because it combines good visibility looking out to sea, giving early warning of any marauding parties, with steep approaches that are natural strong defences. At the top now you see the ruins of the castle, the monastery and towards the sea the now disused buildings of the coastguard station. This functioned for 18 years and closed in 2001 when the Maritime and Coastguard agency introduced digital technology, transferring coastguard monitoring duties for this part of the coast to Bridlington, further down the coast inEast Yorkshire.
Unfortunately two hours was not enough time to go in to the Priory to explore the ruins. The Priory is now an English heritage site and it was just closing by the time we arrived. From the embankment, looking south it was impossible to miss the huge statue of another local famous person – Collingwood. Collingwood was Nelson’s second in command at the battle of Trafalgar and when Nelson was killed carried on the battle to destroy Napoleon’s fleet establishing that Britain really did rule the waves.
We noted the signs for the Maritime museum, but unfortunately time had run out and we had to return to the station. But Tynemouth made a strong impression on us as an interesting place with much to do. So no doubt, one day we will be back to do it.