If you’re walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path, you might be tempted to skip the first few miles, the part that goes through the city of Newcastle upon Tyne. After all, apart from the Roman fort of Segedunum, at the start of the trail, there is no Wall to be seen until you reach Heddon-on-the-Wall, 15 miles later. But this section of the walk has other pleasures.
It has to be admitted that the first mile or so, past the backs of factories, is only likely to appeal to those who want to hike every inch of the Path. But after that you’ll mostly be walking along the riverside or through urban parkland. And you’ll come across a wealth of industrial heritage and public art along the way.
Newcastle’s Maritime Past
Much of this first part of the Hadrian’s Wall Path follows the River Tyne. From the early days when Segedunum Fort guarded the mouth of the river, Newcastle’s history has been bound up with the Tyne. At one time it was a busy port, with cargo ships sailing to and from Europe, and it had a thriving ship building industry. Today most of that activity has gone, but the riverside makes a pleasant walk as factories have given way to bars, restaurants and a small marina. It is a popular leisure area for the people of Newcastle. We walked through on a Sunday afternoon and the Quayside was crowded with market stalls, locals and tourists.
This is a good place for art lovers. As you approach the Quayside you start to see the seven bridges that cross the Tyne. The first of these is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, sometimes known as the “winking eye bridge” due to its shape. This is a footbridge leading to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, an innovative gallery housed in an old flour mill. But you can see art even if you don’t cross the bridge: there are several pieces of outdoor art along the route. Some, like the 5m high Blacksmith’s Needle, relate to the city’s industrial and commercial past. Others were commissioned for the 1990 Gateshead Garden Festival and later found a permanent home on the riverside walk.
A Long Industrial Heritage
All along this walk you will see evidence of the city’s industrial past. Ship building was a major enterprise, from the former Swan Hunter Shipyard near Segedunum to the Elswick Shipyard where warships were built alongside the armaments factory. Look out for the noticeboards that give a detailed history of the industry of this area. You will also see numerous references to William Armstrong, the engineer and inventor who founded multiple enterprises in Newcastle during the Industrial Revolution.
Later you pass the Lemington Glass Cone, a brick tower which is all that remains of the premises of the glass works that operated here for two hundred years. And of course there was coal mining, historically one of the most important industries of this region. There isn’t much left of the coal mines now, although a few coke ovens and old colliery houses from the Isabella Colliery still remain at Newburn. But you will be reminded of the reality of the coal mining industry by a memorial at Scotswood, recalling the 1925 pit disaster in which 38 people lost their lives. And, on a happier note, many of the disused mines have now been grassed over and turned into green spaces for everyone to enjoy.
Early Railways and the Hadrian’s Wall Path
The railway pioneer George Stephenson was born in Wylam, just outside Newcastle, and this area was important in the history and development of the railways. So it seems appropriate that some parts of the Hadrian’s Wall Path should follow the route of disused railway lines, the occasional piece of abandoned bridge or railway embankment still visible. As you walk down these peaceful and pleasant paths it is hard to remember that you are in the middle of a busy city.
A little way beyond the city boundary is the Wylam Waggonway, a pre-railway path where horse-drawn wagons once hauled coal down to the river. It was here that George Stephenson first worked and began to imagine a future of steam driven engines. Hadrian’s Wall Path follows the Waggonway for a while before turning sharply uphill to Heddon-on-the-Wall. Now you have a choice. You can leave the Path and make a short diversion along the Waggonway to the house where Stephenson was born. Or you can climb up the hill for your first view of the Wall.