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Ways of Escape
Member Name: michaelhudson
Date: 14/12/02, updated on 14/12/02 (2500 review reads)
Advantages: Close to Newcastle, The Priory, Clean beaches
ARRIVAL AND ORIENTATION
Tynemouth Station, first built in 1882 and Grade II listed since the late-1970s, is the gateway to the faded grandeur of the surrounding village. Every ten minutes red and yellow Metro trains stop below the elegant wrought iron and glass roof, held up by ornately carved beams winding up to red brick chimneys and cloudy skies. Double footbridges arch between wide platforms that house Bric-a-brac and Arts and Crafts markets every weekend.
Outside the station, across the small car park and opposite a cluster of neat, suburban gardens, King's School follows the bend of the Georgian classical Huntingdon Place round to Front Street. Look out for the blue plaque on the right hand side of the street commemorating the Italian patriot Garibaldi's visit here in 1854 to outline his plans for unification to local politicians. Lined with specialist shops, red telephone boxes, restaurants and pubs, Front Street subtly meanders its way from the seated statue of Queen Victoria up to the 1861 clock tower in front of Tynemouth Priory and Castle, the skeletal ruins of which dominate the headland overlooking the mouth of the Tyne. Pier Road branches off to the south, running along the row of pretty coastguard cottages to the Watch House and attached museum. A diagonal path cuts down the hill to the towering Collingwood Monument, eventually winding its way to the banks of the river where a path continues along to the North Shields Fish Quay and the Tyne Ferry.
North of the clock tower, East Street starts at the Rock of Gibraltar pub, split by an eye-shaped stretch of grass
into Sea Banks and the stately, three-storey sweep of Percy Gardens as it passes King Edward's Bay before the windswept Victorian splendour of Grand Parade takes over, all steep stone steps, high bay windows and blustery sea views as it reaches out towards Cullercoats and the majestic spire of the Parish Church of St. George, commissioned by the Duke of Northumberland and designed by John Loughborough Pearson in 1884. The wonderful Grand Hotel, built in 1870 as the summer residence of the Duchess of Northumberland, is situated above the beach next to Tynemouth Park.
Of all the bars on or just off Front Street my favourites must surely be the Turks Head, the Furry Pear and Fitzpatricks. The former has a 19th-century stuffed dog displayed in a cabinet by the entrance which reputedly died pining for its lost owner and was placed in the bar to await his return. If you’re looking for nightclubs try Newcastle or Whitley Bay.
Front Street is thronged with restaurants and bakeries, though I’ve never eaten anywhere but Marshall's. A Tynemouth institution dating back to the 1930s, the fish and chips here are among the best in the whole area.
The Land of Green Ginger, a shopping mall located in an old Congregational Church on Front Street, is well worth a browse.
Of the three beaches in Tynemouth the appropriately named Longsands, which stretches for almost a mile in front of Grand Parade, is by far the biggest. Popular since the 1820s, bathers once flocked to an open air mineral spring located at the southern tip of the beach. The spring has since been converted into a rock pool, while more than a century of Bank Holiday masses trampling on the beach itself has left it almost totally flat. Together with the nearby King Edward's Bay Longsands was awarded a Blue Flag this summer, making both excellent spots for swimming and surfing as long as you can tolerate the icy North Sea.
dward's Bay, or Shortsands as it is locally known, arcs to the north of Tynemouth Castle and Priory. Sheltered by high cliffs, the only access to the small, sloping beach is by a step of steep stairs.
The third beach, Prior's Haven, is no more than a sandy inlet at the very mouth of the Tyne. Once popular with the monks from the adjacent priory, the Haven was a bathing beach in the 18th century but is now off-limits to sunbathers as the home of the Tynemouth Sailing Club. A row of benches above the beach marks the former site of the Spanish Battery, a defensive site for the castle built in 1545 and manned by Spanish mercenaries.
Tynemouth Sea Life Centre is located on Grand Parade. It has a good shark tank but is far from the best aquarium I’ve ever seen.
The small museum at the Watch House is open six days a week (10-3 Tuesday – Saturday, 10-12 Sunday). Dedicated to the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, formed in 1864, the museum has some interesting exhibits such as a 19th centrury ship’s bell, training equipment, search lamps and pictures.
A five-minute signposted stroll from Tynemouth Station brings you to the Priory and Castle. First constructed as a wooden chapel in 627 AD, the site has housed Iron Age, Viking, Roman and Saxon settlements, served as the burial place for Northumbrian and Scottish kings, a Saxon Monastery, a Benedictine Priory, a medieval castle and a World War I gun battery.
Entering through the Gift Shop to the right of the huge iron portcullis the first sight straight ahead is of the 73 ft high south wall of the old presbytery, the ruined, gaping holes of which marvellously accentuate intricate arches and pointed windows through which the swirling sea swells back and forth against the concrete defences below. Eroded rocks and weathered walls dot the grassy expanse, revealing ancient boundaries and long forgotten buildings. Huge columns rise beside the thic
k walls before abruptly fading into nothingness, while small doorways lead to open-roofed rooms circled by walls that jut out of nowhere. Elongated oval windows stretch to the sky and a pair of heavy wooden doors push open to reveal a tiny vaulted chapel, its beautiful criss-crossed roof and stained glass windows no less impressive than the haunting beauty outside.
The leaning grey and black headstones of the adjacent graveyard have been chipped and cracked until most resemble scorched bubbles of melted, colourless cheese. Some seem to be slowly falling, others are barely legible and reveal only snatched fragments of existence such as 'formerly of Berwick', 'Served his King and Country faithfully for 26 years', 'foundered at sea', 'universally respected' and 'accidentally shot whilst in the execution of his duty.' Foremost among them all is Corporal Alexander Rollo who 'held the lantern at the burial of Sir John Moore at Corona.'
Around and across the graveyard weatherbeaten walls reveal the location of the old latrine and the Prior’s Chapel, littered with broken sculptures and stone tablets. The remains of the New Hall amount to 4 ft of stone, while the outer parlour is but a ragged line of rocks in the grass. The Prior’s Hall drops sharply into the ground, the old walls clearly perceptible but the steps and ceiling victims of dissolution and decay.
The large gun battery seems bizarrely incongruous to this ancient religious context. Protecting the entrance to the harbour below, the grey guns stand on concrete looking out to the horizon. Displays and artefacts can be found in the underground chambers down the railed iron staircases. An 1859 cannon points towards King Edward's Bay in tribute to the centenary of the Tynemouth Voluntary Artillery.
The castle walls run either side of the gatehouse back by the Gift Shop. First started by the Normans in 1095, the walls pr
otected a site sacked by the Danes in 800 and holding the remains of Oswin, King of Deria (651), Osred of Northumbria (792) and Malcolm III of Scotland (1093). From the top of the steep banks the statue of Collingwood is clearly visible in front of the river and the hazy view over to South Shields Town Hall and the vast shipyard cranes along the Tyne. Middle-aged men walk dogs in the hilly moat below the ramparts and black shapes walk two-by-two up to the distant lighthouse at the top of North Pier. As seagulls glide over the upturned boats down at Prior's Haven, the frequent clack, clack sounds of croquet bat on ball can be heard from the white-shirted players to the left of the presbytery. Beyond the allotments and church steeples a teacher barks out instructions as the boys of King's School run up and down the Rugby pitch.
A gateway at the top of the grassy ramp next to the gatehouse takes you into the Great Chamber, open to the skies and full of pigeons sitting in grand arched windows. After viewing the massive fireplace in the kitchen follow the stone steps that wind up through low-ceilinged alcoves to the very top of the chamber.
Entrance to Tynemouth Priory and Castle costs £2.20 for adults. Family tickets and concessions are available.
Times vary so I'd recommend ringing (0191) 257 1090 for current details.
At the top of Collingwood Fields, the monument to Admiral Lord Collingwood was erected in 1845 by public subscription. Newcastle born, Collingwood led the fleet into action at the Battle of Trafalgar as Nelson's second in command and is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. Striking a heroic pose, his statue gazes resolutely across the mouth of the Tyne and out to the North Sea. The four guns on the plinth of the 23-metre high monument were taken from the Royal Sovereign, which Collingwood captained at Trafalgar.
The notorious Black Middens, an exposed expanse of black rock down below the monume
nt, claimed five ships in three days of blizzards in November 1864. Thirty-four people drowned almost within touching distance of the riverbank.
One of the prettiest areas in Tyne & Wear, Tynemouth's proximity to Newcastle, ancient remains and beaches make for a wonderful day trip.
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