Throwback: Around the mouth of the Tyne

It’s not Thursday, but I’m having a throwback anyway.

I was looking at the map after writing about Leith last week, and thinking about how little space there would have been in the harbour before they started building outwards – and the general lack of natural harbours on that coast. (And how much of a loss Berwick must have been to the south of Scotland, but that’s a story for another day!)

But once you get past the Tweed you’re fine – every river mouth is a harbour.

I always find it interesting to start looking at things another way round – long distance walking gave me a new appreciation of bridges and the way rivers affect where you can go, for example, that you don’t notice when the road just leads your car to wherever the bridge happens to be.

I’ve had quite a few adventures along the Tyne – walking by it on the Hadrian’s Wall path, pottering around the bridges, boat trips, ferry crossings, and especially standing at Tynemouth looking out over it. It’s one of my favourite places, and a very different river from anything Lothian has – a big working river.

Here’s the mouth, the first time I visited it – looking out from the Collingwood monument on a winter’s day.


Apart from getting an idea of the size of it, you can just about see both the old and new High and Low lights – the white towers, and the less white ones near them – which were the markers to show the safe passage into the mouth of the river. It was a dangerous place in those days, and it was sadly common for ships to get into trouble at the mouth.

Here’s a better look at the new lights and the old High light – although without the context of the river.


It was 1810 when the ‘new’ lights were built, the safe route having shifted. So new by Edinburgh standards – or very new by Newcastle standards, since the ‘new castle’ was built in 1080!

Although the mouth has changed much less than the mouth of the Water of Leith has, the piers are newer than the real Age of Sail time – mid-19th century, and an effort to make the river mouth safer. Unlike Leith, though, there was no need to build outwards for space – there always seems to have been plenty of that.

As well as a wonderful history of the lights, the Old Low Light has a lovely map showing ships in harbour at both Shields – as well as being a nice illustration of how separate the river mouth was from Newcastle and Gateshead.

I was pleased to see that there were still some ships in the river when I took my boat trip – and impressed by the size of them.

I liked this photo because of the City of Paris/Ville de Paris coincidence – but also the contrast between City of Paris and City of Sunderland as names!


It’s been a useful means of transport, too – the keelmen who took the coal down the river to the waiting ships are famous.

There’s one ferry left, between the two Shields – there’s been one there since 1377, but there were a lot more earlier on. So I suppose that’s the other side – rivers can be very useful to people who want to get along it, but they do get in the way of people who want to get across!


I’ll be down there next week, and I’m looking forward to it.

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