THE ART OF CYCLING BIKE TRAIL

 

 

Where the mighty River Tyne sweeps into the cold North Sea the ancient ruins of Tynemouth Priory stand wrapped inside the protective walls of an impressive looking castle. Here history abounds. Outside the castle, England`s most popular challenge cycle route, the Sea to Sea, comes to a sudden end at the top of a short, steep hill. Below nestles the sandy beach of Priors Haven, home to the local sailing club. This is the starting point of an epic days bike ride which rises gently for 26 miles, from sea level at Tynemouth to a height approaching 1000 feet at Consett in the Durham Hills. Here there are extensive views of the North Pennines. You will descend along the course of an old railway line for a further 26 exhilarating miles back down to sea level at Sunderland. You will then follow the coastline to South Shields and a ferry ride across the River Tyne where an easy 2 miles pedalling, along the north bank of the river, takes you back to Tynemouth and the end of an exciting 62 mile journey. On the way you will have seen numerous delightful pieces of public art and you will be left with an appetite whetted for a further exploration of this fascinating area.

 

 

Downhill from the start towards the River Tyne

 

The Bike Trail

 

1. As you stand astride your bike outside the castle at the seaward end of Front Street, ready to start your day and armed with your essential route guide, spare a thought for two earlier visitors to this lovely village; Harriet Martineau, novelist and political economist and Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian soldier and patriot. Heading downhill towards Priors Haven and upwards past the Spanish Battery headland you will, for the first 14 miles, shadow the River Tyne westwards along National Cycle Route 72. This initial part of the days ride doubles up as the most northerly option for the final segment of a west to east crossing of the Sea to Sea cycle route (C2C). Be sure to follow the C2C and Route 72 signs until you leave the company of the River Tyne at Scotswood Bridge. Once on the riverside, in the monumental shadow of Lord Collingwood, Nelson`s second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar, follow the pedestrianized promenade to the Fish Quay at North Shields. This is a regenerated area of work and leisure bustling with fish merchants, fish and chip restaurants, pubs, cafes and riverside apartments. The Fishermen`s Mission is a reminder that this is still very much a working environment despite the impact of North Sea fishing quotas. As you pass the New Dolphin pub watch out† for the `Dolphin Mooring Post` created by Freeform Artists and further along the quayside, outside the Prince of Wales Tavern, catch a glimpse of the buxom `Wooden Dolly`, a work made out of oak by Martyn and Jane Grubb in the form of an old ships figurehead.

 

 

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Wooden Dolly by Martyn and Jane Grubb

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† and Redburn Dene

 

 

2. Up the bankside, beside the ferry landing, wind your way through a stretch of housing and an estate of small industrial units before dropping down to the peaceful Royal Quays Marina. Take the route option which crosses the lock gates towards the Earl of Zetland floating restaurant. At either end of the island, between the two water inlets, examine at close hand the white feathers and the clay pipes set within the two capstans and, on the ground, look for the bronze brogues and stilettos, all of which make up `Sea Dreamer`s Rest` by Gilly Rogers. To your left, on the river`s edge, stands the 71 feet high bright orange steel structure entitled `Tyne Anew` by the renowned American sculptor, Mark di Suvero, the top part of which gently twists and dips in the wind. Continue around the marina before leaving it to climb towards the right of the small but prominent green hill, following Redburn Dene gently uphill. The dene, formed from the derelict Albert Edward Docks, has many nice touches, including wooden staithes reclaimed from the Tyne, metal entrance ways designed by local school children, a pebble mosaic depicting the British Isles and directional markers to five European countries. At the top of the dene, cross over the dual carriageway towards the Royal Quays Outlet Shopping Centre, to join the cycleway running parallel to the A187.The cycleway, in a short while, heads off-road towards the riverside settlements of East Howdon and† Willington Quay. You are now in the former heartland of industrialised Tyneside once the world`s biggest shipbuilding centre. Combined with associated industries such as coal, railways, heavy engineering and armaments this made Victorian Tyneside one of the world`s greatest industrial complexes, the legacy of which stretched well into the second half of the twentieth century. As you enter Wallsend, still home to the famous Swan Hunters shipyard, you will be following in the footsteps of Emperor Hadrian whose internationally famous wall ended here at the Roman Fort of Segedunnum. Remnants of the fort are still clearly visible within the Visitor Centre which marks the start of the Hadrian`s Wall National Trail.

 

 

Blacksmith`s Needle on Newcastle Quayside

 

 

3. Continue along the course of the old Riverside Railway Line, past Walker and Byker, towards St. Peter`s Wharf, a busy upmarket marina with associated housing. You are now nearly 10 miles into your journey and just entering the rejuvenated quayside of† Newcastle, a city with a history dating back over 900 years. With its diverse mix of hotels, restaurants, bars, offices and riverside apartments this is a stylish and trendy area. Combining with Gateshead, its neighbour on the south side of the river, Newcatle has become one of the country`s leading cultural centres. New landmark riverside developments such as the Baltic and the Sage, together with the outstanding Millennium Bridge, sets this vibrant area apart. You will need to slow your speed as you pass through this riverside corridor as the artworks come thick and fast. The intricate `Blacksmith`s Needle`, created by the British Association of Blacksmith Artists and Raf Fulcher`s neo-classical `Swirle Pavilion` must not be missed. Pass under the unmistakeable Tyne Bridge and Robert Stephenson`s High Level Bridge and then onto the promenade which tracks the river upstream. Items of artwork continue to be scattered along this part of the route as it slips through the modern Newcastle Business Park, before climbing away from the river to cross the famous Scotswood Road, immortalised in the Geordie anthem, `the Blaydon Races`.

 

 

Newcastle United themed milepost beneath the High Level Bridge

 

 

4. Keep to the shared pavement alongside the road for a short downhill stretch and then onto the traffic free path just above the road. When the next signposts are reached turn left over the convoluted footbridge and then across Scotswood Bridge before joining the Keelmans Way on the other side as it heads† down stream. After about a quarter of a mile ignore the gated railway crossing. Continue for a further 200 metres to cross under the railway line following signposted Route 14 towards Consett. This, in a short while, joins the course of the old Derwent Valley Railway, which closed in 1963, running for the next 12 miles to Blackhill near Consett. It is a steady uphill climb for most of the way with an average gradient of 1 in 66 over the last 7.5 miles. The route is clearly marked and, except for a short section at Rowlands Gill, is totally off-road. On the way you will cross some impressive viaducts including those at Lockhaugh, Lintz Green and Hamsterley Mill. In 1911 the Station Master of Lintz Green, George Wilson, was murdered near his garden gate and to this day the murder has never been solved. The station is said to be haunted.

 

 

Autumn on the old Derwent Valley Railway

 

5. The track continues to follow the side of the beautiful Derwent Valley above Ebchester, with its Roman Fort of Vindomora, and the former spa town of Shortley Bridge, famous as the 17th century home of German sword makers and once the paper making capital of the north, emerging at Blackhill on Durham Road. Cross over the road and take care to follow the C2C signs towards Berry Edge, ignoring the ones for Consett town centre. Continue across the off-road section of Berry Edge, once the site of the former Consett Steelworks and for many years the towns most important employer. From here, the highest point of the day, you will have tremendous views to the wild, lonely hills of the North Pennines. Once across the open ground of Berry Edge, high above Castleside, you reach Lydgetts Junction and the meeting point of four cycleways; the Derwent Valley, the Waskerley Way, the Lanchester Valley and the Consett to Sunderland. The junction is marked by `The Crucible`, one of the few remains of the Consett Steelworks, sitting proudly on top of the old railway. This wagon was used to transport molten metal as part of the steel making process. You must now turn east on your downhill journey back to the North Sea, following, for the most part, the course of the George Stephenson engineered Stanhope and Tyne Railway, built in 1834 and one of the earliest in the country. This now forms the most southerly option of the C2C, terminating on Roker Pier, just east of Sunderland.

 

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`The Crucible` alongside the track to Sunderland and` Terris Novalis` by Tony Cragg

 

6. As you head towards the southern edge of† Consett the magnificent Terris Novalis sculptures, created by Tony Cragg ,will stop you dead in your tracks. These two stainless steel replicas of late 19th century surveyors` instruments, a theodolite and a level, are twenty times life size and are set on feet depicting various animals. Continue to skirt the edge of the town to Leadgate, emerging on the road near to the Jolly Drovers Public House. Watch carefully for the route signs diagonally across the A692. Off-road again after the roundabout, your riding skills will be suddenly tested to the full as you twist and turn through Andy Goldworthy`s huge environmental sculpture `The Maze`. Best seen from above, this intriguing feature was carved out of the old pit heap of Leadgate`s Eden Colliery. Back on the straight and narrow, the next part of the route passes along an elevated track above the Browney Valley with excellent views of the surrounding countryside. As Annfield Plain approaches, with Pontop Pike, a BBC transmitter, visible to your left, David Kemp`s huge metal statues `The Old Transformers` dominate the eyeline. Created from old electricity transformers, symbols of the area`s industrial past, they represent a coal miner and a steel worker. Take time to negotiate Annfield Plain`s tricky C2C directions. Once on the far side of the town keep your eyes peeled for Richard Harris` stonework sculpture, `The Ravines`, built from sandstone blocks from a nearby railway bridge. Next, on towards Stanley, famous for its annual Blues Festival,and then on downhill through the heavily wooded cutting at Beamish. As you approach the Eden Picnic Area, close to the renowned Beamish Open Air Museum, you will spot a number of incredibly lifelike replicas of the local breed of cows. Made from recycled steel, these cows, known as the `Beamish Shorthorns`, are the work of sculptor Sally Matthews and have a rather eerie quality as they `graze` motionless on the edge of the dark, dank undergrowth.††††††††††

 

7. On through Durham`s gently rolling countryside, once Britain`s most active coalfield, and past David Kemp`s `King Coal`, built on an exposed hilltop site from materials retrived from dismantled local industries. Nearby, where the track separates immediately before Chester-le-Street, bear north-eastwards and over the narrow bridge spanning the main East Coast Railway line. Pause for a moment and, looking in your direction of travel, you will see in the far distance, Antony Gormley`s enormous `Angel of the North`, peering down on the busy A1 traffic below. For the next few miles you are travelling along a green corridor through Washington New Town heading rapidly to your first rendezvous† with the River Wear, the second major river of the day. Soon after James Steel Park, you leave the river to bypass the excellent Washington Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, home to the rare Hawaiian Geese and boasting the largest Grey Heron colony in the area, before climbing to shadow the Sunderland Highway as it races towards the A19 trunk road. Along this stretch of the route you may just catch a glimpse, to your right, of the Doric columned monument sitting on top of Penshaw Hill. This colossus is clearly visible from Tynemouth, all those many miles away.

 

 

Men of Steel by Graeme Hopper

 

8. Passing under the A19 you now descend to join the river again near to the Shipwrights Public House, strangely out of place in this seemingly rural setting. You are now just 5 miles from the sea and for the rest of this stretch you will stay close to the river, avoiding the higher route option† approaching Sunderland AFC`s Stadium of Light. Follow the river promenade past the old lime kilns on your left and as you cycle below the bankside leading up to the stadium watch out for the seven steel figures hauling giant coals from the bottom of the bank to the top, These `Men of Steel` by artist blacksmith Graeme Hopper are heading towards the site of the former Wearmouth Colliery which finally closed in 1993. Once under the two bridges spanning the river you enter the St. Peters area of Sunderland, where the City`s University Campus and the modern National Glass Centre are located. Sunderland`s long association with glass making began in the 7th century when craftsmen were brought from France to manufacture glass for a new monastery at St. Peters. To this day the city continues to play a leading role in the British glassmaking renaissance. Once again the artworks, both large and small, come thick and fast, the most outstanding of which is `Shadows in Another Light`. This composite artwork by Colin Wilbourn, Karl Fisher and Craig Knowles consists of various elements in steel, concrete, wood and stone and takes up some 200 metres of the walkway. The centrepiece is a large forged steel sculpture of a tree set on a 5 metre high octagonal concrete drum. As you head towards the river mouth take your time through the marina as there are many small artworks which could be easily missed.

 

 

Passing Through by Colin Wilbourn & Others

 

9. On reaching Roker Pier, on the north side of the river mouth, the C2C comes to an end. You must now join the Two Rivers Cycleway, a 10 mile £1 million route linking Sunderland to South Shields and the Wear to the Tyne. The route, which is signposted National Cycle Route 1,heads north, keeping close to the North Sea coastline past the sandy beaches of Roker and Seaburn and then on to Whitburn. Here the route slips slightly inland rejoining the sea at the very photogenic Souter Lighthouse, the first in the world specifically constructed for electric illumination by carbon arc lamps, and onto the impressive stack of Marsden Rock and its large colonies of kittiwakes, cormorants and gulls. From here its downhill to the long sandy beach of South Shields and all the fun of the fairground as you come close to the River Tyne`s slightly curved south pier. Leave the main A183 road as it bends left towards the town centre, following instead Harbour Road as it hugs the coastline to Littlehaven beach. Here stands the thought provoking `Conversation Piece` by Spanish sculptor Jaun Munoz. Set against a backdrop of harbour walls, sand dunes and the open sea beyond, the 22 bronze figures which make up this work appear to converse with each other and with those that come to meet them. Follow River Drive as it turns first west and then south, passing through the new Market Dock riverside housing development where you will find Irene Brown`s delightful `Fleet` and her majestic `Spirit of South Shields`, before arriving at the ferry landing just behind the Market Place. Time to stop the pedals turning for a while and enjoy the short trip across the river to North Shields. Once on the north side, turn right and retrace the first 2 miles of the day back to Tynemouth† and the end of your journey. Oh, and remember that it only comes to an end at the top of that short, steep hill.

 

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Roker Pier and Souter Lighthouse

 

Essential Route Guide

 

Title

Publisher/Cost

Information

Sea to Sea Cycle Route (C2C), National Cycle Network

Sustrans/£5.95

 

 

Whilst the Art of Cycling Bike Trail involves routes other than the C2C this route map clearly shows all parts of the Trail††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

 

Other Works of Public Art on or near the Route

 

Title of Work

Artist

Location

Stan Laurel

Robert Olley

Dockwray Square above North Shields Fish Quay

The Dudes

Permindar Kaur

Port of Tyne International Ferry Terminal, Royal Quays

Lightning Clock

Andy Plant

Royal Quays Outlet Shopping Centre

Confluence

Sue Woolhouse & Jim Roberts

Mariners Wharf, approaching Newcastle Quayside

River God

Andre Wallace

Sandgate, Newcastle Quayside

Siren

Andre Wallace

Sandgate, Newcastle Quayside

Column and Steps

Andrew Burton

Keelman Square, Newcastle Quayside

Rudder

Andrew Burton

Keelman Square, Newcastle Quayside

Lintzford

Nick Lloyd

Newcastle Business Park, Amethyst Road

Lion

Andrew Burton

Newcastle Business Park, Amethyst Road

Untitled

David McMillan

Newcastle Business Park, Walkway from Amethyst Road

Elephant Under a Moroccan Edifice

Andrew Burton

Newcastle Business Park, Amethyst Road

Tipping off the World

Andrew Burton

Newcastle Business Park, Amethyst Road

Spheres

Richard Cole

Newcastle Business Park, Amethyst Road, Riverside East End

Lambton Earthwork

Andy Goldworthy

Near Chester-le-Street

Light Transformer

Zora Palova and Stepan Pala

National Glass Centre Roof, level with car park

The Red House

Colin Wilbourn and Karl Fisher

Sunderland Riverside Walkway

Passing Through

Colin Wilbourn, Karl Fisherand Craig Knowles

Sunderland Riverside Walkway

Pathways of Knowledge

Colin Wilbourn

Sunderland Riverside Walkway outside the University`s Prospect Building

Paddle Gate and Tree Guard Railings

Craig Knowles

Sunderland North Dock (Marina)

Taking Flight

Craig Knowles

Sunderland North Dock (Marina)

Merchant Navy Memorial

Robert Olley

Customs House Arts Centre, South Shields west of ferry landing†††††††††††††††††††††††††

 

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Conversation Piece by Juan Munoz and Spirit of South Shields by Irene Brown

 

Other Useful Publications

 

Title

Publisher/Cost

Public Art in Newcastle. A Guide

Newcastle City Council & others/Free from Tourist Information Centres

Art on the Riverside leaflets (various)

Art on the Riverside/Free from Tourist Information Centres

Public Sculpture of North East England

Liverpool University Press/£19.99††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

 

Notes

 

1. Whilst this Trail can be completed by a reasonably fit cyclist in one day, a 2-day trip would be more leisurely and would give the cyclist more time to discover and appreciate the various artworks, not to mention the beauty of the surrounding countryside. If this option is chosen, an overnight stay in the Consett to Beamish area would give an ideal 2 day split.

 

2. The list of artworks above is by no means comprehensive and the inquisitive cyclist will undoubtedly discover other works on the way.

 

Devised & Written: Geoff Holland 2004

Photographs: Geoff Holland 2004

 

 

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