It was a dry day off, if somewhat overcast. I cycled across the Town Moor, past the University, crossed a footbridge over the central motorway (whoever thought of a motorway through the centre of a city??), went down the Byker Link to pick up Hadrian’s Cycleway and head out to the coast at Tynemouth.
He may have been the Emperor of Rome, but – sadly – Hadrian never rode a bike. He did, however, build a big wall along the most northerly frontier of his empire. Hadrian’s Cycleway now runs, more or less, along the route of the wall. The wall ran across the width of Great Britain, from the Solway Firth in the west to the estuary of the Tyne in the east. It served two main purposes: defence against the Caledonian barbarians, and control of trade across the border with said valued trading partners.
Tyre tracks and train tracks
Centuries later, Newcastle was a power-house of trade and industry. This was coal country, and combine that with a sizeable estuary, and you have a recipe for prosperity. As well as coal, Newcastle was particularly known for ship-building.
And railways. The railway pioneer George Stephenson was born in Wylam, just to the west of Newcastle, and his son Robert at Willington Quay near Wallsend. Railways were vital in moving coal and other raw materials, as well as finished goods, from mines and factories to the docks.
A branch line left the East Coast Mainline in Byker, and headed out east along the north bank of the river towards Percy Main. The first part is now a path called Byker Link. I joined it in the car park that has replaced Byker Station. Down near the river, the Link runs into Hadrian’s Cycleway, which now uses much of the old railway trackbed.
The whole route is still quite industrial, even though the shipyards and big engineering works have gone.
Wallsend is so named (surprise!) because this is where Hadrian’s Wall ended. There are Roman remains at the fort of Segedunum. Wallsend Metro station is reputedly the only railway station in the world to have bilingual signs in English and Latin.
I followed the coast out to Tynemouth, where there are the remains of a castle and a priory, and a still-intact chip shop.
Two wheels on my wagon
There is a network of Wagon Ways all over Newcastle. These were once railways running from the collieries (that were also all over the city) to the staiths on the river where the coal was loaded onto ships. Originally, the rails were wooden; later these were plated with iron and later still replaced with iron rails. Some of the wagon ways operated under gravity.
Over the past 20 years, many of the remaining wagon ways have been converted into tracks for cycling or walking. Using the wagon ways, I was able to cycle most of the way home off-road.
I feel sorry that Hadrian never rode a bike. I like riding my bike. I just enjoy being outdoors, but cycling puts a smile on my face and sometimes even makes me laugh out loud, especially when going downhill quite fast. I like the sense of achievement that I did this by the work of my legs, and that my journey was fuelled by toast and chips, not oil. I like the simplicity of the machinery, even with all these gears. I like the gyroscopic physics that keep me upright. I like the freedom of stopping when there’s something interesting to see, such as cormorants on an island in a marina. I like the sense of freedom generally.
So you can keep the Roman Empire. I’ll push that pedal, turn my chainwheel and be on my way.