Newcastle: Bridges over Tyne and Toon

Millenium BridgeWhat is it with people on the side of a river? Is the grass always greener on the other side? The two opposite cities of Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne are linked by as many as seven bridges within less than two kilometers. These famous Tyne bridges were once a symbol of British industrial engineering. Now they make great landmarks in a new tourist destination in Northern England, that forever shed its coal dust in favour of science and great nightlife. The bridges still dominate the cityscape, where they carry party goers and football fans from one side of the river to the other. Remnants of a rich industrial past, now functioning as pillars for a rich future.

The first bridge over the Tyne was built by the Romans, right around the time they also built Hadrian’s Wall, that starts (or ends) in a town aptly named Wallsend, a few miles east of city centre. After the Roman bridge fell into disrepair, a new stone bridge was built in 1270, which served the city for half a millenium. It was destroyed by the great flood of 1771, but replaced by a new stone bridge ten years later. This bridge was removed in 1866 to make place for the current swing bridge, allowing for the increased traffic on the Tyne river, that from that time onwards became a center of British coal mining and shipbuilding.

Map showing the 7 bridges over the Tyne, connecting the cities of Newcastle on the north to Gateshead on the south.

Map showing the 7 bridges over the Tyne, connecting the cities of Newcastle on the north to Gateshead on the south.

The first modern bridge over the Tyne was built by a famous British engineer: Robert Stephenson, the son of famous railway pioneer George Stephenson. Like his father, Newcastle-born Robert Stephenson made his fame in the railway boom of the early 19th century. Robert and his father built trains, railways and railway bridges. One of their major projects was the railway that connected London to Scotland, requiring a new bridge over the Tyne. For this national railway Stephenson built the High Level Bridge over the Tyne between 1847 and 1849, an engineering marvel in its time.

The High Level Bridge crosses high over the Tyne side in Newcastle. The newer Tyne Bridge visible underneath.

The double-deck High Level Bridge crosses high over the Tyne quayside in Newcastle. The newer Tyne Bridge and the (red-white) Swing Bridge visible underneath.

The success of the railways soon created capacity problems at the High Level Bridge. Therefore a second railway bridge, the King Edward VII bridge, was built in 1906, just 500 yards upstream. This bridge added four railway tracks to the important North-South connection.

One of the most striking bridges is the Tyne Bridge. Concerns about high tolls on the High Level Bridge led to the first plans as early as 1864, but design work only finished in 1925. The design of the bridge was based on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City, that opened in 1916. That same bridge stood model for the much larger Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. Both the Tyne Bridge (opened 1928) and the visually equal (but much larger) Sydney Harbour Bridge (opened 1932) were built by Dorman Long of Middlesborough. It remains unclear which of the two cities has the ‘original’ harbour bridge.

Tyne Bridge from the Newcastle side, showing the new Gateshead Quays Arts Area underneath.

Tyne Bridge from the Newcastle side, showing the Gateshead Quays Arts Area underneath.

Two more bridges were added in the post-industrial era, when Newcastle changed from coal and shipbuilding to services and science. These new activities, in addition to a growth in tourism and increased car and underground traffic, required new bridges. In 1981 the Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge opened. In 1983 the new Redheugh Bridge guided increased car traffic around the city, replacing two earlier bridges at this same location as the westernmost of the seven bridges. For completeness sake the rerouting of the A1 motorway to a Tunnel at Tynemouth in 1967 should be added.

The latest addition to the Newcastle bridge collection is the Gateshead Millenium Bridge, the easternmost bridge in the Tyne river. Built by Dutch Volker Stevin, this eye catching tilting pedestrian bridge opened in 2001, connecting the new Gateshead Quays Arts Quarter with Newcastle city centre. It now forms the new photogenic centre piece of all bridges and is a clear landmark of the two cities it connects.

Nowadays the bridges are the most iconic landmarks of Newcastle, probably featuring in half the pictures that the combined visitors take. But the bridges don’t only dominate the river. The high level crossings of the High Level and Tyne Bridges also dominate the lower area of city center. Even without seeing the river itself, the bridges are omnipresent over your head at many points in the historic city. Join me on a virtual tour to the city of bridges:

The ramp construction to the High Level Bridge is fully integrated into the historic city centre underneath.

The ramp construction to the High Level Bridge is fully integrated into the historic city centre underneath.

Tyne Bridge also offers protection from rain to city shoppers in the lower areas of Newcastle.

Tyne Bridge offers protection from rain to city shoppers in the lower areas of Newcastle.

The Tyne Bridge skids the rooftops of the old sandstones underneath.

The Tyne Bridge skids the rooftops of the old sandstones underneath.

Compare these old arches of the High Level Bridge to the more modern columns of the Tyne Bridge. Both integrated in the city landscape.

Compare these old arches of the High Level Bridge to the more modern columns of the Tyne Bridge. Both fully integrated into the city landscape.

Pillar of Tyne Bridge going right through this newer building underneath.

Pillar of Tyne Bridge going right through this newer building underneath.

Watching the bridges from the Baltic Mills fifth floor viewing box.

Watching the bridges from the Baltic Mills fifth floor viewing box. The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art offers free entrance (and free city panoramas!)

The outside viewing platform on level 4 of the Baltic Centre offers one of the best views over the Newcastle bridges.

The outside viewing platform on level 4 of the Baltic Centre offers one of the best views over the Newcastle bridges.

At night the views from both the Gateshead and Newcastle side of the Millenium Bridge are unbeatable. A great place to see the evening set at the bridges is the Pitcher and Piano Bar and Restaurant.

At night the views from both the Gateshead and Newcastle side of the Millenium Bridge are unbeatable. A great place to see the evening set at the bridges is the Pitcher and Piano Bar and Restaurant, on the right hand side of this picture.

Looking downstream underneath the Millenium Bridge, the bright new gateway to the bright new future of Newcastle and Gateshead.

Looking downstream underneath the Gateshead Millenium Bridge, the bright new gateway to the bright new future of Newcastle and Gateshead.

Practical information: Newcastle International Airport has good air connections to many airports in Europe. Newcastle has good motorway and rail connections to the rest of the UK. The city also makes a great starting point for a family holiday to the UK by car, by taking the ferry from IJmuiden. DFDS Seaways offers daily overnight sailings, connecting Newcastle to the Netherlands, with easy access to Belgium and Germany. This ferry operator offers great minicruises for shoppers or football fans, or people interested in history and culture, like me.

In the last decades the number of hotel rooms in Newcastle has grown exponentially, making it the local centre for tourism. I stayed at the Jurys Inn Gateshead, in the heart of the Gateshead Quays Art District on the river, in walking distance of Newcastle city centre and all major sites.

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