I ‘ve always maintained that if you’re lucky enough to live in the North East then you have no excuse for ever saying you’re bored. There’s always something to do or somewhere to visit, and last Sunday afternoon Heather and I took a guided tour through the Victoria Tunnel. Did you know that there is a Grade II listed structure running from the Town Moor to the River Tyne? Neither did I. Not until I heard about it on BBC Newcastle last year.
The Victoria Tunnel is a wagonway under the city originally built to transport coal from Spital Tongues (Leazes Main) Colliery to the river and operated between 1842 and the 1860s. It was converted into an air raid shelter to protect citizens from bombings during WWII, sometimes providing safety for 7,000 people at once.
Following a restoration programme lasting for two years, part of the tunnel was opened to the public for guided tours in 2009. This visitor attraction has since won numerous awards, and despite its popularity it remains an amazingly affordable family outing, £6 for adults and £3 for children, for a tour lasting two hours. Since 2010 the tunnel has been managed by the Ouseburn Trust and the tours are conducted by fully trained and highly knowledgeable (not to mention passionate) guides. These folk provide a professional service voluntarily, which, I suspect, is why the entrance fee is so reasonable.
I used to work in Byker and I’d drive above Ouseburn twice every day with no more than the occasional glance in its direction. Until last Sunday I’d never actually been to see what was down there. I had of course heard of Byker Bridge Farm and Stepney Bank Stables, but only vaguely.
Heather and I parked nearby and we had a look around the area on foot while we located Arch 6 which was where we met our guides Jen and Lynn. I earnestly advise that you to take them up on their suggestion of going to the loo before you start, or, if you think you don’t want to go, at least “try” as my mother used to urge when I was little. It’s two hours in the cold (12c) and damp and there are no toilet facilities once you’re 50′ below ground. I have back problems and some of my movements are restricted, so I was concerned I’d struggle in the confined space. In fact I was fine. I’m 5’10” tall so I occasionally glanced my head off the ceiling, but hard hats are provided and have to be worn so it didn’t cause me any problems.
Lynn also reassured us that the tunnel didn’t contain any rodents. “Nothing like home then,” I whispered to Heather, thinking about the endless small game we have dragged in through the cat flap.
My only problem with the afternoon was in fact Heather. “You’re blocking my view,” she kept on hissing fiercely. After 20 minutes she barged in front and repeatedly blocked my view. Hopefully you won’t have to deal with this. Let me know when you’re going and I’ll keep her in.
Full details of the tours, the information you need to know and how to book, can be found at Victoria Tunnel (Ouseburn Trust) It’s also worth knowing that they conduct specialised tours for photographers on the first and third Monday evening of every month, see Facebook/Photography. I did take some photographs but I was conscious that I was getting in the way rather, so I’ll do the whole photography bit later on.
A captivating and very different Sunday afternoon.