Today the vibrant heart of the Northeast, Newcastle sprouted from the seed of a Roman bridge crossing the Tyne near the eastern end of Hadrian's Wall. Constructed around AD 120 of wood resting on stone piers, this is thought to have stood close to the present Swing Bridge. A fort and civilian settlement soon followed, but little is then recorded of the time between the Roman abandonment of Britain around AD 410 and the Norman arrival. William might have found the South an easy conquest, but things were very different up here. Fierce resistance and uprising tried his resources and patience to the limit and in 1080, the King responded with devastating brutality in what became known as the 'Harrying of the North', the debilitating effects of which hung like a pall over the land for centuries after.
A Norman castle and church
The castle was founded that same year, giving its name to the place and becoming a base from which to control the powerful northern barons. The castle was rebuilt the following century, but it was not until the beginning of the 14th century that the town walls were completed. They rendered the castle largely redundant and by the 17th century it was a ruin. Only the Keep and Black Gate survive. The cathedral is almost as old as the town, being established as a parish church in 1091 and dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. It became a cathedral when Newcastle achieved city status in 1882 and is notable, among other things, for the elegant lantern spire crowning the top of the tower.
Trade in the Middle Ages
The relative security of the town's defences encouraged trade, and throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, wool, fish and other commodities were exported from riverside wharves. The most lucrative trade was in coal, and this became so important that, with the advent of the Civil War, Charles I garrisoned the town to protect the revenues it brought. Two fine five-storey merchants' residences from the 16th and 17th centuries, collectively known as Bessie Surtees House and cared for by English Heritage, survive on Sandhill, emphasising the wealth that commerce brought.
It was the Industrial Age, however, that wrought the greatest impact, quite literally changing Newcastle's face. During the 18th century the town was subordinate only to London, Oxford and Cambridge in the output of its printing presses, and the town was a major producer of blown glass. By the 19th century it led the world in heavy engineering and shipbuilding, fuelled by the inventive and entrepreneurial genius of such men as the Stephensons, Charles Swan, W G Armstrong and C A Parsons. The town rapidly expanded to a city, its prosperity reflected in the grand new architecture of the age. And although some notable buildings fell to the misplaced enthusiasm of post-war clearance, much survives to celebrate the history of this great city. The short tour explores some of the best, clustered around the several bridges that now span the river.
Leave the back of the car park and follow the waterfront left past Baltic, built as a flour mill in 1950 and subsequently rejuvenated as a centre for contemporary art, which opened in 2002. Entering Baltic Square beside the Millennium Bridge, walk up steps out to the road and follow it right past the Sage, three separate music performance and conference spaces enclosed within a single glass-and-steel cocoon. Walk beneath the iconic Tyne Bridge, opened in 1928 and high enough to allow shipping to pass up- and downriver. At the traffic lights, go right, crossing the swing bridge built 52 years earlier which still uses the original hydraulic mechanism invented by William Armstrong. Over to the left is Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge, opened in 1849 and incorporating separate decks for rail and road.
At the junction beyond, cross left to climb Castle Stairs, emerging through the old town walls. Bear left past Castle Keep and then right beneath a railway arch. Turn left opposite Black Gate into Westgate Road, which leads to a square presided over by a statue of George Stephenson. The fine railway station, ahead to the left along Neville Street, was designed by John Dobson, who, with Richard Grainger, was responsible for much of Newcastle's 19th-century architecture.
The onward route lies ahead to the right of Stephenson's statue. Turn right at the corner by the 13th-century St John the Baptist's Church into Grainger Street. Towards the far end on the left, the Grainger Market is worth a visit before you reach Grey's Monument, erected in 1838 to commemorate the great parliamentary reformer Earl Grey.
Turn sharp right down Grey Street, which is lined with elegant Classical buildings and often called the finest street in Europe. At the traffic lights, turn right along Mosley Street to Cathedral Square. There, go left past the Cathedral, forking left off the main road just beyond to pass left of Black Gate. Continue along Side to a mini-roundabout beneath a railway arch. Continue down the pedestrianised street opposite, bending right at the bottom to a junction in front of the Guildhall.
Detour right along Sandhill to have a look at the half-timbered Bessie Surtees House. Return past the Guildhall and swing right to the waterfront to pass beneath the Tyne Bridge. Carry on along Quayside to the Millennium Bridge, which was opened in 2001 and has a 'blinking eye' tilting mechanism to let smaller ships pass beneath. Cross the river back to Baltic Square and return to the car park.
Pavements and steps, no stile
City centre, on banks of River Tyne
On lead; probably not a dog's idea of fun
OS Explorer 316 Newcastle upon Tyne
Pay-and-display car park east of BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
BALTIC Centre and several in middle of Newcastle
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Places to Stay
Premier Inn Newcastle City Centre (Millennium Bridge) is in a quiet spot with lovely views over the River Tyne yet only a minute's walk to the bustling bars and restaurants of Newcastle Quayside. Enjoy an event at the Sage Gateshead, a match at St...