A September 2005 trip
to Gateshead by michaelhudson
Quote: Cultural destinations in and around the town.
Gateshead is a dull town with some spectacular additions. Start down by the river at Gateshead Quays, where £250 million has been spent in the last decade on developments like the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, the Sage Gateshead--a Sir Norman Foster designed music centre with a 1,650-seat concert hall--and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.
On the other side of the town centre, a depressing mix of cheap shops and concrete that has absolutely nothing of interest for visitors, the Shipley Art Gallery has an decent collection of watercolours and contemporary crafts and can be combined with an afternoon exploring nearby Saltwell Park’s recently restored Victorian architecture, wide lawns, and landscaped gardens.
Further afield, you can visit the rope-hauled colliery railway at Bowes or take a steam-hauled train ride along the world's oldest operating railway at Tanfield . The hour-long journey includes a stop at Causey Arch, built in 1725 and still spanning the beautiful wooded gorge below.
The 18th-century forest garden at Gibside, not far from the Angel of the North, has 15 miles of woodland and riverside walks and some wonderful Georgian estate buildings.
If shopping's more your thing, the MetroCentre is a huge American-style shopping mall just outside Gateshead, with over 300 shops and an indoor amusement park.
Open daily, the Gateshead Visitors’ Centre is handily placed next to the Sage Gateshead between Gateshead Quays and the Tyne Bridge. If you’re staying in Newcastle, the tourist information centre at the Monument end of Grainger Street has maps and information on Gateshead’s attractions.
Gateshead Information Online has a list of restaurants and accommodation in the town. Another excellent source of information is the Visit Newcastle Gateshead site, which has listings for both cities.
Gateshead Quays can be easily reached on foot from Newcastle, but you'll need to use buses or your own transport to visit outlying attractions like the Angel of the North and the Tanfield Raliway.
It's cheaper to take a bus rather than the Metro if you're travelling between Newcastle and Gateshead town centre. You can find full bus and metro timetables on the Nexus website. Electric buses operate on the Quay Link route between Haymarket Station in Newcastle and central Gateshead, stopping at Monument, Central Station, the Quayside, Baltic Square, and The Sage. Gateshead's main bus and metro stations are alongside each other in the town centre.
The town also has some excellent cycle routes. The most popular is the Keelman's Way, which runs along the riverside and forms part of the national C2C cycleway.
One of Tyneside‘s best-kept secrets, Shipley Art Gallery holds a small but impressive collection of Flemish, Dutch, Venetian, and British paintings, as well as one of the best displays of contemporary textile, wood, and metal craftworks outside the capital.
On the other side of the basic gift shop and reception area, the main room is a chaos of exhibits: eight large glass display cases full of pottery and silverware in the centre, a temporary exhibition space at the front, games and seating for school groups along the back wall, and paintings hanging everywhere above and in between, organised into the five broad themes of Land, Sea, People, Biblical, and Narrative. The sheer number of pieces in an already crowded space makes it difficult to fully appreciate the artwork, and you’ll need to look carefully among the clutter to see the few pieces of real note, such as William Irving’s anarchic Blaydon Races and Tintoretto‘s Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples, unhelpfully hung directly above a table full of noisy schoolchildren.
The gallery has four smaller rooms branching off the main one. On the left are two bare spaces with seating in the centre and patchwork quilts hanging on the walls; on the opposite side, a single room holding a deliberately eclectic collection of dolls, necklaces, bowls and vases, sculptures, textiles, and glassware. The most interesting exhibits make up the Made in Gateshead display at the back of the building. Here you’ll find original machinery and products from the shipyards, rope and glass makers, engineering works, and iron and steel foundries that once dominated the town, as well as items from contemporary employers, such as Redland bricks and Jockey underwear. Unfortunately, space constraints prevent the collection from being anything more than a very basic introduction to Gateshead’s industrial heritage.
I spent around 45 minutes in the gallery, which was more than enough to see everything at leisure. A limited number of free parking spaces are available in front of the building, or it's a 20-minute walk or a short bus journey south of Gateshead Metro Station.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 3, 2006
Shipley Art Gallery
Prince Consort Road
Gateshead, England NE8 4JB
+44 (191) 477 1495
The Angel of the North, Britain’s largest sculpture, crowns a hilltop 3 miles from the Gateshead town centre on the southwestern edge of the Tyneside conurbation. Designed as a paean to the industrial heritage of the region, it is rooted in 150 tonnes of concrete poured into old mine workings, cost £800,000 to build, and has won numerous awards including being voted one of the "Wonders of Britain," alongside Big Ben, Windsor Castle, and Stonehenge.
The Angel, designed by Antony Gormley and installed in 1998, stands as tall as four double decker buses, has a wingspan as long as a jumbo jet, a total weight of 200 tonnes, and a life expectancy of just over a century. It’s visited by 150,000 people each year but is seen by tens of millions more from the nearby A1 road and East Coast main line train services.
At first glance the weather resistant mix of steel and copper makes the Angel looks like an old aeroplane that’s crashed nose first into the earth and been left to rust; its reddish-brown colour, caused by oxidisation, redolent of the machinery that once filled the region’s now stilled steelworks and shipyards. Initially controversial, it’s since become much more than just another piece of costly public art, the sheer scale and welcoming presence making it every bit as locally iconic as the Tyne Bridge.
The best view of the Angel is from the north, where the A1 bends past the smoke stacks and service industries of Team Valley, the sculpture’s dark silhouette visible high up on the left, dipping in and out of the trees as you drive past. It’s the view I always have on the drive to my house from the airport, and the first sign that I’m back home. There are a few parking spaces next to the base of the Angel if you want more than a fleeting look, though the exposed hilltop is not a place to linger for too long, with a couple of information boards and some scrub glass the only things around to break the wind.
Regular buses run to the Angel from the Eldon Square bus station in Newcastle and Gateshead Metro Interchange. You can pick up schedule information and maps of nearby hiking trails through the Great North Forest at the tourist information office in Newcastle or at Gateshead Visitor Centre.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 3, 2006
Angel of the North
Durham Road Low Eighton
Gateshead, England NE9 6AA
+44 191 477 3478
To start the hike, leave Gateshead Metro station by the West Street North exit, turn right onto the main road and continue straight ahead past St Joseph‘s Church, the Royal Mail offices and the Swallow Hotel. About a hundred metres beyond the hotel, just before you reach a set of traffic lights, enter the small park on the right; follow the right fork in the path across the park as far as the main road, where you’ll see the Central Library opposite and, to the left, the Shipley Art Gallery. Walk past the gallery to the junction with Durham Road, where you'll see the town's war memorial. Turn right here and continue past the row of shops on the other side of the street from the Springfield Hotel. After a few minutes turn right into Enfield Road as it drops downhill to the Little Theatre and an entrance to Saltwell Park.
The route gets a little confusing as you leave the park. On the far side of the lake from the gate you entered by, take the ramp down to the exit then turn right and walk along the street back to Enfield Road. When the pavement ends at the corner of the park, cross the road, turn left and then almost immediately right into Rectory Road. Continue straight ahead for around five minutes until you reach the junction with Bensham Road. Cross the road at the traffic lights, turn right, and continue up the hill until you come to The Crown pub.
You're now in the Windmill Hills area, once home to Gateshead's corn mills and the site of a minor battle in the Civil War. Following the signs pointing left towards ‘Bensham Cycleway’ and ‘Gateshead M’ quickly brings you to the Windmill Hills Town Park, which has some pretty unremarkable views across the river to Newcastle. Take the steps down to the bottom of the bank from the viewpoint and walk along Prince Consort Road in the direction of the river until you see the Old Town Hall in front of you. Cross the busy road between the town hall and the river; as you approach the Tyne Bridge veer right along Church Street for the Gateshead Visitors' Centre, from where you can follow the path down to the Quayside and the end of the hike.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 4, 2006
The thing I like best about the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art is the building itself. The industrial shell of the old Joseph Rank flour mill stands right by the edge of the river, a yellow-and-brown brick cube with turreted corners and new glass and aluminium sides, the concrete grain silos that once honeycombed the interior replaced by four pine-floored galleries, a gift shop, café bar, and two restaurants.
I particularly love the use of space inside the building, opened out by the addition of large internal windows between each floor. The bright, airy galleries are stacked one on top of the other, linked by glass lifts in the centre and a metal staircase down the side. On the upper floors, a glass viewing box and external terrace have sweeping views over Gateshead Quays and across the famous bridges to Newcastle. Both are so popular that the Baltic often feels more like an observation point than an arts centre.
And what about the art? The Baltic has no permanent collection, preferring “an ever changing calendar of exhibitions and activities” that last for 3 months or so and tend to be a bit hit-and-miss. With the notable exceptions of Antony Gormley’s Domain Field and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s haunting Coal Coast photographs of the region’s dead mining industry, I can’t think of many exhibitions that have made proper use of the building’s potential. There also seems to have been a definite shift towards the mainstream since the arrival of the centre’s third director: no more of the sometimes excellent audio exhibitions and a major touring show currently occupying all of the gallery space. In the long run this may be a good thing, but it still feels like a small defeat.
But if the art is sometimes patchy, then the visitor facilities at Baltic are consistently excellent. There are guided tours twice a day, educational events, rooftop and riverside restaurants, and full disabled access to all the floors. And while the shop and restaurant prices are not for those on a budget, admission to the Baltic remains free.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 8, 2006
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road
Gateshead, England NE8 3BA
+44 (0)191 478 1810
Attraction | "Gibside"
First built by the coal baron George Bowes between 1729 and 1760, Gibside is now owned by the National Trust, who have spent the last few years restoring many of the ruined estate buildings. The Tuscan-column fronted orangery has been partially rebuilt and the stables put back to use as an educational facility for school groups, with horses soon to be re-housed in one half of the building.From the main entrance and car park, the tree-lined, half-mile long Great Walk sweeps through the centre of the estate. From the steps of the classical Palladian Chapel at one end you can see as far as the forty-metre high Column to Liberty, which stands at the far side of Hollow Walk more than a mile away. Inside the chapel is a glorious triple-decker pulpit carved out of mahogany. Underneath, but rarely open to visitors, a round crypt holds the bodies of Bowes and his family.On the left of the Great Walk there’s a large walled garden, the open-topped remains of the orangery and the propped-up facade of Gibside Hall, sadly no more than a hollow shell nowadays. A short distance further on, a path slopes upwards through the woods towards the stables. Set around a cobbled courtyard, the different blocks now hold restored carriages and original fittings, a shop and cafe, and colourful exhibitions explaining the history of the estate and the unfortunate Bowes family. Beyond the stables is a small network of steep paths leading to the rarely open Banqueting House and round to the Column of Liberty.Gibside’s grounds are open year round, though the best time to visit is in late-spring or summer when the flowers are in full bloom and the estate buildings are open. Admission costs £5 but is free for National Trust members and over the Heritage Open Days weekend every September. If you want to explore the grounds, make sure you bring comfortable shoes as much of the ground beyond the Great Walk is steep and rocky. Motorised buggies run between the main buildings, but you'll need to book your place before you visit.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 15, 2006
Gibside Estate and Garden
Near Rowlands Gill, Burnopfield, Tyne and Wear
Gateshead, England NE16 6BG
44 1207 542255
Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom