North East England is the region of England that lies east of the Pennines between the River Tees and the Scottish border. It centres around the River Tyne, with Newcastle on the north bank and Gateshead on the south bank, and industrial sprawl south along the coast. Inland lies a string of former coal-mining towns, whose produce fed the ship-building and other heavy industry of the region and was exported worldwide. "Sending coals to Newcastle" used to be a common phrase for a pointless activity, and generations of travellers would have felt the same about visiting the North East for leisure.
Anyone who still feels that should think again. First, most of this region has never been industrial, but instead has outstanding natural beauty. Hadrian's Wall snakes over dale and hill along the crest of a sharp ridge. Along the coast, windswept castles raise defiant stone fists against invaders and the elements. Northumberland National Park has wild tracts of moorland and dark, dark skies - the Northern Lights are often seen. Charming small towns include Hexham, Corrbridge, Alnwick and border town Berwick. Durham's old city centre is remarkably well preserved. And second, the industrial areas are re-inventing themselves, Newcastle with Gateshead being the most successful example. This region is no longer a rusty blur on the journey between Yorkshire and Scotland, it's a major area to visit in its own right. Come soon before the rest of the world discovers it.
|County Durham |
The highlight is the city of 1 Durham. Its well-preserved old centre has an outstanding cathedral and Norman castle. The village of Beamish has a large open-air museum. To the west are the Pennine hills, with the River Tees rushing over High Force waterfall.
|Tyne and Wear |
You'll know you're there when you see the Angel of the North, a giant copper-coloured sculpture towering over the A1. The area revolves around buzzing 2 Newcastle upon Tyne, with a graceful Victorian main street, and one of Europe's largest shopping malls at Metro Centre. The south bank of the Tyne is a separate town, 3 Gateshead, with the Baltic Gallery.
This is mostly rural, with a long lonely coastline dotted with castles - mostly scenic ruins, but 4 Alnwick just inland has a more comfortable bastion. The coast culminates in 1 Lindisfarne, the "Holy Island", and the Scottish border just beyond 5 Berwick-upon-Tweed. 2 Hadrian's Wall, built by the Romans to keep the wild Picts at bay, stretches for 80 miles from coast to coast. 6 Hexham is a charming small town close to the wall, and 3 Northumberland National Park stretches over windswept moors.
The North East is England's most northern and sparsely populated region. The area has a very long and bloody history, due to its proximity to Scotland and has fallen under Scottish hands at least once as the border shifted over time.
- 1 Newcastle Airport (NCL IATA) has flights from London Heathrow, Amsterdam, Paris CDG and other UK and European cities. It's on A696 six miles northwest of city centre: frequent Metro trains take 30 min to city centre and the main railway station.
- Manchester (MAN IATA) is worth considering for its great range of long-haul flights at competitive prices, avoiding a change in London or Amsterdam. Frequent trains run from the airport to North East England.
- Teeside (MME IATA) near Darlington is small, with scheduled flights only from Amsterdam, Aberdeen, Belfast City and London City. Onward public transport is poor.
The East Coast mainline runs north from London Kings Cross via York, with direct trains hourly to Darlington (2 hrs 20), Durham (2 hrs 50), and Newcastle (3 hrs). Other routes from Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and the southwest join at York. The line continues north to Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh. Other lines serve Middlesbrough and Sunderland, and cross the waist of the country from Carlisle.
National Express and Megabus run from London Victoria to Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle, with some continuing to Edinburgh and Glasgow. There are also buses from the Midlands, Manchester and Leeds.
The major routes across the region are mostly dual-carriageway. Near the cities they can be congested in rush hour, and on fine Sunday afternoons as city-dwellers head home from the countryside. The main roads are:
- A1 from the south, passing Darlington, Durham and Newcastle, then continuing to Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh
- A19 branches off A1 in Yorkshire and runs north nearer the coast, via Middlesbrough and Sunderland and bypassing Newcastle
- A69 connects Newcastle and Carlisle
- A66 (several long sections undivided) runs from Darlington over the Pennines to meet M6 at Penrith in the Lake District
- A68 (an undivided highway) switch-backs across the hills from Darlington to Jedburgh and Edinburgh
Ferries sail overnight from IJmuiden near Amsterdam to North Shields, 7 miles east of Newcastle.
Public transport in this region is good along the north-south lowland corridor (connecting London with Scotland) and to the industrial towns near the coast. Towards the hilly west, transport routes follow the river valleys so east-west is straightforward, but you need your own wheels to go north-south across the moors.
The East Coast Main Line runs north from London via York with stations at Darlington, Durham, Chester-le-Street, Newcastle, Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed, continuing to Edinburgh. All trains stop at Newcastle, the others are served every hour or so.
Hourly trains run along the coast from Newcastle via Heworth, Sunderland and Seaham to Hartlepool, Stockton and Middlesbrough. In County Durham, a branch line train runs hourly from Darlington to Newton Aycliffe, Shildon and Bishop Auckland.
The scenic Tyne Valley line runs parallel to Hadrian's Wall, from Newcastle via Gateshead, Prudhoe, Hexham, Haydon Bridge and Haltwhistle and onwards across Cumbria to Carlisle.
The Tyne and Wear Metro serves Newcastle and Sunderland. The Yellow Line is a big inverted "@" that runs from Newcastle city centre, east to the coast at North Shields then north to Whitley Bay, before looping back to Newcastle via Gosforth and Jesmond. Its southern tail runs south of the Tyne via Gateshead to South Shields on the coast. The Green Line runs from Newcastle Airport to city centre then southeast to Sunderland and ends at South Hylton.
The road network in the North East is decent, however traffic can build up severely, particularly on approaches to cities and on the A1 and A19 roads. For this reason it is often best to use public transport to get around the region, especially in urban areas.
The North East has many buses, which are provided by a range of operators. There are some tickets that are only valid on certain operators, so it is worth checking which bus you are getting on. In particular, some bus numbers are used by multiple operators, which can get very confusing. An Explorer Ticket, valid on all bus services across the North East (as well as some in neighboring parts of North Yorkshire and the service to Carlisle), costs £10.50 for an adult for one day.
Most towns and cities have some kind of internal bus route as well as longer range buses that run from town to town. Some of the more useful intra-regional bus routes are:
7: Durham to Darlington 10: Newcastle to Hexham 21: Newcastle to Durham 45: Newcastle to Consett X7: Sunderland to Middlesbrough X10: Newcastle to Middlesbrough X11: Newcastle to Blyth X15: Newcastle to Berwick (fast) X18: Newcastle to Berwick (scenic) X21: Newcastle to Newbiggin by the Sea X21: Newcastle to Stanhope X21: Newcastle to Bishop Auckland X21: Sunderland to Darlington
Some buses take scenic routes, such as the X18, AD122 (a bus for Hadrian's Wall) and even normal buses will still provide views of the picturesque scenery.
Several cycle routes pass through the area and this can be a quick way to get around the region. In particular, National Cycling Route 1 runs along the coast and is arguably one of the most scenic routes in the country around places such as Bamburgh.
The Shields Ferry crosses the mouth of the Tyne between South Shields and North Shields every 30 mins, a seven-minute ride. Foot passengers and bikes only; both ferry piers are served by the Metro.
The Tees Transporter Bridge is a weird contraption: it's a gondola slung beneath a slender metal bridge that carries vehicles and others across the river between Middlesbrough (south bank) and Port Clarence, Stockton (north bank).
The cities of the North East sprawl out, but their areas of interest are usually compact and best explored on foot.
Hadrian's Wall path stretches coast-to-coast from Wallsend to Carlisle. The eastern section is modern, but west of Newcastle the route follows the Roman wall.
The Pennine Way is at the west edge of the region, bordering Cumbria, then turns east for several miles to coincide with Hadrian's wall path. It then resumes its march north to the Cheviots and into Scotland.
Both these long-distance paths have multiple access points suitable for an out-and-back afternoon hike.
Eating out in North East England is very much dependent on where you are. Fresh fish can be found at many of the coastal towns such as Redcar. Fast food chains, Italian, Indian and French restaurants are all common to most larger towns.
North Easterners pride themselves on serving what they argue is the best traditional English fish and chips. From the largest cities in the region to the smallest villages, the presence of a fish and chip shop and a pub are practically guaranteed.
You're seldom far from a pub, whether in the city centres or up in the valleys. At Tan Hill Inn out on the moors you might be snowed in for days.
The region has a great brewing tradition but its big commercial breweries have moved away - for instance Newcastle Brown Ale is now brewed in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire. But in their stead are many small independent breweries. They seldom offer tours but it's worth tracking down their products.
Several micro-distilleries produce gin and vodka.
Northerners are wonderfully friendly and can usually be counted on to look after those not familiar to the area. As in any large city, certain areas will not be as safe after dark . As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid travelling alone late at night.
- South is Yorkshire, nowadays four separate counties. North Yorkshire is rural, with the Yorkshire Dales, and charming towns such as Ripon and Harrogate.
- York is unmissable for its historic centre.
- West is Cumbria and the Lake District: scenic, but it's sure to rain.
- North you enter Scotland via the Scottish Borders, with a rugged coastline on the way to Edinburgh.