I’ve just got back from Newcastle. It was completely brilliant – great architecture, great cultural offering, great seaside, great pubs – and so it’s now a source of some regret to me that nobody made me do this years ago.
Probably the most brilliant of all the brilliant things about Newcastle, though, was the bridges. In one stretch of the Tyne, spanning less than a mile, there are seven of them, each linking Newcastle to Gateshead, a completely separate town across the river to its south that is in no way an extension of the city itself.
Image: Google Maps.
In my three days in the region, I managed to find excuses to use five of them, and gazed lovingly at the other two. I am thus the best qualified person there has ever been to draw up an objective ranking of them.
Here it is now.
7th. Redheugh Bridge
A road bridge carrying the A189 across the river from slightly to the west of Newcastle Central Station. There’s been a bridge on the site since 1871, but the current one only dates from onle 1980, which was not a vintage year for bridges as you can plainly see:
The Redheugh Bridge. Image: John-Paul Stephenson/Wikimedia Commons.
It’s… fine, I guess? Like, there’s nothing wrong with it. But it pales next to, well, literally all the other bridges on this stretch of the Tyne, so let’s move on.
6th. King Edward VII Bridge
Carries most of the East Coast Main Line trains across the Tyne, so it’s the one you’re most likely to have used even if you didn’t know it.
The King Edward VII Bridge. Image: Ardfern/Wikimedia Commons.
It opened in 1906, it’s Grade II listed, it’s bloody gorgeous, and in any other city it would be in with a shot of winning the Best Bridge Rosette. But this is Newcastle-Gateshead, my friend. There are better bridges aplenty.
5th. Swing Bridge
This one’s Grade II* listed (note the asterisk), and is even older, dating to 1876. The really cool thing, though, is that it moves: it uses hydraulic pressure to rotate, sitting neatly on its artificial island so that boats can pass.
The Swing Bridge, in the foreground. Image: Tagishsimon/Wikimedia Commons.
Seriously, though, how cool is that? It’s a bridge, but it spins. Honestly.
4th. Gateshead Millennium Bridge
The baby of the pack, this one is, as the name suggests, pretty recent, and only opened in 2001.
The Gateshead Millennium Bridge at night. Image: JaT/Wikimedia Commons.
Two cool things about this bridge. One is that it, like the swing bridge, it rotates, to allow smaller boats up the river – hence its nickname, the Blinking Eye Bridge.
The other is that it has a cycle lane. It’s a pedestrian bridge with a cycle lane. Screw you, drivers, this bridge is for real people.
3rd. Tyne Bridge
This is the most famous of the lot: its Grade II* listed magnificent arch is the best known symbol of the region, and if the design echoes Sydney Harbour Bridge that’s probably because it was designed by the same people, the engineering firm Mott, Hay & Anderson.
Tyne Bridge viewed from Quayside. Image: Wikimedia Commons.
It looms over the buildings of Newcastle Quayside, in a way the bridges of New York do but most British bridges don’t even attempt, and it features heavily in the last episode of one of the best BBC dramas there’s ever been, Our Friends In The North. So why isn’t it top of the list? Because there are other, even better bridges.
2nd. High Level Bridge
I mean, come on, this is just ridiculously gorgeous: a covered bridge, again the sort of thing that’s more common in the new world than the old, which carries a road on one deck and a railway line above it.
You can tell it’s one of the best ones because this one is Grade I listed. And it’s a great viewpoint to see the other bridges. It’s just realy, really cool.
The High Level Bridge. Image: Heworthjb/Wikimedia Commons.
Honestly, it would top the list, except for this one thing.
1st. Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge
The metro station at Newcastle metro is underground. You board a train heading south, expecting to remain underground, but suddenly you’re not just in the light, you’re high above the river, the cities spread out around you. And then, just as suddenly, you’re underground again, beneath Gateshead.
The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Image: Gareth James/Wikimedia Commons.
The bridge looks good in itself – much better than the Redheugh Bridge, even though it dates only to 1981. But it’s the magical experience of using it that really makes it brilliant. It’s beautiful. It’s a thing of wonder. It is a reason in itself to visit Newcastle. Honestly, go right now. You won’t regret it. I promise.