An official and objective ranking of the seven bridges linking Newcastle and Gateshead

The Tyne and Gateshead Millennium Bridges, seen from the High Level Bridge. Image: Getty.

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 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.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.