We’re taking it easy today, breaking the journey on the way down to Lincolnshire. Aiming for Newcastle without any concrete plans except to see the Millennium Bridge opening up. The journey is quick and uneventful. The M74 is familiar now. Probably my favourite stretch of motorway with all the hills around it. Crossing the border, we think about stopping to see Hadrian's Wall but decide it sounds too boring. Heading towards Newcastle I phone and find out we’ve missed the bridge, so we head towards Tynemouth. The journey, through industrial North Shields is fascinating. It's a bit like the road into Liverpool on our summer holiday. One of those long straight deserted roads, like Clyde St in Glasgow, that runs through a city's industrial heartland. There are lots of industrial relics on the way - huge cranes, ginormous sheds, tunnels and funnels. On a Sunday afternoon it's really peaceful and grand. Glasgow used to look like this, but most of the shipyards have been ripped out and turned into luxury flats. We walked along the Clyde the other week and it felt a bit featureless without the Meadowside Granary, a much-loved (and equally despised) brick building which dominated the skyline. But it’s far from redeveloped here. Driving along we accidentally find one of the things I'd read about in England: a guide to post-war listed buildings – the Tyne cycle & pedestrian tunnels. The little rotunda is deserted but we take a look. Inside they are the most beautiful things – green tiled tunnels stretching under the river. Functional but somehow calm and peaceful. We spend a while there wandering about taking pictures and playing on the longest wooden escalators in the world. Tommy likes the echoes.
Next stop Tynemouth. Neil and I have been there once before, when he was working his way up the coast. Going by the names I thought Whitley Bay would be nice and seasidey (it was grotty) and Tynemouth would be grim and industrial but it's not like that at all. There are some nice houses in the town centre and a spacious beachfront with a ruined castle and a little boating pond. I'd heard about the Childhood Memories Toy Museum, which doesn't disappoint. More of a collection than a museum it’s got toys of every kind (see photos). It has Nothing To See Here written all over it. Perfect.
Unable to resist a bridge or tunnel we go through the Tyne Tunnel and end up in Jarrow. Not one of England’s beauty spots, we head on to South Shields. It’s starting to get dark now but we get out to have a look. There are some odd sculptures here that I’ve seen on Flickr. They're like big green Weebles. A bit creepy. But there’s a great thing – the "Red Robot" or Groyne Lighthouse that I've seen in one of the seaside books. It's solid but looks a bit hand-knitted with corrugated iron patched all over it. It’s lovely and we wander about here for a while while another lighthouse lows away in the distance. We come to rest in an Alan Partridge-style travel tavern beside the Metro Centre. It's been an interesting first day.