THE Watergate and Washingwell Wander offers an enjoyable trek across the Watergate Forest Park in Gateshead.

The three mile trail also provided the Launchpad walking club with its first day out!

I had been here several times before but this was a first for Steve Driscoll and his Mam Abina. They were delighted at the beauty of our surroundings.

“You just wouldn’t think it possible,” Abina exclaimed as we followed a wide, sweeping avenue into the trees. “Just to think, all this is only a few minutes from Newcastle.”

I agreed. There are so many footpaths to choose from, many of them recent developments. Every time I came here there was something new to see. The park is growing seemingly by the day!

It is hard to believe that this used to be a pit. Between 1924 and 1964 it was Watergate Colliery. During the 1990s the site was re-landscaped and now, well, now you’d think there’d been a lake and woodland here for hundreds of years.

A highlight of the walk is the eye catching sculptures along the way. These include giant slices of fruit; finely woven plants; a frog; leaves. They are all made of metal but very life-like.

Abina commented on this and I smiled and said that there was even better to come….

We walked on, the path descending into a shallow valley. Away on the left was situated the park’s waterfall and its tumbling waters could be heard faintly. Beyond could be seen a land of forests, rising into the sky.

On the right meanwhile, the lake had come into view. “Oh that’s lovely,” Abina said.

“Bit cold for a swim though,” Steve commented.

“Oh I dunno,” I replied. “Tell you what Steve, you dive in and test how cold the water is. I’ll hold your jacket for you.”

Steve declined the offer!

We headed down to southern lakeshore and took a break here. It was a curious sort of day, very warm when the sun emerged from the clouds but there was a definite nip to the air. It was the first day of autumn though so we couldn’t complain, especially after such a good summer.

The three of us sat in a companionable silence, sipping drinks and gazing across the calm water. Waves rippled gently onto the shore and a breeze rustled and sighed through reeds.

“It’s really peaceful isn’t it,” Steve said.

I nodded. This is one of the great pleasures of walking, finding little spots like this. After our break we followed a footpath past a wooded ravine to our right. On the left could be seen massive slabs of rock, now overgrown with grass and moss. “It’s the remains of the pit,” I said to my walking companions who were fascinated. We stopped to study the great slabs of stone. Such echoes of this industrial past can be found all over the Watergate Forest Park as we were to discover later ….

Our lunchtime break was enjoyed at the Marquis of Grandby pub. I have been here a few times and was rather alarmed by the big sign hanging on the wall. At first I thought it said that the inn was closing. The sign in-fact announced a major refurbishment of the establishment. My concerns were further allayed by the manageress. She said the pub was closing that very day for a bit of a face-lift but would reopen in a few weeks.

Steve, Abina and I enjoyed a leisurely hour, sitting round a table and chatting about this and that. My companions enjoyed coffees while I sipped a pint. It’s the only time I drink, due medication for bi-polar, and is something of a weekly treat.

After lunch, with the afternoon bathed in warm sunshine, we walked back down the road to the country park. I pointed out, en-route, the Tanfield Railway Path, saying, “That’s one of the October walks I’ve got in mind. We can follow the trail into the hills and watch steam trains.”

“You mean they are still running?” Abina asked.

“Absolutely,” I nodded. “It’s still a working railway.”

“Think you can count me in for that, Chris,” said Steve.

It was at this moment that I had an inspired idea: a name for the walking group …. The Launchpad Wanderers! So that’s what the group became, thenceforth!

Us Wanderers … well wandered back into the Watergate Forest Park! Our route took us into the wooden ravine through which flows a stream. We reached this by way of wooden steps and in amongst them ….. I pointed out the remains of a cobbled surface. “This must have been a road a couple of hundred years ago,” I old Steve and Abina. “It was probably used by horse drawn wagons. You find this sort of thing a lot; bits of cobbled road in a forest or on a hill. Once I came across an old gas street light, standing by itself in the middle of a pine forest. Thought I’d wandered into Narnia!”

We took a footbridge over the stream, boots clumping on wood. “Oh this is lovely!” Abina said. We leant on the rail and looked down at the stream gurgling between grassy banks. The afternoon was so still, tranquil, down here in the wooded gorge. The only sound was the water, flowing gently. Sunlight streamed through the forest ceiling, splashing and streaming into the ravine so that it glowed a rich red.

Abina and Steve were clearly captivated by our beautiful surroundings and I smiled. Walking in the countryside … it’s a kind of magic!

On the other side of the bridge our route led us up a steep flight of steps and we took a well-earned breather at the top.

I turned to my two fellow Launchpad Wanderers and said, “Well that was quite climb wasn’t it?”

“Certainly was,” Abina agreed.

“If you heard any murmuring that was me praying that the footpath came out somewhere,” I reassured my fellow walkers….!

A narrow track followed the lip of the wooded ravine back to the great open spaces around the lake. Once again we were faced with a choice of footpaths and took the one that descended to the northern shore of the lake.

Now on the final part of the day’s walk, six miles in total, we headed back towards Lobley Hill.

I was on the look-out for a particularly interesting sculpture; one which I was sure would delight Abina.

“There,” I said with a grin, pointing at the artwork in question.

Abina was indeed delighted. The metal sculpture is of a seat that incorporates a pitman’s helmet and boots! It made the perfect place for a break. We gazed across the park, over the lake and its swans, to a glowing hue of red, orange and russet brown forestation.

The Tanfield Railway Path climbs up through the trees onto the rugged and beautiful moors around Causey Arch. Built to take coal from nearby collieries to the staithes that bristled along the banks of the Tyne, the Tanfield line began its long working life in the mid-17th Century. The section between Sunniside and Causey can be dated as far back as 1725. It was at first a waggonway for horse drawn carts and then, in the 1830s, steam locomotives arrived on the scene. The Tanfield is still in operation today and the world’s oldest working railway.

It’ll make for a great walk!

Before leaving the Watergate Forest Park the Launchpad Wanderers paused again to enjoy the views. Rain clouds were clearing, to be replaced by a pale blue sky with sunlight pouring over the nearby, ancient Washingwell Wood.

It had been a smashing day!

Would you like to join the Launchpad Wanderers? Why not come along on a ramble and see if you like it? And it’s free to join!

For more info or to book a place contact:

Alisdair Cameron

Project Manager


Tel 0191 2330382





Chris Rooney

Writing Works

M: 0741 595 4065




Forthcoming walks


Sunday September 15


This enjoyable ramble takes us through an area steeped in industrial heritage. Some of the earliest steam locomotives worked the Wylam Waggonway nearly 200 years ago. That icon of the Industrial Revolution, George Stephenson, was closely involved in the development of the early railways of course and his birthplace can be seen on this walking route.

The day’s journey heads along the Wylam Waggon to Stephenson Cottage and then ascends (a bit of a climb here), the Tyne Valley. Tranquil bridleways and country lanes take us up to Heddon-on-the-Wall. The views from here are truly breath-taking, with the Tyne Valley stretching away into distant wilds.

Meeting and finishing point: The Keelman Pub (for meeting up only!), Newburn.

Meeting time: 10.30.

Sunday September 29

Monkton Fell

Follow in the footsteps of the Venerable Bede: The South Tyneside Heritage Trail takes us from Jarrow to the village of Monkton. St Bede knew this area well, living and working at the nearby St Paul’s Monastery.

From Monkton the route heads across Monkton Fell. There are miles of open grassland, not to mention a lake and forest.

Meeting and finishing point: Jarrow Metro station.

Meeting time: 10.30.


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On August 28 1640 a battle was fought in Newburn.On this day a great, Scottish Army met the English and much blood was spilt.


                                     Lovely views of the Tyne from near Newburn

My two walking companions, Steve Driscoll and his Mam, Abina, were fascinated to hear that such a battle had been fought right on the outskirts of Newcastle. I explained that the outcome was the defeat of the English Army and the Scots going on to occupy Newcastle.

Today’s walk for the Launchpad Wanderers started in Throckley and then headed down to Newburn and the riverside country park there.

It was a beautiful day, with superb views across the Tyne Valley, bathed in sunshine and glowing bright green. In the far distance could be glimpsed sunlight reddened peaks.

I stopped and said to Abina and Steve, “You see those mountains in the distance?”

“Yes,” came back the reply.

“Well that’s where we’re going.”

There was a flabbergasted silence from my two walking companions, in-fact their jaws nearly hit the ground! Then they realised that I was pulling their leg – as it were!

The morning grew steadily warmer and by the time we reached the country park it was more like a summer’s day. I led the way down to the riverside and we enjoyed a leisurely wander west along a tree lined path. There was quite a bit of activity in the park, with people milling about and a large tent being erected. We wondered what all this meant. It wasn’t until later in the day that we would find out ….

Steve and his Mam were delighted at the beauty of their surroundings and I was pleased. I have walked this route on numerous occasions and its beauty never ceases to enchant. It was great to be able to share this with other people.

“What’s that tower over there?” Abina asked.

“Mmm?” I stopped and, shading my eyes, gazed across the Tyne to a spire rising above trees on the southern shore. “Oh that’s Ryton church, dates to the early 13th Century.” The ancient, towering spire came more fully into view as we walked along. The church was surrounded by lush greenery, the top of the spire clouded by rooks. Their faint cackling drifted over the Tyne’s becalmed waters. There was plenty of other bird-life to see, with waders and heron and the dazzling flash of kingfishers.

So we walked along, the three of us, and were silent for a while. We were content to share a companionable silence and enjoy the peace tranquillity of the morning. There was a cool breeze on our faces and grass was gentle underfoot. Colours delighted the eyes and birdsong pleased the ears. After a while I suggested we pause for a break and so we sat on a boulder and enjoyed a coffee.

“Well it’s absolutely beautiful here, Chris,” Steve said, his Mam agreeing.

I briefly left my companions to go to the riverside and take a couple of photographs. I also took the opportunity to enjoy views of the great river sweeping majestically past. All was still and calm: Sunlight shimmered like jewels on the water and trees rustled ever so gently in a cool, welcome breeze, the air sweetened by flowers crowding the riverbanks. Some of those flowers were the brightest of reds, almost like small flames in amongst the grass.


The Wylam Waggonway

Steve, Abina and I walked up to Blaney Row and then joined the Wylam Waggonway. This was built in the mid-1750s and was used by horse drawn wagons to carry coal from the pit in Wylam to Lemington. I told my fellow Launchpad Wanderers about those early steam locomotives, such as Puffing Billy and, as it turned out, this was rather apt. Puffing Billy was one of the world’s earliest steam locomotives, built by William Hedley. The steam engine was brought into service in 1813 to work the Wylam Waggonway. 

The old railway line is now a walking and cycle trail and very pleasant it is too, with forestation on one side and fields and meadows on the other. There were plenty of other people out and about. I commented on the fact that I had never seen so many cyclists. I think we must have heard several different languages that morning, as we strolled along the leafy, peaceful waggonway.

After a couple of miles a small, unassuming cottage came into view.


Stephenson’s Cottage

Looks can be deceptive however because this particular, modest looking abode is of some historic importance. In 1781 George Stephenson was born here. In-fact, as we approached the cottage I thought we were going to get to have a chat with the old boy because there he was standing at the gate! It was in-fact, a scarecrow ….


Steve, Abina and I went inside the cottage. A National Trust representative told us all about the birthplace of George Stephenson. The cottage looked quant and romantic but, as our guide pointed out, up to 30 people lived in this building when George Stephenson was a lad! The mystery of the tent being erected at Newburn was solved when our guide told us that it was the 200th anniversary of Puffing Billy’s first run and a fair was being held to mark the occasion.

After leaving Stephenson’s Cottage, the Launchpad Wanderers followed a footpath up the valley side to Rift Farm and thence to the Wylam road.

The heat pulsed in a sultry air, there was hardly a breath of air, just the faintest of cool breezes. The higher we climbed, the more glorious became the views of the Tyne Valley. Great curves and mighty lines were hills rearing up and up into the sunshine. The valley was a great, bright green whilst the more distant hills were blue-grey, splashed with red sunlight.

We were on the last stretch of the walk now, heading down into Wylam where we saw lots of little pictures of Puffing Billy chalked on the ground. After lunch at the Ship Inn our route led us back along the Wylam Waggonway to Newburn.

Our eight mile ramble ended here and I think we were a bit footsore – but content. It had been a grand day!  

Before making for the bus stop I took a last look across the Tyne Valley. There was the great, broad sweep of the Tyne and the valley sides rising massively into the sky. Sunlight roamed over hills and forests, lighting each up brilliantly.

I never get tired of those views!


 I’m the one on the right!

4 thoughts on “Walking

  1. Hi I have been suffering depression since the age of 6, im now 40 and continue to struggle, I have periods of good health, during these times I manage to be productive, but shamefully even tho im on medication I still continue to have long episodes of depression, I have spent the last year isolated from the outside world, feeling alone, no motivation and have no social life at all. I have very few friends, due to not going out and finding it hard to express myself, many people just dissolve away. I am so sick of being alone, stuck in my flat with no positive outlook – I have attended counselling, and hardrian clinic on and off for years, but still im back to square one – alone, depressed and no interest in thee outside world, Im tired of feeling the way I do, and have decided to look into self help group where i can explore possible groups like walking wanderers – would you be so kind as to contact me with information on how I can join

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