This walk (or bike ride) is bookended with links to two revolutions. It starts with a political uprising, and ends deep in the industrial heart of Northumberland. Joining the two are trails that pass through unusual floral grasslands and along riverbanks where the ever-rich wildlife might spring the occasional surprise.
In August 1640, a Scottish army of 20,000 soldiers faced an English force of 3,500 across the River Tyne. The Scots had invaded in protest at the imposition of a new prayer book by King Charles I.
The ensuing Battle of Newburn, in which the Scots, unsurprisingly, were victorious, was an early skirmish in what became the English Civil War.
Way of the waggon
From the car park at Newburn, follow the road west, past Blaney Row, to join the Hadrian’s Wall cycleway and path. This former waggonway, which once carried coal from Wylam colliery to boats waiting on the Tyne at Lemington, leads directly to Wylam.
After following this track for a mile, walkers can take the parallel riverbank footpath into Close House Riverside, a Northumberland Wildlife Trust nature reserve. Cyclists should carry on along the waggonway.
Continue through conifer woodland and grassland, where the vegetation has been influenced by zinc and lead salts washed into the gravels from the now abandoned mines of the North Pennines. Flowers such as alpine pennycress, spring sandwort, butterbur, and the rare dune helleborine, which can tolerate the heavy metals, have filled niches normally occupied by more sensitive blooms.
From the western gate of the reserve, either carry on along the riverbank into Wylam, or rejoin the waggonway, and follow this to the village, passing the birthplace of George Stephenson, perhaps the best-known engineer of the early Industrial Revolution.
Wylam was also the birthplace of Timothy Hackworth, who between 1813 and 1815, along with colliery manager William Hedley, from Newburn, created Puffing Billy and Wylam Dilly, which are the oldest surviving steam locomotives in the world.
Cross the bridge to the south bank of the river, then turn east through the railway station car park to join the Keelman’s Way footpath and cycle track.
This follows the curve of the river, overlooking the many shingle banks that are populated by birds such as cormorants, oystercatchers, flocks of gulls and perhaps the occasional heron or goosander.
The River Tyne is tidal as far upstream as Ryton, 17 miles from its mouth. East of Newburn, the river was once heavily polluted with industrial waste. But recent years have seen a significant clean-up, so that it is now not uncommon to see seals venturing in this far from the coast.
All the fun of the fair
The path converges with the railway for a short distance before entering the Ryton Willows Nature Reserve.
During the early 20th century, fun fairs stopped here, attracting revellers from Newcastle.
It is now an area of grassland, with patches of gorse and broom in which linnets and yellowhammers nest, and ponds that are home to frogs, toads and invertebrates.
Continue along the riverbank through the nature reserve and on to reach Newburn Bridge, originally built in 1893. Cross the bridge and turn west, past the Boathouse pub toward Newburn Leisure Centre.
A wooden footbridge and a narrow track lead past this back to the car park.
Image © Copyright Andrew Curtis and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
HOW TO GET THERE
By car, follow the A69 from Newcastle to Throckley, then the A6085 to Newburn. Turn right at traffic lights, then right again and continue to car park opposite Leisure Centre and Riverside Country Park. By bus, catch the 22 from Newcastle Central station to Newburn.
FIND OUT MORE
Close House Riverside
Keelman’s Lodge and Pub
Grange Road, Newburn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Nestled within the grounds of the Big Lamp Brewery, the oldest micro-brewery in the north-east, this charming pub has 14 en-suite rooms.
George Stephenson’s Birthplace
Wylam NE41 8BP
Cherryburn is a charming four-room cottage three miles upriver from Wylam, and the birthplace of artist, Thomas Bewick.
OS Landranger 88
Grid reference: NZ 160 657