Monthly Archives: September 2021

Links for the 27th of September

It’s been far too long, hasn’t it? (Rest assured, i have been continuing my walk along the Blyth and Tyne railway — just at a rather glacial pace…)

Walking the Blyth and Tyne, part one: Northumberland Park to Seghill

Last time on The Garden: the axe falls on the Blyth and Tyne line, and i foolhardily decide to walk its length

A modern looking metro station divided into two platforms, opening up to the sky above.

Our journey begins at North­um­ber­land Park, in North Tyneside. Though it’s the first station we’ll be visiting, it was the last to be constructed, having only opened in 2005 — and it’s quite easy to tell, even after sixteen years of wear and tear; the place is outfitted with modern amenities, lifts, ticket machines flush with the wall, and, more lately, pandemic-themed graffiti opposite the platform. This unassuming metro station will, according to the county council’s plans, serve as the interchange between the old and new lines, heavy rail and metro meeting one last time before splitting apart and going their separate ways.

A colourful graffito of the word "Pandemik", spelt with a K for reasons unknown.
A modern car park with frosted glass panels juts into the cloudy sky.

Setting off from there, the first thing that caught my eye were twin giants: a frosted glass-covered car park and a red-brick Sainsbury’s, unexpected icons of the modern British condition. It didn’t get much better from there; down the road lies an American-style strip mall lined with bookmakers trying to get people to piss away all their money.

A shopping trolley lies half submerged in a sorry looking scummy stream.
This sorry-looking trolley was, i presume, abandoned from the local Sainsbury’s.

This southernmost tip of North­um­ber­land is criss-crossed by innumerable public footpaths, cycle paths, bridleways, and other routes for non-metal-box-related transport; ducking onto one of the reclaimed “waggonways” once used to transport coal, i found myself on the site of the second station on the list.

Twin rail tracks stretch into the background.

The leafy suburb of Backworth has a habit of burying its history. A hoard of offerings from Roman times was found underground in the 1810s, the last vestiges of the colliery that once was are long gone, and the tale of this sorry ex-station is rather similar. Opened in 1864 to replace a nearby station closing the same day, Back­worth station served its community for over 100 years, surviving the Beeching cuts. But when the Tyne and Wear Metro was announced to come to town, the old station finally closed… for good. It wasn’t until the opening of North­um­ber­land Park that there would be a replacement.

As i wandered through the village’s verdant streets, i couldn’t help but think of its resemblance to the straight, cycle-friendly streets of my old hometown. A little greenery can go a long way.

Behind wire fences and train tracks, a van belonging to Network Rail is visible.
A jet-dark pedestrian underpass, its entrance covered in graffiti.
The graffiti reads “Monty Brown is a grass”. I would never say such unkind things about Mr Brown.

Network Rail were hard at work at the site of the aforementioned original Back­worth station, whose plot of land now sits vacant, marking the city’s last hurrah; the further i walked along the dirt back roads, the further the sounds of bustling cars receded, until, ducking under a shady underpass, i found myself utterly alone amongst pastoral fields (and the overwhelming scent of manure).

Hay bales cover a rolling field of wheat.

That peace and quiet was swiftly interrupted by a troupe of boy racers on motorcycles and quad-bikes, but you can’t win them all, you know?

The border between Northumberland and North Tyneside is highlighted in the middle of an unmarked dirt path.
After the county borders were hacked up in 1974, this line became the divider between rural Northumberland and ostensibly-urban Tyne and Wear.

The (post-1974) border town of Seghill occupies only the tiniest fragment of the collective English consciousness, popping up briefly in an anti-scab miners’ folk song called “Blackleg Miner”:

It’s in the evening after dark,
when the blackleg miner creeps to work
With his moleskin pants and dirty shirt
there gans the blackleg miner!


So, divvint gan near the Seghill mine
Across the way they stretch a line,
to catch the throat and break the spine
of the dirty blackleg miner


So join the union while you may
Divvint wait till your dying day,
for that may not be far away,
you dirty blackleg miner!

A corner shop by the name of "Station House Stores"

For our purposes, it’s chiefly notable for the fact that it’s the first disused station on the list whose buildings are still intact and in use, this time as a corner shop, from which i of course bought a copy of the local rag — prominently including a Q&A about the restoration of service on the line, which i thought a fitting reminder of why i set out on this silly old journey in the first place.

After getting some well deserved rest, i headed on off towards the next town over, awaiting what fresh stories i would find…

Next time on “Walking the Blyth and Tyne”: your author is reminded of her own mortality, finds himself in the company of a noble family, and shudders at the thought of having to go to Blyth, of all places on Gods’ green Earth

Walking the Blyth and Tyne: an introduction

A montage of scenes around Northumberland, with the caption: "Walking the Blyth and Tyne (a railway odyssey on foot)"
Photo credits: Martin Beek, Reading Tom, bazzadarambler, yellow book

It’s March of 1963. The island of Great Britain is in the throes of its coldest winter in two decades, senior frontbench MP Harold Wilson was recently handed the reins of the Labour party, the Beatles have just released their debut album, and, somewhere in the bowels of Whitehall, Dr Richard Beeching is writing a report that will change the country’s connecting tissue forever.

Dr Beeching, you see, is the chairman of British Railways, the state-owned company in charge of rail transport, and they’re in a spot of financial trouble. British Railways are in charge of running fifteen thousand miles of track shuttling between about four and a half thousand stations, and the only way they can do that is via generous subsidies from Her Majesty’s Government — something which the governing Conservatives, as a rule, are never too happy about.

So, pen in hand, he takes a metaphorical axe to the network, marking about half of the island’s stations for closure. It’s not pleasant, but it has to be done — and, after all, people can just take the car to their nearest station if their town’s is shut.i I’m sure it won’t be too bad.

An old map displaying the former lines of the Blyth and Tyne Railway, along the coast of southern Northumberland

That’s how, a year later, the last passenger trains ran along 5,000 miles of railway across England, Scotland, and Wales, including those connecting the mining heartland of industrial Northumberland. The Tyne and Wear Metro, opened in 1980, allowed some of these lines to reopen in Newcastle’s suburbs and (relatively) affluent coastal communities. But just a few miles north, the former Blyth and Tyne Railway has lain dormant ever since the axe fell… until now.

In recent years, the stars have aligned, and both the county council and Westminster have agreed to reopen the line, finally bringing these proud towns back together. The Blyth and Tyne Railway, now rechristened by the more attractive name of the Northumberland Line, is set to reopen by 2024. To celebrate this historic moment, i thought i’d see what has become of the stations and towns that were. I’ve identified fourteen stations, past, present, and future, along the line, and i’ll be walking between each of them in turn, seeing what stories they tell. The list includes:

  • Northumberland Park, the metro station ready and waiting to become the new line’s interchange
  • Backworth (the second)
  • Backworth (the first), already long closed by the time the axe fell
  • Seghill
  • Seaton Delaval, planned for reopening
  • Hartley Pit / Hartley, two old stations just metres apart
  • Newsham, planned for reopening
  • Blyth, on an old branch line
  • Blyth Bebside, planned for reopening
  • Bedlington, planned for reopening
  • North Seaton, now subsumed within Ashington’s town area
  • Ashington, planned for reopening
  • Woodhorn, listed on early plans for reopening but mysteriously disappeared since
  • Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, no longer in existence but with the route there safeguarded just in case

Won’t you join me?

August 2021 recap

As the month winds up and summer draws to a close, it’s time again for the menstrual (not that kind!) look back on the month that was.

Films watched

A ticket stub for The Suicide Squad
  • Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) — I want to live inside of this film, and if that is not possible, i will somehow find a way to hang the entire thing on my wall. A strong contender for my second favourite film ever. (A+)
  • Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009) — You do have to wonder if their German and French was actually any good. (A)
  • Ilya Naishuller’s Nobody (2021) — A good action film with fun setpieces which i’ll probably forget i ever watched. (C)
  • James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad (2021) — I went to the cinema for the first time since the pandemic began to watch this — I think i would have taken just about anything! (B)

Albums listened to

  • The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — I am not entirely sure i could give this album an objective ranking after all these years of it being talked up, so, uh, (Classic/10) [Best track: A Day in the Life]
  • Chvrches’ Screen Violence — It’s…. fine, i guess? Not their best, not their worst. (C) [Best track: Better If You Don’t]
  • Lucy Dacus’s Home Video — Beautiful. Just beautiful. (B+) [Best track: Triple Dog Dare]
  • Green Day’s American Idiot — By the end of it it all starts sounding a bit same-y. (C+) [Best track: American Idiot]
  • Will Wood’s The Normal Album — Chaotic good. (A-) [Best track: I / Me / Myself]

Miscellaneous photos and videos

Suburban buildings rise from above a farm full of horses, including a pub and a block of flats.
The dull but eminently photographable town of Bedlington.

On the roof of a building in a crowded city, some chairs, a plastic table, and a ladder up to a small wooden platform.
Surreptitiously taken from the Tyne Bridge. I can only hope the shop owner isn’t going to sue me.
The giant label of Monument metro station stretches into the background.
The beautiful view from the Metro over the river Tyne.
A mosaic of clouds overlooking a mountain is set above the signage at Gateshead's underground station.