Having experienced some interesting bovine-related challenges on my last runs in Newcastle (see previous warblings), I decided to take myself off along the river for a longish run.
I’d run a few times along the Tyne river walk but never for that far, and I wasn’t especially keen on going out and back on the same route. This is partly due to a quite reasonable fear that if I bump into some trouble with dog owners, children on mopeds, glue sniffing hoodies or canvassing members of the coalition*, that when they see me on the way back, they might give me more grief. You kind of get that as a runner, and while I can still just about pull off the ‘whydon’tyoukeepyourbloodydogundercontrol’ line while accelerating away, there will come a time when I can’t do that any more, and I’m going to have to become a lot more tolerant, or perhaps pick fights with people with older dogs.
Anyway, I digress slightly, what I wanted was a long run that didn’t repeat itself, and there looked like there was a bit of an opportunity on the map. About 7 miles east of central Newcastle is the Tyne Tunnel, and, on the map at least, this looks like just the sort of turnaround point that would work for a longish run. Apparently, the Tyne tunnel was built in 1951, and was constructed by putting lots of concrete tubes together, dropping them into the river, then pumping all of the water out. And they make all that fuss about the channel tunnel. People that I spoke to drove through it on a daily basis, but looked at me a bit funny when I asked about going through it as a pedestrian. Actually, I don’t mind that ‘look at me a bit funny’ aspect to those conversations. It reminds me of my first ten years of living in Norfolk. Anyhow, there is a pedestrian aspect to the tunnel, and, for that matter, a cycle tunnel as well. Possibly things were a bit different, priority wise in 1951, or possibly there was just a lot of post war concrete tubing knocking around, but there was definitely a tunnel to be run through.
So, off I set, and by the time I got to 8 miles was getting a little tired, remembering that I’d told no one here I was going, hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day and had no ID. You know all those lectures you give your kids? Anyway, at that point, I got to all the signs for the tunnel. And made my way along some steps to the entry point, which looked a bit like a 50’s ferry terminal. Inside, was the steepest wooden escalator that I’ve ever seen:
And a big sign in front of it saying it was out of order and to use the lift. It’s worth saying at this point that there wasn’t a soul to be seen around the place. The escalator seemed to descent into a gloomy distance. The lift, when I found it, turned out to be one of those two-person steel goods lifts, and, as the doors shut and I pressed the down button, I realised I had absolutely no idea of what I was going to see when the doors opened.
Very slowly, the lift went down. Very noisily, it stopped and the doors opened. And what they opened up to was this:
The whole tunnel looks like this. Because it goes down, along, and up, you can’t really see the end of it, but you’re super conscious of it being a long way. And there’s still nobody about. So I started running, and, as it happened, got quite a good pace going. This was largely because I was scared out of my skin. After about 3 minutes of this, I got to see the end, where there was a replica 1950’s escalator (also broken) and a lift. Because it was so echo-ey, I was getting a bit confused about my footsteps – there was no-one to be seen, but it began to sound like there were another set of steps following me. I ran as hard as I possibly could to the lift, at which point I trod on a loose paving slab, which made a sound like a rifle going off. This caused me to swear more loudly and more vociforously than the last time I heard Michael Goves assure the nation that state education was safe in his hands. Looked up, and saw the CCTV camera. God, I bet they have a laugh looking at people hitting that paving slab at their office parties. Anyway, got to the lift, pressed the button, waited for ages, couldn’t get the doors shut, still thinking I could hear footsteps, finally the door shut, but the lift didn’t move for ages, then when it did, realised that I had no idea of what I’d see when the door did open.
Fortunately, what I saw was a replica of the previous entry point. Pretty gloomy, but no one about, and no obvious demons on my trail. All I had to do now was to keep the river on my right and follow the path, right?
Unfortunately, the footpath on the other side of the river is a bit less used and tended, so I ended up in bits of Jarrow and Hebburn that probably don’t make it onto the tourist maps. And by now it was dark, and starting to rain, and I’d run for about 90 minutes and I was absolutely knackered.
Just as I was feeling really sorry for myself, I saw a couple of figures on the path ahead. And as I saw them, they stopped on the path. They seemed to have turned to face the river, so that I couldn’t see their faces, and I began to get worried; they looked to be in their late teens, hoods up, and for all I knew, waiting to get their kicks by beating the crap out of unsuspecting runners. So, as I got closer to them, I tried to speed up, so they wouldn’t have a chance to knock me over. Unfortunately, this change of pace resulted in an attack of cramp in both calves, which had exactly the opposite effect, and I ended up approaching them in a series of two footed hops. Which, in retrospect, might have looked a bit odd. I made a mental note that in future I’d try to not approach potential hoodlums while making simpering noises like a small animal with its mouth gaffa taped up, and executing a series of very small bunny hops.
And that’s when something quite fantastic happened. I’d been so bound up in my own worries, that I hadn’t heard the noise coming across the river. As I got closer to it, I could hear absolutely pure musical notes washing towards us from the other side of the Tyne. And as I stopped, alongside the two lads that I’d just gently hopped past, I could hear it really clearly.
Whoever decided to rehearse the colliery brass band in the car park on that side of the river that night was a bloody genius. I don’t think I’ve ever heard music delivered in such a fantastic way, washing across the river and without any interruption, so you could pick out all the instrumentation but still have that mass of space around it to make it feel like such a big noise. So the three of us stood there for a bit and listened. After a while, the band stopped, and we went off in different directions, me to go on a very slow end to my run, they to probably not ever contemplate mugging passers by, and possibly to spend their evening volunteering at the local orphanage.
A long time ago, when HiFi was all the rage, people who sold quadrophonic systems used to say that the experience of listening was like sitting right in the middle of an orchestra. That always struck me as a fairly noisy and conspicuous way to listen. Far more preferable, in my humble opinion, is listening to music on a cold night, being played across a big dark river, next to two complete strangers, who have been good enough not to point out that you’re fifty years old, wearing shorts on a winter evening, sweating like a pig, and having disturbed their listening pleasure by bunny hopping past them and repeatedly making a “nyguuuugh” noise. Never mind your iPod playlists and earbuds, if you want to go for a run and listen to music, rock up to Hebburn on a wet Tuesday night and hope the band is rehearsing again.
* note, I am only truly fearful of one of these groups