If you’re looking for something different to do in the heart of the city, then I highly suggest you take the guided tour of The Victoria Tunnel.
Named after the young Queen at the time, the tunnel was used as a method to transport coal from Leazes Main Colliery to the jetties of the Tyne in the 1800’s, stretching over two miles long beneath the city. As the pit closed in 1860, so did the tunnel, becoming forgotten. It wasn’t until 1939 that the tunnel served another purpose – It was outfitted as an air raid shelter as war broke out. Post war, the tunnel resumed it’s abandoned state, lying dormant once again until 2006 when Newcastle City Council secured funding to restore the tunnel.
Now under control of the Ouseburn Trust, the visitor’s centre is situated at the monolithic (and aesthetically pleasing) arches of Stepney Bank. Inside, the history of Ouseburn and Byker adorns the walls of the waiting room, courtesy of Richard Blosse’s black and white photography, showing the development of the surrounding areas circa 1979. After a brief outline of what to expect, the tour begins. On the short walk via The Riverside Walk to the tunnel entrance, we learn about the past of several buildings, including The Cluny.
Upon arriving at the unassuming entrance (a simple red door that one may mistake as a fire exit or loading door,) we have a brief history of why and how the tunnel exists before we take a step into the past. The transition from modern day Ouseburn, with it’s urban art and hipster clientele of trendy pubs, into handmade Victorian brick work is incredible. The first step inside may seem daunting, but before you know it, you are 85 feet underground with not a thought of the outside world.
Witty, wise and very knowledgeable, tour guides Jen, Claire, Steve and Nicholas are a credit to this event. As volunteers, their passion and pride is untold, speaking truly of their love and desire for this piece of history. Their knowledge is a result of painstaking research into the tunnel’s manufacture and usage. Delivered in an informative yet highly interesting way, they speak of not only the hesternal life of this underpass, but also of their personal interests and fascinations.
Eerily beautiful, the tunnel evokes a myriad of feelings and emotions. Stopping every now and then, the tunnel reveals another amazing piece of the past to you, providing an insight into either the building of the tunnel, the lives of the people who spent time here or how modern day Newcastle is making an effect on the tunnel. Sheer highlights come from a mysterious cement memento in the form of a crucifix, to initials imprinted into the cement serving as a WWII-esque form of graffiti. Towards the end of the tour is an experience I won’t forget, but I’ll leave you to discover it for yourself.
Bringing over a century of history to life is not easily done, and looking at artefacts behind velvet ropes in museums can be anti-climatic. Here, you are literally surrounded by the past. What separates the Victoria Tunnel from other historical tours is the tangibility of it all. When you look down at your feet and see where bed posts were once cemented into the floor, you can’t help but to be overcome with emotion – There is a good chance you may know someone who called this tunnel home, and if you do, revel in the stories of yesteryear.
It was almost too much to take in. This is a real experience, soaked in allure and charm. As the world evolves constantly above ground, the sanctity of this underground world is preserved honourably and organically. The fact that over 10,000 people venture down into it’s glorious structure annually is a testament to those who brought it to life and to those preserving it’s life today. I almost feel ashamed it has taken me this long to find out about it.
Providing an absolutely overwhelming experience and boasting an ever growing list of accolades, Victoria Tunnel is an absolute must. It is ranked number one on TripAdvisor’s attractions in Newcastle, and deservingly so. Generally suitable for any age, this is not one to miss. Tours usually last two hours and run twice a day for groups up to 15. If you do something on the Quayside this week, make sure it’s this.
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