Going into the Tyne Tunnel was an exciting experience for a child, especially going down the incredibly long escalators.
When the Tyne Tunnel was officially opened by the Queen we were all rather cross because the children in Wallsend were given the day off school to go and see the Queen, but Tynemouth school children did not get a day’s holiday. At about the same time, there was a lot of work being done on the Coast Road to make it a three lane dual carriageway. One afternoon my brother and I took our grandma for a walk up Norham Road to see the road works. I can clearly remember looking at the enormous hole at the junction of the Coast Road and wondering how they knew what they were doing. You could clearly see where the Coast Road would go under Norham Road but try as we might, Grandma could not understand what was going to happen to the roads.
The first time I went through the Tyne Tunnel I was on the High School hockey team and we had a match arranged against Jarrow, away. From the trip bus we got a good view of everything and it was very exciting because I was the first member of my family to use the tunnel. The idea of going under the river wasn’t new to me, I’d gone through the pedestrian tunnel with my mam and grandma to visit a relation in Jarrow on quite a few occasions. That was also an exciting experience for a child, especially going down the incredibly long escalators.
The Tyne Tunnel made journeys to County Durham much easier, especially if you had a car, which we did not. My grandparents all lived in Sunderland when I was young and the journey there was always long and complicated. With the opening of the tunnel there came a direct bus route. Prior to that there were a variety of ways of getting to Sunderland. We sometimes used the ferry – until the tunnel opened cars as well as passengers were carried on the two ferries, North Shields and Northumberland. If you could see the line of cars and vans queuing up you knew you hadn’t missed the ferry. From South Shields, we could either catch the bus or the train to Sunderland. Another route we often used was to walk down to Percy Main station to catch the train to Newcastle and then another train to Sunderland.
When I was young there were the old green electric trains on the line to Newcastle. On either side of the doorway which joined the carriages together was a little pull-down seat in the wall which my brother and I loved to sit on. Later, diesel trains were used on the line. Because there was only one class of fare on the line, you could sit in the First Class compartment for no extra charge, which made you feel very special. Sometimes we caught the bus from Burt Avenue which took us all the way to Gateshead station and then caught the train from Gateshead to Sunderland.
One winter night about 1962, when we got off the train at Gateshead, we went to wait on the Tyne Bridge for the bus back to North Shields as usual. It was very foggy and after a long time the bus hadn’t come and we were very cold. Then a bus did stop and the conductor told us that the Gateshead to Whitley Bay service had been suspended for the night because of the fog, so we got on that bus which took us over the river to Worswick Street bus station. My parents decided that if the buses were so unreliable we should catch the train from Manors to Percy Main. Eventually we caught a train and when we got off at Percy Main the fog was incredibly dense. We began to walk through the eerie night. The path from the station ran between the flats and came out by the Redburn Pub where we cut across the car park onto Wallsend Road. The fog was so bad that we completely missed the first gateway into the car park and only just found the second gateway. It was only when we reached the Pineapple pub, just round the corner from home, that my little brother realised where we were. The journey which usually took just over an hour took almost 3 hours that night.