In an effort to walk off the remainder of the turkey sandwiches, curries and chocolate orange consumed over the Christmas break, I headed out to the coast last week for a walk. I packed the camera too, just in case something caught my eye. That’s how it is these days; I find spur of the moment photos far more rewarding. There was a time I’d pore over maps, check the alignment of the sun, the cloud cover… and come back with nothing.
I set off from Tynemouth’s Spanish Battery and followed the path that descends to the mouth of the River Tyne. The wind was raw, but luckily on my back as I turned to follow the path along the river towards the Fish Quay at North Shields.
The path curves gently around the sloping sides of the valley and something about the light and the textures of the trees above the path caught my eye.
I don’t take many photos of trees – I find them really difficult to compose, but something about the colours and the raw tangle of dead branches appealed to me.
They also appeared somewhat menacing. Remember the landslide bit in The Railway Children? Maybe you don’t. (Face it, Simon: you’re getting old; some of the them won’t have seen Star Wars either…) Ok, how about the boat-stealing bit out of Wordsworth’s Prelude? No? Well, anyway, the way the trees loomed over the path felt for a few moments as if they were waiting to walk down and pounce on the unsuspecting dog-walkers below…
Well that’s what I was thinking of when I edited this later.
Eventually I arrived at Clifford’s Fort, which marks the end of the estuary and the start of the Fish Quay. There’s a real sense of maritime history here, although the fishing fleet is much smaller compared to the heydays of past centuries, although if you’re having prawns somewhere in the UK, there’s a fair chance they were landed at North Shields.
If you want to find out more about life on the river, then a trip to the Old Low Light – once a navigation aid, now an excellent museum and cultural centre – is well worth it. And the views over the river are great too!
In recent years, there’s been a lot of regeneration work along the Fish Quay but what caught my eye on this visit was the recently installed sculpture ‘Fiddlers Green’ that looks out to the mouth of the river.
Constructed from weathered steel by Ray Lonsdale, a fisherman in gansey and rubber boots sits on some mooring posts, gazing out to sea, a cigarette between his lips.
He’s deceptively life-like and stands as a memorial to fishermen lost at sea.
Public art often gets a rough ride in the media. The cost of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North, funded by grants and the national lottery and now a source of regional pride was criticised by sceptics at the time, but no such accusation could be levelled at Fiddlers Green; it was paid for completely by public subscription, organised by the North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project.
Despite its centuries-old connection to the sea, North Shields was one of a few ports in the British Isles that didn’t have a fishermen’s memorial. That changed in September last year, when the sculpture was unveiled.
And the name? It doesn’t refer to the patch of ground on which the memorial stands. Fiddlers Green is an old sailor’s myth – a place in the afterlife for endless merriment:
Wrap me up in me oilskin and jumper
No more on the docks I’ll be seen
Just tell me old shipmates
I’m taking a trip, mates
And I’ll see you one day in Fiddler’s Green