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Following Bewick's Footsteps (Part 1)

I thought nothing of leaving Newcastle after I had done work 7 o'clock on a winter's night and of setting to walk to Cherryburn - Bewick, Memoir

Having fixed on the 8th Aug for a long Saturday ramble, the Bewick Society decided to celebrate Bewick’s birthday. Following a route that would lead us from Newcastle city where Bewick worked and lived in from the age of fourteen, we would trace the journey he made back home to his birthplace Mickley, Northumberland. 

Our walk was advertised as 'stirring' with 'stout boots required'. Both were true, as I'll tell you now. We gathered opposite Bewick Street, admiring the windows of the building that proudly wears his blue plaque, the street below paved with an inlaid brass replica of one of his most famous works, the Chillingham Bull.

Beginning with a walk along the River Tyne at Newcastle’s Quayside, we soon chirped up into talk of how the water would once have been bustling with ships. Admittedly, some of us first said boats but we soon discovered the difference. A matter of oars and motors, it seems, though a boat can also be powered sails. The distinction was made simple: you can put a boat in a ship but you can’t put a ship in a boat!

The river here is something I first saw at night, half cut with the lights of the Baltic and the multi-coloured reflection of the Millennium Bridge smiling across the river’s surface like a psychedelic moon. By day it is a bold stretch of water, where the sight of a ship passing is even rarer than a boat.

We moved West against the flow of the river and passed a disused drift mine, another pointer to the once hustle and bustle of keelmen on the Quayside. Across the water, the bare timbers of Dunston Staithes gave serene shelter to lapwings, herons and otters. From a distance, three huge circular concrete domes came into view. The public artwork put me in mind of the boulders planted by local authorities to stop Gypsy, Roma and Traveller peoples passing through or settling in particular green areas. These routes are often replicated over time and/or markers left for others to suggest a safe space.

If you’ve read Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Robert’s Edgelands, then you may ask just why these unnaturally placed and often ‘inorganic’ looking boulders appear as they do along the industrial hems of our towns, sprayed fluorescent yellow or chalk white. As my mind jumps, I feel a poem happening here, especially as this line of thought has produced an equally alien but entirely organic boulder-memory from in my hometown of Darlington’s South Park, an enormous pink shap granite stone. Pink granite is quite misleading as the stone itself is actually grey, not pink. It was lifted from the Tees and displayed at the park’s entrance in 1900...I digress.

In the near-distance towards Newburn a mill emerged, a familiar shape to the mysterious Cleadon Mill which captured my heart on a walk the week before. Looking out towards Blaydon, a sign showed lyrics to 'Blaydon Races' a folk tune Bewick might well have whistled were it written in his day. Without even knowing it, we had walked five miles and continued in the direction of Wylam for a well deserved spot of lunch at The Boat House pub.

High on the wall we spotted a flood marker from 1773. Onward along the Hadrian’s pathway we saw unusual public art pieces such as the ink-black silhouette of a man across the river and a horse carved into a block of concrete. All around me there were echoes of Bewick's engravings: a man in the landscape, monuments and territories, nature in full leaf, wildlife in her light summer feathers and with the road ever ahead, blog to be continued...



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