This week I decided to take a tour of Newcastle’s Victoria Tunnel, located in the Ouseburn area of the city. The meeting point is at 53-55 Lime Street in the Ouseburn Valley. I was keen to learn more about my city and the tunnel’s history, so I opted for the two hour tour on Monday afternoon 1.30-3.30 pm. There are 7 or more 2 hour tours ran a week of the Victoria Tunnel, with no more than 15 people in each group, so if I was you I would pre book as early as possible to avoid disappoinment. The 1 hour tours are ran in the school holidays, with the next being February half term, these tours are more suitable for families with young children or people preferring a shorter tour. Bookings can be made online, on the Ouseburn Trust site and tickets are sent via email to print off.
Prices- All tours
Adult £7 (or £10 with a guidebook)
Under 16 £4
If you would prefer to book by telephone call 0191 230 4210
The Ouseburn Trust run and manage the Victoria Tunnel as a visitor attraction and the gift shop, they are an Independent development trust and registered charity, whose goal is to achieve ” a vibrant, diverse and sustainable future for the Ouseburn Valley”. This attraction is No.1 in Newcastle upon Tyne at present on Trip Advisor, making me even more curious to explore.
On booking you are asked to arrive 15 minutes earlier than your tour time, for a health and safety talk and use of facilities. After this you are given a large torch each and as a group all set off on a walk to the Victoria Tunnel, passing places of interest along the way. There are two tour guides on each tour, Diane and Donald were my tour guides, on arrival at the tunnel’s entrance you are all given a hard hat to wear to protect your heads, mainly from hitting your head off the tunnel ceiling if you are over 6 foot tall.
The Victoria Tunnel is a preserved 19th century Waggonway under the city from the Town Moor to the Tyne, it was built to transport coal from Spital Tongues Colliery to the river, from 1842 to the 1860’s, then it was converted into an air raid shelter in 1939 to protect the people of Newcastle during WW2. The original tunnel is 2.5 miles long, however the accessible part of the tunnel is 700 metres due to building of the central motorway, it divides the tunnel in two near the Great North Museum formally The Hancock Museum.
We all entered the tunnel in intrepidation, as you walk down a slight slope you turn left and sit on the seats. Whilst hearing the stories of how the tunnel was used in WW2 as an air raid shelter from the bombings and how it housed 8-10 thousand people in the area on any one given day or night, depending on when the air raid siren went off. It was hard to imagine that amount of people in such a small area. We saw the bunk beds that were there and how each level of the three tiers were for certain people i.e. pregnant mothers, children.
On the walk down the tunnel you are told about how the tunnel was converted in 1939 into an air raid shelter to protect its people, those of Newcastle during World War 2. The story that stuck with me the most was that of Tarset Street, where a great tragedy occurred in June 1942. After a bombing raid, a young girl was playing on the bomb site and fell into the crater and was overcome by gas fumes, a boy scout and two fireman followed in after her, all were killed by the fumes. The firemen and the boy scout received awards of honour, one of the firemen was the girl’s uncle! You can also spot the difference in the tunnel’s walls as you go further into the tunnel, some are in original state, others have been white washed over and some were repaired as a block of newly developed flats in the area caused some damage. I found the tunnel easy to walk in, as long as you don’t stand on the sides where the running water runs along, best to walk directly down the middle, with everyones torches on it is well lit. Other points of interest are the toilet… (enough said) and the original electric lightning still in place. At the end of war the tunnel is left unused, closed up and in darkness.
As you come to end of the tunnel and turn to walk back, you are then transported back to 1838 and the origins of its life as a Waggonway from the Colliery to the Tyne. Stories of the construction and about the owners of the Colliery Porter and Latimer, the opening of the Tunnel in 1842 and the big party for the workers at a pub in the Bigg Market, with ale and pies plus entertainment!! The moment of realisation came when we were asked to turn our torches off, complete darkness, you couldn’t see a soul. The guides were brilliant very informative, happy to answer questions and held the attention of the group from the beginning to the end of the tour.
TIP Find out about the Dragon Snot…
I came out of the Victoria Tunnel feeling full of new knowledge and thoroughly enjoying the last two hours, that seemed to fly by. I cannot recommend this tour enough, whether you live in the North East of England or abroad, young or old this is a MUST DO! Now I know why it’s top of Trip Advisor for Newcastle.