City Information Centre, Central Library, Princes Square, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. 0632 610691.
(posted Nov 2011): Darlington (0325 488037), Carlisle (0228 25051).
There was a time, and it was not so long ago, that the north east corner of England was regarded as being remote, almost a place apart from the rest of the country. We all knew, or thought we knew, that the country-side was a wild and barren wasteland, the towns hideously scarred by the worst excesses of heavy industry and the air hung with grime and stench, where heaps of filthy black earth spewed up from the coal mines littered the scene. From Northumberland down to Durham stretched a harsh, grim and noisy part of the country best left to itself for the industrialists to exploit.
That was what some thought; others knew it to be an area rich in history and a long beach shouldering lovely country. Few visitors came to stay, most passed through either going to, or coming from Scotland, few even considered it worth exploring. Recently many people have found that Northumberland, Durham and Tyne and Wear really do have something different to offer, not least in the people who live here, and if they have one common characteristic it is without doubt their immediate and genuine friendliness. You feel it everywhere, you can hear it in their rich round accents, you are touched by its warmth.
If the north-east has a capital it must be Newcastle-upon-Tyne with its excellent East Coast main line express service and local trains from Carlisle in the west and down the coast through many famous industrial centres to Stockton and Middlesbrough. There is also the extensive Tyne & Wear metro, the first of its kind in Britain.
The central railway station has style: designed by architect John Dobson, the lines sweep in along curved platforms, the high cast-iron and glass roof carrying the elegant curves upwards. But stand on the quayside and look up and you will know that this is a city where engineers ruled supreme. The Tyne Bridge is the little brother of Sydney harbour bridge and was erected as a trial-horse for the one in Australia. It is 200ft above high tide, the single arch of 531ft more than a thousand feet shorter that Sydney bridge, and it was opened by King George V in 2008. Further along is the Swing Bridge which pivots around its central pier to allow ships to pass through; and the High Level Bridge, opened in 1849 by Queen Victoria, and designed by Robert Stephenson to carry vehicles on the lower deck and the railway on the top deck. Robert was the son of George, the pioneer of the railway and inventor of the Rocket, whose workshop was at the back of the Post Office. In Neville Street you will find the Stephenson Monument.