A former teacher and charity worker from the North East of England, I love people and places and like to try out new experiences wherever possible. Capturing that 'perfect pic' is all part of the pleasure. Access issues are a particular interest.
Published May 27th 2014
Park Life doesn't get any Better
Lake at South Marine Park
For a true highlight in the town, travel eastwards towards the sea and you'll see the beautiful Marine Parks and the redeveloped seafront which attracts droves of locals and visitors alike.
Part of an impressive grand-scale 19th century design, the North Marine and South Marine Parks sit adjacent to each other, along with the Bents Park on South Shields coast road, facing the sea and the beautiful long sandy beaches.
While the South Marine park has been beautifully landscaped to provide superb leisure facilities such as a boating lake that is populated by swans, Canada geese and ducks, a children's playground and paddling pool, and a miniature railway, the North Marine Park boasts manicured flower beds, a bowling green and a Japanese garden as well as a play area for the more energetic youngsters to expend some energy.
The land was reclaimed from 'ballast hills' left by the sailing ships of a bygone age and the original vision of the architect Matthew Hall and head gardener John Peebles can still be enjoyed today. In the South Marine Park, head uphill to discover waterfalls and panoramic views across the lake and out to sea, while a similar walk in the North Marine Park will provide vistas of the river mouth and harbour, with views to Tynemouth Priory.
Between the entrance to these two seafront parks on Ocean Road stands an edifice commemorating the world's first self-righting lifeboat, the invention of which was attributed to 18th century townsman William Wouldhave. The building of which was contested but there is no doubt the design went on to save many lives at sea. The lifeboat on display represents the town's maritime heritage and the vessel dating back to 1833 has recently undergone a complete restoration.
Tyne Lifeboat - Picture by John Short courtesy of ST Council and Museums
A separate recreational area, the Bents park, was created for public gatherings and is used for all kinds of events such as car and caravan rallies, circuses and the highly acclaimed Summer Festival of recent years, which bring in huge revenue for the town's businesses during the summer season. Most recently, The Great North Passion was staged here at Easter and televised by the BBC on Good Friday.
The beaches near the town centre of South Shields are Little Haven and Sand Haven and are separated by a long pier complete with lighthouse which marks the entrance into the harbour and the River Tyne. There is another pier protruding from the north side of the river and these form a sea barrier for ships entering and leaving the river. The lighthouses ensured the safety of sea travellers for more than a century but these have been phased out in favour of newer technology in recent years.
Staying in this area, the new Haven Point development boasts new swimming pools and a new promenade while just across the road is the Ocean Beach Pleasure Park. But my personal favourite piece of public art in the town is a group of statues situated near the beach at Little Haven known locally as 'The Weebles'.
The installation was created by Spanish sculptor Juan Munoz in 1999 and is officially called 'The Conversation Piece'. It features a group of 22 bronze figures, around human height and dressed in formal evening gowns but here's the thing – each statue stands on a semi-spherical egg-shaped base and it almost looks as though they could be moving - perhaps performing an elaborate ballroom minuet, as they whisper their secret conversations to each other.
A Conversation Piece - Public Art at Little Haven Beach, South Shields
They gained the nickname from the 1970s children's toy of the same name as they are a similar shape to the little animated figures in a television advert which sported the sing-song ditty 'Weebles wobble but they don't fall down'.
Much maligned as a waste of money, particularly in the aftermath of industrial demise and in the recession that hit North East, this expressive piece of artwork was an early days venture into the field of public art, initiated by the council almost two decades ago, but it has stood the test of time and, I think, is viewed affectionately by the locals and visitors alike.
Take a walk along the Sand Haven area of the sea front, you will see a range of pubs and restaurants, some of them quite unusual such as 'The Rattler' – a restaurant made up from old railway carriages and a rebuilt, glass-roofed 19th century station, which is now a conservatory.
There's a lovely glass-fronted walkway looking out to sea and, if you're looking for a low point, there's a sunken amphitheatre where entertainment such as local bands and crowd-pleasing kiddies shows take place during the Summer Festival. The area is surrounded by a 'Tivoli' style wall of fountains, although this great idea has now become a flower bed due to operating costs and, dare I say it, some vandalism in the early days. A larger fountain is a centre-piece to the whole lay-out and an ice cream parlour operated by the Minchella family, who have lived in the town since arriving from Italy in the 1940s, makes for a very pleasant day out at the seaside.
All in all not a bad place to live either.
The A183 Coast Road is the main road along South Shields sea front and there are a number of car parks around this area. The town is well served by the Tyne & Wear Metro from Newcastle as well as buses from Sunderland - Bus no. E1 has a route along the seafront and runs from Park Lane Bus station in Sunderland to South Shields Market Place every 20 minutes. The Tyne Ferry also has a half-hourly service between North and South Shields.