Tyne Cycle & Pedestrian Tunnels, Tyne & Wear

The longest wooden escalator in the world

Opened in 1951, the Tyne Cycle & Pedestrian Tunnels join the communities of Howdon and Jarrow on the north and south banks of the river Tyne. At their peak 20,000 people travelled 900 ft (274 m) through them each day to get to work in the nearby shipyards. While pedestrian river tunnels are nothing new this was the first with a purpose-built cycle tunnel - still in regular use today as it forms part of the C2C cycle route running from coast to coast across the north of England.

Above ground at each end there is a dinky red-brick rotunda, quiet apart from the faint whirr and clank of machinery. Going in is like entering a station, but with no ticket office or trains. It's a slightly mysterious affair, just two escalators marked Up and Down that descend, seemingly, into the bowels of the earth. The directions need to be marked because they aren't moving. As you approach, a speed ray regulator powers the one you need into life. Legend has it the more people on them the faster they go although as it was quiet for our visit we didn’t get a chance to test this.

When they were built, they were the longest single-rise escalators in the world at 60m (approx 200 feet). Today they are still the longest wooden ones in the world, and a rarity now that wooden escalators such as those in the London Underground have been phased out. Built by Waygood-Otis, they have a solid charm, each of the 306 steps numbered and stamped, and they make a fantastic noise - a sort of gentle clank. The journey up or down feels like travelling in style.

Tunnel entrances

So this is only the journey to the tunnels and already it’s an adventure. Minutes later when you reach the bottom there’s something incredibly beautiful about the twin tunnel entrances, helpfully signposted in elegant 1950s lettering. Although they look identical the cycle tunnel is slightly wider. Both are resplendent in cool cream and green tiles. Tunnels can be dank and smelly, but this one is cool and spotless. It’s a disconcerting space – this long descent to a mysterious passage but it’s enigmatic rather than creepy.

As it's a public highway the tunnels are open 24 hours and are free to use. There is also a lift if for any reason the escalators don't suit.

Tyne Foot & Cycle Tunnels photos

More of Anne's Tyne Foot & Cycle Tunnels photos

How to get there

The north entrance is just off Bewicke Street (A187). It is signposted from the main road. Google map. The south is at Tyne Street, Jarrow, off the A19. Google map.


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