The River Wear is arguably the foundation of the City of Sunderland. Without it providing for and shaping the landscape, settlers might not have chosen to stay on the site and the city might never have been born. Throughout history is has proven itself to be incredibly useful for the region and continues to be today.
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Bridges over the Wear
According to Wikipedia, there are currently 81 bridges over the River Wear, starting with Wearhead Bridge all the way along to the Wearmouth Bridge here in Sunderland. The river is around 60 miles long starting in the Pennines and weaves its way from there to the North Sea here.
Here in the City of Sunderland, we have 6 bridges that cross over the water. The oldest was the Wearmouth Bridge which was built in 1796. However, this original one was pulled down and a new one, the one we see today, opened in 1929 which was able to support the heavy flow of traffic that crosses over it today.
The next bridge is the Monkwearmouth Railway bridge. This is actually the oldest surviving bridge in the city as the original Wearmouth Bridge is no more. It was opened in 1879 as an extension to the rail network in the region and brought trains through the city from Newcastle to Darlington. Now, of course, it is probably most used by the Metro.
The next bridge is The Queen Alexandra (opened 1909) which was actually opened by the Queen herself. It used to have trains running over the top of it and cars underneath on the remaining road. Remains of the old train line can still be seen here.
Following on upstream is the newest bridge in the city, the Northern Spire which opened in 2018. The architecture of this one is completely different from all the others and looks incredibly modern and sleek.
And the final bridge in the Sunderland area is the most boring in my opinion. The Hylton Viaduct is where the A19 motorway goes over and opened in 1974. There really isn’t much to say about it, except that I hope they have finished all the road works on it by the time I next go on it!
History of the Wear
Of course, the river became famous and highly used during the industrial revolution. Coal mining, limescale quarrying, lead quarrying and the Port of Sunderland all contributed to the boom on the river. And as a result of all this industry, a great number of railway tracks were built along the banks and over the water. Most notably is the Weardale Railway which has become something of a tourism attraction now up in Weardale Valley.
Shipbuilding was a huge part of life on the Wear. This article from the Chronicle has a load of photos from the time of shipyards and it is baffling to see the river so busy! Over the years, Sunderland had over 400 shipyards on its banks with the first one opening back in 1336! Conditions were incredibly tough, strikes were a regular occurrence and many people were seriously injured or even killed while working on the yards. The last yard on the Wear closed in 1988.
Coal mining was also a massive part of Wearside. Where that Stadium of Light stands today, there once was the Wearside Collery. The mine opened in 1835 and closed in 1993. It was 4 years later in 1997 (which is the year I was born!) that the Stadium opened. Throughout its years in operation, there were many accidents and it was considered one of the more dangerous pits in the city. Despite this, it was the last to close in the County Durham Coalfield.
This history can still be seen all the way along the river and is still very present. From this ‘hole in the wall’ which was at one point used to support a mechanism that carried large amounts of coal from the bank onto ships to some of the other pieces of artwork photographed in this post.
When you walk along the riverside, it is hard to see positives in the area. Between the Monkwearmouth Bridge and the Queen Alexandra Bridge on the northside that path is not very well maintained, it disappears at one point and you have to just figure it out yourself due to no signage and this problem extends down to the new Northernspire bridge too. Considering this path is a part of the Coast to Coast cycle route you’d have thought some effort would have gone into the upkeep of this path.
There is a lot of wasted space down here that could be turned into some incredible parks, seating areas, coffee shops and more if some money and effort were put into it.
However, the future of the riverside might not be all so bleak. Sunderland Council has invested £100m into the project which they say will create jobs, housing, two new bridges over the river and a whole load of redevelopment.
Although this Masterplan is a 20-year project and is due to be complete in 2040, I do think it has the potential to make some serious improvements to not only the city centre but also the riverside. And perhaps if they improve this part and more people come to the riverside, then money will have to be put into the upkeep of the rest of the riverside path.
The Riverside Path
The riverside path is a really great place to walk and somewhere that I thought many people know about. However, since posting this, I have had a number of people asking me various questions about the riverside path. So I wanted to update this with screenshots from google maps for anyone who wants to do this walk themselves.
I would recommend starting at Roker. You could very easily pair this with a walk around Roker Marina and the St Peters Trail which is a load of artwork throughout the marina and along to the Wearmouth Bridge. This will also provide many options for secure parking.
This is also the easiest place to find the path and follow it as it is all pretty level and easy going. The first part of the walk follows the River Wear very easily.
When you get to the end of this path, you need to walk up a small hill and navigate your way through the industrial park to the next part of the bridge. The screenshot below shows the most direct route (this is not the one we took as we got lost and a man had to point us in the right direction).
The end of this map will bring you to just outside of the Royal Mail depo. Currently not shown on google maps is the infamous boardwalk. This is a tiny wooden bridge thing that connects the end of the car park at the depo to the rest of the riverside path.
From the boardwalk, you can continue along the path. This is the furthest I have ever gone however, you can apparently continue along to Fatfield but after the final point on this map shown above, I think you have to go away from the water’s edge and walk around the WWT Washington.
I hope these maps help and if anyone does this walk please let me know if these were helpful!
I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed the research and writing of it. I absolutely love learning about the history of our city and the direction it is heading. If you have enjoyed this then please drop your email address below to be notified of any new posts. And don’t forget to follow me on my social media to stay up to date with all my adventures!
Stay Safe and Happy Adventuring!