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It seemed strange to visit Gateshead in June of this year with my husband as it was a bit like walking down memory lane for him. Many years ago he used to work with Gateshead Council and often spent whole weeks training and would stay over. I think I may have travelled with him a couple of times but I really couldn't remember a lot about the place except the lovely Tyne Bridge. I have always had a soft spot for that bridge. You can imagine how excited I was when I saw the Millennium Bridge from the windows of The Sage on the second morning of our visit. It was far too windy and wet to physically stand on the bridge on that particular morning but we did go back the day after when the weather was a bit brighter.
I did wonder why this part of the north east needed another bridge as there are so many already crossing the Tyne between Newcastle and Gateshead. Is it six or seven including this one? I'm not sure but let's say, there seems to be a lot.
Why was a new bridge needed then? The council of Gateshead and residents wanted a new bridge to look spectacular but not to outshine the other line of bridges. It also had to be able to link developments on both sides of the river and have special features like; a deck so that cyclists and pedestrians would be able to travel easily across and an additional deck that would form a curve across the River Tyne. Another important feature would be one that allowed boats and ships to pass underneath so the arch of the bridge would have to be lifted to allow this. A tall order for any architect to come up with, I think.
Instead of the Council sending out tenders for work, a competition was held for architects to enter designs and the residents along with members of the council would choose the winner. In 1996 the winning group of architects, Wilkinson Eyre were chosen by the people of Gateshead for their innovative design and their plans were turned into one of the most elegant and functional bridges in England.
The bridge looks stunning from a distance but when you stand on the pedestrian deck looking out towards the Tyne Bridge and The Sage you feel exhilarated, Well, I did. I was very excited and loved the views on both sides because when you turn around you see the wonderful old flour mill which is now the Baltic Contemporary Art Gallery. I love the steel arch and the way it is supported by suspension cables. Apart from looking elegant the cables are functional as they help increase the stability of the bridge. I did notice that the pedestrian path was slightly higher than the cycle path. This is a great design as it allows cyclists to cycle safely across and at the same time keeps the view across the river clear.
If you look at the bridge from a distance it does look like an eye and is sometimes called the 'winking eye.' We didn't manage to see the bridge open to let ships underneath but I would have liked to. There is a bridge in Lagos in Portugal that is very similar to this design and I used to stand for ages watching the boats go underneath. I used to love the way the arch tilted slowly allowing the pedestrian deck to rise up in the air so that both counterbalanced each other. I believe Gateshead Millennium Bridge works the same way.
It was daylight when we stood on the bridge so didn't see it lit up but I can imagine the splendour of the pedestrian deck, balustrade and arch when twinkling with crystal lights. It must look beautiful.
I have to give full marks for Wilkinson Eyre designing such a bridge. The residents of Gateshead must be very proud of their silver steel eye. It's a beauty!
You can find Gateshead Millennium Bridge on the waterfront, Gateshead Quays, next to the Baltic Gallery and The Sage.
There are car parks in and around the Quays and if travelling by bus there is a yellow bus that connects Gateshead and Newcastle waterfronts. The bus runs regularly, every 10 minutes.
For well over a century the sight of the Tyne Bridge linking Newcastle with Gateshead is what most exiled Geordies think of when they conjure up images of home, no matter how long or short their exile has been it is when they catch a glimpse of the Tyne Bridge they know they are home. Nothing will ever replace the feeling of seeing the Tyne Bridge but along with the Angel of the North the Gateshead Millennium Bridge is also starting to have the same impact on people of the region. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge or the Blinking Eye as it is know in the North East is the first opening bridge to be built across the River Tyne for more than one hundred years and it has attracted worldwide attention because of its unique design. The world's first tilting bridge is the latest addition to the Tyne's famous collection of bridges, which give the area one of the most instantly recognisable skylines in Europe. The Bridge was built at a cost of £22 million, almost half paid for by Lottery money through the Millennium Commission and Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Gifford and Partners Engineers designed it. The job of constructing the bridge was given to Gateshead based Construction Company Harbour and General and its sub contractors, who started work in May 1999. It uses a world-first tilting mechanism to open and close, turning on pivots on both sides of the river to form a spectacular gateway arch to allow shipping to pass underneath on route up the Tyne. The Bridge weighs more that eight hundred and fifty tonnes and the construction used enough steel to make sixty-four double decker buses. It is four hundred and thirteen feet wide (one hundred and twenty six metres) but was made precisely to a tolerance of just one eight of an inch (three millimetres) and the main arch rises one hundred and four feet (fifty metres) above the river. There are two concrete piers on each side of the river that hide the mass
ive hydraulic rams, pivots and motors required to open and close the bridge and each opening or closing takes four minutes. It is powered by eight electric motors totalling four hundred and forty kilowatts or five hundred and eighty nine horsepower - that's more power that the fastest sports cars like a Ferrari F50. Any litter dropped on the bridge automatically rolls into special traps at each end every time it opens and closes ensuring the river does not become polluted. The Bridge provides a footpath and cycle way across the Tyne linking Newcastle Quayside to Gateshead Quays and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art development; it is the final piece in the jigsaw of what will soon be one square mile of visitor attractions on both sides of the Tyne. One of the world's largest floating cranes dramatically lowered the fully constructed bridge into place on Monday, 20th November 2000 and after on site work was completed it was opened to the public at 3.00pm on Monday, 17th September 2001. The stunning pedestrian and cycle bridge arcs gracefully out across the Tyne with it?s second arch dominating the skyline and it operates like the lid of a giant eye slowly opening to form a double arch under which ships can pass. The Gateshead Millennium Bridge is an amazing structure it's massive yet it looks so delicate and is a joy to walk over the bridge without being polluted by car and bus exhaust fumes. During the evening the bridge becomes a true work of art when it is lit by a high tech light display able to create dazzling patterns in millions of colours, you could go every night of the week and see something different, it is a spectacular sight. How to get to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge By Road Take the A1, leaving at the A184 sign posted Gateshead town centre and follow the signs. By Rail To Newcastle Central Station and then follow the signs for Quayside, it
's about a ten-minut e walk from the railway station. By Metro or Bus To Gateshead Interchange and then follow the signs to Gateshead Quays, again about a ten-minute walk. By Bicycle The Bridge is on the National Cycle Network's cross-country C2C (Sea to Sea) route.