Interview with: Peter Donaghy | Living North

Interview: Peter Donaghy


We sit down with the local author and walking enthusiast Peter Donaghy to discuss the new edition of his book Discovering NewcastleGateshead

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Newcastle and have lived here all my life, apart from the 18 months I spent in Spain to prepare for my career as a Spanish teacher at Northumbria University. For the last 27 years I have lived in Gosforth with my wife Jeanne and, between us, we have two sons, two daughters, and six grandchildren. Jeanne and I have done several long-distance walks, including the Coast to Coast, and the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route.

What made you first want to write your book?
Following early retirement, my friend John Laidler and I moved from academic research to pursue our mutual interest in local history, combined with our love of walking. Together we wrote Lakeland Church Walks, Northumbria Church Walks and Metro Walks. Fascinated by the discoveries we made as we walked through Tyneside, from one Metro station to another, we decided to home in with more detail on Newcastle and Gateshead.

What’s new in the revised edition?
We live in a very vibrant region and there have been many new developments over the last six years which have merited inclusion. At the same time, this has provided an opportunity to amend many of the routes, increase the number of walks, give more emphasis to North and South Tyneside, and publish the photographs and maps in colour. This edition is dedicated to the memory of John, who co-authored the 2010 edition, but who sadly died before the new book was written.

How long did it take to bring all the research together?
A lot longer than I had imagined! There were new buildings, new commemorative plaques and new walks. I sorely missed working with John as we researched separately, compared notes and then double checked each route. However, I was very grateful for my wife Jeanne’s help, together with that of another friend, Richard Page. The whole operation took two years to complete.

What’s your personal favourite walk in the area and why?
That’s a really difficult question, as I think they all have so much to offer. I think the short 2.5 mile route, Walk 3, Crossing the Bridges, encapsulates so much about Newcastle and Gateshead that it merits special mention. Here, in addition to crossing four of our bridges, you can appreciate the significance of the other three crossings, as well as landmark buildings such as Newcastle Cathedral, the Black Gate, as well as Sage Gateshead and the BALTIC. You are introduced to both quaysides and to the Local Heroes plaques and, of course, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy refreshments.

Do some of the walks suit a certain season? Which ones would you recommend for summer?
Walks 1 and 2, Introduction to Newcastle and Introduction to Gateshead, together with other town centre walks are ideal for autumn and winter, as they are all-weather walks with plenty of possibilities to explore important buildings inside as well as out. Several walks include public parks and they are particularly attractive in spring, with the trees coming into leaf and the bluebells adding colour. Following the River Ouseburn to the Tyne is always a delight (Walk 24). Likewise, spring and summer can particularly be enjoyed by families in Saltwell Park on Walk 13, Gateshead, Low Fell and the Angel of the North. The coastal and riverside walks are also ideal in summer. Walk 25 Monkseaton via St Mary’s Island to Whitley Bay, one of the longer walks (5.75 miles), provides a rewarding mixture of rural and coastal views.

What makes the area so special in your opinion?
There is something for everyone to explore and to be proud of. You’ll find museums, art galleries, concert and sports venues, churches, educational institutions, bars and restaurants for all tastes. There is an abundance of historical buildings and streets which have stood the test of time, many reflecting the work of 19th century architects and designers like John Dobson and Richard Grainger, as well as modern offerings by Sir Terry Farrell. At the same time the region’s vibrant capacity for change is evident, especially along the riverside as former shipyards have been replaced by new subsea industries, marinas, parks and attractive housing developments. 

Your book is also filled with lots of interesting fact files about various people of note from the area – which one do you find most fascinating? 
Another really difficult question, as the book contains some 50 highlighted references to the achievements of local people and incomers who have contributed much to the life and fame of our region. Their impact has been across a wide spectrum of areas: writers, artists, engineers, benefactors, scientists, inventors, humanitarians, sports stars, musicians, music hall artists, religious leaders, political activists, workers, leaders. However, if I have to select one, then I’d say I’ve been fascinated by the fact that Frederick Douglas, an African-American who escaped from slavery and devoted himself to campaigning for the abolition of slavery, for racial justice and women’s rights, paid several visits to Newcastle from 1846 onwards. The commemorative plaque in his honour quotes his words: ‘I will unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong’ (see Walk 9 West to Westgate). Then again, some 120 years later, Newcastle was to welcome another civil rights campaigner – Dr Martin Luther King – whose statue stands in the grounds of Newcastle University (see Walk 4 West of the Haymarket).

You can buy Discovering NewcastleGateshead here.


Published in: June 2019

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