It’s midweek, you’re still at work and you want to be on that beach or taking in culture on your travels. Get involved in the #TTOT discussions on Tuesdays at 9.30am/pm to talk about travel.
This week the discussion was about Landmarks. So this question got me wondering today of Wednesday.
‘What landmark you’ve visited deserves to be better known than it is?’
You might think I would say some exotic location, a huge environmental natural landmark, an exciting feat of engineering, a work of art or you might be right thinking I would say something random. You’re right, this is what I would say:
Angel of the North without a doubt.
While I was living in Newcastle studying for my Masters, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the famous landmark of the North that I feel (not many Geordies feel the same way ) symbolises your visit into Newcastle. So everytime I’m on the train or driving on the A1 to Newcastle, I often give it a little salute or a nod knowing the satisfaction that I arrived at my destination. But it was never up close so hence why I decided on one fateful November Saturday in 2008 to visit the Angel.
I enlisted Laura, my housemate to come with me and pretty soon I discovered why the Angel of the North deserves to be better known than it is.
We found the Angel Bus that runs from Newcastle Bus Station Haymarket to wherever it goes but I was pleased at first to see there’s a bus that’s dedicated to the Angel itself but after immediately boarding the bus, this was a vehicle of contradiction.
As we stood before the bus driver, we scanned the route to find out where the bus stops outside the Angel. There was no such bus stop. So this was the Angel Bus that drives past the Angel and there’s no dedicated bus stop?! Luckily, we tested the bus driver and he said he would stop the bus for us anyway.
Cue 20 mins later, we were barrelling down the road that runs past it. Laura and I exchanged looks as we saw nothing but roadworks after roadworks lining the road. Suddenly the bus screeched to a halt flinging Laura and I forward and the driver yelled.
We couldn’t exactly hear what he was saying so we did what we thought would help him out.
Pretend not to hear him.
He got out of his seat and gestured for us to get off as this is the stop he wanted to make for us. Laura and I glanced out, what no proper bus stop?
‘Are we sure we are at the right place?’ I sheepishly asked seeing a wing of the Angel peeking out from above the embankment.
I couldn’t help it, surely the Angel would have a dedicated site for vehicles to stop at. It’s a tourist attraction! Granted, it was cold, wet and windy and I’m pretty sure it no way compares to Sydney Opera House but hey, I’m an honorary Geordie! I got to pay my respects!
After being partially manhandled off the bus, it roared off in the mist belching black smoke and fanning our hands around, Laura and I looked up to see the Angel waving hello (not literally, because that would freak us out).
There was a din from the roadworks and we found it hard to cross the road when there were speeding cars barrelling from all directions. We survived.
Walking on the grassy verge, we finally got to the entrance. I say entrance, I mean a path from the road to the structure itself. I walked up and beamed at the Angel and looked back at Laura. We had built up all this enthusiasm and expectation only to be disappointed. However, we both stress that it was not due to the marvellous piece of engineering and art that is the Angel but rather due to the lack of attention it undeservedly receives.
There was no café to have a hot drink while admiring it. It was freezing cold.
There was a plaque behind the structure which I couldn’t understand. Surely it should be at the front? There was a path that ran round it but it was cracked.
However, as we went round it, we managed to find the perfect vantage point to view it as from the front the path dipped so walking up the path from the opposite direction would let you see the Angel in all its glory.
The Angel looked like it seen better days as well. It was now a maroon/green colour from rust and bad weather. A paint job surely could have done the trick.
It wasn’t to say that we were the only ones there. There were many families there and I could see on their faces the disappointment and as one woman passed me, she muttered where the heck she could get coffee.
But Laura and I decided to make as much time as we can out of it, so we took photos of the Angel, photos of us in front of said Angel., photos of us in front of said Angel violating it, and photos of the Angel’s bum.
Halfway through the incessant photo taking I considered the facts:
Why an Angel? Well I think Anthony Gormley, who won the Turner Prize 1994 and showcased major public works of art, and finally, who designed the structure couldn’t have said it better:
“People are always asking, why an angel? The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them. The angel has three functions – firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future, expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears – a sculpture is an evolving thing.”
Gormley said of the Angel: “The hilltop site is important and has the feeling of being a megalithic mound. When you think of the mining that was done underneath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. Now in the light, there is a celebration of this industry. The face will not have individual features. The effect of the piece is in the alertness, the awareness of space and the gesture of the wings – they are not flat, they’re about 3.5 degrees forward and give a sense of embrace. The most important thing is that this is a collaborative venture. We are evolving a collective work from the firms of the North East and the best engineers in the world.”
It is seen by over 150,000 visitors a year.
It is one of the most impressive and visible structures in Europe.
It is regularly seen from major transport routes so the possibilities for a visit are endless! I mean consider these figures – seen by more than one person every second, 90,000 every day or 33 million every year. Impressive!
One of the most famous artworks in the region, 2/3rds of the people in the North East heard of it before it was even built!
It will last for more than 100 years
It can withstand winds of 100mph.
And it is the largest Angel Sculpture in the World.
Surely, with all that, it’s enough for the attention it deserves. A visitor centre chronicling the works of Anthony Gormley or how the Angel came about would be useful.
You could situate it near the car park we eventually found away from the Angel of the North.
Some seats would be good as well as I’m sure people of a certain age would love to view it as long as they like.
There were no toilets as well, something Laura and I discovered after we finished our drinks so we had to hold on! We do not crave a MacDonalds or a Burger King but a funded place for simple amenities that donations go to the upkeep of the Angel. It’s truly a majestic sight and you really don’t know how amazing it is until you stand beneath the wings and really appreciate the scale of the art structure that really takes your breath away.
It really brings that much needed attention to the North East and you can feel no doubt that you are in the North East when you go past it on the train or in the car.
As the drizzle got heavier, Laura and I decided to call it quits and I looked back from the entrance path and shook my head thinking it really needed more attention particularly in removing the offensive graffiti at the bottom of the structure.
But all paled into comparison that we were up and close to the symbol of the North East of England! Move over Tyne Bridge…you got competition!
Have you visited the Angel of the North? What were your impressions?
But #TTOT did not stop there, they asked further questions in which we all discussed. Here are my answers to them:
What’s the most unusual Landmark you’ve seen?
Edinburgh Castle – it’s on a volcano! Only Brits could be this crazy! Ah, the joys of being a kid and thinking that.
What landmark would you most like to be photographed in front of?
Big Ben! Surely no other tourist thought of the same idea?!
But being serious, I would say the Franz Josef Glacier.
What’s the most over-rated landmark in your experience?
The spire thing in Dublin. It’s pointless! No local could tell me the reasoning behind it. It got useful though after a few drinks in Temple Bar, you could use it to navigate around the city!
What landmark best represents its city?
Big Ben of London! Everyone seems to think so with all the tourists stopping traffic with incessant photo taking!
What do you think your answers could be?
Totally agree. I think it ranks alongside Stonehenge or Tower Bridge or any of Britain’s icons.
Not sure about developing it though. I think if I visited it and found the ubiquitous ‘visitor centre’ with souvenir shop (selling plastic Angels of the North for people’s mantlepieces- ugh!) I think I’d hate it. better for it to just ‘be there’ and let people make of it what they will.
PS I stopped off there with Nienke Krook (http://www.thetraveltester.com/) on our way to the Traverse conference and it was THE most gloriously blue-sky sunny day, which really made the Angel stand out in that rusty brown colour. Love it!
Ah, great to hear you absolutely loved it!
Well, I can see what you mean about the visitor’s centre. I was more thinking about an exhibition to show how it was developed and how much of an impact it made in the North. But I’d still buy a tacky souvenir 😉
Lovely to hear someone else appreciating the Angel 🙂 I started visiting Newcastle a few years ago to see my boyfriend, I’d never seen the Angel before and the first time I saw her in the distance I got goosebumps .. so pretty soon after that I insisted we went to visit her close up.
I relocated to Newcastle just over a year ago and am now proud to call this beautiful city my home, I still love the Angel – seeing her means we’re almost home and every now and again we do stop to see her. We even did a 4 mile walk from our flat during the Summer just to go and see her (whilst getting some exercise!)