The River Tyne is fed from moorland streams from the Scottish borders and the north Pennines. It’s visited by breeding Atlantic Salmon and sea trout. It is home to otters, water voles and freshwater pearl mussels.
That’s now, but it’s not how the Tyne has appeared to centuries of travelers who crossed the river as they travelled north and south through Newcastle. Frankly, it has been one of the most polluted of English rivers.
The Romans were amongst the first to leave their mark as they exploited lead deposits in the Pennines. The growth of the coal trade, ship building, heavy industry and the expansion of Newcastle progressively worsened the situation.
The Parliamentary candidate for Newcastle in 1774, Captain Phipps, reported that the Tyne had been converted into a “cursed horse-pond” through ignorance, inattention, and avarice. The situation only got worse. Total depletion of dissolved oxygen was recorded on 16th October 1912. In 1933 the Joint Committee of the local authorities on Tyneside and the Tyne Fishery Board issued a report describing conditions in the estuary as “nauseating and thoroughly objectionable”… “the saturation point when untreated sewage can be discharged with safety into the estuary has been reached and passed”.
The primary tributaries are the North Tyne, South Tyne and River Derwent. The North Tyne rises on the Scottish border and flows through the giant Kielder Water reservoir. The South Tyne rises on Alston Moor in Cumbria, flowing through the “Tyne Gap” near Haydon Bridge before joining the North Tyne at Warden Rock near Hexham.