For the last couple of years I have had ‘take a tour of the Victoria Tunnel’ on my to do list, I even mentioned in this blog post that it was something I’ve wanted to do for ages! So, I’m pleased to report that I have finally got round to exploring the underground attraction that is consistently ranked as the number one thing to do in Newcastle on Tripadvisor!
The Victoria Tunnel was originally built in 1842 to transport coal from Leazes Main Colliery near the Town Moor down to the River Tyne. It runs beneath Claremont Road, under the Great North Museum, through the city and on to Ouseburn. If you look closely in these areas you may spot some clues to the tunnel’s existence.
The pit closed in 1860 and the Victoria Tunnel remained out of sight and mind until a Geordie entrepreneur called Thomas Moore set up the Victoria Tunnel Mushroom Company in 1928! Sadly his dream of farming mushrooms in the river end of the Tunnel was short lived and a year later the Victoria Tunnel was out of action again.
When World War II broke out in 1939, the Victoria Tunnel was converted into an air-raid shelter. Bunk beds, benches and electric lighting were installed to make it a bit more comfortable but it was by no means luxurious. In fact, users of the Tunnel as a shelter often commented that it was “better to be damp than dead” which I think says a lot about the conditions down there!
The tour offered a fascinating insight to this period and I loved hearing what life was like for locals from our insightful guide.
The 2.5 mile tunnel was cast in to darkness once again at the end of WWII in 1945. It remained closed to the public until 2006 when Newcastle City Council secured Heritage Lottery and Single Programme funding to restore the Tunnel and re-open it as a local attraction. Four years later the Ouseburn Trust took over the day to day running of the tunnel and with an army of volunteers they run guided tours welcoming over 10,000 visitors underground every year. They’ve also won a bunch of awards for their brilliant work!
From meeting my guides at the Ouseburn Trust office (opposite Seven Stories) to discovering some of the Victoria Tunnel’s many secrets and stories, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience! I don’t want to give too much away because A) I couldn’t tell you the tales of the tunnel half as well as the captivating guides do and B) part of the enjoyment you get from a guided tour is the element of surprise.
We were shown mysterious features etched in to the tunnel walls, told tragic tales of untimely deaths and educated about the engineering feats of this incredible part of Newcastle’s rich history. I should give a shout out to Donald and Pete who were the guides on the day of my visit, they really were super friendly and interesting to listen to!
The two hour time slot felt like the perfect duration for me, long enough to soak up the atmosphere and take in all the information, without the walk becoming too tiring. However, shorter one hour tours are also available if you simply want a sneak peek.
As the meeting point for the tours is in the heart of the Ouseburn Valley you also get to learn about this area’s diverse and fascinating history. It’s the perfect activity to add in to a day out in Ouseburn which can also include a visit to Ouseburn Farm, Seven Stories, Stepney Bank Stables, the Biscuit Factory and the many wonderful places to eat and drink (I highly recommend Thali Tray! The critically acclaimed Cook House is also based here).
This part of Newcastle has so much to offer and has a distinct and cool vibe all of its own!
If I’ve inspired you to book a tour of the Victoria Tunnel for yourself, here’s some practical and handy info to help you make the most of your visit.
I paid £9 for a two hour tour which I thought was great value! Tickets for 8-15 year olds are £4 but the attraction isn’t suitable for those under 8.
There’s usually at least nine or ten 2 hour tours of the Victoria Tunnel every week at various times. The Ouseburn Trust website has a handy calendar with a live booking system so you can see what slots are available and when. I’d recommend booking a week or so in advance, especially for weekend slots as these are very popular.
The one hour tours I mentioned usually take place at weekends and in school holidays. Tickets are £7 for adults and £4 for 8-15 year olds.
If you prefer to book by phone, give the Ouseburn Trust a call on 0191 230 4210.
There’s quite a few parking spaces available in and around Ouseburn Valley, I usually park under one of the arches at the bottom of Stepney Bank, I think it’s about a quid an hour and you can pay by card. These parking spots are harder to get on weekends so you might want to consider going by bus. Loads of services from the city centre stop at the top of Stepney Bank by the Tanners Pub. The nearest Metro stop is Manors, about a ten minute walk away.
The guides will escort you back to the Ouseburn Trust office at the end of your tour, so you can leave luggage there if you wish. Alternatively you can say goodbye at the tunnel entrance/exit on Ouse Street.
Conditions Inside the Tunnel:
I was worried that it might be really cold in the Victoria Tunnel but weirdly there’s a constant temperature of 12 degrees down there! It was pitch black without lighting and the ceiling is quite low in places but visitors are provided with hard hats and torches. Eating and drinking is not allowed and there aren’t really any breaks or places to sit so you’ll need to be comfortable with being on your feet for a couple of hours.
What to Wear:
The ground is uneven and wet in places so sensible shoes are a must. Some of the walls inside the Victoria Tunnel are limewashed and as it’s quite a confined place I’d recommend a jacket that can be washed, certainly don’t wear your best clobber!
The Ouseburn Trust have negotiated some discounts at nearby eateries so you can refuel for less before or after your tour. Offers include 20% off food at The Cluny, 10% off hot drinks and snacks in the Seven Stories Cafe and 25% off all food at The Tyne Bar. You just need to show your tour ticket to get the savings.
Ouseburn Trust Events:
As well as the popular one and two hour tours of the Victoria Tunnel, the Ouseburn Trust also offer a variety of other events.
Every Saturday morning (14th March – 19th Dec) they invite you to go ‘Back to the Future’ and enjoy a guided walk around Ouseburn. These events start at 10.30 and cost £5 per person.
There are also quirky events like photography workshops and wine tasting in the tunnel, there are even occasional concerts planned underground in the tunnel! These special events sell out quickly so keep an eye on the Ouseburn Trust website or their Facebook page and book in advance to avoid disappointment!
I do hope you enjoyed this blog post, I’d love to hear if you’ve been on a tour of the Victoria Tunnel or plan to visit in the future so please leave me a comment below!