Ghost Roads / Astroturf Proving Grounds / Dead Railways


Trying to take a shortcut from housing estate to industrial estate in Gateshead on my way to walk the abandoned Leamside railway line from Follingsby and end up walking down a dead end path that only leads to a fence blocking the walking from crossing a busy dual carriageway.

Back at home with the benefit of the OS’s aerial representation I can see it’s a designated footpath.

follingsby lane

© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2016). All Rights reserved.

So we have a footpath that doesn’t go anywhere, unless you want to risk crossing two dual carriageways. Looking at the map I start thinking maybe it was part of Follingsby Lane, cut up by the A-road built sometimes in the 1970s. Looking at an OS map of the area from 1910 its apparent that it was for many years one continuous road.

follingsby lane 1

© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2016). All rights reserved. 1930.

Its vegetated state makes it difficult to assess from the ground, but it’s clear that our footpath to nowhere is in fact a ghost road. Even though it goes nowhere and is impossible to drive down this stump of Follingsby Road someone has found a use for it. The adjacent golf club has co-oped it for their experiments with astro-turf.


Up and down the length of the residual Follingsby Lane astro-turf has been plastered to the ground in an array of shapes and patterns. Some is fresh and some has weathered. This open air laboratory provides a vibrant research environment for the diligent astro-turfers of Gateshead to play with new styles and methods, a place where they can shake off the rigours of laying turf on the golf course where every placement must be perfect and proper. In a show of dominance, real grass has started to engulf some of its artificial replacement.


Back up the path and round the corner onto the main road, I’m wondering whether the 19th century farmers of Follingsby (Follonsby) ever thought that the same road they used to transport their harvests could have predicted it would become a battleground between the real and simulacrum. Just as I’m wondering the same about coal miners who used the road in the 1920s I spot a piece of Follingsby Lane’s scar tissue.

follingsby lane 3.jpg

Another ghost road! You can see this one blocked off at either end. I immediately assume it’s more recent than the other bit because even though they’re cracked and fading, the painted white lines are still visible. An OS map from 1970 shows that the road was originally curved this way as a consequence of the same A-road which cut Follingsby Lane’s head off.

follingsby lane 4

© Crown Copyright and Landmark Information Group Limited (2016). All rights reserved. 1970.

At some point during the early 2000s an industrial estate called Follingsby Park was built along Follingsby Lane cutting into some of the fields, meaning the road had to be reoriented to create a junction so that traffic could head North East onto the estate. As I continue down Follingsby Lane towards the access point to the old railway line, I spot another curious road.

follingsby lane 8.jpg

Streetlights and shrubbery lining the road, well-maintained footpath on either side but a metal monolith with ominous no entry signs preventing access? This can only be one thing. I climb over the barrier and walk the length of it to confirm that this is in fact a foetal road. Foetal roads are built speculatively, in anticipation of future developments. Until those projects materialise they are roads to nowhere. There’s an aerial shot on the developer’s website that shows this road nicely.

follingsby lane aerial.jpg

© unknown.

So there we have it, the complete life cycle of roads in one square mile. A couple of dead ones, lots of live ones and one waiting to spring to life! Onward now to the Leamside Line. The line used to connect directly to the East Coast Mainline but passenger services stopped in 1964. The line remained in stasis throughout the rest of its life, with some occasional use as a freight line. After closing properly in 1991 there were whispers that the Leamside Line might be brought back to life as an extension of the Tyne & Wear Metro.

Although nothing came of these plans and the majority of the track was lifted by 2013, and only ballast remains. Entering the line at the old level crossing toward the bottom of Follingsby Lane past piles of ballast and railway sleepers, you can walk it to the outskirts of Wardley, past the old Follingsby Colliery (closed 1937) and Wardley Coal Disposal Point (dismantled 2015).

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Approaching Wardley nature takes hold and all sorts fights its way through the ballast itself around the tracks. Graffiti and a scorched hut suggest humans are trying just as hard as nature to hurt the Leamside Line. It’s impossible to fight through the overgrowth to get to the other side of this bridge so I turn around and crunch my way back along to Follingsby Lane.

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The entire Leamside Line begs to be walked, explored and photographed. A task for another day. Another part of the line I’ve explored is the disused Victoria Viaduct spanning over the River Wear. A bit more challenging, but worth it for the views.

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