Meet some real-life heroes in my series of special interviews with people who represent the spirit and heart of the North East.
Pete Harrison is a volunteer Guide for the Victoria Tunnel in Ouseburn, a major site in my DCI Ryan book The Infirmary. He is coming up to leading his 2,000th tour of the tunnel! Built by the Victorians as an underground wagonway to carry coal, the tunnel was re-used as an air raid shelter during World War Two, so there are fascinating stories to tell, and it has been #1 on TripAdvisor for ‘things to do in Newcastle’ for more than five years.
The Ouseburn Trust is an independent charity, working towards a vibrant, diverse, and sustainable future for Newcastle Upon Tyne’s Ouseburn Valley. They work in partnership with volunteers, the local authority and the business community to enhance the physical, social and economic environment of the Valley, whilst promoting and preserving the area’s rich heritage and valued ecosystem.
Find out more about Ouseburn, the Trust’s work, Victoria Tunnel Tours and other guided walks at www.ouseburntrust.org.uk or follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram @iloveouseburn.
In this interview, Pete tells us about the tunnel, his favourite North East business, and more…
Pete please can you tell us a bit about yourself and your connection with the North East?I am a Geordie through and through. I have lived in other areas but just like a wanderer I always end up back in the ‘Toon’.
Tell us about your role at The Ouseburn Trust and your tours of the Victoria Tunnel. What do you love most about the work you do?I have been a volunteer tour guide for the Victoria Tunnel Tours since May 2017. I came to visit the Tunnel as a paying guest in February then liked it so much I returned in March, and when I saw a poster saying “your Tunnel needs you” I sent in an email and the rest is history. I have now been guide on 1,915 tours so I am approaching my 2000th tour fast. I think that my favourite part of leading the tours is telling the story of Geordie engineering and innovation to all who are interested and also being part of an award-winning team of volunteers.
It’s a great place to visit, I always recommend it!
Is there one place you always like to visit that you would recommend others to visit?I always suggest to visitors to go to Beamish Museum as it is a similar historic North East experience to the Tunnel and there is so much to see and do.
Do you have a favourite shop or business you think everyone should know about in the region?I think that my favourite place is ‘The Secret Sandwich Shop’ just off the Riverside Walkway here in Ouseburn – where I’m so frequent that I now just order a ‘Pete special’. Not so secret now!
Ha, that’s fantastic!
It’s often said that the people and landscapes of the North East are full of ‘spirit’ and ‘heart’. What do you love most about the region?I love the friendly warm geordie folk who will chat at bus stops or in queues, or generally just engage in conversation anywhere.
Me, too! The North East is packed with history, myths and legends, songs and folklore. Do you have a favourite story or song that you associate with the area?I love Jimmy Nail’s ‘Big River’ as it tells how the river Tyne was so vital to the economy of Newcastle.
What is your favourite North-Eastern slang? What does it mean?It has to be ‘the netty’ – our local word for the toilet.
Who is your North East hero?Too many to mention, but just to pick one out of the hat would be the novelist Catherine Cookson. From a hard beginning she made great local stories and remained a proud and generous geordie.
Catherine Cookson is one of my North East heroes, too! I hugely admire her.
Finally, what makes you smile?Knowing that everyone visiting the Tunnel on my tours has had a good time and hopefully learnt something new and fascinating from their visit as well.
Thank you so much for joining me!