Antony Gormley’s steel creation, controversial when it was unveiled in 1998, has become one of the iconic images of the North East. Is it a cherished landmark, or “bad art”? Some refer to it as “the Gateshead Flasher”; others aren’t that polite. It cost nearly £800,000 at the time (though I did see another account which suggested £1 million), stands 66 feet (20 metres) high, has a wingspan of 178 feet (54 metres) and weighs 200 tonnes. There’s enough steel in it, apparently, to build 16 double-decker buses, or 4 Chieftain tanks. Whatever you may think of it, it is certainly big – and makes one hell of a statement.
The Angel stands on a mound, towering overhead like a modern colossus, on the site of the pithead baths of the former Lower Tyne Colliery. It is intended to be a reminder of the miners that worked far below ground, in the dark, for 200 years. I can get that. Antony Gormley said that it is a “Focus of hope at a painful time of transition for the people of the north east, abandoned in the gap between the industrial and the information ages.” I can get that too – though whether the good folk of Tyne & Wear feel abandoned is another matter. I can see that people are drawn to the Angel of the North; there is something embracing and protective about those bloody great wings, stretching out far above you. Undoubtedly, many love it – and, according to Gateshead Council, it receives more than 150,000 visitors every year. I find it fascinating – and of course it’s impressive; not sure if it moves me, though – unlike Mr Gormley’s figures on the beach at Crosby.
You decide. If you’re passing by, take a look – but best park up beforehand. Take the northbound A167 toward Gateshead from the A1; there’s parking on the left about a quarter of a mile further on.
Find out a bit more about visiting the Angel of the North.