THOUSANDS of Wearsiders can hit the heights at Penshaw Monument this summer.
The National Trust, which owns the landmark, is throwing it open to the public every weekend until September in response to overwhelming interest.
The move comes after an open day last summer was inundated with would-be visitors.
The trust opened the spiral staircase to the top of the monument – hidden away in one of the columns – to the public last August, for the first time in 85 years.
The stairway had been closed since 1926, when a teenage boy fell to his death from the 66ft-high walkway.
Last year’s event was a sell-out hours before tours started and Trust area warden Gareth Wilson admitted organisers had been caught completely by surprise by the massive interest.
“It was August Bank holiday last year and we had planned a family fun day,” he said.
“We had lots of things planned that we were going to do, one of which was going to be tours up the monument. We just thought we would see how it went, if people were interested in going up the monument - we obviously had just completely underestimated how many people would be.”
Staff arriving for the day were amazed to find visitors had already been queuing for more than an hour.
“There were around 2,000 people on the day for 100 places,” said Gareth. “The first tour was supposed to be at 10am, but there were already more than 100 people queuing when the first of us got here at about 8.30am.”
“There was an incredible reaction to it.”
The monument will be open each weekend until the end of summer, though places are still limited and need to be booked in advance.
Health and safety restrictions mean no more than five people are allowed on each 20-minute tour.
“We have had some really good feed-back so far and the tours are starting to fill up,” said Gareth.
“All the money we raise from the tours goes back into our work, so it is great as far as we are concerned.”
FOR 43-year-old Brian Stoker, the chance to climb to the top of Penshaw Monument is the culmination of a fascination that began as a lad, when his dad – also Brian – would regale him with stories of the monument’s history.
“My dad has been bringing me to Penshaw since I was a small boy, and telling me why the top was closed,” said Brian, of Philadelphia
“I have always wanted to go up there. I read about it in the Echo last year, but missed out on the chance. When I heard the National Trust was opening it again this year, I grabbed the opportunity.
“I thought it was fantastic.”
Getting to the monument was not easy for 67-year-old Brian senior – but it was worth the effort.
“It was very tiring climbing up the hill, because I have angina, but I made it,” he said.
“I used to bring Brian and his sister he two or three times a year and I have always fancied going up to the top, but this is the first chance ever,” added Brian, from Thorney Close.
Alan Wilkinson had travelled from his home in Washington to be among the first people to climb the monument.
“I have just been fascinated with it since I was young,” he said, “but I never expected to have the opportunity to go to the top, having read about the reasons why it had been closed for all that time.
“It is really spectacular and you do not appreciate until you climb those steps, just how high it is – you are so used to being at ground level.”
PENSHAW Monument isn’t really Penshaw Moument at all – its official title is The Earl of Durham’s Monument.
Built in 1844 and funded by public subscriptions, it is dedicated to the memory of John George Lambton.
A plaque at the monument explains that Lambton served as an MP for County Durham for 15 years before being raised to the peerage and subsequently held the offices of Lord Privy Seal, Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister at the Court of St Petersburg and Governor-General of Canada.
He died on July 28, 1840, aged 49, and the monument’s foundation stone was laid by Thomas Dundas, Second Earl of Zetland, on August 28, 1844.
The top of the monument was originally open to the public until the tragic events of Easter Monday, 1926 , when 15-year-old Temperley Arthur Scott fell to his death during a day out with friends.
John Lambton, the fifth Earl of Durham presented the monument to the National Trust in September 1939. Work to underpin the building was carried out as a result of mining subsidence in 1978 and the entire western end was dismantled to allow damaged lintels to be replaced a year later.