I AM back down from up north, and surprised to find that I now believe in angels, writes GRAHAM CARTER.

Not any old angels, but the Angel Of The North, which was one of the highlights of a four-day break in the Newcastle area.

My wife and I paid a visit to the 20m tall, 108-tonne sculpture early one morning, before the coachloads of pensioners started to turn up.

I couldn’t help wondering how many of them tell their friends that they don’t like modern art, forgetting that the Angel is as modern and as arty as anything you could name.

It is an epic work of art, and you only really get a true sense of its undeniable magic when you are standing underneath it. I love it.

Later, while waiting at the bus stop to return to Newcastle, we got talking to another old lady, who lives in the flats opposite.

She told us how she watched it being installed, and when we asked whether she liked it, she didn’t hesitate.

“Oh yes. I like it a lot.”

So does everybody else in the north east, as far as we could tell.

It is only 20 years since it was made, but the Angel has become as much of an icon for the Newcastle/Gateshead area as the Tyne Bridge, and it now seems incredible that there was once vehement opposition to it being built.

Some considered the cost of commissioning it from Anthony Gormley and building it to be a terrible waste of money back in 1998, when local Conservative MP Martin Callanan, perhaps sensing that opposition to spending money on public art might be a vote-winner, led a campaign called Gateshead Stop The Statue.

Now Baron Callanan and a life peer, what a twerp he must be feeling in hindsight.

On the other hand, Gateshead Council claims to now have an international reputation for the arts, thanks to the success of the Angel, which it says has given it the credibility to secure funding for the building of the Millennium Bridge (£22m); the conversion of the Baltic Flour Mills into a contemporary arts centre (£46m); and the creation of the Sage Gateshead concert venue (£70m), all of which grace the banks of the River Tyne.

That’s not a bad return on the mere £800,000 spent on the Angel, although no doubt a lot of people calculated how many car parks could have been bought with the money at the time.

But these are only the legacies that can be measured.

The Angel, which is partly a memorial to the coalmining heritage of the north-east, has become a symbol of the rebirth of the area and - even more important - its massive wings also seem to reflect the Geordies’ self-confidence and pride in their area and their roots. Again - not bad for a hundred tons of steel.

The Angel is a monument to all kinds of things, but above all else it is a reminder of the folly of those people who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

So the next time somebody proposes something like the Angel Of The North (or even a museum and art gallery) and your instinct is to consider it a waste of money, think again, because you never know what it might be the start of.

The older I get, the more cantankerous I am supposed to be, and although I do wake up, some days, and despair of some people’s attitudes, blessed are those who are not too old nor too cynical to believe in angels, at least once in a while.