There are some walks I look forward to. And then there was this one! It was difficult to drum up much enthusiasm to complete this walk, which is why it was 3 years after I walked into Redcar from the south before I returned to complete the next walk. I knew that much of this walk was through a heavily industrialised part of Britain and I had read reports from previous walkers about this walk, none of which sounded particularly good. But to complete all the coast means doing the bits that are not so nice as well, and that was my task for today.
I was travelling by train for the day for this walk. I took at train to London Waterloo, two tube trains, to travel between London Waterloo and London Kings Cross, a train from London to Eaglescliffe and finally another train from Eaglescliffe to Redcar. Unusually this time, I was travelling from London on Grand Central Trains. I had not used this company before, which was certainly a little quirky, with an American theme on the train (my carriage had an enormous pictures of Marilyn Monroe painted on the wall at the end) and board game boards printed onto the tables. It was however punctual and reasonably priced and so it got me to a place called Eaglescliffe (I’d never heard of it before) where it was a short connection on to Redcar, which was just as well as the station was very run-down and basic with all the facilities closed. Most of the rail journey was through the industrial landscape I’d have to walk back through.
I reached Redcar on time and re-traced my steps back to the sea front. It was a grey and overcast day but it was nice to be back beside the coast.
Looking back I could see the high cliffs I had walked previously, further south along the beach.
However what had changed since last time was some new buildings on the sea front. The first was an odd office type building that seemed to have purple windows called “The Hub”. It was not at all in keeping with the buildings around it (you can see it at the top right above).
Next to it was another strange building. It looked a bit like a giant helter-skelter.
Apparently this is called the “Vertical Pier“. No I’ve never heard of such a thing either and I thought it was rather odd. I think it is really a viewing platform given a fancy name to pretend it’s something that it isn’t. I didn’t even bother to leave the beach to take a closer look even though it is free (you can’t actually slide down it, anyway).
I continued on the beach passing something that did actually look like the stub of a pier, at the far end of the promenade in the photo below, though it looked rather run-down and perhaps derelict. (From Google I later found out this is now a cinema, but I suspect it was once part of a pier).
Redcar is not a particularly big place and soon I was nearing the edge of it. Out to sea wind turbines were turning, generating electricity. I don’t mind these out on flat areas of the coast like this, it is certainly better than on the tops of hills.
Ahead I could see the industry I was approaching at the mouth of the Tees, but for now that was ahead of me, and I was enjoying a nice beach walk. Hoof prints in the sand suggested horses had recently been here enjoying the beach, too.
Keeping near to the shore, I soon began to see deposits of coal on the beach. I’m not sure if this is washed up from rich coal seams under the sea, whether it’s coal dust from the nearby industry that has been washed into the sea, or if it has been washed from further up the coast. Either way, it was another sign of approaching an industrial area.
Behind the beach the town had ended and now there were nice sand dunes.
This bit is a dead-end, heading to the mouth of the river Tees at South Gare Point, but with no path through the industry immediately behind the beach I’d have to return south to reach the path I wanted to follow onwards, part of the Teesdale Way, so I’d end up re-tracing my steps. However I wanted to do that anyway partly to enjoy the beach and partly to defer my walk the industrial stretch ahead!
The tide line continued to be lined by numerous coal deposits.
Soon I saw the source of the hoof prints I had seen earlier, as the horses came galloping back in the edge of the waves. It looked good fun and it seemed to me that both the riders and the horses were enjoying it.
Stepping up onto the dunes though, the view inland was less encouraging.
This is the view of the steel works. As you can see from the smoke and the flames from the flare stack, it was very much still in use. There had been steel works in various forms here since 1875 but I believe this current plant dated from 1979. It was opened by British Steel. British Steel was later privatised and went through various owners and names, later becoming Corus and then Tata Steeel, after it was bought out. Tata closed the plant in 2009. A Thai company (Sahavrirya Steel Industries, or SSI) bought the works in 2011 and re-opened the plant. So it was operating when I did this walk (which was in 2013). However in September 2015 the plant was “mothballed” and a week or so later SSI UK went into liquidation. The plant was therefore closed and shut down after it was determined there was no prospect of another buyer. So it is all closed down now.
Despite all the various name changes, I was amused to note on my way here that we passed through a railway station serving the plant that is still open and still called Redcar British Steel, even though the steel works is closed and “British Steel” had long since ceased to exist (though the same railway line also has a station called “Tees-Side Airport” even though the airport has been called “Durham Tees Valley” since 2004!). The station serves a closed down steel works and is on private land so there is no way for the public to legally leave it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this now makes it the least used railway station in the UK last year. It probably won’t be next year, because being the least used station makes it a magnet for people to visit to see the “least used” station and therefore ensuring that next year it is no longer the least used. Here is one such visitor who confirmed it is not even possible to leave the station, because the entrance to the steel works from the station has been bricked up (and they were instructed by security not to even leave the platform).
[NOTE: The below isn’t my video, but I thought I’d share it]
You might wonder why trains even stop given the station has no purpose now, but the reason seems to be that the legal process to follow in order to close a station is so complex and time consuming the powers that be prefer to provide a token service instead.
I continued west on the beach (though knowing I would soon have to re-trace my steps) approaching the South Gare Breakwater that marks the mouth of the river Tees, which I could now see ahead.
The beach was quiet now and other than me was populated more or less exclusively with dog walkers. I made my way along the last of the beach to the dunes at the back and then the breakwater.
I soon reached the breakwater, which was a rather run-down looking concrete structure.
It was surprisingly busy with a mixture of dog walkers and fisherman and had what looked like an pylon at the end of it.
Looking back I could see the lovely beach and the industry close behind it, with Redcar itself now barely visible on the horizon.
The Tees itself is quite a major river and here at the mouth is almost a mile wide. Across the river I could make out the North Gare Breakwater on the north side of the river and beyond that the town of Seaton Carew.
This is located in my next county, County Durham (and also the only county in the England prefixed by “County”, something that is common in Ireland). However in order to get there I’d have to walk many miles inland to the first bridge, in Middlesbrough.
It was time to turn inland and do just that. I had been surprised to find so many people at the breakwater given it was some distance from the nearest road, according to the map. However there is a track marked on the map and it seems this is more like a road, with the fisherman and dog walkers having mostly driven along this and parked beside (or even on) the breakwater.
I figured if they had driven along the track without issues then I should be able to walk along it too, and so take a different route back (I had expected to have to re-trace my steps). So I did that.
To my left I soon came across a little community of fishing sheds, all painted the same shade of green and in neat lines. Clearly this is a popular place for fishing so the Tees is perhaps not as polluted as I had suspected.
On the other side of the track was this little harbour with an array of fishing boats and other small pleasure craft that presumably used the sheds to store their fishing and other equipment.
I continued to the end of this harbour and now able to see the jetties and cranes that service the docks beside the Tees.
Beyond the small harbour area the track even went alongside a sort of beach, a mixture of sand and pebbles, though no one was using it and there was a lot of litter on it.
The industry ahead was now much closer, with smoke and pollution drifting across the beach from the steel works.
At the north end of this beach the track now curved away from the coast to head south east and soon running alongside the hire fence that separated the track from the industry behind it.
The pollution could really be smelt now, too. I followed the track alongside the steel works, dodging the odd bit of traffic heading for the breakwater heading back towards Redcar. As I neared the town I had the bright green manicured greens of a golf course to my left, and the high chain-link fence and the industrial steel works just behind it on the other side, with the ground black from coal dust on that side. It was quite a contrast!
When the track turned a bit to the left, heading back to Redcar, I was able to turn right off a path heading over former derelict land, now returning to nature. Indeed ahead the path led to a sort of nature reserve (I think created by the owners of the Steel Works) where there was some lakes and a footbridge over one of them.
I crossed this and had now joined the Teesdale Way. This long distance path follows the river Tees for most of it’s length and so began here near it’s mouth. Since I did this walk it has also been adopted as the route of the official England Coast path and is now marked as such on maps. Ahead my way was blocked by the railway line, but the Teesdale Way crosses this via a footbridge, so I headed for that in order to safely cross the tracks.
Now I turned right on a track and forked off this with the Teesdale Way down to the A1085 here called “Trunk Road”. Not an ideal place for walking, especially as the road almost immediately widens to a dual-carriageway. Thankfully it has a pavement and so I’m able to follow this past the offices of the steel works and the roundabout just beyond.
(Note: I didn’t take any photos on this section. There was nothing remotely attractive to photograph and I’m sure you know what a dual carriageway looks like!)
Crossing the roundabout I can continued on the cycle path beside the dual-carriageway The road soon rises to cross another railway line associated with the Steel Works and then I come to the Teesdale Way signposted off the road to the right.
I was hoping to follow this. However my hopes were soon dashed. The path had a warning notice about a closure attached. I continued ahead along the path which soon crosses the former (now abandonded) route of the road, which was re-aligned when it was upgraded and beyond it, another railway line. However here the path was blocked by a sturdy barrier and a sign informing me that the path was closed from the 14th January, initially for 5 weeks, but further closures might be needed and would be published. Yet now it was late July and the path was still clearly closed, with no indication as to how long it would be closed for, the reason given being work to a bridge ahead. So clearly the further closure had not been “published” at the place it might actually be useful – at the start of the closed path!
It was possible to get around the barrier, but I was put off trying. The reason is that the path runs for around a mile before it meets any road, in a narrow strip between fences, pipes and railway lines. So there was no way to divert off the path if it was impossible to use without coming back. Strictly speaking given the closure notice was only for 5 weeks (so expired by the end of February) I’d not be breaking the law in doing so even if it was clear that the path was still closed. I’d also been a bit off by reports from previous coastal walkers, such as this account from David Cotton which describes how the path is boggy, ugly and full of noises and smells from the various industrial plants alongside.
So I decided not to risk it, which meant finding an alternative.
(After completing this walk, I did contact the local Council about the closure – their reply is below.
When the first temporary closure came into effect in January we had hoped to be able to re-open the route inbetween various stages of the work (a major upgrade of the national grid across the River Tees). Unfortunately, given the scale of the work, this proved impossible and it also became clear that the work would not be completed to the original timescale. So it became necessary to extend the closure until 14th January 2014 (with approval of the Secretary of State for Transport).
So in fact the path was closed for a year at least. They did not reply to my comment as to why this isn’t mentioned at the start of the path, where it might have been useful to put up a new notice explaining this!
The alternative to the closed path is the A1085 trunk road. Not a pleasant alternative, and I hoped the pavement continued (which it did). Unusually the road was marked as a single carriageway now on the map but was in fact still a dual carriageway but now without a central barrier or hatched area – not an arrangement I’ve seen before.
It was a dull walk with industry around me and walking alongside a busy road, but at least being a weekend it was a bit quieter than it otherwise would be, and I had a pavement to walk on.
In a little over a mile I reached a roundabout. The roundabout only served private roads into the steel works and some other industry on the other side of the road. The large bus shelter (even with a tiled roof) indicates this to be a busy bus stop, presumably at the end of a shift.
I continued around this roundabout onto the road ahead. Another half a mile took me to the next roundabout, this time with the A1053.
Here I turned right but had to cross the road (a dual carriageway) at the roundabout (which was not especially easy), as the pavement had now moved to the other side of the road.
A short distance ahead just before the next roundabout, the foot and cycle path veered left onto a quiet residential road, Bolckow Road, parallel with the A66.
Here I had a choice to make. I could make my way along the verge beside the A66 to the roundabout ahead and then turn right onto the A1053. This road is a public road for about a mile where upon it becomes a private road into the steel works. If I followed it, I would be running parallel with the road I had just walked down, but about half a mile to the west. Doing so would not be pleasant either, since I could see this part of the road was still a dual carriageway, but had no pavement. However I had the possibility of joining the Teesdale Way again near it’s end. However not knowing if this section was also closed (the closure notice was not clear about how much of the path was closed) and the fact I’d have to double back and walk along the edge of a dual carriageway (dangerous), I decided not to try and so continued west on the residential road I had ended up on, parallel with the A66.
It felt like the worst of the industry was behind me now and I was glad to be back on a residential road, not a major trunk road, even if I was still close by the busy A66, which ran parallel to my right.
At the end of the road I turned right back to the A66 junction. Here I crossed via a multitude of traffic lights. Having ruled out walking along the A66 on the grounds of safety I had now had a road closer to the coast than the A66 that I could follow again. So having crossed the A66 I continued ahead along Eston Road. This was not pleasant either, through an industrial estate, but at least it had pavement. The road soon turned left and off to the right was another road, John Boyle Road. The map suggested this was not a public road (it was in white not yellow) and the signs told me it led to “South Tees Freight Park”. It did not sound like a pedestrian friendly sort of place and in any case the road took a big loop and ended up back on the road I was already on, just a bit further up. So I continued ahead on the road ahead, which seemed to have now change names to “Middlesbrough Road East”. Ahead I forked right onto Puddlers Road and then right again onto Normandby Road which led to South Bank railway station.
The Teesdale Way crossed this road just before the station and so I was hopeful I would now be able to join this path here, and avoid the continuing walk through the industry of Middlesbrough. The road leading to the station was depressing. Covered in fly tipped rubbish, abandonded tyres and vast amounts of litter and with industry on either side. When I reached the station, things did not improve.
To my right the signs confirmed the Teesdale Way to my right was indeed closed (confirming it would have been a waste of time to try to follow it earlier, as I suspected), but it was open to the left of the station (the way I was now going). It was even marked by this quite pleasant metal sign, which someone seemed to have gone to a lot of effort over.
Unfortunately the path itself was a disgusting mess. There were piles of plastic cable casing (probably cable burning or cable theft going on here), rusty bits of old cable, piles of bin bags of rubbish dumped on the path, broken glass, dumped building materials and piles and piles of rubbish. It was literally so bad it was impossible to see the path under the piles of rubbish. There were also burnt and blackened areas suggesting recent fires.
I tried to continue a short distance along it and came across a board walk over a flooded part of the path. But numerous planks on the board walk were missing, many of the rest flexed alarmingly and some were snapped in half and the path also continued to be covered in piles of rubbish. I didn’t feel safe continuing along it. For much of the time I couldn’t see what I was standing on. The remaining parts of the boardwalk were liable to collapse and I was concerned that not being able to see what I was standing on there might be a needle or something from drug taking or something else sharp that could cause injury. Reluctantly, I decided it not safe and so it was back to the roads and industry.
I did report these issues with the path to the Council also, here is their response:-
“We will do our best to attend to the matters you have raised but I regret the location of the Teesdale Way does make it difficult to manage, especially in terms of rubbish, fly-tipping, cable stripping etc.“)
It sounds as if they have given up really. They followed on with the comment.
On a brighter note we are currently working with Natural England on their Coastal Access Scheme. I don’t know if you are aware of this but it will eventually create a footpath (the England Coast Path) around the entire English coastline. It seems likely that the Teesdale Way will be the means of getting around the southern side of the Tees estuary. If this goes to plan it will mean that this part of the Teesdale Way will become a National Trail and in future will receive some Natural England funding for its management. I very much hope that this will be an opportunity for significant improvements.
This read very much to me as “We hope Natural England will give us some money to maintain the path, even though we should already be doing so but aren’t”. Of course, it has since becomes part of the England coast path, but whether the path has actually improved as a result I don’t know.
Returning to the road I soon reached the B1513, called Old Station Road, and turned right along it, since this would allow me to cross the railway line and go closer to the Tees. The old station alluded to in the road name was called Cargo Fleet and was closed by British Rail in 1990 after most of the nearby factories closed down. Once over the railway I turned left with the road, as it became Dockside Road. On the right I soon came across something unexpected. A view point!
This is the Cargo Fleet viewpoint.
It was opened by Prince Charles no less in the late 1980s, but seems to have been largely abandonded since. The path was very overgrown and the tarmac was breaking up with plants growing through it. At the top there was clearly evidence that there used to be one of those squares with a sign on the top indicating the places you could see from it, and some seats built into a brick structure (later confirmed to be the case from a bit of online research). All this had been vandalised. The plaque had been removed, so had the seats and it was all covered in graffiti. I also read there used to be a car park, but it was filled in after persistent fly-tipping. This confirmed my previous view that the local Council has completely given up and this area has become a lawless dumping ground.
Despite the neglect and vandalism, it did at least still offer a view over the Tees, something I had not seen for many miles, despite walking as close to it as I safely could. The banks were mostly lined with industry, but I could see the Transporter Bridge ahead (more about that later, it’s the blue structure just above and to the right of the centre).
This is the lowest crossing it is possible to make of the Tees and where I planned to cross the river on my next walk (though that didn’t happen, either, but more on that next time).
Now leaving the overgrown and vandalised view point, it was back to the road. Ahead, the B1513 soon crossed back over the railway at a roundabout ahead, but another road continued straight ahead, closer to the river, so I stuck with this latter route, and it continued to have a pavement.
This soon bought me to a sports stadium. This turned out to be the ground of Middlesbrough Football Club. There was clearly no game on today (I hadn’t checked, because I don’t follow football – I don’t find it of any interest). The stadium and it’s surrounds also looked very neglected and run-down.
The map suggested I could turn right here and follow another road leading to a path over Middlesbrough Dock (called the Tees-Link). So I followed this and it took me past the front of the football ground. This looked in better condition, but the overgrown bushes around the car park meant it still felt a bit neglected.
At the end of the road, I came to a roundabout with a most bizarre structure ahead, looking like a giant net.
I crossed the road and continued on the path over the dock entrance. Looking left, I could see some more modern buildings on the other side of the dock and this most bizarre block of flats (second photo), on which it looked like a house had been built on part of the roof. Very strange.
I crossed the footbridge over the dock entrance (the dock looked disused now).
Once over, to my right was an old dock crane and on my left, that bizarre work of art. It is called “Temenos” and reportedly cost £2.7 million. I think much of it was public money from a “regional development” fund. What a huge waste of money that was in my view, especially when you see the decay and dereliction all around the area.
As I got closer, the modern building I had seen across the dock turned out to be Middlesbrough College. It was a vast size I thought for a college but seemed largely surrounded by former industrial land, now derelict.
Just nearby, but behind a sturdy fence was this old clock tower. I had to poke my camera lens through the fence to get a photograph (and managed to still get a bit of the fence in the top right corner).
Probably once part of the docks around this area which I suspect had been listed and hence not been demolished with the rest of it.
I continued along this road and soon came to the main sight of Middlesbrough, the Transporter Bridge.
This is a quite bizarre structure and not really a bridge in the traditional sense. It was built so high, to allow ocean-going ships to pass under it (the Tees is still about 200 metres wide at this point).
Of course, looking at the picture above you might be wondering how you get up onto it. Well the answer is, you don’t. Instead of a bridge in the traditional sense, a gondola is attached by ropes from the top of the structure (you can see these ropes at the very right). This gondola travels back and forth carrying pedestrians and cars over the river.
I was impressed by the scale of it, but I could not help but wonder if we ended up with something that had all the expensive of building a bridge but the end result was something no more convenient than a ferry, but more more expensive to build. It still needs someone to operate it. It only takes around 4 cars(!) at once. It runs only to a specific timetable (as you can see from the sign below), every 15 minutes during opening hours, and it has to be suspended in poor visibility or high winds. You also have to pay to use it (cash only). A modern ferry would have far more capacity and probably much lower costs.
A more practical solution might have been a chain ferry, a lifting bridge or swing bridge, which seems to have been the solution to the problem of how you have a bridge without restricting the passage of large and tall vessels along the river. This is the solution adopted elsewhere (Tower Bridge in London being one of the more famous examples). So the Transporter Bridge was a bit of a folly and a flop. Only three such structures were built in the UK. This one, in Middlesbrough, another in Newport and another in Warrington. Both the former two are still open and in use, but the one in Warrington is closed and derelict.
However when I said it isn’t possible to walk across the bridge that is true of this one but it isn’t quite true of all of them. However when I walked the coast around Newport I discovered that the Transporter Bridge in Newport is also the closest point to the coast you can cross the river Usk (though for some odd reason, the Wales Coast Path does not use it, and instead takes you over another bridge half a mile further inland). So I did use it to cross the river Usk and in the case of Newport, the Council there do let you walk across it (as well as travel on the Gondola). So I did walk over it. This meant climbing up an exposed stair case up the “legs” of the bridge. This was very exposed with just a metal mesh floor and then having reached the top you can walk over the walkway at the top, (which you can see also exists in Middlesbrough). I think this walkway was never intended for public use and built primarily for maintenance access. The floor on it was just a metal mesh, so you could see through it directly to the ground and river far below, meaning you needed to have a head for heights to cross it on foot. It will be some time before I write up that walk in Newport but I was disappointed that it is not possible to walk over this “bridge” in Middlesbrough, as you can in Newport.
In fact as it was a Saturday by the time I had reached the bridge it had stopped operating for the day as it stopped running at 15:45 on a Saturday! The next bridge on the river is a couple of miles away, so it must be very inconvenient that the Transport Bridge stops running so early in the day (and doesn’t run at all on Sundays).
So I had mixed feelings about it. Impressive – but probably a missed opportunity and a waste of money in the scheme of things.
Anyway that was the end of my walk beside the coast (or as close to it as I could get for today). Next time I returned to Middlesbrough I planned to cross this bridge and then continue my walk back on the other side of the Tees and back to the sea. (Though that didn’t happen either, for reason I’ll explain next time).
Now it only remained for me to get out of Middlesbrough (preferably, as quickly as possible) and go home! So I turned inland along the A178 (which is the road that crosses the Tees via the Transporter Bridge) to reach the station, only a few hundred meters ahead.
There were a few buildings that I passed that hinted that the town was once grand. The first of these was the former National Provincial Bank of England building (as it still says in the stone work).
It was no longer a bank of course, and the name above the door was now “Boho Four”, whatever that might mean.
Next I passed another old buildings. This was now used as an office for PD Ports, I’m not sure what it was used for originally.
Just beyond this I reached the railway station. The tracks cross the road on a very low bridge (Albert Bridge) which still bears the name “NER “(North Eastern Railway). There was a back entrance to the station here, so I used it.
From here I took a train to Darlington and another back to London. Then I took the tube to London Waterloo and a train home from there. I was very glad to get out to Middlesbrough!
This was one of those walks I have no desire to repeat. I was tempted to not bother at all, but that would mean I wouldn’t technically have completed a walk around the coast. I don’t want to just skip parts and only do the “good” bits of coast, I want to do it all. Sometimes that means a walk like this, to be endured but not enjoyed. But on the plus side it does make me appreciate the bits of the coast which are nice (and that is most of it). After all the delights so far I had had of North Yorkshire, it was rather a shame it had to end like this – with one of the worst “coastal” walks in Britain (once I’m over the Tees, I’m into County Durham). My end point, Middlesbrough too turned out to be truly horrible. I could see no redeeming features at all. Why would anyone want to come here – let alone live here? It is industrial, ugly, filthy, full of litter and heavily polluted and feels like everyone in the area has just given up. There is no reason to ever go there. So I suggest you don’t.
Sorry to end on such a negative tone. Most of my coastal walks are lovely, and I have plenty more excellent ones to come and that I have already done and not written up yet. It’s just that this wasn’t one of them!
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Northern Rail “Bishop Line” (Bishop Auckland to Saltburn-by-the-Sea). Bishop Auckland – Shildon – Newton Aycliffe – Heighington – North Road – Darlington – Dinsdale – Tees-side Airport – Allens West – Eaglescliffe – Thornaby – Middlesbrough – South Bank – British Steel Redcar – Redcar Central – Redcar East – Longbeck – Marske – Saltburn-by-the-Sea. Trains run twice an hour Monday – Saturday between Middlesbrough and Redcar central and hourly on Sundays. It takes around 12 minutes to travel between Middlesbrough and Redcar Central. Of the stations between these two places, very few trains stop at British Steeel Redcar and around half also do not stop at South Bank. In addition for the other stations on the line, not all trains stop at all stations and between Bishop Auckland and Darlington, the service is less frequent than on the rest of the line. Tee-side Airport station has a very limited service – just one train a week!