After my last walk through the very industrial landscape around Middlesbrough, I wasn’t in a hurry to come back. So it was nearly a year after my last walk ended here that I came back. The north side of the Tees is also very industrial, so I knew this walk wasn’t going to be very good either.
I was doing this walk from home. I booked a train ticket a few months earlier from London to Eaglescliffe for £15.60 and another back from Hartlepool for £16.60, making the return tickets a little over £30, which wasn’t bad. To make the long journey, I had to make an early start and when my alarm went off I briefly contemplated switching it off and going back to sleep, but no I wanted to do this walk, if only to make sure I do eventually complete the coast.
I took the train to London Waterloo. Here I planned to take the Bakerloo Line to Oxford Circus and then Victoria Line to Kings Cross. However despite the information screens at the station entrance at Waterloo showing a “Normal” service on this line, a member of staff is blocking access to the escalator and tells me there is a signal failure and so this part of the line is suspended, with no trains operating. Fortunately at this time on a Saturday there are few people about, so I divert onto the Northern Line to Warren Street and change there instead. It takes a bit longer, but I managed to get to Kings Cross with (just) enough time.
At London Kings Cross I then took a Grand Central Trains service to Eaglescliffe. This was busy as far as York (the first stop from London). The first stop was York, in almost 2 hours and initially no one sat next to me, but after 25 minutes someone did. Always puzzles me when this happens – where had they been until then? Still after York almost everyone left the train meaning it was virtually empty for the rest of the way! I soon reached Eaglescliffe which is a rather desolate and remote feeling station, with the 1970s style building on the single platform boarded up with plastic sheeting flapping about on the roof in the wind. Thankfully, I didn’t have long to wait for a train on to Middlesbrough.
On my walk on the south side of the Tees I had the alternative of the Teesdale Way (so I though, I had found in fact much of it was closed). On the north side I was not so lucky. It was pavement less A-roads for most of this walk, unless I headed a long way inland. Not a great combination.
First I had to cross the Tees. I had intended to use the Transporter Bridge, where I ended my last walk to do so. But as you can see from the below, there was a problem – it was closed!
My last walk here was in July 2013. The bridge was then closed for re-painting in August 2013. This had been expected to take 40 days. The re-opening was put back again and again. By November 2013 the Council had pushed back the opening until “Spring”, which is somewhat vague. This never happened either. The bridge eventually re-opened in March 2015 – around 2.5 years after it closed. That’s some over-run of the originally planned “40 days”!
So this presented me a problem. This is the lowest crossing of the Tees, and I didn’t want to walk further inland. Fortunately the prolonged closure meant that the Council had implemented a replacement bus service! This is a first for me, a replacement bus service for a bridge (it’s usually a train). Unknown to me, this only ran hourly (the bridge runs every 15 minutes when it’s open), but I was very fortunate that the next one was in 5 minutes.
So outside the bridge I found a tatty white Transit minibus, with no one in it and the local Council logo on it. Another man is I suspect waiting, armed with what looked like fishing equipment in bags. He is smoking, but when he finishes he opens the side door of the minibus and gets inside. This seemed a bit presumptuous to me (there is no driver or officials around)! However soon who I took to be the driver emerged from the nearby (closed) visitor centre building. I checked with him and yes, this was the replacement mini-bus. Better still it was free (unlike the bridge, that I would have had to pay to use).
So I got inside. It smelt of what seems to be the usual smell of minibuses – a mixture of diesel and fags. So we headed over to the next bridge, “Tees Newport Bridge” via some dual carriageways and crossed via that. Once over, we had to turn back east along the A1046 to High Clarence. I’m a bit concerned where we are going because I don’t see any signs for Port Clarence. When we do reach it however it looks a mess, with very many of the houses boarded up, even more modern 1980s style ones. It does not look like a nice place. The other passenger got off here (though I don’t think it was an official stop, he just asked the driver to drop him there, I think he was a regular who probably used this bus because it was free!). The driver then turned around to double check I definitely wanted to go to the other side of the bridge (rather than get off here), as I was now the only passenger. I confirmed I did, which he seemed a bit surprised about it, but soon drove me there. I guess most passengers of the bridge live in High Clarence so get off there, rather than walk back from the bridge itself.
The driver soon dropped me off on the north side of the bridge as expected. So a new first – a replacement bus – for a bridge! It had taken 15 minutes to drive here, which brings home the length of the diversion as a result of the closure. I’m now in County Durham, a new county, having left North Yorkshire when I crossed the Tees in the mini-bus.
Despite the closure of the bridge, a few people seem to have driven here to take a look at this impressive structure, and are wandering around admiring it.
Out in the river I can see the structures I passed on my last walk on the south side of the river, but in front of it is a derelict ship, now aground on the mud banks beside the river.
I wonder what it was used for and how it ended up here. It reminded me a bit of the old Duke of Lancaster on the North Wales coast at Mostyn, which has become quite a landmark.
I can’t put it off any longer though, it’s time to begin my walk. There is perhaps a good thing for me to come out of the bridge closure though – there is likely to be less traffic on this A-road, which should help. I pass a few houses and turn left under the railway bridge into Station Road. I hadn’t realised there was a railway line here, but I can see it now marked on my map, but it looks like it is for freight trains only. I later find out this is the Clarence Railway, built to take coal from the mines in County Durham to the port here but as I suspected, it is now used for freight trains only, which is a shame.
Once under the railway line I pass the grotty looking Station Hotel on the right and then some industry on the right. There is a pavement at least and I soon turn right onto the main A178, past a row of houses on the left in the oddly named Saltview Terrace. Soon these ends however, and quickly after so to does the pavement, a nuisance. I now have the main road (with a 60-mph speed limit) and buses either side, which means I have to walk in the road – not great but at least the traffic is pretty light, particularly for an A-road. I’m expecting to immediately enter industry but am pleasantly surprised to find the landscape immediate around the road is rather more rural with horses grazing to my right and fields to my left (a recreation ground initially, but soon more rural, with some horses grazing).
Thankfully the buses soon end and I can then take to the grass verge, which makes the walking far safer. I have a backup plan if this road becomes too unsafe, as there is an hourly bus along this road (but that does mean I’d later have to find another route to walk another time). I wonder if it is running however with the bridge closed, but am soon pleased to see the bus, which will be a useful back up if I decide this walk is becoming too dangerous. I quickly realise that the bus would be too big to use the bridge anyway, so must follow a different route. I am surprised to see bus stops at regular intervals, despite the rather pedestrian unfriendly nature of the area. I have been told bus companies have to have frequent stops to qualify for some sort of subsidy – if this is true it might explain the presence of so many stops on this main road.
Soon the road becomes dual carriageway, on the opposite side, with a grass verge between the two carriagways, but oddly the road on the right, which I am following, is not dual carriageway, so there are two lanes north and only one south, which seem odd. I pass a private road on the right and continue north soon coming to the RSPB Saltholme reserve. It seems rather incongruous that in the middle of all this industry is a nature reserve, I assume they have taken over some of the once industralised land. I start to walk along the access road into it to see if there is anything of interest, but the building is quite a distance down the road so I soon abandon it and return to the main road, to continue north.
In any case, it is windy, my hair has blown about and I don’t have a hair brush, which rules me out of entry, on account of the dress code!
I pass another road on the right and then a community fire station on the left. I initially think it odd there is a fire station here given it’s not in a town, but I suppose it makes sense given all the industry nearby. I pass this and continue past some pipes to a roundabout. I seem to time this badly as a procession of cars come past here so I have to wait a minute or two to be able to cross the roundabout.
I continue north on the A178, a long trudge along this tedious road, although again I am surprised at how green the area is, with sheep grazing to the left of the road in places, although I suspect this is grassed over industry, as the hills don’t look natural.
I’m soon surprised to come to a small car park for the Teesmouth national nature reserve. This is an odd place to have a nature reserve I feel, but there is information about it here and a place called Seal Sands nearby. I read the boards here which state that there used to be a lot of seals on the mud flats beside the Tees here, but they gradually died out as the area industrialised.
Happily, after the river has been cleaned up in recent years, the seals are back and I’m told can often be seen at low tide at Seal Sands and on a creek just north of here at high tide.
There is an inviting path here next to the road, or at least inviting in the way that it means I can avoid the road walk. I hope I can get through at the end, but decide to follow it. It soon leads me to a hide overlooking Greatham Creek where it is rumored you can often sea seals, and numerous birds. Sadly I don’t see any seals. More irritatingly, the path is a dead-end with a fence on either side even though the main road is only a few meters to my right.
There is also road works with temporarily traffic lights on the road to the right, which explains why the traffic had seemed to come in bursts and then nothing, as it corresponded to each change in the traffic lights. I notice however near the road there is a bent down bit of the fence and a well worn path leading to the road. I’m sure I’m not meant to follow it, but it seems a better option than walking back south to re-join the road only to end up a few metres away again. So I wait for the traffic on this side of the road to clear the traffic lights (so I’m not seen) and climb over the fence.
Thankfully, this being a Saturday there are no workmen working on the road, so I can get back to the road unseen. I climb over a wooden gate and then re-join the road. I enjoy the views of the creek from the road here on both sides and notice oddly on the eastern side there are supports for an old bridge, obviously demolished since. I wonder if this was once a single track bridge which has now been widened?
I continue on the main road again, but at least here there is a wide grass verge and the grass is fairly short, although there is a lot of litter.
By the nature reserve I had also passed from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool, a sign I am making progress. I pass a bus stop and under power lines and soon reach a brown tourist sign listing the attractions of Hartlepool although a brown tourist sign seems very out of place with the heavy industry to the right.
I soon pass an Oil Storage depot on the left with more stinking factories on the right. To my surprise after one of the buildings on the right I see what looks like a pavement leading off parallel to the road. I cross to take a look and there is an information sign about it and the route of the path marked on the map. The sign is at pains to point out that this is a permissive path only and members of the public can use it, but must use the yellow phone on the building to report to the site security they are here and report again when they leave. This suggests it is a dead end and I am not sure if the phone will be manned today anyway. Rather than risk taking a dead end or upsetting security, I reluctantly walk back and continue along the road. I pass more industry and power lines and come to another roundabout – I am nearing the end of all this industry at last.
I go straight on at the roundabout, but as the road bends a bit to the left, there is a road off to the right (marked with a no entry sign initially, for cars). This leads to a byway marked on my map which I hope I can take to get back to the coast. I follow this and it comes to a road. I am not sure why it is signed as Byway, since it is nothing more than a standard road. I follow it passing the power station and industry to my right, but with grass fields to the left. This passes the industry on the left and then there are a few cars parked on the muddy grass verges and a gate ahead, I assume they are parking here for the beach. I also see someone changing into a wetsuit, which tends to back that up. Annoyingly the gate ahead is locked but I can squeeze past into an open area of sand that looks like a car park of sorts. I don’t know what it is, but continue through until I reach the sand dunes and – at last, the beach.
This sandy beach seems very out of place next to the heavy industry, but it is beautiful and I am very relieved to have finally left all the industry of the Tees behind.
The rest of my walk is along the beach, which is a great relief.
I stop for a late lunch in the dunes, trying to find somewhere out of the wind, with mixed success.
Lunch over I head through the dunes down to the beach. This is a lovely sandy beach, backed by extensive dunes and reminds me of the coast around Port Talbot, where there is again sandy beaches surrounded by industry. This is North Gare Sands and I head down onto the beach.
The strong wind is blowing the sand about, making unusual patterns and has also whipped up the sea a bit.
Looking back I can see the industry of Teeside and jetty of South Gate Point, where I walked previously. Only a few hundred metres away but several hours of unpleasant walking to get round. There are a number of windsurfers getting set up on the beach, presumably the owners of the cars I saw parked up.
I head towards the jetty of North Gare breakwater and climb up the bank from the dunes onto this.
I start to walk out to sea along this, hoping to walk to the end but an unfriendly sign warns it is private and trespassers will be prosecuted, and I can see a fence ahead.
I turn back and then get the full force of the wind. I am being sand blasted here, from all the sand blowing up and it is very unpleasant (bits of sand are coming out my ears for a day or so after!). I find a route down onto the dunes at the coastal side of a golf course and down onto the beach. The sand is blowing about still but heading to the sea, it eases as the sand becomes damp and hence stops it blowing about. I am now on Seaton Carew beach, a glorious sandy beach backed by dunes.
The wind is blowing the waves back, making a nice spray effect for each wave that rolls in.
There are bits of coal dust mixed in the sand and I am not sure if they are blowing across from the industry in Teeside or a natural part of the beach from the rocks around here, as this area is rich in coal. I head north along the beach for around a mile. A few pools of water have formed on the beach and I have to jump over the streams leading from them to the sea, with mixed success (I get slightly damp feet).
I can see the buildings of Seaton Carew to the left and it looks a nice town, although I don’t see a lot of it from the beach.
I keep going north and stick to the beach, although there is now a promenade and plenty of dog walkers about.
As I round the bend I pass from Seaton Carew to Hartlepool and can see the harbour wall ahead.
There are also rocks and a sea wall to the left, acting as sea defence.
I continue north until I am almost at the harbour wall and then take a set of steps up to the promenade to my left, and then join the promenade. The beach below is black in places with the coal dust now.
I pass in front of some flats where oddly the path ends and goes through some undeveloped land (largely waste ground) and back to some flats and then to the Marina.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Hartlepool, but it looks far nicer than I expected, and I can see a village in the distance with houses catching the sun. I had originally planned to finish in Hartlepool, but since it is still a little over 2 hours before my booked train home leaves I decide to carry on with the intention of picking up a bus back (though I am not sure if there is one and how often it runs). I usually make more rapid progress along roads, but rarely allow less time because of it, hence getting ahead of schedule.
I reach the marina and the lock gates that are the entrance and am pleased to note both that the gates are closed and that there is a path over it (I thought I would have to walk around). The town has certainly had some regeneration with this lovely marina full of boats. I pass the old dock house and then continue as I now have rows of modern flats on my right, with shops and pubs at the bottom.
At the end, with a car park on the left I am a little confused where I am.
The coast is to my right but it looks like an industrial road leading off to the left, so I stick to the side of the harbour. I am now passing office buildings on the right. Although quite modern it seems most are empty, with the lettering naming the buildings falling off! Soon I reach a retail park and feel out of place in amongst the weekend shoppers. Beyond this I can see a dual carriageway and a quick check of my map confirms this must be the A179. I follow it and looking back I can see some lovely old buildings in Hartlepool and the mast of what looks like an old ship, but it is mostly out of sight.
I continue north on the dual carriageway and quickly have to cross to the other side, as the pavement on the right hand side of the road ends at a bus stop. I look for a timetable at the bus stop, but there isn’t one, which is a shame. I cross over and dismayed to once again be walking next to a busy main road.
After around half a mile I reach a roundabout. From my map I can see a railway goes through the middle of it, and I can see this is on a bridge over the roundabout. I go straight on and follow the road round to the right. There is now the commercial dock and harbour area out to the right and houses to my left. There are also more bus stops along here and i find a timetable at one of them. Sadly the list of places served does not mention the town centre of station (just various road names, one of which mentions shops). I assume however this must go back the way I’ve come, since I saw a bus going this way and hence it will take me back to the town. The timetable initially confuses me until I realise it is nothing more than a list of buses departing from this stop, rather than the traditional timetable with no real indicating of how long it takes. However I’m pleasantly surprised to find it runs every 10 minutes – a good service.
I keep to the road until I pass some dock buildings on the left. I can see from my map that this is a narrow spit, with the sea beyond and decide to finish my walk at Croft-on-Heugh the end of this little spit of land. It would be easy (and perhaps tempting) to cut his little headland out altogether, but that would be cheating.
I’m on the west side of this spit, overlooking the harbour, but I can’t resist cutting over it thought to the coast to the north, which takes me along a dull residential street, but then to the coast. There is a high promenade here and the coast is unexpectedly lovely – a sand and rocky beach with a wall and houses behind.
I head back to the road on the south of the headland past more dock buildings.
I make the mistake of leaving the main road and taking a more minor route to the right, which goes through the back of houses and past the docks on the right, it is not very inviting.
Soon the road turns to the right, heading west then I reach the end and turn left and head round to the south. Suddenly I have a good views of old houses, and a sandy beach and jetty below. This is what I could see an hour or so ago and it is unexpectedly lovely. This I learn is Old Hartlepool which was once the main town and there was once an Abbey here.
I continue along the road which soon rises to an old sea wall. There are steps down from the walk into a gate which gives access to the beach.
The sun is shining and it looks attractive, but the cold wind is still around, so I continue to the little jetty and breakwater. I take a few photos of this attractive scene and then head back to the main road passing a pub and then come to the road by the large church, which has many seats nearby to enjoy the view.
This is a lovely spot and I am glad I was able to finish my walk here rather than the more modern part of town further south. I assume the bus goes near the church and as I head towards it I can see a bus parked up near some gardens. I cut through these gardens to the road and see the bus waiting. There is another passenger running for the bus, so when I see he gets there I slow down, knowing I will have time whilst he pays. This is the start point of the bus route anyway and when I get to the bus I can see it is on the route I saw earlier, so I know it goes back more or less to the town centre. I ask for a single to the town centre, which the driver issues, so confirming it goes to the town centre. We soon set off and the bus takes around 10 minutes to get back to the town. It is quiet on the bus, with only 4 people on the bus all the way until we get to the dual carriageway by the McDonalds and the old dock area and boat masts. The bus then veers off to the right here to some shops and I get off here. I find my way from here back over the dual carriageway to find the station, or Travel Interchange, as it is signed.
I confirm my train is on time and I have arrived almost half an hour before it is due to leave, as I wanted to allow plenty of time to catch the bus and was lucky to get there just before one left. This gives me time to explore the old dock area which I walk to. This is unexpectedly lovely and i learn the old boat is HMS Trincomalee, part of a Royal Navy museum and is open to the public (for a fee), but closes at 4 and it is now half past 5. I will have to make do with a look around what I can see from the outside, and the attractive buildings that surround it.
I soon finish and head back to the station. I reach the station and my train is now due a little over 5 minutes time. It shows as on-time but does not arrive and 3 minutes after it was due, disappears off the screen entirely, with only the next train now showing as “on time”. I am concerned by this and head to the ticket office but the helpful member of staff there is able to check and says it is running around 10 minutes late. This turns out to be the case and the train soon arrives. It is a large train for what is quite small station! I soon find the carriage why my seat is reserved and settle down for the long journey back south.
I sometimes wonder at my sanity for doing such long day trips to get to the coast now, but the train is comfortable and has free wi-fi so I have plenty to keep me entertained. As on the way out, the train is quiet to York after which it is almost full. We arrive in London only a couple of minutes late, and I have a good journey from there back home, the Bakerloo line having resumed.
This was a walk of two halves. The first part was, it has to be said pretty unpleasant although I am very pleased to have made it safely. It feels like this walk had been hanging over me for some time, one I kept putting off. Now I am pleased with myself for having made it, and the second part of the walk was far nicer than I had imagined. I was surprised by Hartlepool, it is a far nicer town than I had imagined. I remember when walking into Hull and having expected it to be bad felt it gets far too much of a bad press – I feel the same about Hartlepool. It has interesting buildings, lots of history, an attractive marina and a good beach. It was a good place to finish my walk.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Northern Rail Nunthorpe and Middlesbrough to Newcastle and MetroCentre: Nunthorpe – Gypsy Lane – Marton – James Cook – Middlesbrough – Thornaby – Stockton – Billingham – Seaton Carew – Hartlepool – Seaham – Sunderland – Heworth – Newcastle – MetroCentre. Trains run hourly seven days a week and take around 30 minutes.