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Travel North - 11: The Sailor's Trod, Middlesbrough's Old Riverside Path to the South Gare and Teesport

Local lad Alan shows you around another Teesside 'haunt', a little-known pathway that links Middlesbrough with the Riverside and Teesmouth

Regional icons

Teesside's icon: the Transporter Bridge opened 1911 and still going strong. Links what was the docks area of Middlesbrough with Port Clarence (Yorkshire-Durham)

Teesside's icon: the Transporter Bridge opened 1911 and still going strong. Links what was the docks area of Middlesbrough with Port Clarence (Yorkshire-Durham)

Redcar Steel Works, closed down by owners Tata Steel.  One of a chain linking Middlesbrough with Skinningrove along the coast. There are works to the west, closer to the sea at Warrenby as well and further west at Lackenby, South Bank, Grangetown

Redcar Steel Works, closed down by owners Tata Steel. One of a chain linking Middlesbrough with Skinningrove along the coast. There are works to the west, closer to the sea at Warrenby as well and further west at Lackenby, South Bank, Grangetown

See description below

See description below

There are no pictures, only text and data relating to the S&DR and the Middlesbrough estate commissioners. It makes fascinating reading for anyone interested - as I am - in the background to how and why Middlesbrough grew in importance from the small backwater at the edge of a marsh to a minor metropolis. Middlesbrough was the fastest growing town in England from the mid-19th Century to the mid-20th. It's still growing, although the character has changed and a large part of the old town has disappeared to comply with modern ideas in urban planning. The history is still there for all to see... if you know what you're looking at.

Middlesbrough to South Gare in pictures... see below for more

The operating bridge deck on the Transporter Bridge in what was once the dock area of Middlesbrough

The operating bridge deck on the Transporter Bridge in what was once the dock area of Middlesbrough

The Cellnet Riverside Stadium - Middlesbrough FC's home turf where the docks once were

The Cellnet Riverside Stadium - Middlesbrough FC's home turf where the docks once were

Tees Deep Water Terminal took over from Middlesbrough Docks to secure the Tees' position as a competitive harbour facility on the East Coast

Tees Deep Water Terminal took over from Middlesbrough Docks to secure the Tees' position as a competitive harbour facility on the East Coast

The Sailors' Trod or Black Path where it passes behind Lackenby steel works - a bit restricted here!

The Sailors' Trod or Black Path where it passes behind Lackenby steel works - a bit restricted here!

The end of the road - South Gare map with the southern shore of the Tees to the left, guarded by the two breakwaters - North Gare is on what was the County Durham side

The end of the road - South Gare map with the southern shore of the Tees to the left, guarded by the two breakwaters - North Gare is on what was the County Durham side

This is as much as there is to show at the end of the pier - breakwater to be exact. The beacon tower has gone, replaced by a radar tower and radio antenna. This is as far as you go, mate. Beyond the fence is 'no-go'. Off limits. Beyond that it's wet

This is as much as there is to show at the end of the pier - breakwater to be exact. The beacon tower has gone, replaced by a radar tower and radio antenna. This is as far as you go, mate. Beyond the fence is 'no-go'. Off limits. Beyond that it's wet

Take the opportunity to study nature and industry close together at first hand.

Take your time on this walk. For the student of ecology this walk route has to be a must, with the effects of nearby industry manifesting itself in some ways, a fight-back by nature in others and the cultivation of nature in close proximity to industry as a means of nurturing rare plants showing the way...

Let's get to the beginning (a very good place to start, so the song goes): the history of the walk and its environs. An old footpath follows the lower Tees on its southern bank. It was there for seamen's easy access to the coast and the mouth of the Tees before the modern 'metropolis' of Middlesbrough was developed from mid-19th Century onward to the present day.

On the Yorkshire side of the Tees the only port of any description was Yarm. This old market town was the most inland tidal point for 17th Century sea-going ships, the limit of Tees navigation for the North Riding's shipping merchants. When ships grew and keels deepened in the late 17th/early 18th Century Yarm lost out to Stockton-on-Tees, downriver on the County Durham bank.

With the technological advances of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in the first quarter of the 19th Century, and the Pease family's venture into developing Port Darlington (Newport Docks) on the North Riding bank of the Tees, Stockton lost out. This was one-upmanship with a vengeance. Rivalry between the Clarence Railway and the Stockton Darlington Railway hotted up with the Clarence's backing of the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Railway and subsequent 'Battle of the Tees' which the Clarence won in court. Middlesbrough's deep water docks developed later by the Stockton & Darlington Railway and then the North Eastern Railway could take ocean-going ships from South America, the Orient, Africa and everywhere else. By the early-mid 20th Century Middlesbrough had the deepest inland docking on the east coast of England. Everything from bananas and tea to industrial products and crude oil could be handled by Middlesbrough' docks. Middlesbrough's shipyards built newer ships - from locally made steel - to replace their older sisters until the last yard, Smith's Dock closed in the mid- 1980s. The Newport and Middlesbrough docks of old were finished with soon after, all handling moving downriver to Teesport. Some of the old docks are still there, close to the present Riverside Stadium of Middlesbrough Football Club (who seem to have found their old form - at last - under recently appointed Spanish manager Aitor Karanka).

To the walk:

From Vulcan Street just outside the centre of Middlesbrough, its route takes you downriver past the Transporter Bridge and the Riverside Stadium of Middlesbrough F.C.. A bridge takes you over the road and railway tracks to Cargo Fleet Road. Turn left here. Taking the straight road your sense of smell will suffer with the stench of sulphur like rotten eggs. Chemical working began upriver near Yarm in 1833, but significant advances brought this industry downriver half a century later when the Ironmaster's district advanced eastward. The new rail and road links enabled the import into the area of raw materials to be used in conjunction with locally mined iron ore. The chemical industry grew with the steel industry.

Follow the Cargo fleet Road to a 'T'-junction over the way from the 'Navigation Inn'' and take the rougher road for just over 300 yards. The Black Path or Sailors' Trod goes on from the further right hand corner. This narrow path used in earlier years to walk to work enters the heart of Teesside's industry.

The five miles (8km) before you is not normal hiking country. It is after all essentially a workman's short cut. There are industrial smells and there is a width limit, with no hint of what lays behind in the upper reaches of the Tees. Your senses will be bombarded by the rawness of the 20th Century's leftovers and 21st Century industry.

In the remaining two hours it takes you to follow the path to South Gare you will glean a rare view of a specialist environment of abandoned works, stell-extant steel and chemical plants and the echoes of 19th-20th Century industrial clamour. Held between a canal and a railway, the Black Path leads under a road bridge to another (disused) bridge. At the next bridge you climb to cross the road ahead, and pass derelict industrial land, a scrapyard comes into view and South Bank Station (dating back to the 19th Century, rebuilt in the 1950s and again in the leaner years of British Railways).

South Bank's High Street is run down now, a shadow of its former self. You will see none of this as you draw level opposite a steel works still in the running. To the left a great, monolithic tower advertises the presence of Dorman Long Steel Works, builders of the Newport Bridge upriver -and Sydney Harbour Bridge, amongst other famous structures. Steam escapes into the air here from pipes neighbouring others emitting less pleasant smells that blend with the atmosphere. Heavy lorries and laden railway wagons drawn by diesel shunters rumble and clank about around you in an alien landscape. Slag, gigantic coal heaps and industrial detritus clutter the landscape behind high steel fencing.

Few places in the land let you this close to Britain's industrial hub. Elsewhere you would be chased off as a trespasser, here you are 'contained'. You come past the closed Grangetown Station, redundant for some years now as the station was well over a mile from the town now served well by buses from Middlesbrough to Redcar. Take the underpass between another bridge by a pylon. Go over a culvert and follow a wall.

In spite of the seeming desolation there is an open space with wild flowers and butterflies to make the scenery more acceptable to your senses. There are rare plant species that thrive here amid this moonscape of dereliction and industry. Past the next overbridge is a British Oxygen plant that might seem alive with threatening rumblings. A section of boarded walkway leads to a long, lush scene of bullrushes, which is home to all manner of winged and ground-based creatures. A concrete wall on the right was once decorated with murals showing divers birdlife. They are now faded, no longer well outlined.

Cross a walkway of recycled railway sleepers to a raised walkway under a bridge where the footpath drops steeply by a fence, and from here take a metal footbridge. With industry behind you, the wildlife suddenly becomes stronger, vibrant. Winter wetness and weed growth has broken through banks of forgotten slag. Orchids thrive here, too!

Pass under a railway bridge and find yourself facing clinker-built steps that lead up out to the A1085 ('Trunk Road') to Redcar. Turn left and from where a mobile snackbar stands at the roundabout follow a verge footway beside the A1085 for less than 1,000 yards (750m). To the left a footpath follows across Coatham Marshes, cutting almost a mile off the road route by way of Coatham Village, west of Redcar. There is a camping and caravan site here.

Take the metalled road that skirts Warrenby Steel works through increasingly verdant land on the right and the grime and greyness of the works rail yard on the left. The road soon leaves the lee of the works and heads towards the South Gare breakwater between high grasses and weed-growth. To the right the ground falls away to where railway sidings were used to store wagons for the works.

Next on the right is a fairly regimented area of bright green fishermen's huts that lies between the embankment and artificial hillocks that meet the sea to their east side. To the left is the grey expanse of the rivermouth known locally as 'Paddy's Hole', where fishing boats are moored close to the breakwater and ships cross to newer deepwater docks and Ore Terminal. The road you have been following leads on up to the breakwater itself, a steep embankment on its seaward side not to be walked in foul weather. To the left is a motley collection of buildings with a working men's cafe and mobile snackbars.

This is your destination. spend time here to watch pilot launches skim the Tees Bay outward to ships awaiting entry permission into the rivermouth between the North and South Gare. Across the Tees near the North Gare is Seal Sands, where common grey seals bask and raise their young. That side was formerly County Durham, now the unitary authorities of Stockton and Hartlepool. Enjoy a beverage, snack and biscuits, soak in the atmosphere in the cafe with its welcoming staff - not your Fortnum & Mason sort of establishment.

This is the North. No frills. No pretences. Mind your step and don't talk out of turn.


Riverside - former Middlesbrough dock area

The Riverside Stadium from the dockside formerly a hive of activity until the 1980s

The Riverside Stadium from the dockside formerly a hive of activity until the 1980s

Strategically posed, present mode of transport juxtaposed against the main entrance from the extensive car park

Strategically posed, present mode of transport juxtaposed against the main entrance from the extensive car park

'Come on Boro!' has been shouted in despair, impatience at a lack of goals, (you know, slow and exasperated). It's been yelled in triumph, as when Boro' got their first silver to put in Chairman, Steve Gibson's cabinet. There's been a virtual parade of managers in the last fifty years, Steve Maclaren amongst the best, Brian Robson among the best and worst (for buying a bunch of crocks including Paul Gascoigne, who needed 'drying out' more than once). Why did Maclaren leave the Riverside? Out of his depth as England manager, he came back to England later from the Netherlands with a silly Dutch accent. At the Riverside he had been king. No mistake. Boro had a king before in Jack Charlton, at Ayrsome Park back in the 70s. Aitor Karanka's busy polishing the team's skills for another bash at the Premiership and silver for. Steve Gibson's display cabinet. Now Tony Pulis has a job on his hands trying to iron our the 'kinks' in the lads' performance so they can get back into the Premiership.

Teesmouth and South Gare

A few scenes around Teesmouth leading to the South Gare, the long breakwater on the Yorkshire side of the river. (Across on the Durham side is the North Gare and Seal Sands where these sea mammals have congregated for many years). There are remnants of wartime watch posts or 'pillboxes' and earlier industry as well as more recent works at nearby Warrenby.

Ranged across the hillocks, where constant offshore winds have driven the sand onshore, are the green fishermen's huts for storing nets and tackle. A narrow road with passing points leads past Warrenby Works to Coatham and Redcar further east.

Paddy's Hole shelters small craft from the North Sea, and cafes play host to those needing refreshment.

From Paddy's Hole to the beacon...a pictorial meander into the past as seen through a modern lens

The original rivermouth: Dobson's map of the mouth of the River Tees in 1802 shows the Yorkshire bank on the left, and where the South Gare would be built is marked by a lozenge shape that points downward (in reality it points almost due east).

The original rivermouth: Dobson's map of the mouth of the River Tees in 1802 shows the Yorkshire bank on the left, and where the South Gare would be built is marked by a lozenge shape that points downward (in reality it points almost due east).

Paddy's Hole from the east with your back to the beacon  - a variety of small craft awaits the morning tide

Paddy's Hole from the east with your back to the beacon - a variety of small craft awaits the morning tide

The view back beyond Paddy's Hole to the Tees Ore Terminal between the South Gare and the Riverside on the south bank - time was, the works were 'fed' by local ore from the Cleveland Hills

The view back beyond Paddy's Hole to the Tees Ore Terminal between the South Gare and the Riverside on the south bank - time was, the works were 'fed' by local ore from the Cleveland Hills

Topped by a 'pillbox', this corner of a WWII Army position overlooks Paddy's Hole - the cafe within has information on what was where and why. Trouble is, they're only open Saturdays and Sundays

Topped by a 'pillbox', this corner of a WWII Army position overlooks Paddy's Hole - the cafe within has information on what was where and why. Trouble is, they're only open Saturdays and Sundays

Across the causeway, on the south side of the gare in a dip is this ordered concentration of fishermen's huts

Across the causeway, on the south side of the gare in a dip is this ordered concentration of fishermen's huts

At the top of the ramp that leads to the fishermen's huts, make sure you close the barrier - somebody's forgotten again.

At the top of the ramp that leads to the fishermen's huts, make sure you close the barrier - somebody's forgotten again.

WWII Pillbox on Bran Sands close to the South Gare. Originally set here to watch for signs of invaders, with its 'chunky' construction, this edifice has been shifted by the power of the sea.

WWII Pillbox on Bran Sands close to the South Gare. Originally set here to watch for signs of invaders, with its 'chunky' construction, this edifice has been shifted by the power of the sea.

Overlooking the pillbox, an anti-aircraft gun occupied this position in WWII - a corresponding position occupies the opposite side of the gare. By the nature of its siting, it was believed the gare might be a possible landing place for German troops.

Overlooking the pillbox, an anti-aircraft gun occupied this position in WWII - a corresponding position occupies the opposite side of the gare. By the nature of its siting, it was believed the gare might be a possible landing place for German troops.

Signs of ageing: broken concrete on the north flank of the gare below the 'path' worn into the fabric of the structure

Signs of ageing: broken concrete on the north flank of the gare below the 'path' worn into the fabric of the structure

The South Gare beacon regularly takes a bashing from the sea. This area is littered with wreckage and the after-effects of sea storms

The South Gare beacon regularly takes a bashing from the sea. This area is littered with wreckage and the after-effects of sea storms

Changed the perspective a bit to show the radar and radio towers separate - the rails are still there, although the pointwork isn't what it was.

Changed the perspective a bit to show the radar and radio towers separate - the rails are still there, although the pointwork isn't what it was.

Their site can be found on Twitter, @Tees Valley NP

Their site can be found on Twitter, @Tees Valley NP

A vessel enters the Tees past the Gare. River pilots are busy at times. Judging by the lack of a queue offshore this is a slack period

A vessel enters the Tees past the Gare. River pilots are busy at times. Judging by the lack of a queue offshore this is a slack period

This is the only piece of 'ironmongery' not lifted by the people who took the plaques that described the local wartime historical scenery. Wonder why they left this?

This is the only piece of 'ironmongery' not lifted by the people who took the plaques that described the local wartime historical scenery. Wonder why they left this?

Away to the west, the now defunct Warrenby steel plant stands idle beside the road to Coatham and Redcar...

Away to the west, the now defunct Warrenby steel plant stands idle beside the road to Coatham and Redcar...

Some fairly recent additions, including an office block, have been left to gather dust and rust. A look across the now unused rail tracks shows other recent introductions left to the elements.

Some fairly recent additions, including an office block, have been left to gather dust and rust. A look across the now unused rail tracks shows other recent introductions left to the elements.

Going back to 'ironmongery', close by there's this part of the wreckage of earlier works - masonry clings to iron castings

Going back to 'ironmongery', close by there's this part of the wreckage of earlier works - masonry clings to iron castings

As the sun sinks into the cloud, look across the river towards Port Clarence, Haverton Hill and Billingham, it's time to go... Cheerio

As the sun sinks into the cloud, look across the river towards Port Clarence, Haverton Hill and Billingham, it's time to go... Cheerio

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster

Comments

Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 25, 2014:

Hello Antony, nice to see you here. Last time I was there was in 2009/10 when I stayed in a B&B at Redcar.

There's a lot to look at if you know what you're after. Industrial archaeology around all over the show, aside from nearby Warrenby Works and Teesport's iron ore terminal.

Then you look south beyond the man-made jungle and see the hills in the distance where the iron ore used to come from. Have you seen the Hub-page TRAVEL NORTH 4: WALKING THE MOOR - In the Footsteps of Eston Ironstone Miners? - You might like to join a guided walk next year with local lad Craig Hornby. He lives in Saltburn these days. Take a look at the page and see for yourself.

Antony J Waller from North Yorkshire on September 25, 2014:

I was at Paddy's Hole just the other week!

Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on June 06, 2012:

Thanks Aethelthryth. The character of Teesside is in stark contrast to the mostly agricultural and rural upper reaches. Not only the territory itself but the inhabitants. Those above Darlington and Croft are closer to the original population, whereas downriver the mix is different. People came from as far away as South Wales, Ireland and Scotland in search of work in the ironstone mines, steel works, chemical plants, shipbuilding and railways. There are relatively few of the indigenous inhabitants' descendants, as on Wearside and Tyneside

aethelthryth from American Southwest on June 06, 2012:

I enjoyed this tour, having been up toward the west end of Teesdale. I wondered how similar Teesside would be, since I have heard people travel, live, and marry along a valley more than among the valleys. (Seems strange, coming from a a part of the world where people think nothing of driving 50 miles or more to get to work.)

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