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Monday, 16 April 2012

Walk 64 Middlesbrough to Hartlepool

Walk 64          Middlesbrough and North Gare Sands to Hartlepool (Durham)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R 93
Distance: about 2 miles then 5/6 miles (depending if you go by car or train)
Difficulty:  Easy.  
Terrain: footpaths and pavement 
Access: Parking in Middlesbrough and Hartlepool and car park near Gare Sands
Public transport: Rail connections every day from Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Seaton Carew (nearest station to Gare Sands).

As far as I can make out there is no walk possible between Redcar (the last point on the walk) and Middlesbrough - the whole area is (or was) industrial land. However, it is worth spending an hour or so walking part of the Teeside Way in Middlesbrough.

Start off by walking from the station towards the Transporter bridge. Near the end of the road is a pub called The James Cook with a picture of the man himself displayed alongside one of the windows. He was born in Marton, a southern suburb of the town. Other famous residents include: Brian Clough, Don Revie, Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, Paul Daniels and Chris Rea. To the east Middlesbrough FC can be seen and near large amounts of derelict land reflecting the industrial decline in the area.

The settlement of Middlesbrough goes back a long way although in 1801 only 25 people lived here. The second part of the 18th century saw great expansion and it became known as Ironopolis because of the dominant iron and steel trade; the parts for the Sydney Harbour Bridge were made here. Middlesbrough was the first major town to be bombed in World War 2.

At the end of the road is the iconic Transporter Bridge. This is the only working example of this type of bridge in the UK and one of the largest in the world. It was built in 1911 and is 260 metres wide and 69 metres high. The ‘car’ or ‘gondola’ is suspended from the bridge and carries 200 people or 9 cars. The bridge was built to ensure people got to work on time without having to wait for a ferry and was designed so as not to interfere with shipping on the river.

Follow the walk westwards, first along an industrial estate, then cut though some woodland on The Ironmasters Trail with its dinosaur sculptures. Various information boards explain life on this part of the river in days gone by. I walked about a mile along the river to the west before retracing my steps. It is pleasant enough even though industry is evident, especially on the opposite bank.

Leave Middlesbrough by car or train and walk south from Seaton Carew Station or the car park to Gare Sands. Looking south there is a good view across the dunes to the mouth of the River Tees. A power station is prominent inland. The path cuts back to the main road across a golf course or you could try walking along the sands. Whichever way you will see the expanse of coastal grassland (drained salt marsh) near Seaton Carew which is known locally as The Snooks. The area (which was once home to a salt industry) is a site of special scientific interest because of the wildlife present. I understand grey seals can sometimes be spotted especially near the estuary of The Tees.

The beach at Seaton Carew has been the site of finds of Roman artefacts mainly washed up from the many shipwrecks. The wealthy Quaker community of nearby Darlington adopted the town as their particular seaside resort. The opening of the railway in 1841 increased the popularity of the area for holidaymakers. As you walk along the promenade you will notice a long elegant white building which was a large bus shelter that catered for the many visitors. In 2007 the town was in the news because of the notorious case of John Darwin ‘the canoe man’ who had a property near the seafront. He hid here whilst the fiction was spread by his wife that he was dead – the idea being to make a large claim from an insurance company. Both were caught after being pictured in South America and subsequently jailed.

The walk continues along the road into Hartlepool. St Hilda (the same one famous in Whitby) was once abbess at Hartlepool where a monastery catered for both nuns and monks. She is best remembered for the 12th century church which can be seen to the north on the headland. This will be seen closer up on the next walk.

Hartlepool is named after the wild Harts that roamed the forests nearby – there has been a settlement here since 1640. The quayside is an attractive and historic area. HMS Trincomalee is a prominent feature. The ship was built in India in 1867 and is made from teak. It is the oldest fighting ship afloat in Europe. The nearby museum brings to life the sights and sounds of the area over the years and is well worth a visit. Severe industrial decline in the 1990s has meant that the area is one of high unemployment. However, a number of quay side developments have helped to improve matters. Hartlepool FC are sometimes known as the ‘Monkey Hangers’ – this refers to a local legend that a monkey was put on trial and hanged for being a French spy in the Napoleonic Wars. Wayne Sleep the ballet dancer and the politician Peter Mandelson (local MP for a number of years) have strong connections with the area. Andy Capp the cartoon character in the Daily Mirror is deemed to be from Hartlepool – I understand there is a statue of him somewhere in the town.
Photos are: The Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough, a dinosuar on The Ironmasters Trail in Middlesbrough, Seaton Carew beach with through some driftwood and HMS Trincomalee in Hartlepool harbour behind the museum.


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