Travel North - 3: Follow the Tees Upriver From the Tees Bay to a Pennine Gill*
Beginning in the Tees Bay at the South Gare - the southern breakwater that guards the rivermouth from North Sea storms
The South Gare, the breakwater that guards Teesmouth from violent North Sea storms was opened in 1888. In length it measures two and a half miles and cost £219,300. The slag base for the breakwater was provided by the Cargo Fleet Iron company's works and was transported on a line extended from the original Stockton & Darlington Railway company's main line from Middlesbrough to Redcar. Their rails linked with the Tees Conservancy Commissioners' railway at Tod Point.
At the time of the opening ceremony the line was put to use for trains from Middlesbrough to conduct special guests to the base of the beacon. Later, with no trains passing along the tracks workmen used a flat bogey powered by sail - no doubt worked by master mariners.
Inland from the Tees Bay - the navigable river
This is largely a pictorial trip with general directions and a smidgen of history - see also Travel North - 1: 'You Take The High Road'
The River Tees begins with a gill* high up in the Pennines above Cow Green Reservoir.
However... awkward cuss that I am, I'm going to take you in the opposite direction (I have to admit I've got vested interests around the bottom end of the river, having grown up there):
I'll start you off in Tees Bay, where the Tees empties out to join the iron-grey - and stony-cold even in mid-summer! - waters of the North Sea.
Entering the river you pass the Gares, North and South. On the Yorkshire side is the South Gare, linked to the road system on south Teesside by way of Warrenby and Coatham to Dormanstown and the newer part of Redcar before leading to further 'dormitory' settlements of Grangetown, Teesville, South Bank and North Ormesby, Lazenby, Lackenby, Eston, Normanby, Ormesby and Marton in a westward sweep.. The South Gare was started in 1859 using blocks of solid blast furnace slag cast and positioned, and back-filled with 70,000 imp. tons of material dredged from the riverbed. The Gare (or breakwater) was built from January, 1861-1884 with 5 million imp. tons of slag and 18,000 imp. tons of cement at a cost of £219, 393. The slag was supplied free from blast furnaces under instruction of the ironmasters who paid for its removal. The north end of the breakwater bearing the lighthouse used blocks of concrete weighing 40-300 tons. The work was planned and supervised by John Fowler, engineer to the Tees Commissioners and formally opened by the Rt. Hon. W.H. Smith (no relation to the stationers), the First Lord of the Treasury on 25th October, 1888.
Follow the A1085 from Redcar past Lackenby Steel Works between Dormanstown and Grangetown to the A1053 and the A66. A road leads right off the A66 to the Transporter Bridge, take this for a close-up of a wonder in engineering originality. The Transporter Bridge has an underslung deck that travels between the Newport area of Middlesbrough to Port Clarence on what was the County Durham bank of the Tees, named after one of Victoria's sons and opened by her youngest, Prince Arthur of Connaught on 17th October, 1911. The bridge had been built between 1910-1911 by Sir Wm. Arrol & Company of Glasgow at a cost of £68,026 6 shillings and 8 pence (over £5,330 M in today's money). It was built to replace a steam ferry and instructions were it was not to impede the - then - heavy Tees river traffic. Upriver we have another engineering marvel, the Newport Lift Bridge. This one was opened to traffic on 28th February, 1934 by the then Duke of York (later King George VI) to link Middlesbrough with Stockton. The brief was pretty much the same as for the Transporter Bridge. It was constructed by Redpath Dorman Long Engineering with Dorman Long steel made at their Grangetown and South Bank works, as was the Tyne Bridge and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Upriver in the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees is the Tees Barrage, opened on the 22nd April, 1995 by HRH Duke of Edinburgh. The project was won by an association of Arup and the Napper Partnership, the Tees diverted by W J Groundwater and construction began November 4th, 1991. The structure is 70m wide, 32m long (the width of the Tees at Portrack) and 5m thick.
*A gill is a spring, a bit more Yorkshire dialect for you
Portrack, the cut where the river bends in a wide arc and sandbanks hindered coal vessels before the S&DR extended to Newport (Middlesbrough)
The Tees Navigation company was brought into being in 1808 to combat the silting up and frequent changes of course on the River Tees from the 19th Century.
The first task that faced them was the Mandale Cut. There were those, such as Lord Harewood, who stood to lose out by the cuts due to their access to the river channel being affected. Lord Harewood and the others were compensated after the cut was completed in 1810. About twenty years later the river course needed to be straightened again, this time by the proposed work at Portrack, completed in 1831. The Stockton & Darlington Railway diverted their line to cross the Tees for coal exports to be made from Newport (just to the north of the present site of Middlesbrough, formerly named Port Darlington but changed because of objections from Stockton).Shipping was limited by the 1830's to Newport and below due to further silting, and Middlesbrough Docks were deepened to accommodate bigger, ocean-going ships to import higher quality ore to augment the internal supply. By the time the Tees Barrage was built shipping was in Tees-mouth at deep water facilities for containers and iron-ore.
Plan of the River Tees upriver of Middlesbrough
Preston Park to Darlington
Upriver of the Tees Barrage the character of the river changes. You notice there is greenery all around. You even see seals up here that swim upriver from Seal Sands - where else? - and salmon have been fished in the Tees for some time now as well! There are pleasure boats, canoeists even.
Nevertheless the river is still tidal as far as Yarm (you'd need to be a strong swimmer). Onceover Yarm was the limit for sea-going merchant ships, but that was a long time ago, when even sailing ships were smaller - not a lot bigger than the Vikings' ships. Preston Hall on the north bank of the river was once a private dwelling, built in 1825 in the reign of George IV by David Burton Fowler. The old manor house here was kept as a farm dwelling until its demolition in 1974. In 1882 Matthew Fowler sold the estate to David Ropner, a shipping merchant and ship builder who was High Sheriff of Durham in 1896. He was made a baronet in 1904. The Ropners lived at the hall until 1937 - when Leonard Ropner was High Sheriff - and Stockton-on-Tees District Council bought the estate in 1947 for public use. There is quite a lot to see within the hall museum, including a period-set street with shops you can enter and look around. Outside there is a safe playground for toddlers as well as an adventure play area for the bigger kids. A butterfly centre and aviary are also features near the cafe about a hundred yards from the hall itself. Boats are for hire and a ferry boat service operates along the river. Car parking is no problem, with a large car park that includes spaces for coaches.
Further upriver you pass Egglescliffe on the north bank of the Tees. When the Leeds Northern Railway was built up this way a station was added to where this line crossed over the Stockton & Darlington Railway. The station was named Eaglescliffe in error, but by the time the mistake was realised it was too late because all the signs, tickets and so on were in use. So now we have Egglescliffe and Eaglescliffe, two communities that exist side by side.
Across the river from Egglescliffe is Yarm-on-Tees, which now comes under Stockton, but which lies in the loop of the Tees on the Yorkshire side. Being part of Stockton bridles with many Yarm folk, and a petition was begun in the 1980s to bring Yarm back into North Yorkshire but it did not come about. Yarm was included as a coal depot in the Stockton & Darlington system, the depot being built on the County Durham side of the river. When the Leeds Northern Railway built its massive viaduct across the valley from south to north it too built its Yarm station on the Durham side! When recently Yarm was given a new station for its commuters to Middlesbrough/Northallerton the new station was built behind the town, some way southward out of town. So the bus is still the better option - you can't win! Further upriver are the villages of Hurworth-on-Tees and Croft, both on the Durham bank. Croft achieved a small level of fame with its long station platforms. The station has been closed for some years and Inter-City trains thunder through now, the passengers unaware there was ever a station here. Across the river was Eryholme's station, a branch line from here leading to Catterick Bridge, Catterick Garrison and Richmond. Eryholme's station was miles away from the village, but it was only a station for changing trains, and only a footpath connected the village with its station!
Following upriver still, it bends northward around the outskirts of Darlington, past Cleasby and Stapleton. The River Skerne that flows south through Darlington into the Tees features in pictures of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. The Skerne Bridge, albeit pictured the wrong way round, appeared on the old five pound note behind the portrait of George Stephenson.
Preston Park to Darlington
In the wake of the initial rage of storm 'Ciara'*, 10th February, 2020, and awaiting storm 'Jorge' end of February/early March
A yellow weather warning was issued by the Environment Agency, a flood alert for the Tees at Croft, Low Moor and Yarm - possible flooding of properties, roads and farm land. Areas most at risk are riverside footpaths - well you've seen from the pictures above what the situation was on 10th February, 2020 - low-lying land and roads.
Much of the Tees downriver meanders past and through low-lying land as you've probably gathered from images above. Middlesbrough itself was built on reclaimed marsh land that extended around communities recorded in Domesday as unfit for agriculture, later developed for growing crops on a small scale before housing and industrial development in the mid-19th to late 20th Centuries. There is still marsh south-west of Redcar around Coatham, kept as a wildlife and nature reserve.
*Ciara, pron. 'Kiara' - Next storm i'm told will be 'Dennis' (any of you familiar with kids' comics in the UK will be familiar with 'Dennis the Menace', let's hope he doesn't live up to his name, 'Ciara' was bad enough)
Around the southern fringe of Darlington
Robert Woodhouse has dug up some oddities that are scattered around both banks of the River Tees in the North-east of England, such as the brick-built version of a 'Streak' (an A4 LNER Pacific locomotive) on the southern outskirts of Darlington near their football ground. And then there's the cliff lift at Saltburn on the seaside, operated with the aid of seawater in ballast tanks, the last on the east coast to use this form of 'power'... Take a peek, go on!
High Coniscliffe to Barnard Castle
Close to High Coniscliffe near the Tees is Ulnaby Hall Farm. The site of an abandoned late mediaeval village and an officially recognised ancient monument.
Ulnaby could quite likely have been established by Danes and razed in the harrying of the north in 1069 by William I. Occupied again from the late 13th to 16th Centuries, the later village supplanted a high status manorial enclosure. The village shrank in the aftermath of a change of use from labour-intensive arable to pasture farming. The farm is about four and a half miles (6.8km) north-west of Darlington and also featured on one edition of Time Team.
Going west again is Piercebridge. The Romans built a fort here to defend the crossing on Dere Street against the Brigantes, one of the more militantly anti-Roman British tribes. After they left in AD410 some stayed on for another hundred years or so. The Tees valley became a centre of the Catraeth, an offshoot tribe of the Brigantes who gave their name to Catterick. In mediaeval (around the turn of the 12th Century) times the area was known as Persebrig A chapel was recorded here in AD1546. Piercebridge Grange may be the site of a monastic grange tenanted in AD1847 by James Rawe, a gentleman. Now a Grade II listed building, it was derelict in AD2008. In AD2001 the Piercebridge community was badly affected by the Foot & Mouth outbreak.
The nearby bridge was the site of a Civil War battle between the Royalists led by Wm. Cavendish defending the crossing against Lord Fairfax (not known whether this was the father or son). Time Team came here in 2009 to investigate the Roman bridge that was built in the 2nd or 3rd Century - initially in wood, but this was washed away when the river course changed. Remains of the bridge can be seen in neighbouring fields, including one almost intact, the fifth pier.
The village of Winston lies about three miles (4.75km) west of Piercebridge on the Tees. Its nearby bridge over the Tees once held claim to being the biggest single span stone bridge in Europe. The cartographer Aaron Arrowsmith who mapped much of America was born here in 1750.
The next community of note upriver here is Barnard Castle. The castle itself as it was until the Civil War was built under the auspices of Bernard de Baliol (probably spelt Baillieul then) on the site of an earlier wooden fortress on the Tees constructed some time after the Conquest. Charles Dickens stayed at the King's Head inn during his researches for the novel Nicholas Nickleby. (He also stayed downriver at Greta Bridge, see the 'You Take the High Road' pages).
*Barnard castle is approximately 600 feet (180m) above sea level. Can be reached both by the A66 from Scotch corner on the A1(M) and the A67 from Darlington.
High Coniscliffe to Barnard Castle
Back to Roman times on the Tees
Building bridges... Roman legions once marched this way to Hadrian's Wall from Eboracum
Barnard Castle - carrying forth the 'Normanisation' of the North
James Backhouse gives us a glimpse into the history of Upper Teesdale. See how the area has developed through local industries and the railway from Darlington, then subsequent closure up to Middleton-in-Teesdale. Copies of local views, vintage maps and local documentation
Barnard Castle and Upper Teesdale
Barnard Castle to Middleton-in-Teesdale
The younger de Bailleul's descendants would not have inherited the estates William I bestowed on the family and left for Scotland on the invitation of King David in the 12th Century. Their descendants were appointed to the kingship of Scotland by Edward I in the 13th Century and that's where the dispute arose that involved William Wallace and Robert 'the Bruce'. Robert's forebears, the de Brus family left England at about the same time as the de Bailleuls (Baliol), their older sibling's properties being in North Yorkshire near the coast at Skelton and Guisborough.
Back to our course: we leave Barnard Castle behind, but we can't follow the river as closely as before by road. As we've a long way to go upriver the best way is along the B6277 to Cotherstone. On this road we cross over the course of the round-about railway route to Kirkby Stephen just west of where it parted company with the equally round-about route to Middleton-in-Teesdale, and we cross over this one at Lathbury, just south of Cotherstone. Regaining proximity to the Tees again, we come to another castle north of Cotherstone where the River Balder tumbles under the road and into the Tees. There are earthworks on the north-east side of the village overlooking the Tees. What remains of the castle is a scheduled monument. A wooden motte and bailey was raised here around AD1090, to be rebuilt in stone in 1200. A Royal Licence to crenellate was issued in March 1201, i.e., before this the wall tops would have been straight and the castle might have been indefensible. The Scots frequently raided as far south as the Tees, even as far as Northallerton (the Battle of the Standards) and York, and this fortification may have served as a hindrance to crossing at this point. A footbridge crosses the river to the north bank of the Balder, and the footpath runs northward along the Tees riverbank behind Thwaite Hall, joins up with an unfenced road that leads back to the B6277, or cross by the front of the hall across a small beck and through a gently sloping copse (a small woodland). Drive on to Romaldkirk and take the second turning on the right over Beer Beck. The Rose & Crown backs onto this beck that runs into the Tees about a quarter of a mile away. The settlement predates the Conquest but the original church of St Romald and the settlement were razed in a raid by the Scots under Malcolm III, 'Canmore'. Little development has been seen here, and the village is pretty much unchanged since the 18th Century. This second road on the right takes you to the Eggleston bridge on the B6281 into Eggleston. At the right is Eggleston Hall, its open gardens known for a wide range of plants. The B6282 joins at the left a few yards on, from where you can see the remains of mediaeval ridge and furrow agriculture. Many cottages in the village date from the 18th Century, built by the Society of Friends, who owned nearby lead mining operations. Keep to this road, on through Egglesburn overlooking a decidedly meandering Tees, where the Eggleston Burn snakes into the river from the north between the two villages. On again, your passengers might enjoy the view down the steep bank over the Tees to Mickleton. The road passes Stotley Hall on the right with the few dwellings of West Stotley opposite, and drops gently into Middleton-in-Teesdale from the east. The B6282, B6276 and B6277 join together at the west end of the town by the chapel. Find a place to park and enjoy a walk around Middleton, another town that has changed little in the last two centuries. There's a road by the school at the east end of town where the road bends sharply, follow that, take a right turn down to the river where a footpath leads right again along the river to the Tees bridge where you regain the road level and turn right again across the end of the high street. The Teesdale Hotel is just along here if you want to spend the night in Middleton before going on. With reasonable rates per room, per night, you'd be best advised to book ahead.
Barnard Castle to Cow Green - the views
Middleton-in-Teesdale to High Force
Whilst you're booked into the Teesdale Hotel take a trip up the road in the afternoon. The sun is on its way down from the highest point, and shadows will lengthen.
This is the time of day for taking photographs. The Tees runs faster below as you head in the opposite direction, past Dent Bank below the weir. On the other bank the hillside of Crossthwaite Common rises to Bink Moss at 618 feet above sea level. Below bink Moss is Green Fell and a little lower down to the north-west is Holwick Fell. Between them are disused mine workings. This used to be lead mining country. Above the fells are several becks, some terminating before they go anywhere. These would have been used to run off the top surface to get at the lead below. On our side of the road is Newbiggin. Its only claim to fame is a small chapel set on a back road above the B6277. Across the river from Newbiggin is Holwick. To the south of this village are quarry workings on either side of the narrow road. Behind and above Holwick are Holwick Scars atop a steep cliff. Our first stop is Bowlees, where Low Force thunders over ledges and between rocks in the watercourse. This is where a few brave souls challenge the swirling waters in brightly coloured fibreglass canoes, always worth a picture or two. Across Wynch Bridge is an area of flattish land you can walk using the footpath along the riverbank to a narrow bridge by Holwick Head House. Cross over the Tees and follow the road back to Bowless past Friar Hospital. There's a narrow track that leads uphill past a number of dwellings to Dirt Pit, take the right fork here and follow along below the high moor of Langdon Common. The track leads into Bowlees over Bleagill Sike below another small waterfall.
On the road again, keep the Tees on your left. Cronkley Fell to the west lowers in the distance with the sun lighting it at an angle. We pass the old bridge by Holwick Head House and pull up to the right into the large car and coach park next to High Force Hotel. Across the road is the gate to the footpath tha leads down to High Force, A ticket booth on your left is there for the money to maintain the footpath to the waterfall at about 226 feet (sixty-nine meters). This is hardly high by Alpine or Rockies standards, but impressive all the same, and you should feel the ground trembling from about 500 yards away on the footpath! There's a set of steps to one side of the footpath that takes you to the top of the waterfall on the north bank.
Up to Coss Fell - or only beyond Cow Green Reservoir
Up reasonably early in the morning, breakfast and a few stretches. What's ahead? Well, as you've seen High Force the evening before you can whizz right past High Force Hotel, past the Mountain Rescue Centre and on along to Forest-in-Teesdale.
The river parts company with the road for a while here, hillocks separate you from your view of the Tees until past the village of Langdon Beck. Follow the narrow road to the left just over the bridge by the inn, the Langdon Beck Hotel, over Harwood Beck on a sharply aligned bridge. The road passes another that leads by Peghorn Lodge and on to Cow Green.
This is where you leave your transport behind and take to Shanks' pony (walk) along the nature path. Which way? Well, it's not far to the left to Cauldron Snout. The little bridge that bears the track crosses the infant Tees above the stepped waterfall, the 'snout' below Cow Green Reservoir. The bank is steep on the far side, so unless you're really athletic don't try any heroics. You can see the Falcon Clints at an angle across Maize Beck from here, where the cliff wheels away to the left and out of sight towards Holmwath. This is where the Tees passes through a steep gorge, back towards Forest-in-Teesdale. Back round to Cow Green to take the footpath northwards along the reservoir. Unfortunately you can't reach Cross Fell from here.
To reach Cross Fell you have to get round to Appleby, pass Milburn and stop at Blencarn. A bridleway leads up, up onto Wild Boar Scar. Still climbing steeply you pass high above Crowdundle Beck. Cross Fell looms, its trig point at 892 feet to your left. Below Cross Fell is where the Tees burbles from the soft earth and drops away to Crossgill Pants (you saw right!) To follow the course of the Tees from here you'd need all day, and if you had children under the age of, say, twelve, all this would be an academic exercise from where I started this paragraph.
You could go along the nature trail, a good few miles past a couple of disused mine workings and then follow a footpath a couple of hundred yards to see where the Tees winds past Metalband Hill. Or if you have younger children you could go back by way of Peghorn Lodge, taking the road through Harwood and Herdship and up under Harwood Common to rejoin the B6277 there, follow the 'main' road again to the next turn on the left, park up and follow the track gently uphill to a disused mine shaft and take to the footpath for a short distance and look down from there where the Tees snakes through the shallower dale below towards the reservoir past Metalband Hill. Not far from where the Tees passes between Crossgill Pants and Metalband Hill is Tyne Head, the source of the River South Tyne that runs below the B6277 northwards towards Alston in Northumberland.
Don't try to go between the footpaths, certainly not with children. The ground up here can be treacherous, especially after rain! True there is no one footpath that will take you from Cow Green Reservoir to Cross Fell, but leaving footpaths or bridle paths can be fraught with danger. Sink into the peat and you could end up part of the scenery. Even after a drought - and there are precious few of them in this part of the world! - the ground can be sticky underfoot. At worst you might lose a boot, but try walking up here with one boot on...
Where the Tees is 'spawned'
Dialect verse, "A Dalesman's Litany"
I have a book in my collection titled YORKSHIRE DIALECT by John Waddington-Feather published by Dalesman Books 1980, (ISBN 0-85206-390-3), and one of the pieces is "A Dalesman's Litany", with about one of the best known refrains in dialect verse and concerning the progress of a Dales weaver displaced by the onward march of the Industrial Revolution in England, from the land by way of the big town and back to the land:
"It's hard when fowks can't find their wark
Wheer they've bin bred an' born;
When I were young I awlus thowt
I'd bide 'mong t'roots an' corn.
But I've been forced to work i' towns,
So here's my litany:
Frae Hull, an' Halifax, an' Hell,
Gooid Lord, deliver me!
When I were courtin' Mary Ann,
T'owd squire he says one day:
'Ive got no bield for wedded folks;
Choose wilt ta wed or stay?'
I couldn't gie up t'lass I loved,
To t'town we had to flee:
Frae Hull, an' Halifax, an' Hell,
Gooid Lord, deliver me!
I've wrowt i' Leeds an' Huthersfel',
An' addled honest brass;
I' Bradforth, Keighley, Rotherham,
I've kept my barns an' lass.
I've travelled all three Ridings round,
An' once I went to sea:
Frae forges, mills an' coalin' boats,
Gooid Lord, deliver me!
I've walked at neet through Sheffield loans,
'T were same as bein' i' Hell;
Furnaces thrast out tongues o' fire,
An' roared like t' wind on t' fell.
I've sammed up coals i' Barnsley pits,
Wi' muck up to my knee:
Frae Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham,
Gooid Lord, deliver me!
I've seen grey fog creep ower Leeds Brig
As thick as bastile soup;
I've lived wheer fowks were stowed away
Like rabbits in a coop.
I've watched snow float down Bradforth Beck
As black as ebiny:
Frae Hunslet, Holbeck, Wibsey Slack,
Gooid Lord, deliver me!
But now, when all we childer's fligged,
To t' coontry we've coom back.
There's fotty mile o' heathery moor
Twixt us an' coalpit slack.
An' when I sit ower fire at neet,
I laugh an' shout wi' glee:
Frae Bradforth, Leeds, an Huthersfel',
Frae Hull, an' Halifax, an' Hell,
T' gooid Lord's delivered me!
'Translation' (English dialect to standard English): bield - shelter; wrowt - wrought/worked; addled - earned; barns - children; loans - lanes; sammed up - picked up or gathered along the way; bastile soup - workhouse soup/gruel; childer - children; fligged - fledged/ flown (away); slack - powdery coal-dust; Huthersfel' - Huddersfield; Bradforth - Bradford
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