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TRAVEL NORTH - 11: THE SAILOR'S TROD, Middlesbrough's Old Riverside Path To The South Gare and Teesport
Maps, diagrams, facsimiles of original letters. No pictures, but a welter of history and background on the fastest-growing town in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Not only the Stockton & Darlington Railway, but also the ironmasters made Middlesbrough. At the edge of a marsh, the 'Boro' was an unlikely place for a centre of industry. Stockton or nearby Darlington were more likely candidates, except... Middlesbrough lay near the widening of the River Tees and close to the North Sea. The docks grew, the deepest on the East Coast, and ore could be imported from far away Australia and South America. Let local historian Norman Moorsom 'speak' to you through these pages.
The Stockton & Darlington Railway: The Foundation of Middlesbrough
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.
'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.
'Come on Boro'!' A History of Middlesbrough Football Club
Riverside - former Middlesbrough dock area
Back n the days of sepia prints, long dresses, flat caps and horse muck along the High Street! (Great for rose growers, smelly for the rest). Early days of trams, trolley buses and motor buses in their infancy. Look into Middlesbrough's history through the eyes of local photographers...
Middlesbrough In Old Photographs
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.