Friday, 2 December 2011

Billingham to Seaham - 1 October 2011

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An early start and a drive to Tamworth Station was necessary to catch the 0646 train to York. As the journey progressed, the dawn came and mists rose from the meadows. The cows began to stir and started their own process of converting grass into milk and beef.

The train was on time and I had time to buy a paper before boarding the 0926 to Thornaby. Whilst I was waiting for my connection, I took the time to survey the scene of an unsuccessful job interview I had there in the 1960's. The place had changed almost completely from a brick built, turn of the (20th) Century industrial site to corrugated modern industrial building which resembled a very large retail park. The depressing scene suggested to me that I was fortunate not to be offered that job!

Along came my connection at 1037, a Northern Rail “Pacer” multiple unit which provided uncomfortable transport for the 13 miles to Billingham. I had thought of cycling the short distance – it might have been a good idea!

Billingham (1100) had nothing to commend it on my visit in 2008 and, on emerging from the other side of town on my bike, I didn't change my opinion. Fortunately, the transition from drab housing estate to countryside was rapid and I soon found myself speeding along Cycleway 14.

Greatham Church tower eventually came into view, rising above the trees in the distance. The village of Greatham was an attractive, unspoiled village, quiet now, following the building of a bypass.

Seaton Carew (1200 – 6 Miles) with its estates average post-war houses seemed to go on for ever. It could have been almost anywhere in the UK. Things changed when I reached the seafront and found an elegant but fading resort with miles of golden sands. The only blot on the horizon was the threatening outline of the steelworks towards Redcar.

Hartlepool (1220 – 10 Miles) was reached following a ride along the seafront promenade, dodging jaywalkers along the combined walkway and cycle track. As I rode, the sand became noticeably blacker and blacker. As I entered Hartlepool, I came across two men scraping the black stuff from the beach and loading it into a Land Rover they were unforthcoming about what they were doing, so I didn't question them closely, made my excuses and left.

Hartlepool is a town that makes efforts with its appearance. There are a number of fine buildings in the centre (Relics of past prosperity) and much is being done to transform the old coal docks into a visitor attraction. The main exhibit at the Maritime Museum was the paddle steamer “Wingfield Castle” which I remember used to carry passengers and cars between New Holland and Hull before the Humber Bridge was built. It appears in far better condition than one of its sister ships, “Tattershall Castle”, now a gutted hulk converted into an embankment-side cafe in London.

The journey out of Hartlepool seemed endless, but soon I reached the start of the Haswell Walkway which also served as a cycle path which looped round to Seaham. Instead of following this route, I took the coast road which passed through some of Durham's mining villages.

Blackhall (1320 – 14 Miles) was reached after negotiating an unduating road with occasional glimpses of a coastline still recovery from its recent mining history. The village comprises two or three street of mining terraces, a pub and a few shops lining the coast road. Some tidying up, particularly with the shops and the place would look quite attractive.

Horden Colliery (1325 – 15 Miles) is approached through a depressing housing estate. All that remains of the colliery are the wheels from the winding gear which form a roadside memorial. Past the untidy industrial area, I found myself overlooking a rambling complex of allotments and pigeon lofts. It was hardly a hive of activity, but I observed an elderly couple caring for their feathered friends.

Easington Colliery (1350 – 18 Miles) has the potential to become a thriving coastal resort as it is set in some lovely, rolling countryside. The buildings are solid and many have been modernised in a sympathetic manner. The jewel in the crown of Easington is the old Victorian village school, now sadly lying empty. With a little imagination, the building could be transformed into an affordable tourist hotel, rather than the social housing currently planned.

Then onwards, up and down hills and finally along a disused railway down into............

Seaham (1440 – 25 Miles) with its impressive harbour which once was busy with the coal export trade. The town appears to be lifting itself out of depression and developing into a bustling seaside resort, assisted by the presence of a sandy beach with visitors enjoying the Autumn sunshine. Further up the coast, the outline of Sunderland was beckoning, but it will have to wait for my next and final journey to the North East.

All that remained was for me to make for the railway station, board the Newcastle train, enjoy a meal and a pint at the Union Rooms and board my train which arrived punctually at Tamworth at 2047.

See the pictures

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