Thursday, 19 April 2012

Saltburn to Billingham - 1 April 2008 - 16 Miles

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This is yet another retrospective blog describing my recollections of a walk from Saltburn to Billingham via Redcar, the "Black Path" through what remained of the Teesside industrial area and over the Middlesborough Transporter Bridge to Billingham.  Varied, if nothing else!  It was all part of the coastal walk task I had set myself - so it had to be done.

I took the now familiar route to the North, reaching Saltburn with one change at Darlington.

I arrived in Saltburn at about 1120 and took a little time to explore the small town and the seafront.  Paid for by the iron industry, Saltburn was developed as a resort in the latter half of the 19th Century.  The town largely retains its Victorian atmosphere and remains relatively unspoilt with many original buildings that have not been "improved" over the years.  Three other Saltburn assets are the wide sandy beach, the pier and the water powerd funicular railway.

I descended to the beach and enjoyed a blissful walk on firm sand with the quiet water gently lapping the beach on my right and the dunes rising to my left. This is a favourite spot for seabirds and I was able to approach a group of sanderlings who were foraging in the shallow water.

Maerske by the Sea (1155 - 2 Miles)consists of one large Victorian house perched precariously on the top of a dune with a straggling assortment of houses meandering inland from that point.  A couple of fishing cobles were parked higher up on the beach waiting to go out for the day's catch.  It looks as though Maerske was intended as a rival to Saltburn that never really succeeded.

The sand gradually gave way to gravel and then to pebbles which made the walking less pleasant, so I was glad to reach the promenade at Redcar (1235 - 4 miles).  It was becoming quite sunny by now and the fishing boats made a splendid sight as I progressed along the seafront with few holidaymakers in evidence on this early April Saturday.

In contrast to Saltburn, the buildings in Redcar were a mixture of cheap modern and over-improved old.  The one exception was a lovely Victorian building at the end of the promenade called, inappropriately, "The Regency".  A few paces further along and I was surrounded by a small group of penguins - modern art - presumably.

The outline of the Redcar steel works now loomed into view and I paid my attention to finding the start of the Teesdale Way, or "Black Path" as it is sometimes known.  The problem was to get to the other side of the railway line that ran alongside the Tees without injuring myself either from rubble strewn ground or trains carrying molten iron from the nearby works.  I eventually found it by going under a bridge via a narrow walkway (1340 - 8 miles).

Starting off as a rough gravel path, the way did indeed become a black cinder track as I progressed.  New industries appear to have taken the place of many of the old and there were piles of rubble to mark where previous works once stood.  There were, however, a number of working installations, the most significant of which was a coking plant on the opposite bank of the Tees.  After coal is heated to form coke, it is quenched to cool it down and to stop it burning up in the atmosphere.  From a distance, I noticed regular plumes of steam which drifted over the river, condensing as it passed by.

I thought I had timed my walk past perfectly, but no!  When I was directly opposite, a plume of steam went up and water droplets containing particles of coke dust were deposited on me.  Fortunately, the dust did not stain and was easily brushed off once I was dry again.  The end of the Black Path was in sight and my route took me past the home of Middlesborough Football Club, the Riverside Stadium.

I did not dwell there, because a) I am not a great football fan and b) the vastly more interesting Middlesborough Transporter Bridge was now in my sights.  Reaching the bridge (1525 - 13 miles) having walked through a semi-derelict area that contained one nice survival, a brick clock tower.  Having paid my fare, I was transported silently across the Tees on this wonderful construction, the only other cargo being a car and single driver.  I am sure the bridge must receive a heavy subsidy and survives as a symbol of the area's past and a tourist attraction.

I had planned a possible extension of the walk to Seaton Carew, but time, light and energy were all in short supply, so I decided to save Seaton Carew for another day and trudged my way to Billingham Station (1630 - 16 miles) past derelict dockland and depressing housing.

On the way home, I had to change trains at Thornaby which brought back memories of a failed job interview for an engineering company called Head Wrightson in 1964.  Little now remains of industrial Thornaby from those days.  The large brick built workshops that bordered the Tees have now been replaced by aluminium clad constructions that can be seen on any business or retail park.  Had I been offered the job, life would have been different but probably not better.

I travelled on to Darlington where I had suitable refreshments before catching the 1856 to Birmingham and home.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Alnmouth to Amble - 27 May and Newbiggin to South Shields - 28 May 2008

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This is the second of my retrospective blogs that I shall be writing on all of my earlier coastal walks.  To lend some structure to this series, I shall be dealing with them in geographical order, starting at Northumberland and moving clockwise until I reach Cumbria.  Since memory fades with time, these blogs will be shorter than the more recent ones.  However, I do have some photographs of most of my trips and following my progress on the map should help to bring the experiences back to life for me and, hopefully, anyone else who cares to read my exploits.

I took the 0932 train from Birmingham New Street and, as far as I can remember, arrived at Alnmouth on time at 1400.  At that time, Virgin held the Cross Copuntry franchise and, although the trains remain the same, but older, Virgin had the edge on humour and making a 5 hour journey more bearable.

On arrival, the day was fine, but slightly overcast.  From Alnmouth, it was a short walk down to the A1068 and the cycle track that bordered it.  As soon as possible (NU241093) I parted company with the bikes and made for the dunes along St Oswalds Way.  The sand was soft, the going heavy and, despite it being a reasonably fine day in May, there were very few people about making for an isolated and desolate atmosphere.

Since I was running behind schedule, I left the beach after the rocks after Birling Carrs (NU255074) and just before Warkworth Golf Club, heading once again for the cycle track beside the A1068 and Warkworth.  By now the day was becoming decidedly hazy.

Warkworth is a lovely place complete with castle, ancient bridge and stone buildings.  With the exception of the busy A-road, time appears to have left Warkworth unspoilt.  On this occasion, I walked by the riverside road past cottages, including the delightfully named "Shrubbery House", while the tranquil River Coquet flowed past on my left.  Passing Warkworth Castle, I took the Amble road, following the Coquet River as it broadened out towards the weir which was the only obstacle to be overcome before reaching the sea.

Amble (6 Miles) grew on the Northumberland coal export trade.  The coal and the railway are now long gone and the town now subsists on fishing, boat repairs and tourism.  The harbour, once busy with coal traffic is now largely taken up by an attractive marina.  The town itself is mainly stone built terraces and has a very solid feel to it.

Grabbing a sandwich, I decided to press on in the knowledge that I still had 12 miles to cover and it was already approaching 1700.  As I progressed out of Amble, the cloud cover increased and it appeared as though a storm might be brewing.  Since there was little in the way of habitation between Amble and Newbiggin, I made the decision to abandon this part of the walk and catch a bus the remainder of the way.

My mistake here was to assume that I could walk through High Hauxley (9 Miles) to catch a bus on the A1068.  The pleasurable part of this unscheduled journey was to find that High Hauxley is a very attractive village of both new and old building, all constructed of local stone.  The bad news, when I reached the A1068 was to discover that no buses ran along that road.  I therefore beat a hasty retreat back to Amble, resolving to be more meticulous in my planning for the unexpected on future trips!

Arriving back in Amble, I found to my relief that I hadn't missed the last bus, so I was soon on my way to Newbiggin via Morpeth in ever fading light.  The journey was depressing and a wait of about 3/4 hour seemed endless in drizzly, almost deserted Morpeth.  I eventually arrived at my abode for the night, The Windsor Bed and Breakfast, had time for a little exploring before settling down for the night.

Breakfast in the morning was excellent, but the dining room was something else.  In comparison to my sparsely furnished, but comforable and scrupulously clean bedroom, the dining room had ankle high carpet and ornaments on literally every horizontal surface.  How the owners kept the room, let alone all the bedrooms clean is beyond me.

Fortified by my breakfast, I set out in the drizzle, heading south along the coast path and then across the River Wansbeck next to the busy and noisy A189 dual carriageway.  Rather than make a lengthy detour to East Sleekburn via the coast, I travelled west and then carefully negotiated a large road interchange.  Moving on, I crossed the Sleek Burn and worked my way through a complicated cycle route at Bedlington before arriving to the west of Blyth at Cowpen (7 Miles).

In an attempt to escape from busy roads, I followed the cycle route through Blyth, arriving at the sea front at South Beach.  For my pains, I was rewarded with the honour of walking through one of the most depressing housing estates I have ever seen!  I may have done better sticking to the shoreline.

Having reached the sea, things were now looking up.  The sun came out and the remainder of my walk along the Eve Black Coastal Walkway was pleasantly warm.  Despite its name, Seaton Sluice (11 Miles) was an attractive place, built around a small natural harbour.

All too soon, I was walking along the promenade at Whitley Bay (14 Miles) en route for a rendez-vous with an old school friend I hadn't seen for almost 40 years.  We met at the Old Fire Station, now a Wetherspoon pub that managed to retain much of the original atmosphere. I particularly appreciated the fire bucket style urinals!

After a meal and a couple of hours chat, it was time to move on through Tynemouth with its castle, pier and Lighthouses, then onto the bustling River Tyne and North Shields (17 Miles).  There, I had a short wait, before boarding the ferry across the river to South Shields.

A short walk through the busy shopping centre took me to the Metro Station and a train to Newcastle.  Glancing at the destination board at Newcastle Central, I was horrified to note that my scheduled train had been cancelled.  Fortunately I was in the nick of time to catch the previous train which brought me back to Birmingham around 2100.

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Friday, 6 April 2012

West Hythe (Westenhanger) to Folkestone on foot - 31 March 2012 - 11 Miles

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This walk covers much the same ground that I travelled during 2009 on the bike.  Having walked most of the south coast well into Cornwall it seemed a pity that the few miles to Dover should have been completed using mechanical means.  Also, since I am in danger of completing the whole coastline of England before the onset of senility, I have resolved to walk as much as possible from now on.

An early start, as usual, and the 0600 Virgin Voyager from Birmingham International brought me into London Euston by 0716, where I transferred quickly to the Northern Line, bound for London Bridge Station.  At Bank Station, an announcement informed me that the train would not stop at my intended destination due to a fire alert.  I therefore made a rapid exit from the train and made my way through the City on foot and over London bridge.  As I walked, I was able to take in views of Tower Bridge and the almost complete "Shard".

Arriving at London Bridge Station, I was relieved to find the place was not in ashes and I was in plenty of time to catch the 0808 which arrived at Westenhanger at 0938, having divided at Ashford.  The station is next door to Folkestone Race Course - a seemingly inappropriate name since I still had about 10 miles to walk to the town of that name. The weather was cooler and cloudier than of late, but there was only a slight breeze and no prospect of rain.  Having passed the green expanse of the racecourse, I walked through Westenhanger which is simply a collection of dull, sometimes scruffy houses strung out along the lane.

I then passed through a similar but smarter hamlet of Newingreen before entering Lympne (1015 -1.3 miles) which is larger, but in terms of buildings is a mixture of the ultra-modern, the olde English traditional and virtually all styles in between.  Past Shepway Cross, a war memorial erected in 1923 on a site where the Court of the Cinque Ports met, down a hill and I had reached West Hythe (1030 - 2.1 miles) and the Royal Military Canal.

The Royal Military Canal was built between 1804 and 1809 as a defence against the threatened invasion by Napoleon.  This threat evaporated when the French Fleet was  destroyed at Trafalgar, but governments being what they are, the work was completed at a cost of £234,000 (about £8 million) in today's money.  It is 28 miles long and runs between west of Hastings to just east of Folkestone.  It is the third longest defence work in the UK after Hadrian's Wall and Offa's Dyke.

The canal today is in surprisingly good repair and makes an attractive place to walk and sanctuary for wildlife.  At Romney Marsh, it is also very valuable for drainage and irrigation.  Recreation, however, is the currently main raison d'etre for this waterway.  During my walk, I met numerous people of all aged hiking, walking their dogs, jogging or cycling along the road / track that ran alongside the canal.  Despite the close presence of housing developments as I approached Hythe, the canal maintained a feeling of rural calm throughout its length.

All of a sudden I was in Hythe (1135 - 4.8 miles).  At the bridge, I parted company with the canal and crossed the water, having decided to follow the seafront for the remainder of my walk.  This option was not available earlier as the way was barred by the Hythe Firing Ranges from whence several loud reports  had punctuated my journey.

Hythe is a mixture of the old and new, the smart and the downright scruffy and the interesting and the depressingly boring.  Viewed from the central parkland area, Hythe Church is a beautiful, solid, old stone pile, but the view is cluttered with very ordinary houses from the pre and post war period.  walking further towards the seafront past a depressing row of terraced houses, I came across a house that could easily have been plucked from the New (or even Black) Forest.

A few paces onto the seafront and there were two Martello Towers virtually on the beach surrounded by fishing boats and associated tackle.  Around the corner was yet another Martello Tower.  This one, however had been converted into a smart, somewhat futuristic residence.

A little further on, was a Victorian terrace of originally identical houses with canopied balconies on the first floor.  This is a prime example of how individual owners of such properties can "improve" their properties without any thought for the visual integrity of whole terrace.  Nearby was the Imperial Hotel, immaculate as ever, looking very smart in Battleship grey paint.  I preferred the cream paint job that I saw in 2009!

By now, I was feeling somewhat peckish.  My usual habit is to bring sandwiches with me, but I thought that there would be no difficulty in finding something on this walk through a well populated area.  I came across a rather squalid promenade-side cafe selling outrageously expensive sandwiches, so pressed on in the hope for better fare.  In a short period of time I found a van selling crepes.  I chatted to the young man from Slovakia who was the proprietor of the establishment while my Roquefort crepe was being prepared.  I parted with £2 and was on my way eating my hot and extremely strong tasting snack - perhaps I would have been better of with the sandwich!

As I walked, there were nice views towards Seabrook and the Downs beyond.  It was also here that the Royal Military Canal came to an abrupt end as the cliffs were rising at Sandgate (1235 - 7.5 miles).  Near Storncliffe Camp is a monument to Sir John Moore, a great innovator in military training who had a distinguished career and died in 1809 at the Battle of Corunna.

The town of Sandgate, rather like Hythe, was sometimes classy and at others, unkempt.  The main point of interest here are the remains of Sandgate Castle, built by Henry VIII, which resembled a prototype Martello Tower.  Queen Elizabeth I rested there according to the sign, but how they managed get some rest in what appears to be a small and unprepossessing building is beyond me!  Victoria and Albert were more sensible and passed through as day trippers.

Onward along the low promenade past garishly painted chalets and seabirds feeding at low tide amongst the rocks at Mill Point, then round the point and onwards to Folkestone Harbour (1340 - 9.6 miles), the end point of the walk.  The harbour contained a few fishing boats and the installations for the cross-channel rail traffic appeared complete albeit in poor repair.

The town of Folkestone near the harbour contains many attractive narrow streets, relatively unspoiled by modern development.  Despite good forecast, a few drops of rain started falling, so I made my way to the local Wetherspoon pub for some refreshment.  This visit became a treat in more than one way upon discovering that the establishment was situated in a rather fine Baptist chapel sumptuously fitted out in high quality wood and complete complete with gallery and organ pipes.

Thus, suitably sustained, I had plenty of time to explore some of the upper town which retains most of its Victorian charm and solidity.  A group of children were putting on a great "Sound of Music" show and a walk along the grassy Leas at the top of the cliff yielded some excellent views and was somewhat bracing in the evening breeze.

Then, briskly to Folkestone Station and the fast train into St Pancras.  There was time to explore the new booking hall at Kings Cross and for a wander around North London before catching the 1943 from Euston, arriving at Birmingham International at 2100, then home for supper.  All in all, an excellent day out!

Next trips
In Cumbria - Hycemoor to Green Road via Millom - Saturday 28 April

Again in Cumbria - Green Road to Barrow in Furness - Sarurday 26 May