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.

See the pictures

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