Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Walk 133 -- Middlesbrough to Hartlepool

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 57 days. Rosemary was 61 years and 199 days.
Weather: Dull with poor visibility. (The rest of the country were suffering a heatwave!)
Location: Middlesbrough to Hartlepool.
Distance: 10½ miles.
Total distance: 1067 miles.
Terrain: Mostly concrete. A lot of busy main roads with no pavement — not nice!
Tide: Going out.
Rivers: No.56, the Tees in Middlesbrough. No.57, Greatham Creek which is a couple of miles further north.
Ferries: No.11, the ‘Transporter Bridge’ across the Tees in Middlesbrough is really a ferry. Cost 50p each.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: Jackson’s Arms in Hartlepool — it had no ‘micro-brewery’ ale so we walked out again!
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove up from Bognor yesterday and camped at Hinderwell again. This morning we drove to Hartlepool and parked just south of the harbour. We walked to the station and caught a train to Middlesbrough. We walked from the station to the Transporter Bridge.
At the end we walked back from the marina to the car via the pub which didn’t have any beer to Colin’s liking! Then we drove back to our campsite at Hinderwell.

It didn’t look good when we woke this morning — there was a mist so thick we couldn’t even see the other end of the campsite! However, having abandoned this Walk once already six weeks ago because of the weather, we were determined to go through with it this time. The mist at the campsite didn’t lift all day, but where we were walking it wasn’t too bad, just dull and muggy. At least it didn’t rain.As we approached the Transporter Bridge, we were amazed to see how tall it is. It can be seen above most of the surrounding buildings. A foundation stone told us the bridge had been built in 1910, so it is getting on for a hundred years old. It is not really a bridge at all, it is an iron cage, hung from the upper bar by cables, which travels across the river carrying cars and passengers to the other side. It was built like this so that tall ships can proceed up and down the river unimpeded. Further upstream is one of the heaviest industrial landscapes in this country — huge chemical works at Stockton and Billingham — so it is important that ships are not kept waiting, and this was especially so in those early days.The cage goes across and back every fifteen minutes, it is a very quick service. So we watched it first, then paid our 50p each to ride on it. It was such fun, we brought the car back across it at the end of the day — it only cost a pound. I could have ‘played’ on it all day, but we had a Walk to do!
We were not looking forward to the rest of this Walk because we knew we would have to trek along a busy main road through an intensely industrial area, but we were in for some pleasant surprises. A brand new path led us up to the road where it went under the railway. We noted that the signal box was burnt out, confirming that the depressive aspect of Middlesbrough has reached across the river. We were also a little bemused about a notice on the wall by the railway bridge. It said:
A178 Port Clarence Road
At Port Clarence
In the event of any road vehicle striking this bridge please phone
01904 525895
as quickly as possible. The safety of trains may be affected.
It was almost as if they were expecting incidents to happen! Again it reflects the heavily industrial and downtrodden side of Middlesbrough.
We marched north along the main road which was quite busy with lorry traffic. To add to our woes, there was a road-cleaner just ahead of us going our way and at about our speed. Not only was it noisy, but it was blowing out an enormous amount of dust which got in our eyes and down our throats. We didn’t know whether to hurry up and pass it or go very slowly so that it pulled away from us. Very soon our pavement came to an end, and we had to walk along the edge of this very busy road dodging lorries by diving into the hedge every few seconds — not fun! We tried to be positive by picking out the wonders of nature in this dour landscape — bindweed, rose-bay-willowherb and a bush with bright red berries — but it wasn’t easy.
We were surprised to find that the land to our left was actually being farmed, and cattle were grazing in the fields by the side of the road. We passed a lake on which there were numerous birds swimming along in the breeze. Yet we could still see the Transporter Bridge behind us rising tall above the urban skyline of Middlesbrough, and in every direction — North, South, East and West — were huge chemical works, cooling towers, power-lines and enormous industrial units. Not all of these were in current use, we passed several which were redundant and fast becoming overgrown with weeds. There was no hope of us walking any nearer the coast as our way was blocked by a distillation plant, an oil refinery and a chemical works. Not quite the seaside of our childhoods! So we had to stick to that awful road.
Eventually we managed to creep behind a bush where we sat on some concrete blocks to eat our pasties. We had a ‘beautiful’ view of an oil storage depot, but at least we were shielded from the road by the hedge and the road-cleaner disappeared out of our lives forever. Feeling refreshed we carried on. We now had fields on both sides, and a notice told us: PUB TO LET. This was quite surprising because there was no sign of any building in the vicinity which could, by any stretch of the imagination, have been a pub. We came to the conclusion that the notice must have been stolen from somewhere else and dumped there — somebody’s idea of a joke when they were drunk, I expect.
Then we came to a nature reserve! This was the first of our pleasant surprises, what a place for it! We were surrounded by pipelines, pumping stations and flare stacks so a nature reserve was the last thing we expected. With relief we were able to step off the road because it had been slightly rerouted and the old road ran alongside. There was a hide next to the road — still very busy — so we could see the birds on and around the water. Geese, swans, ruddy ducks, great-crested grebes, peewits, widgeons, coots, mallards, curlews, herons, little ringed plovers and terns — in fact we were harassed by a tern as we approached the hide. You would think we were deep in the countryside! We dallied awhile looking at all these wonders, this was not what we had expected on this Walk.
The old road came to a sudden end at the river (Greatham Creek), so we had to cross on the new road bridge. We looked upstream, and could hardly believe our eyes — there, on a mudbank left by the receding tide was a colony of SEALS!! There were about thirty, many of them pups. We concluded they were common seals — which are less common than grey seals — because they pup at this time of year, the pups were not white, and some of them swam with their mothers in the water. We watched a Mum slither down the mud to the water on her great fat tum. Baby tried to follow but it couldn’t slide in the same way, so it used its flippers to ‘walk’ very like running on tiny legs. It did look funny! It made us realise that way back in evolution, seals may well have spent more time out of water than they do now and so maybe they did have legs. Mother and baby, followed by two other mother & baby pairs, were playing with each other in the water as they swam under us on the bridge — magic!We continued as the road led us between another oil storage depot and a chemical works, past an industrial estate, and through a sewage works to a roundabout. There were wild ‘dog’ roses everywhere — they smelled lovely! We had gone over the crease of the map, so we sat on the roundabout in the middle of the traffic to refold it — it just seemed a fitting place to stop on this crazy day! We took the road off signposted to the zinc works. Here was the mouth of the River Tees.
To our right we could see the dock at ‘Seal Sands’. Nothing very sandy about it — here, at the Teeside Environmental Reclamation & Recycling Centre, lie moored the American toxic ships which have caused such controversy. These ships — I think there are three of them — are packed full of toxic chemicals and have reached the end of their seaworthy life. So the owners, who were Americans, sold them to this yard and limped them across the Atlantic to be broken up here. When the media heard about it there was furore! The British authorities wanted to turn them back, but they couldn’t because they were in such a state of disrepair by then they would never have made it. So they had to let them dock. The yard say they have the know-how to dismantle them safely and it would provide jobs locally for several years in this depressed area. The environmentalists say there is no way they can be dismantled without causing unprecedented pollution — and so far the environmentalists have won. So there they sit, rusting away and now completely unseaworthy so they can’t go anywhere. There is stalemate between the two groups. The longer they are left the more dangerous they become and the more difficult it will be to do anything safely with them. What a mess!Just past the zinc works we entered another nature reserve. Here we were in for another surprise because, amongst the many insects and flowers we observed, we came across a number of wild orchids! Once again we were in heaven! It was blissfully quiet — we were far enough away from that wretched road to be out of hearing of traffic noise — so we sat down and ate our lunch. At last, because it was already three o’clock! We turned off across the golf course where there were a lot of players but no one was actually playing a game. They all seemed to be practising their shots, ball after ball after ball in the same direction. A number of children were involved, so perhaps they were teaching these youngsters the stratagems of the game. The path eventually led us back to the road, but only momentarily and we did have a pavement to walk along this stretch.And so we walked into Seaton Carew, a real seaside town. But it has seen better days as have so many of the seaside towns we have passed through. There are signs that Seaton Carew is beginning to have a makeover, but there is still a lot which is derelict. Restored Victorian buildings, new ‘village’ sign in stone, sculptures, a new esplanade, quirky modern seats, flower beds and a beacon — but both toilet blocks that we passed were padlocked shut and abandoned. Be warned, Seaton Carew and Hartlepool, you will not attract visitors unless you have public toilets which are clean, free and OPEN!We noticed that there was a lot of black on the beach, so we went down on to the sand to have a look. It was COAL! Coal dust, really, as no piece was bigger than a lentil. But it has been so washed by the sea it felt dry to my hands and left them clean when I dropped it. Further along the beach someone was shovelling it up into a pickup. I don’t know what he intended using it for, but the sample I picked up had lots of tiny pebbles mixed in it — explosive in a fire!
We stopped at the car and had a cup of tea. We also dropped off our rucksacks as we saw no point in carrying them anymore. We then continued along to Harlepool Harbour’s newly refurbished South Pier, which looked brand spanking new.
A plaque told us that it had only been open less than three years — but nowhere could we find any TOILETS! We really did need to use our ingenuity to the full in order to find a private corner in which to wee, because by then we were both desperate!! It’s okay in the countryside because there is always a bush somewhere, but in an urban area like Hartlepool public toilets are needed!
Feeling eminently more comfortable (I won’t tell you what we did, but we didn’t upset or embarrass anybody nor get arrested!) we explored another branch of this complicated harbour which looked very much in need of a ‘make-over’. It was uneven with grass and weeds growing all over it. Hartlepool ‘Old Town’, as marked on the map, has been completely demolished and replaced with brand new ‘town-houses’, apartments and maisonettes. The marina is behind gruesome razor-wire fences — another sign of a high crime-rate in this depressed area? We came to the lock gates where we found two strange sculptures. We don’t know what they were supposed to signify, but then we don’t know much about the history of Hartlepool.
That ended Walk no.133, we shall pick up Walk no.134 next time on the other side of the lock gates (yes, you can walk over them if they were closed) in Hartlepool Harbour. We walked through the town past a beautiful old building which used to be a pub. It appeared to be shut down, we only hope it is listed so it can’t be demolished.We were intrigued to see that a lot of the street names were worked in wrought iron as arches over the end of each street. It gave the town a Victorian feel, and we couldn’t work out if they were replacement of originals or a new modern idea. Whatever, we liked them.We went to one of Colin’s ‘real ale’ pubs in another street, but they didn’t have any beer to his liking so we walked out without buying. We returned to the car, then drove back to the campsite via the Transporter Bridge. When we crossed Greatham Creek, we looked at the mudbank but it was empty — all the seals had gone.

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