Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Walk 134 -- Hartlepool to Blackhall Rocks

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 58 days. Rosemary was 61 years and 200 days.
Weather: Still dull and misty at times, but warmer. The mist did lift in the end and we had hazy sunshine.
Location: Hartlepool to Blackhall Rocks.
Distance: 10 miles.
Total distance: 1077 miles.
Terrain: A lot of concrete, and another main road. Paved pathway, then over a golf course and grassy cliff path at the end.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.38 in Hartlepool. The road was closed because of demolition work, causing us to walk along a main road with no pavement again. We were not amused.
How we got there and back: We were camping at Hinderwell. We drove to Blackhall Rocks and parked in a picnic site on the clifftop. We walked into the village and caught a bus to Hartlepool.
At the end we walked into the picnic site from the coast path. After a cup of tea we drove back to our campsite at Hinderwell.

Although we could have walked across the lock gates at the start of this Walk — they were closed — we decided to look round the museum at the other end of the marina first. There was a paddle steamer moored outside the museum which had caught Colin’s eye, and a tall ship round the corner in the ‘Historic Quay’. The paddle steamer we could get on free, the tall ship we had to pay for so we didn’t. We each pretended to pilot the paddle steamer when we got to the bridge, it was great fun to look around. We are not ‘museum-people’ but we found Hartlepool’s museum to be surprisingly interesting with a lot to look at. Also, inside this free museum is the only public toilet in the whole of Hartlepool which isn’t padlocked!
Those are the positive things about Hartlepool.
We tried to sneak a look at the tall ship round the corner, but we could only see it from the distance. The north side of the marina looked as if it had been refurbished fairly recently with paved areas, seats and cafés — it should have looked lovely, and ‘Continental’, but there were weeds coming up everywhere through the cracks in the paving, and the cafés were abandoned. The windows were forced open and they had been completely trashed inside. It all looked so sad.
Surely the local Council had been poorly advised? They had tried to make a classy marina out of the old harbour but that is quite wrong for this depressed area. It didn’t bring the money in, the local people couldn’t afford it and/or weren’t interested in that kind of development and the whole thing went bust. It obviously was not what the local people wanted. Wouldn’t it have been better to consult them at the planning stage and develop the harbour with the kind of amenities they would actually use? Funfair? Bowling alley? Cheap and cheerful cafés? Fish’n’chips? Pubs? Whatever! Because of bad planning, all they have got in place of their derelict old area is a derelict new area! In the middle remains an old memorial column, dated 1839, “IN MEMORY OF ALL THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES AT SEA” but quite anonymously as it doesn’t bear any names. I think it is supposed to be a lighthouse, but it looked more like a factory chimney to me.
We sat on a bench in the middle of this sad scene to eat our pies — (How about a pie shop?) A nearby building is now being used as a call centre, we could tell this from the snatches of conversation we overheard from the workers who were standing outside sucking at their fags as if their lives depended on it. They were nearly all young, female and obese — I felt a wave of sadness come over me that this is the next unhealthy generation. Barring accidents, we both think we shall outlive a good many of them.Further round we passed a stone dragon outside a Chinese restaurant, and a sculpture of a stag up on a high plinth — though we couldn’t think what the significance of that is in Hartlepool. We watched a boat hoist being used to lift a yacht for repair, and wondered just how many of the boats in the marina actually belong to local residents. Our wanderings through the museum and round the marina had cost us an hour and a half before we started the Walk Proper at the lock gates, so we were a bit later than we had intended.
The North Pier of the harbour is out of bounds because it is worn and ‘in danger of collapse’. The notice on the spiked gate told us that entry is forbidden until further notice. Yet the gate had been forced, and there were at least a dozen fishermen on the pier both yesterday and today. Another notice nearby read:
Unauthorised entry to this pier is prohibited
Notice to all anglers
Fishing from this pier is prohibited
May cause death or serious injury by casting fishing lines into
harbour entrance whilst boats are passing between piers
Will be solely responsible for any death or injuries caused by your actions
This area is monitored by CCTV
Litter and discarded fishing lines can cause injury to seabirds and marine life
Please take your litter home
It is almost as if they had given up at the end, realising the anglers were going to go fishing anyway so pleading with them at least not to leave litter lying about.
So, the local populace like fishing! Why not redevelop the harbour to make safe fishing areas for them? Isn’t it blindingly obvious? Then they could have fishing tackle shops, snack bars for hungry anglers, etc, etc — not a fancy marina full of boats owned by outsiders. Not pricey restaurants or any other of that kind of paraphernalia. Then they wouldn’t go bust!
The beach between West Harbour and Victoria harbour is more coal than sand, so it isn’t very pretty. We continued, but decided not to walk along to the lifeboat station as it was a dead end and time was getting on. The dock area of Hartlepool is one big demolition site now, and completely cordoned off. So completely that we were unable to take a ‘shortcut’ road to get to the Headland and were forced on to the main road. It had no pavements and it was very busy — we were not happy! There was a bus stop half way along attached to nowhere. We couldn’t understand the siting of this stop, anyone using it would have to walk the busy main road just as we were doing to get to or from anywhere. Obviously, it had been planned in an office by someone who has never caught a bus in his life! We had come across a similar phenomenon on the road through the chemical works the other side of Seaton Carew — who do they think would use a bus stop that is part way along a busy pavementless road? None of them were near anywhere you could walk to or from in safety!We got to the railway bridge where we came across an unusual sculpture which looked rather fun. It is a number of rigid balls in various sizes — was it supposed to represent a giant snooker table? Hartlepool is full of surprises! Looking back over a flower-filled trough, we could see the tall ship — it all looked rather grand. We had a pavement to walk on after that, so we felt more comfortable.
A new sign carved in stone welcomed us to ‘Headland’, the ancient borough of Hartlepool. Now this area round the north side of the original harbour is really old. There were signs of faded opulence everywhere, even to the extent of Grecian columns on a derelict house. But the prom all the way round on the sea-side has been newly refurbished, and we sat on a very modern seat to eat our lunch. We got the impression that Hartlepool is trying to regenerate itself but it still has a long way to go. They would do a lot better if they got in some planners with a modicum of common sense — we couldn’t get over the fiasco of the trashed new restaurant complex, bus stops in ridiculous places, amazing new sculptures but not a single public toilet that was open!
There were seagulls everywhere, screeching away and leaving their droppings on rooftops. We stopped to chat to an elderly couple who were sitting out in front of their terraced cottage in the sun. We commiserated with them about the seagulls nesting on their roof, as we have been similarly bothered by gulls at home in Bognor — only our gulls are on a neighbour’s roof a couple of gardens away. This poor couple had to put up with them right above their heads. They told us the gulls are a real nuisance, screeching away day and night scratching at the tiles and calling down the chimney so they get very little sleep. (Yes, they do make a noise at night because they squabble, and at dawn the cacophony is ear-splitting!) But this lovely old couple were resigned to putting up with it. They had asked builders etc to get rid of the nests, but no one would touch them because there were eggs, then chicks in them. But herring gulls are pests — they ought to be shot, every single one of them including the chicks! They are scavengers and they are unhealthy. We really felt for this elderly couple, and quietly suggested a high-powered hosepipe might do the trick.
More ‘friendly’ birds we encountered were eider ducks, oystercatchers, terns, cormorants and ringed plovers. They get on with their lives without making a nuisance of themselves.We carried on round the prom which went all the way to Spion Kop — we found an explanation of this strange name later. The first lighthouse jetty was ‘Private’ so we passed it by. The main breakwater was open. It isn’t very long, but such a thick sea mist descended over Hartlepool as we strolled along it, we began to get that ‘Brigadoon’ feeling! The shore end had been beautifully refurbished with shell-shaped seats and a paddling pool. A small child was happily making wet footprints on the stepping stones. There was a lot of coal on the beach — not a very good environment for little ones. The second lighthouse jetty was barred off by a spikey fence and warning notices similar to those we had seen before, yet there were fishermen at the far end of it. They had forced the spikes and put in wooden steps to gain access. Isn’t it time the local Council pulled their fingers out and accommodated the local fishermen on safe jetties? And opened some public toilets — the pretty seats and amazing sculptures can come later! Fortunately, despite Colin’s play-acting, neither of us were uncomfortable this afternoon, unlike yesterday, and we were able to wait until we found some thick municipal bushes behind the derelict factories further on.We passed more statues, a War Memorial, derelict toilet blocks, sandy beaches and rocky beaches — everything looked in dire need of a lick of paint, especially the railings. Hartlepool exudes history, and could be such a lovely place that people would really want to come to if only there wasn’t such an air of hopelessness and dereliction about it. Come on, local council, put some pizazz into it! We really rather liked the place, but felt sad to see it so downtrodden.We walked on until a stone post announced we had reached Spion Kop. There the promenade finished and the shore was lined with ‘Works’, ‘Works’ and ‘Works’ according to the map. The beach looked a bit rocky and green slimey, so we decided to go about a hundred yards inland to follow a raised track which was probably once a railway embankment. We would have had a good view over Hartlepool as we left the town if it hadn’t been so foggy, or should I say ‘fuggy’ as there was a slight brown tinge about the mist. We looked through the fences surrounding the ‘Works’ and discovered that they were all derelict, heavily vandalised and were actively being demolished. Hartlepool will have to reinvent itself to attract new and different businesses to the area if it is to pull itself out of the doldrums. It requires an entrepreneur with vision and common sense — I do hope it finds one, and doesn’t suffer the kind of bickering which has blighted the regeneration of Bognor.Then we came to a huge cemetery — it was such a surprise because we thought we were well out of the town by then. A notice informed us that it opened in 1856 after St Hilda’s churchyard became seriously overcrowded following a large population increase and outbreaks of cholera in 1832 and 1849. It was originally called ‘Hartlepool Cemetery’ but the local people unofficially named it ‘Spion Kop’ after the Boer War battle of that name. (Presumably, many of the families in Hartlepool lost fathers / husbands / brothers / sons in the Battle of Spion Kop, but I don’t know.) It was officially closed in 1911 when the number of graves reached twenty-six thousand, and the two mortuary chapels, one Anglican and one Methodist, were demolished. But the Jewish cemetery remains open to this day — we came across a grave that was less than a year old which had a charming sculpture of the deceased’s faithful dog sitting on it.The notice also informed us that the cemetery is a ‘species-rich’ dune grassland of such quality that it is unique in Hartlepool and rare within the Tees Valley. A mixture of ship’s ballast and sand dune, it is a sandy nutrient-poor alkaline soil on which plants like pyramidal orchid, bloody cranesbill and birdsfoot trefoil thrive if left alone to do so. That is why the grass is only cut once a year, after the seeds have set and spread.After the cemetery we passed more derelict ‘Works’ which were in various stages of vandalism / demolition (what’s the difference?) all of which means NO JOBS! No wonder this is a depressed area — what they need is a variety of industry to invest in them so that it is only a minor glitch if a particular industry goes bust. Meanwhile, we were fascinated by huge derelict round buildings, what were they? Some kind of storage tank, I suppose, but they were open-topped. The whole area was a terrible mess!Eventually we came to the end of it all — at a golf course inevitably. We felt we were back in the countryside at last — though we weren’t really — and so sat down to eat our chocolate. Not peaceful, because the path went across the middle of the course and there were lots of golfers about. We had to keep a sharp lookout every time we rounded a knoll. In one place there was a bell which the golfers rang when they had finished that particular hole because the next team couldn’t see them. We managed to avoid being hit by a golf ball, but it wasn’t comfortable walking there. We met a Geordie chap who told us about little terns (very rare and endangered) nesting on the beach, which was interesting. He was very chatty, in fact too chatty because he had verbal diarrhoea, time was getting on and we were tired. It was difficult to leave him without being rude — perhaps he was lonely. However, the wild flowers we passed were lovely, especially the orchids and red hot pokers on the clifftop.
We came to Crimdon Dene where we descended to beach level in order to cross a stream, crossed the border into County Durham and ascended on the Durham Coast Path which we found to be not well signposted. There were several junctions where we had to guess the right way, but fortunately we always managed to guess correctly. What these local authorities ought to do when establishing a new way-marked footpath, is to ask people like ourselves, who are strangers to the area, to walk the paths following the signs. Then we could point out where there is ambiguity! There is a caravan park at Crimdon Dene which is quite historic. It dates back to just after the First World War when it was established as a holiday park for the working classes — a kind of pre-Butlin’s holiday camp. That was the era when it was first realised that you get the best out of workers if you give them an annual holiday — they come back refreshed and full of energy for the following year.
The remainder of our Walk led along the clifftop to Blackhall Rocks. Colin fleetingly saw a seal in the water below, but by the time I looked it had gone — disappointment! We came to a deep gulley where we had to turn inland to the railway line. We thought we had got away with keeping on the same level, but it turned out to be a double gully and at the second stream we had to climb in and out of it which was quite steep. We were very tired by then, and considered there were far too many stiles. We didn’t really need a notice telling us that falling over a cliff is dangerous!
Eventually we came to the picnic site where we had left our car.

That ended Walk no.134, we shall pick up Walk no.135 next time on the coast path near the picnic site at Blackhall Rocks. We had a cup of tea from our flask and returned to our campsite at Hinderwell.

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