Stage 21



Stage 21

Map of stage 21 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6
(Click on the map section to jump to the description of the day)

Day 1 - Monday 22nd June 2015

South Shields to Sunderland (Roker)

Day 1 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

It is that time of yet again and I am frantically finishing my packing so Kath can take me to the ferry landing for the 11.00am service to South Shields. I really shouldn’t be racing to pack but complacency and a belief I could pack faster than I actually can has resulted in a bit of a scramble. In the event I arrive at the ferry with about three minutes to spare and I am on my way to meet Brian.

Brian is already in South Shields having caught a train to Newcastle before I was up – all for a cup of coffee with Sue, the same lady he met last year for coffee. Sue and Brian are old friends from University days who re-established contact through social media before last year’s walk.

We have a pleasant few minutes chatting at their chosen coffee shop; having photos taken etc before the serious business finally gets underway – the last stage of Brian and Roger’s walk around the coast of England. This walk has been under threat all year due to our various injuries.

The soles of my feet have been painful when walking for most of the year and the pain was particularly severe during last year’s walk. This was finally traced back to a build-up of hard skin on the balls of my feet and around the heels. Daily application of moisturiser has improved this situation dramatically. There was another problem with my right foot. Two weeks before the walk, I went to the doctor and he knew exactly what the problem was. He was able to put his finger on the problem – literally and figuratively - almost at once; I have Plantar Fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissues in the sole of the foot. The doctor gave me some medicated gel to rub into my foot and a leaflet detailing exercises and other treatments that may help fix the problem.

Brian’s problem is his knees. Like my feet they were playing up during last year’s walk, but they have been much worse since then. There have been days when Brian has barely been able to walk. He went to the doctor before Christmas and various suspects have been identified – arthritis; fluid on the knee; cartilage and so on. The symptoms come and go ranging from a bit of a nuisance to almost impossible to walk. After the walk Brian is scheduled to have some exploratory surgery to investigate potential problems. With all this going on and aware that everything could grind to a halt, we set out for Saltburn. One good thing is that due to the availability of accommodation the daily stage lengths will for the most part be relatively short – most at less than 10 miles.

The grey sky has not brightened one whit since I left home an hour or so earlier and before we have gone five yards the rain starts to fall. We don our anoraks and make a steady process down King Street and Ocean Road to the sea front. Just as we reach Marine Park the rain increases sufficiently for us to put on the water proof over trousers – something we both try to avoid.

Crossing the road to the sea front we are exposed for the first time to the strong wind coming from a vague northerly direction. So far we had been walking in the lee of the buildings and trees of the park. Sue has joined us for the first part as it is on the route to her home and she persuades us to follow the breakwater for a while to reach the prom instead of making an immediate right turn. So for a little longer we endure rain in our faces driven by gale force winds [well it felt like it!].

Marsden Bay
Marsden Bay with the 'Marsden Grotto' just visible

In less than five minutes we do make the right turn onto the prom and immediately things improve. The rain is falling as hard as ever and the wind is still as strong but now the weather comes from astern. After several hundred yards we bid farewell to Sue and continue southwards along the prom which is not the best description as a promenade suggests a raised structure several feet [or more] above beach level. Our prom is little more than several inches above the beach. Eventually we run out of prom and take to the grass. The land starts to rise and after almost a mile we reach a large grassy area known as The Leas. This large grassy area is known the world over as the finishing point of the Great North Run. Footnote 1 Our path takes us through a number of rocky outcrops, one of which has a field gun atop it. The outcrops are some 20 – 30 foot high. We meet two separate groups of walkers heading north and have a private prayer thanking the gods we do not have to walk into the wind and rain as they have to. Our path continues to gently rise as we pass through the outcrops and past Frenchman’s Bay but has levelled out as we pass the car park to Marsden Grotto Footnote 2 a famous bar in a cave reached by lift down to the beach. There used to be a rock arch near the bar that fell down a decade or more ago. At Marsden Bay one can gaze on the exotically named Velvet Beds and the somewhat darker named Lot’s wife. The former is also known as Camel Island and the latter a rock stack.

By now we are feeling more than a little bedraggled and in the hope that Souter lighthouse café is open, we take to the main road and go past the disused lime kilns cut into the hillside opposite. The café is indeed open and we are more than grateful to get out of the wind and rain. As puddles steadily get larger around our rucksacks we sit down and enjoy a nice cuppa and cakes. The weather has been a bit of a tease this morning. Once or twice it appeared that the rain and wind were easing only for them to restart in earnest – indeed going past the lime kilns the gusts must have been closing in on gale force. Our onward journey takes us along the coast road for several hundred yards till we come to the entrance to Whitburn Coastal Park and we make our way toward the coast proper. The rain is definitely easing now but the wind is still strong. Once at the coast four or five people pass us heading north including a jogger and a couple walking their three dogs – 2 large and mean looking the other a completely daft spaniel that took great delight in prancing and dancing around its owners and anyone else it met.

The whole of this section from the Leas to the park is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Looking at the present landscape it is difficult to believe that this whole area was once a hive of industrial activity up to the 1980’s Footnote 3 . The only remnant of that history is the quarry hidden from view behind grassy banks just inland of the coast road and the dis-used lime kilns. Whitburn [sometimes known as Marsden] Colliery once stood on the site of the Coastal Park; and a whole village, built for its miners, once stood just to the North of the lighthouse.

On leaving the park the path sticks closely to the coast as the fences protecting the fields to our right close in on the cliff tops. We pass several large earth banks in the fields during this section and ponder whether they are natural or man-made. [We later find out they are man-made. We can see the backs of the mounds that have the targets for the rifle ranges on the other side. The earth banks being there to prevent stray bullets escaping].

After the ranges the houses on the South side of Whitburn come within 40 – 50 yards of the path and are our companion for half a mile or so before we reach the beach at South Bents. As we approach the beach we pass a number of memorial benches. I didn’t get a chance to read them all, but my favourite dedication was:

“Ethel Oliphunt
Liked nothing better
Than sitting here
Eating an ice cream”

The coast road swings down towards the beach and within a half mile we are making good progress along the pavement before we decide to take a short break in a bus shelter. This was more precautionary than anything else as we do not want to push our limbs too hard. We pass the final houses in Whitburn and the rain finally stops. After a brief length of open country we reach Seaburn and pass Morrison’s supermarket and a restaurant with two railway carriages outside before spotting a café across the road. We make a bee-line for it and we are, once again, making puddles on the floor as the rain water drains off our rucksacks.

After a refreshing mug of tea we are back on the road toward our final destination of Roker, a suburb of Sunderland North of the Wear and on the coast. We pass Roker Lighthouse planted firmly at one end of a large grassy area to our left. The lighthouse was originally built in 1856, but not here. It started its life on the South breakwater protecting the mouth of the Wear and was moved to its present location in 1983 when improvements to the harbour were made. Today its role is purely ornamental.

We continue up a slight incline and eventually reach Roker. To our left and 60 feet below us we see Roker beach and a promenade. In front of us we see the breakwaters protecting the mouth of the River Wear. We spot a few resting places but not many eateries. Rather sooner than we expected we found ourselves at the point where the coast road swings sharply inland towards the Wearmouth Bridge. On the corner stands the Queen Victoria Hotel and restaurant. With the possibility of having all our needs in one building we enter and make enquiries.

Quenn Victoria Hotel
Queen Victoria Hotel, Roker

The only staff present can’t tell us if they have any vacancies; but if we wait till 5 o’clock the manager will be back to oblige us. So with orange squash in hand we sit in the recently modernised bar and await the manager whilst perusing the bar menu which has some offers that are difficult to refuse – like a 3 course meal for £5.95. At 5pm the manager duly arrives and informs us that yes they do have a twin en-suite available at £50 room only. This sounds very cheap and I am assured that the room is £50 per night and breakfast is available in the café across the road from an early hour. At £25 each and cheap meals it is too good to miss. Ten minutes later we are in our room which is clean and comfortable but somewhat spartan.

Our £5.95 meal is very good and it soon becomes apparent that most residents are contractors although some locals are in for their evening meal. Apart from the rain and wind the day has been quite interesting. Although the outsides of our rucksacks were soaked right through, the layers of plastic protecting our kit have worked admirably in keeping everything dry. We get a fairly early night and the first major question marks over the walk have been answered – my feet are not suffering any adverse reactions and Brian is well pleased with the way his knees have behaved. I think they have been a little painful all day but not enough to threaten the walk. Confidence has grown and as long as we repeat the process of taking breaks every 40 – 50 minutes we should be OK. Bring on tomorrow.

One thing has intrigued us today. We have seen some signs for the “England Coast Path”, which is something we’ve never heard of before. Footnote 4 Apparently this is a recent project to have a path round the entire English Coast. It is to be opened in stages with completion expected in 2020. The first section to open was in Dorset. The next two sections opened in Spring 2014 are on the north east coast in Durham between Hartlepool and Sunderland, and on the west Cumbrian coast between Allonby and Whitehaven. Come a bit late for us!


Day 2 - Tuesday 23rd June 2015

Roker To Seaham

Day 2 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

Tuesday dawns grey, with total cloud cover but no rain. We quickly pack up our things, hand our keys to the cleaner and head across the road to the Bungalow Café for breakfast. We procure a window seat from which we can see the beach; promenade and mouth of the river. Our route today takes all the way through Sunderland and the only map we have to guide us through its streets is the OS 1:50,000. The first part is easy – follow the main road outside to the Wearmouth Bridge; turn left and cross to the city centre on the South shore. Here we have choices :-

Our logic is simple – we need lunch and a sandwich shop is more likely in the city centre than on the ring road. So with our stomachs having decided the route, we set off.

On leaving the café we get good views from the road out to sea, down to the prom and Roker Beach, and a little further along the road we can see across the river and into the length of Sunderland Docks. The first bit is straightforward with little to excite us more than a change of name from Harbour View to Dame Dorothy Street and that we pass St Peter’s Church which dates back to the7th Century link. Monkwearmouth Station [now a museum] is of some architectural merit, and crossing a big river is always interesting. Once over the river we cross to the pedestrian only Fawcett Street which is a mish-mash of old, modern and modernised buildings – a fairly typical city main street. We make a pit stop in the library before continuing on our way. At the end of the street we come upon Mowbray Park and our path takes us through this neat, tidy and very impressive park.

Once at the far end we make our way through the streets toward the docks and Hendon finally reaching The Raich Carter Sports Centre named after one of Sunderland’s football heroes link link. We gratefully tuck into a mug of tea whilst working out where we should go next. The route is pretty clear. First we continue South on the main road until we reach a minor road that goes under the railway line and on to Hendon Promenade. Once there our route is on the newly designated England Coast Path all the way to Seaham – our target for the day.

The first part of this task is swiftly completed and we head down the minor road towards the coast and the promenade. We elect not to go down to the prom but stay at the level of the main land mass. As we look down the 20 feet or so to the prom we see a small cluster of people engaged in some film making activity. We can’t see much of the beach as the tide is in. Despite being less than a quarter of a mile from the busy dock road and the rest of the city it is very peaceful down here. We can hear the waves gently breaking on the beach and little else. The wind has dropped somewhat although the sun has kept his hat firmly on. One thing that is clearly visible down the coast is the pier at Seaham harbour.

We make steady progress down the coast path and at the next stop we try and work out the landmasses we see in the distance. Seaham harbour is in plain sight; but what of the shadowy smudges on the horizon – Hartlepool, or is it even further away such as Redcar? Away in the distance we can make out the tall spires of a drilling platform on the horizon.

The walking is pretty easy along the cliff tops, the only concerns we have are the possibility of having to climb in and out of the gills or denes that are scattered in our path. The denes were formed millennia ago as the glacial ice sheet retreated hereabouts and the run-off water scoured these fairly deep, steep sided gullies in the underlying ground. In the event the first was a pussy cat – a slight deviation inland and hardly a change in elevation. We found a bench just before the second and took a break. It was still very peaceful and although dry the sun was still hidden by the total cloud cover. This dene was wider and deeper than the first but a deviation of a couple of hundred yards inland to the railway line meant that it was easily circumvented.

Ryhope Dene
Ryhope Dene

As we approached the next one a little further South - Ryhope Dene - we became more concerned. Even from a hundred yards away it was clear this is much larger than the others. There is a bench conveniently placed next to the cliff top path overlooking the mouth of the dene where a local is taking his ease. We stop and chat about the local area; its mining heritage now sadly all gone; the way the area has been cleaned up after the mining ceased; its role in movies and TV shows such as Vera and Geordie Shore. Billy Elliot was shot on location around here as was perhaps the most iconic movie - Michael Caine’s “Get Carter” Footnote 5.

We also talk about potential accommodation in Seaham and our new found mate fills us in with his local knowledge. If we want we can slum it in the B&B’s or stay in the local posh hotel used by pop stars etc at approx. £250 per night [helipad available if required.] He points out some white buildings in Seaham and says that one of those is a B&B; which ties in with my research. We spend an enjoyable twenty minutes or so chatting away. Several other folk out for a stroll pass us, but so far today it has been quiet on the walker front. We can make out Seaham quite clearly now but are unable to resolve whether we can see Redcar and Hartlepool further out. Our companion says that on a clear day one can see Saltburn.

There appears to be a path going down to the mouth of the dene but our companion says that the proper way is to go inland and walk around the head of the dene. This will necessitate going under the railway and along the road for a few yards before heading back to the coast. We are pleased by this as the dene has steep sides and is heavily wooded along its length. We shoulder packs and set off to circumnavigate the dene. Everything is as described and before long we are near the mouth of the Dene on its Southern side. We seek out the guy we’ve been chatting to so we can give him a wave, but he too has left. One thing more apparent from the southern side is that the Dene is very deep with near vertical walls in places.

We continue along the cliff tops towards Seaham in pretty good walking conditions. It is warm, not much breeze and despite the total cloud cover it is not humid. We have a small Dene to traverse before reaching a carpark. We then take to the road which leads us past the lane end leading to the parish church, parts of which date back to the late 7th century. Link

Vane Tempest Colliery Memorial
Vane Tempest Colliery Memorial

The road does a twist and a turn dropping us down to beach level before climbing out of yet another dene. There is a footpath we can follow up to the cliff top car park and so cut out a short length of road walking. As we climb up to the car park there are some stone artistic representations of sea creatures scattered on the grass and forming the walls to the car park. By the time we get to the car park we are more than pleased we have been able to walk around the earlier denes! Looking across the road we see a rather pleasant housing development that is built on the site of the former Vane Tempest Colliery. Scattered on the landscaped grass bank are more sculptures representing the pit. Opposite the entrance to the estate, on the cliff top is a monument to the Vane Tempest Pit, one of three in Seaham. Some of the workings went 3 miles out under the sea. A bit of a theme is emerging here.

We continue along the road into the town keeping an eye out for signs of accommodation which so far are conspicuous by their absence. Everything is neat and tidy so far as we march toward the town centre. For an ex-mining town, home to three pits and a coking works amongst others, Seaham has scrubbed up well. To our left we spot another recent addition to the cultural life of the town. It is a 9 foot tall sculpture by a local artist of a soldier reflecting on the past at the time the Armistice was declared in 1918 Footnote 6. It was originally loaned to the town for three months, but proved to be so popular that the locals established a fund for the town to buy it and so it became a permanent fixture in the town in 2014.

The Brothers Statue at Seaham
The Brothers Statue at Seaham

Just before 3pm we reach a roundabout at what we consider is the centre of town [it’s not the centre of town really but it has that feel about it]. There is the wheel from a pit winding gear half buried in the ground to our left and on the other side of the road there is yet another piece of art. This one is entitled "The Brothers. Waitin' t' gan down" by Brian Brown. It is dedicated to all those who worked so hard below ground and under the sea at Seaham, Dawdon and Vane Tempest Collieries.

We start to phone the B&B’s we have numbers for and immediately hit problems. The first number no longer exists; the second and third are full; the fourth, about 3 miles away adjacent to the A19, goes straight to answerphone. The B&B that is full tells us of a place not on our list just 50 yards away across the road. It is a restaurant but they also do B&B. We walk there to find it closed for refurbishing. We don’t try the posh place – we’d left our helicopters at home and arriving by taxi is so passe dear …

We make a plan. We will get the phone number for a taxi and continue our walk along the coast past the shopping mall and Seaham harbour towards the place on the A19. When we reach the edge of town, where the road swings inland to the A19, we will phone again and if necessary get a cab to the place. If all else fails we will have to get digs in Hartlepool or Sunderland and let the train get us there.

We walk through the modest shopping mall and learn yet more about Seaham. The site of the mall and the industrial estates to the South used to be home to a pit and coking plant, both with links to the adjacent harbour. Not a trace of either can be seen. Indeed the road we are walking on did not exist then. After the mall we walk past the harbour where two coasters are unloading.

Seaham Harbour
Seaham Harbour

As we pass the harbour and then the industrial estate we finally realise that the sun has come out! It is really warm now and if it were not for the uncertainty surrounding accommodation it is a lovely day for walking. We pass several bus stops as we walk out of town and realise we are on the route of the X7 and No 60 buses that serve Sunderland. This is a bit of a bonus as the station is a long way behind us now. On the edge of town, at the roundabout that leads to Dawdon, we stop and put part two of the plan into operation. Still no answer at the A19 place so we decide to go back to Sunderland. We know the Queen Vic has no vacancies, but the first place we phone does. We book it and make our way to the bus stop. We are joined by a local and remark that for a supposedly 10 minute frequency we have not seen many buses. He tells that is not unusual and the timetable is more of an aspiration than a reality.

Getting on the bus when it did arrive was a bit of a farce. The No 60 turned up first and we were just about boarding when the X7 turned up and actually stopped. Reversing with a pack is not easy but we manage it and get onto the X7. Within about thirty minutes we arrive at Sunderland bus interchange and find a bus to Roker where our digs are. We ask the driver to give us a shout when we reach the best stop, but he is new to the route. A stranger on the bus says he can help and finds the route on his phone’s app and duly tells us where to get off some twenty minutes later.

We walk down to our digs and are soon getting unpacked in a super room, much more comfortable than last night’s in the Queen Vic – and £2 less including breakfast! We go back to the Vic for our evening meal – this time taking advantage of a 2 for 1 offer. Again the meal is excellent value for money. Today has been a bit of a mixed day. The one thing that stands out for both of us is the way Seaham has moved on from the devastation of losing its main industry in the ’80’s and ’90’s when the mines closed. It is a neat prosperous looking town, but it has not forgotten its roots. It is obviously proud of its mining heritage and has found tasteful ways to remind one of this. Following our experiences with digs we phone ahead for tomorrow night and finally get booked into the Chimneys at Blackhall Colliery.


Day 3 - Wednesday 24th June 2015:

Seaham to Blackhall Colliery

Day 3 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

After a good breakfast we head for the bus stop to get us to the interchange and our connection on to Seaham. The breakfast was good and the day was dry and warm when we set off. At the interchange we had time to get some lunch, I chose a pasty and, because I find it hard to resist such items, a custard tart. We have just missed the express X7 so we get the slower No 60.

In the event the 60 was as quick as the X7 until we reached Ryhope where it took a somewhat meandering course to Seaham town centre before heading out past the harbour to our stop on the edge of town. Despite a hint of drizzle during the bus ride there is a hint of blue sky by the time we dismount.

We set off down the road toward Nose Point and the car park for the nature reserve here. As well as a nature reserve Nose Point is a double Site of Special Scientific Interest for its geology and ecology. The amazing thing is that the car park is built on the former site of a blast furnace and latterly Dawdon Pit. Link Along this stretch are several information boards giving details of the industrial past based on lime coal and steel – even some of the names reflect this eg Blast Beach. Looking at it today it is hard to imagine that anything had despoiled the landscape.

Within thirty minutes or so the sun really began to burn through the clouds and it was time to shed my top shirt and dig the sun hat from the nether reaches of my pack. The cliff top walking so far has been pleasant and informative and it continues that way for the next fifty minutes or so until we come on Hawthorn Dene, the second largest of County Durham’s coastal denes. The dene opens out onto a rocky beach area known as Hawthorn Hive.

The map suggests that our route takes us up to the railway line and there is then a path through the dene. We reach the railway and our path runs alongside, passing a foot crossing, and onto the dene’s edge. It is a well-defined path and our only worry is that the descent and following ascent will be rather hard work. Once at the edge Brian calls a halt. He sounds very reluctant to go on, and with good cause. The descent into the dene is indeed steep; and the path quickly becomes less distinct. We wonder whether this is a path at all despite what the maps suggest. We haul the map out and look for an alternative. The map reveals a couple of options, both require us to cross the railway line at the crossing we have just passed. The first is a path that drops down into the dene and up the other side a few yards past the railway; the second involves an inland diversion via Hawthorn; Easington and Easington Colliery that adds nearly three miles to the route. One thing is clear, staying on the coast side of the railway is not an option.

Lunchtime in Hawthorne Hive
Lunchtime in Hawthorne Hive

We retrace our steps to the foot crossing, check for trains and cross over. The Durham coast line has been our companion since we passed Hendon promenade at Sunderland. However there are no swish Inter-City trains gliding past every 30 minutes or so in each direction to amuse us as they did last year. This line can only boast fairly humble diesel trains plying their trade every hour each way between Middlesborough; Hartlepool; Sunderland and Newcastle with the occasional freight train to add some variety. About three expresses do travel the line – the Grand Central service between Sunderland and London.

After doing the Stop; Look and Listen routine we safely cross the line and soon find ourselves in a large open space surrounded by trees and bushes. The trees shelter us from whatever breeze there is and the sun warms us very nicely thank you. The grassy area is full of wild flowers and is so soporific and peaceful – all in all an ideal spot for a break. For some reason the railway line wakes up as we nod off with five trains passing our spot in the next twenty minutes!

I also make a discovery important for all walkers. Custard tarts do not travel well in a paper bag in a rucksack, even when carefully placed at the top of the pile. Whilst not crushed beyond recognition it did present some interesting handling issues for the spoonless.

After twenty odd minutes of relaxation we finally decide we had better make a move. We take to the path leading to the dene and once into the trees the path begins to descend gradually getting steeper before reaching some steps cut into the ground. This dene is much deeper than we had imagined but despite all the trees it is quite light and airy. As we go down the steps our fears that we may have to go down to the bottom are put to flight by the sight of a bridge over the Hawthorn Burn below us. We are both pleased to see the bridge as it saves us a descent of some thirty feet or more to the bottom of the dene [and the climb back out!]. Once over the bridge we have to climb out which leaves me puffing and blowing like a geriatric steam engine. Brian; knees and all; has coped much better than I.

Crossing Hawthron Hive
Crossing Hawthron Hive

Once at the top on the other side the path goes under the railway viaduct and back to the coast. We both reflect that the path on the coast side of the railway as marked on the map is no longer there. The walls of the dene are precipitous and we have not seen a path join ours on the South side of the dene. From this south side we get further reinforcement as to how deep this dene is.

For the next 45 minutes or so we make steady progress down the coast. The sun comes and goes and there is no wind to trouble us. All is very peaceful with just the distant sound of the waves on the shore below us. A bird watcher passes us heading North and he is the first person we have encountered since leaving Nose Point. We pass Beacon Point or Hill [the highest point on the Durham coast]; pass Shot Rock and on the hill side across the railway line we spot a square tower structure that looks like a tall box on stilts. Brian tries to take a photograph but because of the extreme distance, even with zoom, the camera can make nothing of it. We later find out it is the Pit Cage Monument on the site of the former Easington Colliery Footnote 7.

Somewhere between here and Fox Holes dene we take a break and both of us nod off for a few minutes in the warm afternoon air. As we stir ourselves the sun disappears behind some rather dark and threatening clouds but fortunately for us the clouds blow past and the sun returns. When we get to Fox Holes we are presented with another deep; wide and wooded dene to negotiate and meet another local out for a constitutional. Again we get the welcome news we do not have to go in and out of the dene in front of us as the path goes round the head of the dene. Although a waterfall is marked on the map the old guy opines that he has never heard of a waterfall here.

After Fox Holes we make steady progress along the cliff tops until we come to yet another dene. We decide that this is the point to leave the coast and head to Blackhall Colliery and our digs for the night. The path takes us down to the bottom of Warren House dene and then we begin a long slow climb as we head inland to the head of the dene. This one is not as deep or heavily wooded as the others but it is a bit of a slog. It gets somewhat steeper as we pass under the railway arch and onto a road past a waterworks before reaching the main road. We are not done with climbing however as the main road continues to climb all the way into the town centre. Since entering the dene I reckon it has been uphill for the past mile and a quarter at least.

Horden is another of County Durham’s ex-mining villages and in 1970 the colliery was considered the "Jewel in the Crown" with an expected life of 30 years, but it was not to be. Since closure of the mine in 1987 Horden has not fared well. The population has fallen to around 8,500 (2001 census) and it now suffers high unemployment, higher than average health issues and problems with poor housing stock. Many shops are boarded up and we do not spot a café - it is a little depressing.

Fortunately we come across a park and are more than grateful to rest our weary bodies on one of the benches in the very well maintained park. Brian makes light of it but I think this last bit has put quite a strain on his knees. A glance at the map shows us that Blackhall Colliery is not too far away now – a cheering thought. After our rest it is back to pounding the pavements as we head South. As we leave Horden the road suddenly dips and takes us down into Castle Eden Dene. It is a long way down and an equally long climb out on the other side. This climb is one of those that likes to tease and has a cheeky habit of persuading one that the climb is over only to present another one just where you expected it to level out.

Chimneys
Chimneys Hotel, Blachall Colliery

At the top of the climb we see the sign welcoming us to Blackhall Colliery – yet another mining village. We immediately keep an eye out for East Street – where our digs are. Brian spots an open café across the road and is about to call time out for a cuppa when we both spot a sign directing us to the Chimneys, our home for the night. With a name like The Chimneys we have been imagining everything from twee country cottages to a small country house for our digs, we did not expect it to be a mining village pub!

The door is firmly closed to us however. I ring the doorbell before noticing a sign telling us what to do in such an eventuality. There are three options - ringing the door bell is option 3. I start to phone as per option one when the door is opened. Here starts a very pleasant stay at the Chimneys. Before going to our room we decide to take some orange squash in the bar and end up having a long and interesting chat with the folks running the pub, who have only recently taken it on. We are joined by another guest, a Scotsman living in Wales, with a job that takes him all over the North of England and Scotland. He enjoys walking and rugby and so the chat continues.

We eventually go up to our room for a wash and brush up before returning to the bar for our evening meal. We order our dinner and start chatting again – this time to the barman, a young lad who despite being a trained carpenter cannot find work in his chosen trade. His situation is not helped by a lack of personal transport. He confirms our earlier thoughts that this area is something of an employment black spot.

We go into the dining room for our dinner which is very good, and shortly after we started our itinerant Scot came in for his. Well we were soon chatting away about walking; rugby; music and lord knows what else until our beds start to make seductive siren calls. One thing we have decided was that we made a mistake leaving the coast at Warren House dene and walking through Horden. If we had stayed on the coast and come inland at Castle Eden dene we would have avoided Horden all together and missed the climb though the town. We would also have had more coast and country to enjoy.


Day 4 - Thursday 25th June 2015

Blackhall Colliery to Seaton Carew

Day 4 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

After such an interesting evening the night before, it was a bit of a wrench to leave the Chimneys. Although there is a route to the coast almost opposite the pub we have to walk through the village to reach the shops and our lunch. The first part is the old pit village with its rows of terraced houses, front doors opening onto the pavement, laid out in a grid. The main North /South road is Main Street and the cross streets are named in a logical if boring manner – Tenth Street; Ninth Street and so on. We start the day at Tenth Street and by the time we reach Second Street, having passed a memorial to the miners of the area, we find the local Co-op and purchase our lunch.

The mine that spawned this development opened in 1909 and closed in 1981. The spoil was dumped on the beach for the sea to clear away. Blackhall Beach made a notable appearance in the 1971 film Get Carter: in the climactic scenes the main character is involved in a chase across a coal-strewn beach. The film shows the beach black with coal spoilings, dumped there by mine's conveyor system. Since the mine closed, £10 million has been spent removing the conveyor and its massive concrete tower and cleaning tons of coal waste from the now pristine beach. Footnote 8

With lunch safely tucked in our rucksacks we continue South down the main street and once past First Street we leave the terraces behind as front gardens appear. Amongst the first buildings we encounter area couple of rows of bungalows that, according to the signs adorning them are Aged Miners Cottages. Footnote 9 Just over half a mile from the Co-op we turn left and head for the coast at Blackhall Rocks. We have about a mile of country and cliff walking before we reach Crimdon Dene Holiday Park. We have two more denes to negotiate before reaching the holiday park though. At the first dene the path takes us inland along the edge where we meet three guys erecting a new stile. We thought we were going to be able to walk around the dene but at the last minute the path dropped down into the dene and out the other side – fortunately nothing too strenuous. The second one we could walk round the head and within yards we were on the holiday park.

We meet a couple of park residents out for a stroll and have a brief chat. They are on their annual early summer break at the park. They also confirm what we suspected after twenty years of walking the coast that large parks like this one usually have a café. We start to march past a plethora of mobile homes all customised to a greater or lesser degree. The café is of course at the far end of the holiday park so we are more than ready for a cuppa by the time we arrive.

Hartlepool From Crimdon Park
Hartlepool From Crimdon Park

Suitably refreshed we set off through the last part of this rather large holiday park and soon find ourselves on the low cliffs overlooking Crimdon Beach. The sun has made an appearance and the waves are gently rolling in. There are a number of information boards along the little stretch leading to the path down into Crimdon Dene that give a brief history of the area. There has been a holiday park here for a long time – the modern one very different to its predecessors. The 1950’s and 60’s were the heyday for the Dene and beach with thousands flocking here every summer. It all disappeared as the 60’s progressed with holiday makers being seduced by the Costas. Before that though it was not unusual to see 40 odd coaches parked waiting to return the eager day trippers, and that did not take account of those who came and stayed for longer periods in the holiday park. The highlight of the summer was undoubtedly the Miss Crimdon contest where the local Easington MP, Manny Shinwell was often a judge. Manny was a noted anti-war protester who once famously declared “I prefer legs to arms!” Alas, there is no sign of the funfair or Pavillion today.

Our path takes us down to the mouth of the dene which is very different to the ones further North being wider and less deep. Once at the bottom we head inland for a hundred yards or so to a little bridge over the Crimdon Beck before turning left and heading to the right of the dunes ahead of us and onto the golf course. Our path follows the line of the dunes and there are several signs warning of flying golf balls. As we approach one fairway we spot a foursome some 200 yards to our right. We are preparing to stop when they wave us across the fairway. I guess they didn’t want to be distracted by our good looks.

As we approach the club house we pull out the map to check the line of the path but before we could even open the map a group of golfers tell us that the path goes straight on and to the right of the higher ground about half a mile away. There are fewer golfers on this half of the course so we don’t have to worry so much about flying golf balls. We eventually reach the far side of the course and can see our path make its way between the railway line and the higher ground to the left. We stop on the tee furthest from the clubhouse and as no golfers were present we sat on the front edge of the raised tee and had our lunch. It was all very pleasant sitting in the sun with narey a trace of the breeze that had kept us nice and cool earlier.

After an undisturbed lunch we left the golf course behind and took to the gently rising path. Before we could progress too far however we had to pass a peculiar form of stile that consisted of pieces of metalwork sticking out of the ground either side of the path that narrowed alarmingly at chest height. Only a dwarf; child or extremely thin person could negotiate this obstacle without bending at the knees. Initially we were hemmed in by the railway embankment and the bank on the other side, but near the top of the climb we had to negotiate another of the wretched stiles. After that it was plain sailing and soon we were able to see over the bank to our left. The OS map states that there is a works to our left but the site has been levelled and is now a large flat expanse of gravel no doubt waiting for further development work. Away to our left we can see the sea for the first time since we entered the golf course. Our path then rapidly descends to an access road and we turn sharp right, go under the railway bridge and into Hartlepool.

For the next half mile or so we follow the road towards the Headland before taking to a cycle path that will lead us away from the Headland and towards the town centre. The cycle path takes us away from the roads and with a housing estate on our left and some rough grassland to our right it is quite peaceful. We come across a Community Centre which in addition to the usual facilities has a childcare facility attached as well as a café and garden maintained by the community.

Hartlepool Historic Quay
Hartlepool Historic Quay
with HMS Trincomalee's mast tops showing
over the buildings

After a brief stay we set off again heading for Hartlepool’s Historic Quay where there is a museum and several preserved ships including HMS Trincomalee. Link Hartlepool is an ancient town being founded in the 7th century AD, around the Northumbrian monastery of Hartlepool Abbey.

Hartlepool is famous for allegedly executing a monkey during the Napoleonic Wars. According to legend, fishermen from Hartlepool watched a French warship founder off the coast. The only survivor was a monkey, which was dressed in French military uniform, presumably to amuse the officers on the ship. The fishermen assumed that this must be what Frenchmen looked like and, after a brief trial, summarily executed the monkey. This event still haunts the town to this day, but was used to advantage by the football club when they adopted H'Angus the Monkey in 1999 as club mascot. H’Angus was even elected mayor during the 2002 Hartlepool Council election. Link

Sadly we have to leave the peace and quiet of the cycle way all too soon and follow the main road through Hartlepool to reach the quay. When we get there we are a little disappointed to find that our view of the ships is masked by the old warehouses now housing the museum. All we can see are the mast tops of HMS Trincomalee and the stern of PS Wingfield Castle Link . Putting that behind us we make our way to the Tourist Information Office to find some digs for the night. We make our way past the supermarket car park and over the railway line to the ex-church that doubles as the TIC and an art gallery.

The lady in the TIC is very helpful – even getting some chairs from a cupboard so we may sit down. Our initial plan is to stay in Hartlepool, but we have no luck finding digs so we ask her to check out Seaton Carew a couple of miles away down the coast. The first calls are not hopeful – engaged and no vacancies, but she eventually gets through to the first place – a reasonably priced hotel on the sea front. So with digs booked we thank the lady who has done a good job not only in finding digs but making us feel welcome.

We head out of town toward the coast along the appropriately named Church Street. This is a pleasant street with trees down one side. The side streets though have an unusual feature – their names are cast into metal arches spanning the road. We can’t recall seeing anything like this anywhere else.

At the end of Church Street our route takes us towards the marina and away from the main road. We have to wait for a train to pass at the level crossing and then we are away. This area is being re-developed into a rather pleasant residential area with many of the homes overlooking the marina. The only link to the docks industrial past is an imposing building with a clock tower we pass shortly after the level crossing. For the rest we are walking past modern low rise blocks and houses.

Once through the houses we go up onto a promenade which affords us some grand views to the North. We can make out Hartlepool Headland and we debate whether we can see Seaham [probably] and even Sunderland [possibly]! To our right we see some scrubby land and the railway line. Judging by the bridge a few hundred yards in front of us I would say that once upon a time there were a lot of railway sidings here.

The sky is gradually clouding over as we head South. The promenade makes for easy walking and the beach to our left is discoloured in places by the sea coal that has been washed up. About half way to Seaton Carew we see that collecting sea coal has not died out. There are about a dozen piles of the black stuff and a suspiciously clean beach around them. A guy is walking away as a Land Rover drives off the beach. Judging by the edges of the scrapings the sea coal must be a couple of inches thick here. Out to sea there are at least half a dozen ships at anchor, presumably waiting for a tide or berth at Teesport. Also there are three lines of wind turbines growing out of the sea just off the mouth of the Tees.

The Staincliffe In Seaton Carew
The Staincliffe In Seaton Carew

Just to cheer us up the rain starts to fall shortly after. Not too heavy but enough to force us into our anoraks. At this point we become quite grateful that, as described by the lovely lady in the TIC, that “the hotel is a large white building just as you come into Seaton Carew”. It is not the first big white building but the second and we are pleased to arrive. We have to wait quite a long time for the receptionist to finish a phone call in the back office before she can deal with us. The long wait to get through earlier is now explained. The poor girl has to man the phones; look after guest queries and probably a host of other things.

We eventually get our key and head to our rooms. Downstairs the hotel looks comfortable with a lot of wood panelling and quite interesting with a variety of dining options. Our room however was the worst to date. It is small and narrow and we are paying more than any other night so far. The price here is not out of line with our expectations for B&B but it does not represent good value. There is no room to swing the proverbial cat. We eventually find a home for our gear and head down for the evening meal. We have several options all offering different menus. We opt for the American Diner and have a very good meal. After the meal we chill out in the bar for an hour or so before going up. Our bedroom has definitely taken the gloss off what could have been a very pleasant stay.


Day 5 - Friday 26th June 2015

Seaton Carew to Seaton Snooks (and onto Redcar)

Day 5 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

Today we shall have to resolve a debate which has been going on for some time. What to do about Middlesbrough? I know some folks have been asking this question for decades but our interest is purely about the walk. Today we have to walk through Seaton Carew before taking to a footpath that leads to and through the Seaton Snooks Nature reserve. So far so good. After that the route is along a main road past Hartlepool Nuclear Power station; chemical works; brine fields and oil terminals. I have driven this route in the past and it is not the prettiest bit of country to walk through. One good thing is that the road reaches the River Tees at Port Clarence, the northern landing of The Tees Transporter Bridge Link.

We both agree that we should walk to Seaton Snook and return to the main road where we can catch a bus to Port Clarence. We both rather fancy crossing the iconic Transporter Bridge, especially as once on the Southern shore one is but a hop skip and a jump from the Teesdale Way, a long distance path of 92miles from Cumbria to the North Sea that shadows the River Tees. Link

It is this bit that we are debating. The Way provides a pretty much traffic free route from Middlesbrough to the coast and we would join it straight off the bridge at the Middlehaven regeneration area that incorporates the dockside near Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium and the Transporter Bridge. I share the same view as the Tees Way web site “(it) might not be to everyone’s taste; some might justifiably consider it to be an eyesore. Despite its unarguable lack of environmental credentials it serves as a reminder of the vanished industries that once populated much of the route …..” and as such it could be rather interesting

Brian’s view is that it is an eyesore and it has no attraction to him whatsoever! We have been kicking this around for a while and not come to any serious conclusion, although Brian does have quite a compelling argument when he says that we have bypassed cities and towns in the past to get across a river estuary, which this most certainly is. Brian’s thinking is that once in Middlesbrough we should get public transport to Redcar and resume walking from there. So whilst we have our breakfast we re-visit the arguments yet another time and come to a firm decision – we’ll decide later!

The day starts grey and mizzly, that peculiar combination of a slight mist and light drizzle that will get one soaked in half an hour without it ever feel like it’s been raining. So we don our anoraks and commence walking along Seaton Carew’s promenade. Scattered along its length at this end of town are some information boards that give a brief history of the town. Out to sea there are still half a dozen ships, but we think some of them are different to those we saw last night. We can just make out through the mist the wind farm where some of the turbines are lazily turning in the breeze.

View Across Seaton Snooks And TeesMouth
View Across Seaton Snooks And TeesMouth

We walk past the bus station and out to the edge of town. Very quickly we reach the golf course and our path out to the SSSI [Site of Special Scientific Interest] that is Seaton Snooks. On the opposite side of the road a new housing estate is being completed. The countryside is flat and rather boring and the mizzle is still getting us wet. On one side of the path we see some golfers and on the other side we pass a field of bored looking cows.

The block like structure of the power station is a mile or so across the fields. Our path eventually leads us to a car park and we have a choice . We can go about another 600 yards or so the mouth of the river just out of site behind the dunes; or head back to the road. In the event we decide to walk back to the road and the bus stop to Middlesbrough. The walk back to the road is no more inspiring than the walk to the car park. We pass some more cows and two cars pass us en-route to the car park. The only good thing is that the clouds have lifted somewhat and the mizzle has stopped.

We reach the main road and can see the bus stop about 50 yards away adjacent to a road junction that leads to Seal Sands and the power station. The bus is due in about 20 minutes so we settle down to wait. Fortunately there is no standing water on the road so we are not sprayed by the lorries and cars that pass us at some speed. The main excitement is the occasional vehicle which changes course and heads down the road towards the power station. Eventually we spot a bus approaching so we shoulder our packs and start to flag it down. I am over six foot tall and blessed with rugged good looks [dream on – ed] and Brian has a significant presence, yet despite all this and the arm waving the bus drives straight past us!

To say we are angry is the understatement of the year. After loudly cursing a particular bus driver and our bad fortune we finally get around to re-assessing our position. There will be another bus in 30 minutes, but if we wait will that one deign to stop? We could wait for a bus back or walk back to Seaton Carew and get the train to Middlesbrough or walk to Middlesbrough. The latter does not appeal to either of us and we decide to walk back to Seaton Carew. Fortunately there is a footpath alongside the road so we are not dicing with the cars and lorries. We reach the edge of town before a bus to Seaton Carew passes us so we got that call about right. When we reach the bus station we realise we can wait here for the bus to Middlesbrough instead of walking to the railway station which is nearly a mile further on. We have a more compelling reason to wait for the bus though. Today we have been on our feet for nearly two hours and Brian’s knees are definitely feeling the strain. For the first time Brian admits that his knees have been a problem above and beyond what passes for normal especially in the last 20 – 30 minutes. This ends our debate as to what to do about Middlesbrough. We are on the bus to Redcar, change at Middlesbrough.

In the 10 – 15 minutes we have to wait for the bus the sun shows its face for the first time today. When our bus does arrive the driver remarks why would anyone want to leave Seaton Carew now the sun was shining? We just about stop ourselves saying it was raining when we left the first time. The bus ride into Middlesbrough confirms our thoughts about not walking this first bit. The road is busy and there is no pavement for long stretches. The bus does not use the Transporter Bridge but swings upstream to cross the Tees via the Newport Bridge Link. This is a vertical lift bridge and is dominated by towers at each end that are fitted with lifting gear to raise the road carriageway to provide the headroom for shipping on the river. Changing river use though means there is no longer a necessity to lift the span and the final lift was in 1990 Link.

O'Gradys
O'Gradys in Redcar

The bus is soon pulling into the bus station and I have just enough time to buy a pasty for my lunch before we board the Redcar bus. This provides us with a tour of Middlesbrough’s southern suburbs before an hour later depositing us in central Redcar. According to the OS map there is a Tourist Office near the sea front so we head in that direction. The office is nowhere to be seen so we ask the staff in one of the shops where it is. Sadly the office has closed. As a bonus though O’Gradys is recommended to us as a good B&B, and it is on Station Road. We head straight to Station Road, walk its length and find no trace of the place. We are beginning to think Redcar has something against us. We turn around and return down Station Road intending to call in at a B&B we passed going the other way when we espy, about 70 yards to our left down Queen Street, the elusive O’Gradys. It is a large pub that does rooms. We enter, book a room and have an orange squash. When we do go up to our room on the second floor we find it to very pleasant and comfortable.

After a while we decide to go out and head North along Redcar prom toward the mouth of the river. The weather is still fine with the sun keeping us nice and warm. Redcar prom has obviously had some money spent on it recently. It looks spick and span with a bandstand in pristine condition and the odd piece of art parked along its length Footnote 10. Out to sea we can clearly see the three rows of wind turbines standing tall in the waves. What is clear from here, but not from Seaton Carew, is that they are definitely to the South of the Tees estuary.

After several hundred yards we come to a boating lake. The road swings to the left to avoid getting wet but the prom goes straight on. On the far side of the lake we can see a futuristic looking building sitting there with an attitude that says “concert hall”. In the hope that said building may contain a cafe we walk around the lake and enter. The building has only been open 3 years and is a media and performing arts venue funded by a lottery grant. Link More importantly it has a café that overlooks the promenade and beach!

After our cuppa we continue to the end of the prom and decide to head for the beach. We could have continued heading North along the beach right onto South Gare Breakwater at the mouth of the Tees nearly three miles away. Walking so far just to turn around and come back does not seem particularly appealing. Instead we head down to the waterline and stroll back along a rather good beach towards the town centre.

Sculpture On Redcar Sea Front
Sculpture On Redcar Sea Front

We re-join the prom at about the point where the road swings inland and take a break on one of the benches near the band stand. The sun is still warm on our backs; the sky is blue and life feels pretty good. There is a rather large sculpture nearby that is difficult to describe and also difficult to understand!

The work done to regenerate this area just makes the whole experience better. We head back to O’Gradys and eventually come down to partake of a rather good bar meal and a quiet pint or two. The pub is heavily into showing sport on the multitude of TV screens scattered all over the bar. Initially the only offering was horse racing [yawn] but a little later rugby league made an appearance. We watch Leeds beat Hull FC in a rather scrappy game full of errors. About 8pm a band start setting up on the corner stage and by 9.15 we are entertained by Buffalo 4 who are rather good and play a lot of stuff we like. All in all it has been a pretty good end to a day that started poorly.

During the course of the evening we have decided several things. Our stroll this afternoon has convinced Brian that with regular, and possibly more frequent stops compared to previous days, completing our saga in Saltburn tomorrow is definitely on! The other thing is that we don’t fancy travelling home on the Sunday, so we will stay an extra night and return triumphant [we hope] on Monday. This leaves me with a slight sartorial problem in that I have plenty of walking tee shirts etc but only one shirt for generally chilling and relaxing in without looking somewhat scruffy. I will have to try and get a half decent shirt tomorrow.

Day 6 - Saturday 27th June 2015

Redcar to Saltburn

Day 6 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

The momentous day starts well with a pretty good breakfast and some lovely weather. We set off under light fluffy clouds with the sun keeping us nice and warm and nothing more than a gentle breeze to cool us. Our initial target is to purchase some lunch and to see if I can get a shirt. Redcar high street like so many others has quite a few charity shops; some pubs and a reasonable selection of small local shops. It also has a fair number where the shutters are firmly closed. The main street is pedestrianised and quite pleasant to walk down. After a hundred yards or more we have only passed one emporium selling shirts and they were a bit pricey. It was then that Brian suggested looking in the charity shops. So simple why hadn’t I thought of it? [Answers on a postcard please, normal competition rules apply – ed]. Within minutes I had found a shirt and a bakery to purchase our lunch.

Redcar Sea Front
Redcar Sea Front

With the first order of business for the day completed we headed for the sea front. To our left was the modern Redcar Beacon sitting proudly on the prom – but more of that later. We turn right and head for Marske-by-the-Sea. We pass a couple of small fishing boats parked on the prom, and see one being towed away by a geriatric tractor as it heads for a boat car park [eh – ed] down one of the side streets.

There are a fair number of people on the beach and prom, walking dogs or just strolling in the morning sunshine. Out to sea we can see 7 or 8 large vessels waiting to get into the Tees. And on the far horizon we spot a very large ship making its way North. We also pass a large sculpture very similar to the one we saw at the other end of the prom yesterday. The traffic on the sea front road has not been too obtrusive either. All in all it’s been a pleasant start to the day.

At the edge of town the road swings inland a little behind some dunes, but the promenade continues between the beach and the dunes. The dunes gradually get higher and we finally lose sight of the houses flanking the road a hundred yards or so to our right. On this stretch we suddenly get a little plague of cyclists as upwards of twenty pass us on the prom, sometimes an individual or couple occasionally a small group of 3 or 4. They do not impede our progress. We pass a play area and paddling pool looking bright and new in the sun; there are still a lot of people on the beach enjoying the fine weather. The posts supporting the groynes stick out of the sand like ranks of guards.

Sadly the promenade ends after three quarters of a mile or so and we take to the low clay cliffs. This makes it more uncomfortable for Brian so he puts on a knee support bandage to see if that makes it any easier. So far today Brian’s knees are more painful than normal, but he has coped well by taking breaks more frequently to get the weight of them. The uneven ground is an extra trial though, and although the knee support helps we head for the pavement flanking the road for the remainder of the walk into Marske. At the edge of town the road swings inland and, as we are in need of squash or tea, we follow it toward the town centre. Marske is very different in character to Redcar showing none of the sea side tinsel present in Redcar. Marske is very much the pleasant dormitory town. Before too long we are sat in the Ship Inn sipping at the most expensive orange squash of the week. Whilst here we peruse the map, and plot our way out of town. It involves going back the way we have just come for a few yards and then turning right and heading through the streets to a church on the coast a little further down the coast.

Remains of Church at Marske
Remains of St Germains Church Marske

We find our way to the church with little bother in the company of last year’s long-time companion National Cycle Route No 1. We are somewhat surprised at the church’s appearance. It is naught but a tower with a spire on top in the middle of a cliff top graveyard. At first we thought it was a chapel for the graveyard, but it is - or was – a church that dates back to Saxon times. Link

We walk past the graveyard and on reaching the cliff edge we have a choice - down to the beach or stay on the cliffs which involves going in and out of a dene. We decide to stay on the cliffs so down we go. The path becomes quite steep before some steps make an appearance. The ground is a bit marshy at the bottom as a small stream lazily makes its way to the sea. The path out of the dene is clear to see climbing steadily up the side of the dunes to the cliff top a few hundred yards away. We are making slow but steady progress up the hill when we are confronted by the only difficult bit of terrain for a number of years!

Approximately 15 feet of path has been washed away leaving a fence post fully exposed and gently swaying in the breeze from the wires joining it to its neighbours. There is a narrow remnant of the path just above the washed out section, but I do not trust my sense of balance to go that way so I decide to scramble across the washed out bit. I get about four feet across and find it is easier said than done. Brian then has an idea. With me stuck he fancies going on the bit of path remaining and using me as a balancing aid. If we then pass my pack across to him once he gets to the other side my scramble should be much easier. This plan works a treat but the crazy thing is neither of us thought about going back down and along the beach which would have been so much safer and easier!

Roger Climbing the Cliff At Marske
Roger Climbing the up the gully to the cliff top at Marske

With this bit of excitement behind us we get to the top of the cliff and continue walking along in the sunshine. The air is clear and we get good views all round. At a crossroad in the path we meet a lady coming the other way who asks us which is the best path to the church. She is reconnoitring a walk for a local group that includes a number of 80 year olds planned for later in the week. There are two choices. Use the path we have just come along; or take a nice flat path across the field to the road that runs past the graveyard. It is somewhat ironic that this route would have been a nice and simple option for us if we had considered it. For a brief second or two I consider saying our route is the more interesting and should be used, but sanity prevails and we tell her about the washed out path.

After our brief exchange we continue on our way and are halted as a large group of horse riders make their way up a concrete track from the beach. At this point we decide to go down to the beach – again partly to make it easier on Brian’s knees {is that right, or did we just fancy the beach?} The concrete track starts off steep and gets steeper as we get closer to the beach and puts a big strain on our calves. The beach is a lovely golden colour and we are soon on some damp firm stuff. As we approach Saltburn the beach gradually becomes busier and busier. The pier is in full view as are the high cliffs beyond as they climb up to Hunt Cliff and Warsett Hill.

Before too long we reach the start of Saltburn’s prom and take a short break on one of the benches. The sun has certainly brought the people out as the beach and prom are really busy. We see folks splashing in the water and some are trying to surf board. A couple of jet skis make their raucous way south a little further out.

Saltburn Prom
Saltburn Prom

We make our way slowly along the prom toward the Saltburn Cliff Lift Link. We had no cause to use it in 1993 when we set off on this adventure so I for one have been looking forward to using it for some time. We buy our tickets and once at the top we are but a quarter of a mile from the station and the end of the walk. It all seems a little flat. We spend a few minutes admiring the view at the top and Brian takes some photos. Away to the North we can still see the three rows of wind turbines standing guard at the mouth of the Tees and beyond that the County Durham coast. To the South we have a good view of the rising land and can make out the line of the Cleveland Way as it leaves Saltburn for Staithes; Whitby and points South.

We now head off to the station which was our start point in 1993. Saltburn appears to have changed very little and the place has a quiet air of prosperity. At 13.14 we arrive at the station – the walk is over! After 21 stages over 23 years we have finally completed the course. It is all very anti-climactic, no local dignitaries welcoming us back with a brass band and bunting which would have been really nice, but that really is something for our dreams! We settle for trying to find the location of the photo we had taken when we set off. I had a reasonable idea having checked our website before leaving so we persuaded a passer-by to take our picture.

With that done we went to the Tourist Information centre to sort out the important things like somewhere to stay and somewhere for the last night meal. Before we can go however we have to wait for several minutes as 40 – 50 motorbikes growl their way past us. It seems even leather clad bikers enjoy a day in the sun at the seaside. Sadly the TIC does not offer a book ahead service but they do have a lot of information for us to look at. The choice of eateries is very restricted but accommodation seems better in that the TIC can provide a couple of numbers that are not on our little list.

Looking Back To Redcar From Saltburn
Looking Back To Redcar From Saltburn

First thing we do having garnered the information is to go to the Victoria Inn which is a sister pub to O’Gradys in Redcar. We are in for a disappointment as they do not offer accommodation. We have mis-read the information on the leaflet we picked up at O’Gradys! So with orange squashes at the ready we tackle the lists and then spend pretty frustrating hour or so as we try to find accommodation. Everywhere is full except for a couple of places which report “number not recognised”. One of these places is a few hundred yards away so we walk there to find that the B&B is now a private residence.

We give up on Saltburn which is a disappointment, both of us would have preferred to have the last night where it all started, but needs must. We fancy Hartlepool as it is larger and probably has more to offer so we try several places there – all full. So with choices rapidly decreasing we opt for Redcar and phone O’Gradys. We know the rooms are comfortable; and supposing we can’t find a suitable eatery in Redcar the meal would be reasonable [if not up to usual last night standards]. There is the added bonus of live music again tonight. They have a room available for us and we take it.

There is but one more thing to do before we leave. Brian took advantage of the public access to the internet whilst in the TIC and he believes, after looking at the original photo on our web site, that he has a very good idea where the first photo was taken all those years ago. It was a little further down the street from where I thought, so we persuaded another member of the public to take our picture. With that there was very little left to do in sunny Saltburn so we made our way to the station and caught the train back to Redcar.

On arrival at Redcar we asked a member of the station staff if they could recommend a decent restaurant. They suggested Italia, which as luck would have it was on our way back to O’Gradys. It seemed reasonable so we decide to go there. When we get to the pub we finally have a celebratory beer after checking in. For the next two nights we will be in a room more comfortable than last night’s on the first floor on the side over the restaurant. Last night we were on the second floor over the bar where the bands play. We chill out in our room before getting ready to go out.

We reach the restaurant at about 7pm and we are one of two tables occupied. The staff are friendly, attentive but not intrusive. By 7.30 the place is nearly full and there is a very good ambience in the room. The food is good, the wine excellent value and we spend the time reminiscing about this year and previous years' walks. We float ideas for life after The Walk – what will we do; where shall we go. Contenders are walking the Welsh coast; Offa’s Dyke Way; through the borders from Carlisle to Berwick; canal towpaths and more. Only two serious conclusions are reached, we will go walking somewhere, but not the Scottish coast.

After the meal we return to O’Gradys just as the Persuaders start their set. They are a 60’s cover band and we spend the next hour or more sipping at our beer trying to out-guess each other as to song; original artist and year of release. All good fun. Towards the end we comment that so far nothing by the Stones or the Who has materialised which we feel is a serious omission. At this point I feel compelled to visit the little boys’ room. Before I can sit down on my return they rip into Substitute and the Kids are All Right followed by a couple of Stones numbers – magic. After the Who numbers the lead singer points generally in my direction - can’t think why - and says “We got a real Who fan there”. After their set we finish our drinks and climb up to our beds. This has been a great night for a last night – definitely in the top three.


Day 7 - Sunday 28th June 2015

Chilling-out day

Day 7 walk map graphic Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph Photograph

The decision to spend an extra day away was taken in part because neither of us fancied the train journey home. Sunday is the day when the Fat Controller allows the Engineering trucks and cranes out to play on the tracks, and they don't like to play with or alongside the carriages and normal freight waggons. The trouble is we don't know where they will be playing, if it is on the tracks leading to Guiseley or Newcastle one or both of us could be in for a longer, more awkward journey that might well involve a bus. The other reason was, I think, that we had finished in six days, and that just didn't feel right, it seemed too short a time to pack up and go home.

It is one thing to stay another day, but what to do? Fortunately we are on the edge of a National Park so a ride to somewhere in the Park seems the best idea. We choose Whitby just down the coast so we set off with hope in our hearts that we can actually get there and back in a day on a Sunday. We are heading towards the railway station but en-route we pass the bus stop we arrived at on Friday. A quick perusal of the timetable hanging in the shelter reveals the unexpected but very pleasing news that there is an hourly service to Whitby! With a bus due quite soon it is an obvious choice to get the bus.

The bus is about half full when we leave Redcar and its route introduces us to bits of the town we have not seen before. The same can be said of Marske and Saltburn. Our exit from Saltburn is very steep and twisty with a couple of tricky hair-pin bends to negotiate as we wind our way down to sea level and head off towards Brotton and Loftus. The bus gradually fills as we near Whitby to the point where it is just about standing room only for the last mile or so.

The National Park's scenery has not let us down as we made our way through some attractive countryside. For the main part the bus stuck to the main road and did not visit the coastal villages, contenting itself to stop at their lane ends. Whilst understandable it is a little disappointing not to pass through those places last visited in 1993. The only downside has been the 75 minutes journey time which is just a bit too long. We were both ready to stretch our legs when we arrived!

Lazy Day In Whitby - Watching the pleasure boats
Lazy Day In Whitby - Watching the pleasure boats

We walk from the bus terminus to the adjacent railway station to check out if a return by train is feasible, and also to have a nose about and do touristy things. The station is quite attractive and kept in a neat and tidy condition. The Sunday train service is not good - 4 trains a day and none of the times suit us so we will be on the buses to get home. The station is shared between the national rail network and the preserved North Yorkshire Moors Railway which now has a route from Whitby to Pickering making it one of the longest in the country. The station is a neat and tidy affair but the only staff present are volunteers from the NYMR manning their shop.

With no firm plan we have a cuppa opposite the station and then amble along the quayside towards the swing-bridge and mouth of the river. There are a lot of people in Whitby doing pretty much what we are - just strolling and relaxing. We stop just past the swing-bridge and watch the boats on the river. A small group of sail boats come down river under engine power and then literally go round in circles as they raise their sails and leave the harbour. The pleasure boats come and go and the sea gulls make one heck of a row.

Lazy Day In Whitby - Watching the river traffic
Lazy Day In Whitby - Watching the river traffic

We continue to the mouth of the river and take another cuppa sat on the quayside watching the boats out to sea. The cloud and light rain from earlier are but a memory although the breeze takes the edge off things. All good things must come to an end however and we retrace our steps to catch the bus to Redcar. We stop at the swing-bridge to watch it open and close to allow some sail boats to get out.

The ride back is as pleasant as the outward trip but we get off at the southern end of Redcar to check out places to dine tonight. The Wetherspoons seems to be the favourite for our custom. Having decided that we head for the prom and stroll back towards the Beacon in very warm sunshine. There is barely a cloud in the sky. We take another cuppa at the Beacon before going to the viewing platform at the top. From its 80 foot height we get some good views up and down the prom; inland and out to sea Footnote 11.

Lazy Day In Redcar - the Beacon
Lazy Day In Redcar - at the Beacon
zoom view view

The lazy, relaxing mode continues into the evening. We do go to the Wetherspoons to dine; have a couple of quiet beers in O'Gradys [no music tonight] and retire to our beds.


Day 8 - Monday 29th June 2015

Homeward Bound

Monday dawns, we have breakfast, pack our rucksacks for the last time and head to the station. Tickets purchased we await our train back. We will both be going to Darlington where I will change to head North; Brian South. We debate who will get home first - my train will be first to depart but my ride on the Metro to Tynemouth will take longer than Brian's local train from Leeds to Guiseley.

The train will pass alongside the Teesdale Way for a good part of its journey. We are both looking forward to seeing what we missed by getting the bus to Redcar on Friday. The train makes its way past the Redcar suburbs and Coatham Marshes before entering an industrial landscape that is pretty grim. We both find ourselves agreeing with the Tees Way web site in that it". might not be to everyone's taste; some might justifiably consider it to be an eyesore. Despite its unarguable lack of environmental credentials it serves as a reminder of the vanished industries that once populated much of the route ..." Neither of us is at all saddened at missing this stretch out, although I still do have a bit of a hankering to walk it one day.

All our connections work well and within 5 minutes of arriving home I get a text from Brian saying he is home. I reply by saying that I had beaten him to it and had the kettle on for yet another cuppa...

Epilogue

Well this is the end of an era – not quite as long as the ice-age but there were times it felt as though this project would never end! First things first, what about this year?

Then and now

Well it was too short, and I suppose that was the real reason we decided to stay away another day. Having reached the Tyne in 2014, at best there was only going to be just over 60 miles to cover this year assuming we walked to the ferry in North Shields and walked all the way from Seaton Carew to Redcar. In the event our choices meant that we covered just over 45 miles. I for one do not regret missing the bits we did, but I do have a hankering to do the eight miles or so along the Tees Way from Middlesbrough to Redcar – industrial black spot or not.

The weather was kind to us except for the first day, and entering and leaving Seaton Carew. On the first day we got thoroughly wet in the steady rain and drizzle that persisted till early afternoon. Fortunately we only got wet on the outside. Seaton Carew was very different. We had had a fine day except for the last mile or so to the hotel, and the next morning there was a fine mizzle to make things wet, but that cleared up before we reached the nature reserve at Seaton Snooks. For the rest it was really pleasant walking weather through some rather attractive countryside.

The big surprise was the Durham coast. Before we started I knew that the Durham coalfield had dominated the coast from Sunderland to Hartlepool. What I hadn’t realised was that its impact was felt North of Sunderland, and how intrusive it had been thirty years ago. Looking at the green coast now one would find it hard to believe that mining or any industry existed here right up to the early 1990’s. Brian was even more surprised than I at the beauty of the walk. The coal mining heritage has not been forgotten and Seaham in particular seems to have adapted reasonably well to the loss of its main industry; whilst preserving its memory.

I suppose my favourite place was the field where we rested near Hawthorne Dene and the dene itself. For a heavily wooded area the dene was quite light and airy, whilst the field was a patch of peace and tranquillity with the sun shining down; and the whole area sheltered by the surrounding trees. Just a perfect place to relax; have lunch and stretch out for five minutes or so. Other places were interesting but for me this was the best.

Another highlight was the people we met on the way. As has often been the case over the years whilst walking we met helpful and kind people just about every day. Too many to list here but the company at Chimneys made for a more than pleasant evening; with the young barman offering some interesting insights on what it is like to be young and looking for work in a depressed area; not to mention talking rugby and walking with the Scottish guest. We also met a couple of guys whilst walking who had some fascinating titbits about their local patches.

Redcar was the big surprise. Neither of us knew too much about the town except for the presence of the steel works and the race track. The town has been given a really good wash and brush up in recent years and the seafront dramatically improved. Also the visual impact of the steel works was much less than it could have been. It is a couple of miles out of town on the River Tees and not readily visible from most parts of the town. We did not expect to find a restaurant as pleasant as the Italia and O’Gradys ticked so many boxes as to be unreal; comfortable rooms; good food; good beer and live music! Great!