Sandy havens between the ports of the Wear and the Tees
From Tyneside through Wearside and south to the Tees, Britain’s coast is industrial, and though there are occasional seaside havens it is difficult to ignore the chimneys on the horizon and the coal dust darkening the sand. Durham’s coastal mines extend 4’/i miles out to sea; on the surface their waste is scattered over a long stretch of coast. South of the Tees high cliffs begin at Saltburn, where the Cleveland Hills meet the coast.
The old stone-built houses of Whitburn are set along spacious tree-lined streets, and there is a village pond. The sandy bay to the south is safe for swimming. To the north, a clifftop path leads round the coast for 3 miles to South Shields, but at Souter Point there are army firing ranges and the path is closed when red flags are flown. The path passes Whitburn Colliery – now defunct but used as a National Coal Board engineering works -and the brightly painted lighthouse at Lizard Point, which is open by appointment most weekday afternoons.
There has been a port at the mouth of the Wear for 1,000 years, and Sunderland remains a major ship-building centre, second only to the Clyde. The public are not allowed in the shipyards, but the parapet of the Wearmouth Bridge gives a good view of ships being fitted out on the Wear riverside. The bridge, with an arch of red and white steel girders, replaces a famous iron bridge of 1796 which decorated numerous 19th-century Sunderland lustre-ware jugs. A fine collection of these can be seen at the museum and art gallery in Borough Road.
Across the bridge at Monkwearmouth is a railway museum, and one of Northumbria’s oldest churches, St Peter’s. The museum, which is open daily, is housed in a grandiose building of 1848 which was Monkwearmouth Station until it closed in 1967. The booking office, with Edwardian fittings and a collection of model locomotives, inspires nostalgia for the age of steam. St Peter’s Church, founded in AD 674 on a marshy promontory overlooking the sea, is today an island of calm amid a sea of high-rise flats and roaring traffic. The church, which was sister church to the Venerable Bede’s church at Jarrow, has a Saxon wall and tower, and an information centre in the modern chapter house has vivid displays of the site’s history. Continuous with Monkwearmouth on the seaward side are the merged resorts of Roker and Seaburn. A sandy bay stretches southwards from Parson’s Rocks to Roker pier, which is the northern arm of Sunderland’s harbour. A spacious grassy sward faces the sea, and there are funfairs and amusements.
Coal from mines around Seaham is taken by lorry to a plateau above Seaham harbour and tipped down chutes into the holds of ships 40 ft below. The harbour was founded by Lord Londonderry in 1828 as an outlet for his coal mines, and it is still privately run.
On a hill to the north of the town stands the white mansion of Seaham Hall, where in 1815 the poet Lord Byron married Anne Isabella Milbank, the niece of Lady Melbourne; the marriage lasted only a year. On the clifftop near by is a large car park, with steps down to a sandy beach. At Ryhope, ½ miles further north, a Victorian pumping station has been made into an industrial museum where two large beam engines can be seen in operation on Bank Holidays.
The Sunderland Pottery operated from about 1807 to 1865, and was noted for its lustre-ware – fine pottery given an iridescent glaze by painting it with a metallic film. Local scenes were transfer-printed on to the pottery, the original cast-iron Wearmouth Bridge being a favourite subject, sometimes accompanied by a piece of verse.
CASTLE EDEN DENE
The beautiful wooded ravine of Castle Eden Dene is a welcome feature on the coast south of Seaham, which is for the most part a desolate mining area, with cliffs of crumbling coal slag from the coastal mines of Dawdon, Easington and Horden. This lovely valley runs south of Peterlee to meet the coal-polluted coast near Horden. It is a nature reserve, and the woods contain roe deer and a varied population of plants and birds. From the main coast road south of Horden footpaths follow the stream down to the coal-dusted shore, or inland up the valley for more than 3 miles. At Blackhall Rocks, 1 1/2 miles to the south-east, there is a smaller nature reserve on the cliffs where plants defy the industrial pollution around them.
On a rocky limestone headland facing south to the sandy beach of Hartlepool Bay, the old town of Hartlepool retains glimpses of its interesting past. Crusader knights used the port on their way to the Holy Land, and there is still a stretch of medieval town wall, with an archway leading to a beach.
St Hilda’s is a magnificent Early English church, built between 1189 and 1239 by the family of Robert Bruce on the site of a monastery founded by St Aidan. A row of Georgian houses faces the sea and near by there is a pier with a light beacon, from which fishing is good.
Among the docks complex are a fishing port that holds an early morning fish auction and two sailing clubs. Hartlepool Maritime Museum, in Northgate, illustrates the port’s historic industries of shipbuilding, marine engineering, shipping and fishing. The museum contains ship models, boat-builders’ tools, a reconstructed fisherman’s cottage and a ship’s bridge among its nautical exhibits; it is open daily, except Sundays.
A few seaside amusements and a fine stretch of sand at the peaceful resort of Seaton Carew are sandwiched between the industrial complex of Seal Sands ant’ urban Hartlepool. Along the edge of the golf course on the dunes to the south, a track runs to North Gare Breakwater.
From the breakwater a broad sweep of sand stretches to the soutfv but this is unsafe for bathing and it is dangerous even to go to the water’s edge because of shifting sands. It is a wild and lonely spot, and good for viewing the passage of shipping in and out of the Tees.
Seals keep well clear of Seal Sands, where hardly a grain of sand remains exposed – the whole expanse of land projecting into the mouth of the Tees has been reclaimed to create a vast industrial complex. The area is traversed by pylons, wires and undulating pipelines, and is populated with oil tanks and gantries, cooling towers and chemical storage globes, behind security fences. To the south, at Port Clarence, the Transporter Bridge ferries cars to Middlesbrough in a cradle suspended over the river.
SOUTH GARE BREAKWATER
Like the still centre of a whirlpool, South Gare is a place of peace and wild solitude at the tip of a huge industrial area. Oil tankers and cargo ships pass on their way into the Tees estuary, factories belch smoke all. around, but the desolate dunes of South Gare are a haven for many shore birds.
Towards the tip of the promontory is a harbour for fishing vessels, and near it, in a dell among the dunes, there is a collection of green-painted fishermen’s huts. A yacht club, the South Gare lifeboat station and the Tees coastguard tower complete the scene.
Parked on the pavement of the promenade at Redcar is a long row of assorted fishing vessels. Tractors are at hand to haul the boats on trailers down a ramp into the sea.
Racehorses exercising on the sands at Redcar The beach is sandy, with rocky reefs offshore on which the waves break. Notices warn against eating polluted shellfish from the foreshore.
Redcar is a popular resort with seaside amusements along the front, and the added attraction of a race course. The centrepiece of the Zetland Museum on the seafront is the oldest surviving lifeboat in the world, which was built in 1800 and saved 500 lives before being taken out of service in 1887.
From the attractive village centre of Marske-by-the-Sea, the narrow High Street, flanked by old cottages, leads through a valley laid out as gardens to a parking area beside Marske Sands. Fishing boats are drawn up on the sands, and numerous small tractors used for launching them gather rust under tarpaulins. To the north-west, fine sands bordered by low grass-topped sandy cliffs stretch for 2 miles. Swimmers should beware of strong tidal currrents.
To the south-east, rows of recently built houses turn their backs to the sea, separated from the sands by a grassy no-man’s-land. There is access to.the shore beside the cemetery in which Captain Cook’s father was buried in 1779, unaware that his son had died six weeks earlier.
ANGLERS’ PARADISE Saltbum pier was once thronged with day trippers arriving by paddle-steamer; now the boats have gone and the only landings made on the landing stage are anglers’ catches.
A town on a promontory with a winding road dropping down through a valley to a pier and a fishing haven, Saltburn is a quiet resort that retains an air of faded Victorian grandeur. Fishing boats are drawn up on the shingle near the Ship Inn, behind which a steep track climbs the cliff – the beginning, for walkers travelling south, of the coastal section of the Cleveland Way. Less-serious walkers can enjoy a stroll through the wooded valley of Skelton Beck, which opens into an amusement park just before it reaches the sea.