As we head south, the estuary of the River Tees lies ahead of us. The first crossing point over the water is the magnificent Tees Transporter Bridge at Middlesbrough.
Tees Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough
This iconic symbol of the industrial heritage of Teesside was built in 1911 to transport workers to and from the steel works, industry and shipyards in the town. It is a transporter bridge, carrying a travelling ‘car’, or ‘gondola’, suspended underneath, across the river in 90 seconds. The gondola can carry 200 people, 9 cars, or 6 cars and one minibus. This motorised, hanging bridge is still in operation with vehicles paying for the number of bays they occupy. A journey across takes just a few minutes.
Redcar originated as a fishing town in the 14th century. It became a resort in the mid-17th century with the coming of the railways. Two piers were built at Coatham and Redcar but both suffered damage following collisions with shipping and neither remain today. Local iron-ore was processed here but the furnaces were eventually closed down in 2015. There is a small inshore fishing fleet and in bad weather, the locals have permission to draw up their boats onto the esplanade fronting the arcades and cafes.
The town is first mentioned in the Domesday Book. Most people work outside the village in the larger towns. A small number of cobles still operate from a sheltered part of the beach, fishing lobster and crab in the inshore waters. Beach House on the clifftops was built in the 19th century by the Pease family, major shareholders in the Stockton & Darlington Railway. This was extended to Redcar in the 1840s and to Marske and Saltburn in the 1860s, bringing day-trippers and visitors to the seaside resorts.
Originally a small fishing hamlet, Saltburn became a Victorian holiday resort with the advent of the railways. The town was laid out to take advantage of its clifftop location, the tranquillity of the ‘glens’ and valleys and the views over the sea. The pier was built in 1869. The steep gradient of the cliff deterred people walking from the town down to the pier and so the water-powered Saltburn Cliff Lift began operation in 1884.
Down at the bottom of Steel Valley, beyond the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum and behind the steel works, lies the village of Skinnigrove. Originally the local economy was based in agriculture and fishing. Industry arrived in 1848 when ironworks were opened locally, followed by the railway. Iron smelting began in 1874 and a jetty was built, allowing seagoing vessels to carry heavy cargoes from the area.
Now I like Staithes, even if it does feel a bit like it comes from the top of a biscuit tin. The descent down the winding, cobbled streets opens up around the beach. A random arrangement of tastefully decorated guest houses, holiday lets, cafes, pubs and craft shops line the narrow lanes, giving the village a nostalgic, quaint feeling. A path leads off between the old fisherman’s houses, and crosses the Staithe Beck, the brook that runs down to the sea. When the tide is in, fishing boats bob at anchor. When it is out, they lie drunkenly at an angle in the silt. The sheltered harbour, bounded by high cliffs and two long breakwaters, allowed the village to become one of the largest fishing ports on the North East coast. In the mid-1740s, 50 full-time fishing boats put out from here. Only a few part-time fisher men remain and the population has dwindled – nearly half the houses have been purchased as second homes or holiday lets. Staines is a popular base for walking the cliff top paths and discovering the delights of rock pooling and fossil hunting on the beach.