If you happened to drive through the east Cleveland town of Redcar and then continued through what’s left of the small village of Warrenby – where before they were demolished all the streets happened to be named after marsh birds – and continue on past the collection of small business premises and car garages that are staggered either side of Tod Point road there lies a small roundabout.
If you don’t know the area and reach this roundabout then you have two options. Either assume the road ends there and you’ve gone the wrong way before going all the way around it and heading back the way you came or the alternative, and far more interesting choice is to follow the small road that leads off to the right.
If you decided to take this road then very quickly you would cross a railway line that unless you watched your speed you would fairly rattle your suspension!
But once you cross over it…
You have crossed quite literally a line into a place that is truly a surreal and conflicted mix of heavy industry, natural beauty, cutting edge technological advances, history and traditional ways of life that are now either hanging by a thread. A very frayed thread or thriving against all the odds.
You will find wide open spaces that especially through the bleakness of a grey and windy day provide an exhilaration like you get when standing on the top of a high mountain with the wind in your face and yet at the same time an equally crushing sense of claustrophobia as the dark walls of industry close in around you. Both clash together like a wave smashing against a sea wall.
The area you’re now in is called South Gare – a man-made area of reclaimed land and breakwater on the southern side of the mouth of the river Tees. Constructed from January 1861 to 1884, using 5 million tonnes of solid blast blast furnace slag and 18,000 tons of cement that were cast and moved into position along the banks of the river Tees. No mean feat. These were then back filled using around 70,000 tons of material dredged from the river bed!
Coming in at a cost of £219,393 the Gare opened on 25 October 1888 and offers a safe harbour in stormy weather to ships off the coast and allowed for the dredging of the river Tees entrance.
During the construction of South Gare a rail line was also built from the Warrenby iron works to help carry the men and materials. When construction was complete the rail line was used, wind permitting, with a sail ‘bogey’ to help move visitors, servicemen, lifeboatmen and lighthouse crew members out to the lighthouse and gun installations close to the end of South Gare that guarded and protected against a multitude of possible offenders either through the actions of man or nature.
So as you drive past the steelworks along the tight road littered with pot holes many of which are more akin to the craters left after an artillery barrage rather than your average pot holes you pass by the man-made fire breathing monolith of steel representing the industrial heritage of Teesside. Operating fully, then closed down, then re-opened again by SSI Industries to breath life, as well as the occasional smell of sulphur into the region the works, especially at night, offer up an impressive sight as the blast furnace flames and smoke reach skywards and the sirens shriek in the darkness.
UPDATE: Sadly the blast furnace nows sits quietly after the closure of the furnace in 2015 and steel production was halted.
Beyond the steelworks the road turns and runs through the high banked sand dunes draped with Marram grass that sways lazily in the breeze.
You might then, if you look through the dune slacks (or dips) and if it’s low tide catch a glimpse of the wreckage of an old ship. Held fast in the unrelenting grip of Bran sands as it slowly rots away with the ebb and flow of each new tide. The name of this vessel and the story of how it came to be held here is unknown to me – so use your imagination and you could make up some really interesting tales of dramas on the high seas to entertain your kids! Some real ‘Boys own’ adventure stuff!
The observant will also see what is left of the defences. Bunkers, pill-boxes, look-out posts, former gun emplacements – all remnants of the strategic defence the area had during World War Two. Many are now overgrown or toppled having served their purpose. Nature wins.
Further along you then pass Paddy’s Hole.
Paddy’s Hole is a small harbour in the lagoon on the Teesmouth side of South Gare constructed from the same slag used in the larger construction of the Gare. It is named Paddy’s Hole because of the many Irishmen who helped build the South Gare. It forms a safe area for the small fishing boats to tie up. Although the amount of boats that actually put out to sea now is reducing with depressing regularity as the fishing industry wanes..
Although some hardy and brave souls do still do manage to make the lonely trip through the sea fret and cold early mornings and make their way out of the mouth of the River and into the grey north sea although more to check their lobster and crab pots now rather than for fish. Quotas, low fish prices, the general effects of overfishing and increasing seal populations have all reduced the worth and a decent living that could have been made with 20ft of net has gone and you now need 40ft or 60ft to catch the same. But then the prices have dropped. It’s a vicious cycle. The seals don’t seem to mind.
Many of the fishermen who owned and operated these boats are part of the South Gare Fisherman’s Association and along with their rod wielding brethren who fish from the end of the breakwater own some of the ‘Green Huts’ tucked discreetly into the dunes.
Those huts with the smell of coke and wood burning stoves drifting on the morning breeze out of the stovepipe’s. Constructed from wood gathered together over the years some are built from reclaimed wood left after homes were demolished in the Southbank area of Middlesbrough a number of years ago. Each conforming to the code of using green paint to help them blend into the landscape and yet as different and individual on the inside as their respective owners.
Each owner conforming to the old rules of no women being allowed on the site after 8pm in the evening. Despite the severity of wind, rain or storms that might sweep across this area over the years the huts remain standing. They might take a beating every once in a while but they remain. As do their owners. Holding on.
Looking beyond the huts and a kilometer and a half out to sea you will see the wind farm. The jewel in the EDF energy crown along the northeast coast. Twenty seven modern sentinels to environmental technology standing tall at 126 metres and when all are fully turning produce enough low carbon electricity to supply the annual needs of approximately 40,000 homes, or the equivalent of most of the households in Redcar and Cleveland. It will they say, offset the annual release of approximately 80,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Like two gangs nature faces off in a constant battle against the industrial. Facing each other across the breakwater.
Both fighting for control of the environment.
Perched at the north end of the breakwater is the Lighthouse. Built in 1884 and currently owned by PD Ports it stands 43 feet high on blocks of concrete weighing from 40 up to 300 tons. Using a paraffin wick lamp initially until around 1955 when it was replaced with a mains powered 500 Watt tungsten filament incandescent light bulb with a back-up generator, just in case.
Flashing every 12 seconds when in use it can be visible out to 17 nautical miles (20 miles) giving warning to those heading into Teesport or making their ways along the coastline. The frequent container ships turning and meeting up with the pilots whose headquarters are based on the breakwater. Those pilots who, regardless of conditions clamber aboard unfamiliar ships before guiding them safely through the meandering Tees until they are safely moored at their respective docks ready to load or deposit their cargo.
South Gare. Sitting at the end of the river Tees. Opening the way to the Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, Forties and German bight fishing areas and gateway to Holland, Denmark and Norway. With its sand-dunes and grasses in the foreground, and its varied wildlife – foxes and deer can be seen making their way cautiously through the scrubland. With the sea birds both home grown and more exotic dropping in on their travels. With the on-going conflict of the industrial versus the natural. With its visible and invisible history.
It truly becomes a melting pot for the imagination.
Fisherman at South Gare Fisherman’s Association
South Gare Fisherman’s Association
South Gare Fisherman’s Association
South Gare Fisherman’s Association
A fisherman sits inside his hut at South Gare
Fisherman Graham While
Fisherman James While
A man cycles through snow towards the steelworks
Wreck of a boat on Bran Sands
Winter in the dunes
See more of my work on my website and blogs via the link….
All images copyright Ian Forsyth
No usage without arrangement