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The Teesdale Way – Section 15

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Distance: 6.9 km (4.3 miles) | Profile: Flat | Going: Generally good, muddy in places. Quite exposed on trails, tracks and road through a semi-industrialised area, nature reserve and coastal area | General Stores: Dormanstown [0.5 km]

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Section 15 of the Teesdale Way is 6.9 km (4.3 miles) from Dormanstown to South Gare. The final section takes us the last few kilometres to the North Sea and starts unassumingly on a roundabout on the A1085 at the entrance to the steel works near Dormanstown. After a short distance alongside the busy trunk road the route turns onto the 134-acre Coatham Marsh nature reserve. This area of ancient saltmarsh (of which fragments still survive) was fed by a tidal fleet but was cut off from the sea in 1888 when a slag revetment wall was built. Nevertheless it continued to thrive as a freshwater marsh and now provides a home for a long list of  birds including teal, widgeon, kingfisher, reed bunting, little egret, shoveler, and black-winged stilt.

Signposts for the Teesdale Way suggest a finish at Warrenby, on the opposite side of the reserve. If you’re thinking of finishing at this point I’d suggest tagging the section onto the previous one as it doesn’t involve a lot of walking relatively speaking. It you opt to continue, head north on the road out of Warrenby then either cross the golf course heading for the dunes and beach behind it or continue along the road to pass the steelworks. The beach is by far the most picturesque option but if like me, you’re fascinated by heavy industry then the steelworks option may prove interesting. Much of South Gare is built on slag from the blast furnaces – millions of tons of it – and some fascinating wildlife habitats have been created.

If you do opt for the beach, directions are fairly simple: Turn right off the road, head for the North Sea in front of you, turn left when you reach the beach and carry on towards the lighthouse on the breakwater – you can’t go wrong. Among the network of paths that criss-cross the dunes you may encounter the occasional military emplacement as this was a heavily defended coastline during WWII. It was anti-aircraft guns firing from these positions that brought down the mis-identified British bomber that crashed close to the finish of the previous section. If more evidence  of the area’s importance during that conflict is needed, at the finish of the Teesdale Way on the breakwater itself are emplacements for much bigger guns that overlooked the mouth of the Tees and faced out to sea.

The breakwater around the lighthouse itself  is accessible and is a popular spot for fishermen but due to its exposure and slippery, sloping footways it should be treated with respect and perhaps left for another day during stormy high tides. The busy industrial plants that crowd along the sheltered Teesmouth shoreline create a completely different atmosphere to the ports on the Wear and on the Tyne both of which are now very quiet in comparison. The contrast though is an intriguing and contemplative one and in my opinion contributes positively to the visitor experience of Teesmouth.