Teesdale Way Section 13 (Stockton-on-Tees to South Bank)
Section 13 of the Teesdale Way links Stockton-on-Tees in County Durham to South Bank on Teesside. The entire route is on either tarmac or well consolidated trails without a single stile or even gate (as far as I can recall) which makes for good progress but can be a strain on feet and tiring on the hips. THERE IS A GPS ROUTE FILE AVAILABLE FOR THIS SECTION AS A FREE DOWNLOAD FROM THE SHOP.
Stats at a Glance
Distance: 12.8 km (7.9 miles) | Height Gain 32 m/106 ft | Maximum Elevation 12 m/40 ft | Profile Flat | Going Firm, on footpaths, trails, tracks and road through urban, semi-urban and industrialised areas. Generally sheltered | Supplies Stockton on Tees; Middlesbrough
With the departure in 2018 of the replica of Captain Cook’s bark ‘Endeavour’ to Whitby, the start of this section, in a nondescript car-park alongside Victoria Bridge on Chandler’s Wharf, is somewhat unremarkable but it quickly improves and there’s lot to see once the journey begins. Although Stockton-on-Tees – where the friction match was invented by John Walker in 1826 – is now a busy city, not far away beneath the concrete of Castlegate are the foundations of Stockton Castle, a medieval fortress which once hosted King John, but which was slighted after the English Civil War, having been a Royalist stronghold. Sadly, there are now no extant remains.
The trail itself sticks firmly to the riverside, passing under the Teesquay Millenium Footbridge, Princess of Wales’ Bridge and the elegant Infinity Footbridge, linking the city to Durham University’s Queen’s Campus. The next crossing, which is taken, is the International White Water Centre and the Tees Barrage, an impressive piece of engineering responsible for mitigating the effects of tidal-related flooding on towns, villages and habitats further upstream.
Downstream of the barrage, with Portrack Marsh Nature Reserve to the left, the River Tees becomes noticeably more animated with wild life. As well as a large variety of water birds it’s quite likely you’ll see a seal, common or grey, patrolling up to the barrage. This part of the route was once a tight meander until two ‘cuts’ were made – the Mandale Cut (1810), 200 metres long, in the vicinity of the barrage, and the Portrack Cut (1831), approximately 1 km long, stretching from the barrage to Newport Bridge. The effect was to link shipping with the newly developed railway, thereby improving trade and commerce.
The Newport Bridge, built alongside the Billingham Beck, the last significant tributary of the River Tees, is a vertical lift bridge that was completed in 1934. Its deck is now locked permanently in the lowered position (the picture on this page shows it in its previous green livery before it was painted red and silver for its 80th anniversary in 2014).
Using the bridge to cross the river for the final time, the trail finally enters Middlesbrough. At the beginning of the c19th, the city was little more than a farm; by the end of the 1860s there were about 100 furnaces between Stockton and Middlesbrough with this part of the route being known as the Ironmasters District and the city itself known as ‘Ironopolis’. It’s all long gone, though the businesses that have replaced it are of the type enclosed in grey boxes, so it’s little wonder that attention is drawn to the river itself and what remains of the industries across the river in Billingham.
Teessaurus Park, on the northern tip of the meander, is a former slag heap from Ironmasters era. The first of the huge, fabricated dinosaurs that populate the quiet public space was installed as long ago as 1979. It’s had its ups and downs but unlike the real-life dinosaurs, it continues to thrive.
Away from the park, there’s a long view down historic Vulcan Street, towards the distinctive Dock Clock Tower at Middlehaven. On the long journey towards the clock, the trail crosses the last of the multitude of railway lines that once ran to the docks and wharfes on the river in this area. But for a brief section at the entrance and through a few photogenic portals, the view of Middlesbrough’s symbolic Transporter Bridge, is obscured by the imposing red-brick remnants of the Vulcan Street Wall, which once ordinarily marked the boundary of the Cleveland Salt Works.
Past the clock is the dock itself around which are grouped a number of structures continue to compete for attention: the giant Whessoe gantry crane, Anish Kapoor’s intriguing ‘Temenos’ sculpture and Middlesbrough FC’s Riverside Stadium.
The trail crosses the narrow channel that connects the dock with the river before continuing onto the bridge (Shepperdson Way) to descend via a staircase onto the road (The Leeway/Dockside Road) at the other side of the stadium car-park. Alternatively, you can cross the car-park itself to view the Ayresome Park gates (Middlesbrough’s original ground), the statues of Middlesbrough legends George Hardwick and Wilf Mannion and the ‘Borobrick Road’.
After that, the trail turns right, off Dockside Road, to cross the railway line, and follow the Ormesby Beck (the final tributary to the Tees crossed by the trail) between the signal box and the Navigation Pub. This is the final stretch, all of which is on a quiet, well-surfaced trail, where the first few of the specially commissioned Teesdale Way way-markers are encountered. Two of them are sited close together at a railway bridge leading to a short, optional detour to Cargo Fleet River View Park, a vantage point over the Tees, which also gives access to the riverside adjacent to the MPI Offshore facility, where you might find some interesting vessels berthed alongside.
Back on the Teesdale Way, there’s not far to go, passing the steep banks of an autosports centre where you might hear the disembodied engine noise of trail bikes, and an engaging mural, a piece of community art painted on the concrete retaining wall of a chemical plant, with several features relating to the history of South Bank, which is worth taking the time to read. Then, it’s a few hundred metres before you find yourself approaching the metal footbridge giving access to South Bank Railway Station. The trail itself continues across the road….