Teesdale Way Section 13 (Stockton-on-Tees to South Bank)
Section 13 of the Teesdale Way links Stockton-on-Tees in the ceremonial county of Durham to South Bank on Teesside. The trail stays alongside the river as far as Middlesbrough and is entirely on tarmac or well consolidated trails without a single stile or even gate. Although it makes for good progress it can be a strain on feet and hips. The most significant ‘hills’ are the long steps on and off the Tees Newport Bridge when you cross the river, or the detour to River View Park if you choose to make it.
Stats at a Glance
Distance: 12.8 km/7.9 miles | Height Gain 32 m/106 ft | Maximum Elevation 12 m/40 ft (South Bank) | Going Firm, on footpaths, trails, tracks and road through urban, semi-urban and industrialised areas. Generally sheltered | Hospitality & Supplies Stockton on Tees; Middlesbrough | Start Chandlers Wharf, Stockton-on-Tees NZ 446148 | Finish Railway Station, South Bank NZ 533212 | Grade Gentle | GPS File
A year after the Stockton & Darlington railway opened in 1825, the friction match was invented by John Walker in Stockon-on-Tees. Nowadays it’s a bustling, somewhat impersonal city. Buried under the concrete of Castlegate however, are the foundations of Stockton Castle. This medieval fortress, which once belonged to the Conyers family, hosted King John but was destroyed after the English Civil War having been a Royalist stronghold.
Downstream from Victoria Bridge are more bridges competing for attention in their own unique way: the Teesquay Millenium Footbridge, Princess of Wales’ Bridge and the elegant Infinity Footbridge all linking the city to Durham University’s Queen’s Campus. The next crossing is the International White Water Centre and Tees Barrage, a truly impressive piece of engineering responsible for mitigating the effects of tidal-related flooding further upstream.
Adjacent to the barrage is Portrack Marsh Nature Reserve. If you’re looking for wild life along the river, this is the section on which to see it. As well as a large variety of water birds it’s quite likely you’ll see common seals or grey seals patrolling up to the barrage. At the beginning of the c19th this part of the river comprised a couple of extreme meanders until two ‘cuts’ were made to straighten it up for commerce – the Mandale Cut (1810), 200 metres long, in the vicinity of the barrage, and the Portrack Cut (1831), approximately 1 km long, from the barrage to Newport Bridge.
Tees Newport Bridge stands by the Billingham Beck (the last significant tributary on the Tees). It is of the ‘vertical lift’ type completed in 1934 and was painted red and silver for its 80th anniversary in 2014. With no reason for large vessels to navigate any further upstream, the deck is locked permanently in the lowered position.
After crossing the bridge, the trail 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 now, with today’s commercial enterprises enclosed in uniform grey boxes.
On the northern tip of the meander is Teessaurus Park, on a reclaimed slag heap from the Ironmasters era. The first of the huge, fabricated dinosaurs that populate the quiet public space was installed in 1979. The park has had its ups and downs but unlike the real-life dinosaurs, it continues to thrive.
After leaving the park, the trail eventually reaches historic Vulcan Street and the distinctive Dock Clock Tower at Middlehaven crossing the last of the multitude of railway lines that once ran to the docks and to the riverside wharves in this area. The view of Middlesbrough’s symbolic Transporter Bridge, is framed nicely through the portals of the red-brick remnants of Vulcan Street Wall which once delineated the boundary of the Cleveland Salt Works.
Clustered around Middlehaven Dock are several imposing mega-structures which, along with the Transporter Bridge, require you to crane your neck a bit: the Whessoe gantry crane, Anish Kapoor’s enigmatic, fishnet-like sculpture Temenos and Middlesbrough FC’s Riverside Stadium where statues of ‘Boro’ legends George Hardwick and Wilf Mannion mark the start of the ‘Borobrick Road’ by the gates that once graced Middlesbrough’s original ground at Ayresome Park.
Beyond the football ground the route crosses the Middlesbrough to Saltburn-by-the-Sea (via Redcar) railway line and the Ormesby Beck at Whitehouse Signal Box (the Ormesby Beck is the final tributary of the Tees crossed by the trail). This is the final stretch, all of which is on a quiet, well-surfaced trail, where the first few of Jim Roberts’ fabricated Teesdale Way Waymarkers are encountered, a couple of which are sited close together at a railway bridge leading to a short, optional detour to Cargo Fleet River View Park. A little way off the trail, the park offers a nice view up and down the river, over the MPI Offshore facility, where you might see some interesting vessels.
Meanwhile the trail continues past the steep banks of an autosports centre (accounting for the disembodied noise of petrol engines) and a community art mural painted on the concrete retaining wall of a chemical plant, featuring aspects of South Bank’s history which is worth taking the time to have a good look at. Then it’s a few hundred metres before you find yourself approaching the access stairs to South Bank Railway Station where you’ll find a couple more of Jim Roberts’ sculptures.