I???VE been drawn to the sea because it???s the time of year when things migrate. The seasons change and life adapts. Birds fly south and animals hoard food for winter. People tune into their primeval instincts and gather stuff for Christmas or head towards the sun. Me, I watch ships sail down the Tees and something inside yearns to follow . . .
Today we head for North Gare, the upper jaw of the Tees estuary. Having written two posts about South Gare I thought it only fair to introduce a modicum of balance. A slice of North Gare???s empty and windswept yin for South Gare???s industrial and otherworldly yang, if you like.
We’re taking the back-street route through Middlesbrough to one of England’s most spectacular river crossings ??? the Transporter Bridge. It’s not so much a bridge as a gondola suspended on cables which glides across the river a few metres above the waves. It’s a very stately and relaxing way to travel.
I edge the van through scatterings of football supporters shuffling optimistically towards Boro???s Riverside Stadium clash with Watford, only to discover the Transporter Bridge is closed for renovation work. Our route is blocked by steel fencing and warning signs. This is a huge and unexpected setback.
So we rattle back along the A66 to Middlesbrough’s second monumental river crossing, the Newport Bridge, only to find that closed too. The only route left over the Tees is the A19 dual-carriageway viaduct. No delicate cast iron spars or networks of pulleys and balances, no character, no allure, no grim Northern majesty ??? just concrete and tarmac like any other dual-carriageway bridge on any other dual-carriageway.
Someone famous once said that life is like a box of chocolates ??? you don???t know what you???re going to get. I think it was Forrest Gump’s mother. Life isn???t like that at all ??? unless it???s a box of Quality Street and some greedy sod has filched all the cheese-shaped triangles wrapped in green paper.
Life is a series of closed bridges. You set off in one direction before being forced to veer onto another and end up back in the mainstream you were trying so desperately to escape. Sorry if I sound a bit negative but it???s that time of year. Perhaps swallows feel the same when they arrive beneath the eaves of the same old African hut.
North Gare is a place to walk and exercise restless legs when the option of climbing mountains in unavailable. The reedbeds and dunes harbour an absolute abundance of wildlife and the mudflats are home to one of the country’s largest breeding colonies of common and grey seals.
Despite the proliferation of chemical works, refineries, docks and a nuclear power station, there is a windblown wildness to North Gare. It possesses a certain appeal. Chimneys, cooling towers, silos, cranes, pylons, and miles of pipework, when framed against the backdrop of the Cleveland Hills, appear necessary as opposed to just ugly and alien.
So I pace a couple of miles along the sand and to the end of the pier, listening to the calls of birds as vast clouds of white smoke belch from the steelworks at Redcar and drift out across the North Sea towards Denmark.
I watch a freighter nose into the buffeting waves and wonder where its voyage will end, and wish I was standing on its deck with the wind in my hair and the sting of salt in my eyes. But experience tells me it???s probably one of those boats that takes treated sewage out to Dogger Bank, dumps it unceremoniously, and then returns for another load.
There is probably much more to say about North Gare but I feel I’ve said enough. Time for a mug of tea in the van before heading off towards another closed bridge.
- Boro draw 1-1 with Watford. You probably know this already. If you don’t, you don’t give two hoots anyway.
- For details of Middlesbrough’s mighty and spectacular Transporter Bridge, click here.
- For details of the neighbouring Newport Bridge, click here. A word of caution, this is not to be confused with the Newport Transporter Bridge, which is something totally different in another country.
- For information on the nature reserves at North Gare and Seal Sands, click here.
- And for a tour of the nearby RSPB reserve at Saltholme (thoroughly recommended) click here.
Another great article: you made me want to read a bit more about North Gare. Many thanks for the links. I must use your Transporter Bridge, and the one in Wales.
Hi Alastair. Make sure they are actually operational before you set off to use them. That’s twice we’ve been caught out at Middlesbrough!
The Tranny!! I remember being taken across on that as a little kid, great excitement. Doesn’t it bring you to Billingham?
Hi Liz. Yes, it takes you over to Port Clarence and Haverton Hill on the outskirt of Billingham. The bridge is due to open again soon so I might get a ride on it yet.
I’VE CROSSED THAT BRIDGE BEFORE
Planning on crossing over
where footprints of night
are ne’er seen…
There fish are spawning
in clear blue stream ~
Surrounded by verdant green;
Nature begins speaking to me.
An antiquated chine-wood bridge
gracefully arches it back
with sturdy braids makes a path ~
That I may cross to a place serene
Where nightingales and crickets sing
It’s a place where I do my thinking
Unafraid to shed my skin ~
by dusk as honey bear I may roam,
by dawn take flight as an eagle
I may be found soaring toward home.
Upon opening mine eyes
I come to realize the colors of the skies
Yes, I’ve crossed that bridge before
Yep. I like that, Danny. Bridges lend themselves to poetry and dreams.
PS Not so sure the Tees is a “clear blue stream” but the fish are spawning and river life returning after decades of pollution.
I love this kind of old industrial areas. There are some pollution when a ferry just perish in shallow water, but I’m always fascinated by the sight.
In Denmark we have an island called Saltholm: http://www.saltholm.dk
The island can be seen when you drive over THE BRIDGE on the way to Sweden.
It could be fun to see more from The RSPB Saltholme.
All the best,
Hej Hanna. I was quite surprised to find several similarities between the Danish Saltholm and the Teesside Saltholme, Both look wild birdy places. You watch yourself when you’re driving over THE BRIDGE. I’ve seen the series and there are some crazy people out there.
The sunken ferry is the Tuxedo Royale, which after service as a roro ferry in the Channel became a floating nightclub on the River Tyne before being towed down the coast to the River Tees. It sank three years ago after metal thieves stole some important bits. There are plans to have it restored.
Didn’t know anything about that transporter bridge – in fact, I had no idea we had any such thing in the UK anywhere!
Some lovely, moody skies in those photos. The last photo is very innovative too
Hiya Carol. Yes, there’s another transporter bridge in south Wales and several more scattered around the world, apparently.
Hi Alen, I love your pics, even though you couldn’t cross the bridge! I’m guessing you have been across it before – is it a weird experience? I had to look up who Prince Albert of Connaught was (one of Queen Victoria’s many grandchildren.) Thank you for sharing these photos of places I’ve never even heard of! Love your last creative one, by the way. Sometime soon you are due all those green triangle Quality Streets!
Jo, I look forward to the day when all the green triangle Quality Street that were ever pinched by unscrupulous fingers are scattered down on me from upon high by a benevolent being. But I’ve a feeling it’s not going to happen.
The Transporter Bridge is an almost magical experience. The gondola is about the size of a Skye ferry before they built the bridge, and you drive onto it and are whisked across the Tees at a brisk walking pace. If I remember correctly, it featured in the film Billy Elliot, though not in the musical version (which I have seen and it was absolutely brilliant) because it wouldn’t fit on the stage.
If you’re ever down this way you must cross the Tees on it.
All the best, Alen
Alen, Do not ever try to second-guess the God of Green Triangles because it WILL happen! If I knew how to contact him I would put in a good word for you. That sounds like great fun on the transporter bridge! I had no idea it was so massive. Crikey. They are building a new Forth Road Bridge up here, which I’m sure you know. It’s quite interesting to see its progress every time we drive over the old one. Three or four massive platforms have been put up at intervals, like oil rigs, with cranes etc. I can’t work out how they think they’re all going to join up. I’m sure they have a plan though! And then on the other side is the old rail bridge, which is still magnificent. I often think that we have lost the capability of creating iconic bridges in the same way that we can’t build splendid cathedrals any more. But I’m probably old-fashioned!
I must drive up and take a look at the new bridge. It’s more than two years since I’ve been up that side of Scotland. And I agree with you about the cathedrals. Modern cathedrals do not possess the magnificence and grandeur of their mediaeval predecessors.
I did wonder what happened to the Princess/Royale. Maybe a lightning strike would kick the dance floor into one more revolution, I wonder.
There was another one but I can’t remember what happened to it. Sad end for a ship. But that’s life.
I walked over the top of the Transporter Bridge (the same level as the bogies carrying the gondola) many years ago – must be almost 50 years. Ouch! The walkway has been closed to the public for years. I seem to remember the steps up didn’t look terribly safe – holes and corrosion.
The featuring of the Transporter in the film Billy Elliot was a geographical nonsense as they were supposedly heading from Easington (where B E was located) to Newcastle. I guess they put it in just for the sake of it.
I’ve been to the South Gare many years ago but not the North Gare. Would like to.
Hi Geoff. I???ve always had an ambition to walk across the top of the Transporter Bridge, but your description of the steps has put me off. I climbed the steps of a shipyard crane once, and that was in a similar state. The trouble is, once you???ve set off and there are people behind you, turning round and coming down is not an option.
I watched Billy Elliot in Teesside cinema, at Stockton, when it first came out, and when the Transporter scene was shown there was a murmur of surprise in the audience. It was on a par with Robin Hood (Kevin Costner) and his mate disembarking from a boat beneath the white cliffs of Dover and riding along Hadrian???s Wall in the next scene.
All the best, Alen
Hi Alen, You mean Robin Hood got further north than his Bay? I guess if Hollywood says so it must be true…
I’m sure the steps were OK really.(fairly thick metal) but rather off-putting for somebody like me who hates heights. Turning round wouldn’t have been a problem; it was just me and my cousin up there.
Talking of heights, I like your posting on Durham. I always plug Durham hard to any friends etc down here (Essex now) and they’ve all been impressed without exception. The last ones did climb the tower, which to my shame I have to admit I have never done.
Coming back to the subject of the Tees, I did once have a very interesting trip in the harbourmaster(?)’s launch right out to the mouth of the river, arranged for us by my late uncle who was company secretary of Dorman Long & Co.
Hi Geoff. I???ve just been looking at Middlesbrough Council???s website and you can have a tour of the bridge for ??4. I???m assuming this means climbing the bridge because a ???ground tour??? costs ??2. It costs ??3 to abseil off it, but if you want to bungee jump or rig up a zip wire you have to call the council first to make arrangements. I might look into the tour when the weather improves, but I???ll give the bungee jumping a miss.
The river trip sounds great. The Tees is a fascinating river, so full of character.