START: Redcar, Redcar & Cleveland
FINISH: Saltburn, Redcar & Cleveland
DISTANCE: 4.6 miles
APPROXIMATE WALKING TIME: 2 hours
MAPS: OS Explorers 306
The seafront at Redcar has undergone a dramatic regeneration in recent years. As part of a £30 million regeneration scheme a new sea wall has been built stretching over one-and-a-half miles from Coatham to the east end of The Stray. Designed to reduce the flood risk to 1,000 homes in the town, the sea wall is also intended to reduce the effect of coastal erosion for the next 100 years. The Esplanade, which runs right along the seafront, has also been refurbished with a variety of attractive new artworks being built.
However, the main reason for my visit on a cold but sunny day in February 2014 was to visit the Redcar Beacon and then walk along the beach to Saltburn. The Beacon is a bit of an oddity. Known as a ‘vertical pier’ the Beacon opened up in March 2013 at a cost of £1.6 million and is home to some small businesses, a café and a viewing platform. Standing at 80ft tall and designed to look like a helter skelter, the building has been highly controversial amongst the inhabitants of Redcar with some arguing that a normal horizontal pier would have been more apt for the town. Indeed a group of people formed the Redcar Pier Association to campaign for a traditional pier to replace the one that used to exist just along the seafront from the Beacon but was demolished in 1981 as it was no longer deemed safe. However the Association ceased in February 2015 due to a lack of willing volunteers to keep the campaign going and the rumblings for a new pier seemed to have gone quiet…for the time being anyway.
Still the controversy about the Redcar Beacon has not gone away. Despite attracting 200,000 visitors in it’s first year of opening, the Beacon was nominated for the Carbuncle Cup in August 2013 (an award for the ugliest new building in the UK). It has also suffered damage at the hands of Storm Desmond and Storm Henry over the winter of 2015/16, has been accused of being nothing more than an “80 foot high lavatory block” and has been rumoured to be Teesside’s answer to The Leaning Tower of Pisa due to alleged structural faults. Despite all of this I’ve got to say I really like it. First of all it’s free (I could understand if Redcar & Cleveland Council were charging a fortune to get in but they’re not), there’s an absolutely cracking view from the top (see below photo) and best of all it’s unique. It has put the town on the map despite it’s faults purely because there’s nothing else like it around. Traditional piers are all very well and good but practically every seaside town has got them. A ‘vertical pier’ stands out (quite literally). So what if people only use it to have a widdle in? At least it’s there for people to have a widdle in rather than having to do it in the street because there’s nowhere to go! The people of Redcar should be proud of their Beacon!
Anyway that’s my rant over.
After taken in the fantastic views from the top and having a widdle in the Beacon’s toilets (hey it’s traditional!) I descended down the Beacon’s 132 steps on to Redcar’s seafront. I walked along the seafront for a bit so I could have a look at some of the new artwork that had been installed.
The name “Redcar” is Viking in origin (like a lot of places are along this section of the coast) – ‘Red’ comes from the Viking for reed and ‘Car’ comes from the Viking for ‘Kjar’ meaning marshland – therefore Redcar means ‘reedy marsh’. First recorded as ‘Redker’ in 1165 (followed by ‘Ridkere’ in 1407 and ‘Readcar’ in 1653) the settlement was described as being a ‘poor fishing town’ in 1510. Redcar was overshadowed by the neighbouring village of Coatham for much of its history as Coatham became one of the most important fishing villages in the area. Due to being such close neighbours a rivalry grew between the two villages and in 1800 a boundary fence was erected along the parish boundary to make it clear which village the inhabitants were in. In 1801 the population of Coatham was recorded as 680 whilst 481 people lived in the parish of Redcar. At this time Redcar consisted of two rows of houses on the seafront.
In 1846 an extension of the Stockton and Darlington Railway reached Redcar and this event changed the history of the town forever. With the railway came thousands of day trippers and following the discovery of iron ore in the Eston Hills in 1850, industry followed swiftly behind. Redcar’s racecourse opened in 1872 ensured that people kept flocking to the town. Soon Redcar absorbed its historical rival Coatham and by 1911 the population of the town had risen to 10,503.
In 1917 the Dorman Long Company opened up a new steel plant and also built a brand new settlement to house its workers to the west of Redcar known as Dormanstown. The steel from the Redcar steel plant was used to built structures around the world including the Tyne Bridge and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Unfortunately the steelworks were shut down recently in October 2015 when the owners SSI said it could no longer support the loss-making plant and went into liquidation. The closure of the steelworks has devastated the town with the loss of 3,000 jobs. Hopefully the town will rebound from this – there has been some hope in 2016 when Greybull Capital Ltd bought out some of SSI’s assets in the area bringing in some 700 jobs at nearby Lackenby and also at Skinningrove further down the coast. Hopefully this is the start of something good for Redcar and the area.
A couple of hundred meters along the seafront from the Beacon is the Zetland Lifeboat Museum which houses the Zetland – the oldest surviving lifeboat in the world. The boat arrived in Redcar on the 7th October 1802 to much rejoicing and drinking from the local fishermen who promised (voluntarily according to contemporary accounts although I think people will agree to anything when they’re pissed!) to man the lifeboat if any ship was in trouble at sea. True to their word the good fishermen of Redcar didn’t hesitate when they were first called into action on 6th December 1802 when the brigs Friendship and Mary were blown ashore on the North Gare, 5 miles to the north of Redcar. 15 people were rescued that day, the first of over 500 people to be rescued by the Zetland. On the 17th February 1864 the Zetland sustained damage whilst rescuing seven people from the brig Brothers. The RNLI deemed the lifeboat not fit for purpose and arranged for a new boat to take it’s place. Arrangements were made for the old boat to be broken up, however an angry crowd gathered and prevented a local carpenter from carrying out the task. After a bit of negotiating the Zetland was given to the townspeople and it has been preserved to this day.
It is possible to descend to the beach from the promenade at several places, however make sure the tide is out otherwise you get a bit wet. The problem with walking along the beach as you head out of Redcar is that there are a series of wooden wave breakers which you’ll have to clamber over if the tide is coming in. As a result I decided to keep going on the promenade for another mile or so until I reached the eastern end of The Stray and then I climbed down a set of steps onto the beach. From here on it’s a lovely level walk along the beach to Saltburn with fantastic views of Huntcliff Nab in the distance.
After about three-quarters of a mile I noticed an old Victorian mansion looking out to sea from the cliff top above me (below). This is Cliff House and was built as a holiday residence in the 19th century for the Pease family, who were prominent industrialists in the North-East. The family were also principal shareholders in the Stockton and Darlington Railway who brought the railway to Redcar in the 1840s and Marske and Saltburn in the 1860s. A family member, Henry Pease was also responsible for the development of Saltburn as a coastal resort in the 1860s (see Coastwalk #1). A little further along the beach from Cliff House there was a cluster of boats dotted around the end of the road which led up to the village of Marske-by-the-Sea. I took a little break here just to take in the views as it was nice and peaceful and I watched a couple of fishermen readying their boats for the daily catch.
The name Marske is a mixture of Old English and Scandinavian and means ‘on the marsh’. The first settlement was Anglo-Saxon in origin and was centred around the old church of St. Germain in the east of the present day village. In the early Medieval period the village re-settled itself to it’s present location centred around the junction of the High Street and Redcar Road.
Until the middle of the 19th Century agriculture was the main occupation for the villagers with some fishing and smuggling going on too. In 1851, with the commencement of iron ore extraction at nearby Upleatham, the population of Marske doubled in less than 10 years. The extension of the Stockton and Darlington Railway to the village in 1859 also brought more people into the area.
Marske Hall, built in 1625, was the seat of the Pennyman family who were a powerful family in 17th Century Cleveland. In 1643 the Hall passed to Sir James Pennyman who was a staunch Royalist so naturally took the King’s side in the English Civil War. Sir James created a small army out of his tenants and they were soon called into action in the little-known ‘Battle of Marske Beach’. Oliver Cromwell tried to land a party of men on the seafront near the village but they were successfully repelled by Pennyman’s mighty army. For his part in choosing the wrong side in the Civil War Sir James was fined £1200 which forced him to sell Marske Hall to the Lowther family in 1650. From the Lowther family the Hall has changed hands several times and has been used by the Royal Flying Corps and the Army in both World Wars. Before becoming a nursing home in 1963 (which it remains as to this day) the Hall was briefly used as a private school, however some cheeky students decided to burn part of it down in 1957.
I could hear the chip shop calling at Saltburn so I picked up the pace and set off again along the flat golden sands. This long flat stretch of the beach between Marske and Saltburn was used for automobile racing and speed trials in the early part of the 20th Century starting in 1904 when an L.R. Anderson made the first run along the sands. On the 14th July 1906 the first motor races and speed trials were organised by the Yorkshire Automobile Club. A crowd of 60,000 were treat to six events including a touring car race, a steam car (which reached a speed of 54mph) and Warrick Wright setting a Yorkshire record with a speed of 96.5mph).
In 1907, Algernon Lee Guinness brought along the world’s fastest car to Saltburn – a 200hp Darracq – and despite the heavy rains which made the sands wet and heavy, he was able to set an unofficial English speed record of 111.84mph. Records are made to be broken and the following year Guinness was back again with the Darracq to set a new British record of 121.6mph in front of thousands of spectators. The Darracq made a return to Saltburn in 1909 but was unable to set up a new record and not long after Guinness sold the vehicle to a new owner who dismantled the Darracq leaving nothing left but the V8 engine. Over a 100 years later the restored car made a return to Saltburn in September 2010. Automobile racing continued until the First World War with world-famous car companies testing their vehicles at Saltburn and attempting to break records. In 1911 Fiat tested their 300hp S76 driven by Italian race car driver Pietro Bordino. The car didn’t break the speed record but was able to break the ‘flying mile’ record at 116mph even though Bordino claimed he saw the speedometer register 120mph on a number of occasions during the run. The First World War interrupted the events at Saltburn and it wasn’t until 1920 that racing recommenced.
In June 1922 renowned British racing driver Malcolm Campbell raced at Saltburn winning an event in an Austro Daimler. At the same event Campbell also brought with him the Louis Coatalen 350hp Sunbeam which had previously set the land speed record of 133.7smph at Brooklands racecourse earlier that year, having been driven by Algernon Lee Guinness. Campbell believed that he could set a faster pace on the long flat sands at Saltburn as he wouldn’t have to slow down for any banks like at Brooklands. Campbell went on to complete six runs that day achieving a record of 138.08 mph. However this speed was not recognised by the Paris-based Commission Sportive as the Yorkshire Automobile Club timekeepers used hand-held timekeepers as opposed to the official electrical timing equipment which recorded the speed more accurately. As such officially the speed record remained unbroken. By the outbreak of the Second World War the sands at Saltburn were no longer suitable for racing and instead the beach at Redcar and Coatham were used. Some small-scale bike and car races were held at Saltburn following the Second World War, however by the 1960’s the sands had deteriorated to such an extent that there were no suitable stretches of hard flat sands to use for racing and no further events have taken place since.
Thankfully not having to dodge high-speed motor vehicles I was able to complete the rest of the walk into Saltburn without much incident where I finished the walk at the pier. There were a few people dotted about Saltburn pier but luckily there wasn’t a queue at the chip shop so it wasn’t long before I was sat down on the pier chowing down on some much-needed fish and chips and enjoying the scenery. Bliss! (even though the pigeon below was eyeing up my chips).
http://www.redcar.org – History of Redcar
https://www.piers.org.uk/pier/redcar/ – History of Redcar pier and Redcar beacon
http://www.yorkshire-england.co.uk/PlaceNameMeaningsPtoS.html – Meaning of Redcar name
http://www.redcarlifeboat.org.uk/zetland/history/history.htm – History of Zetland lifeboat
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marske_Hall – History of Marske Hall
http://northeasthistorytour.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/battle-of-marske-beach-cnz640229.html – Battle of Marske Beach
http://www.saltburnbysea.com/html/speed-trials.html – Saltburn automobile racing and speed trials.