Coastwalk #3 – Teesmouth Nature Reserve to Hartlepool Headland

START: Teesmouth National Nature Reserve, Hartlepool

FINISH: Hartlepool Headland, Hartlepool

DISTANCE: 7.8 miles (Total – 21.1 miles)


MAPS: OS Explorer 306

I completed this stretch of the coast in two separate walks. The first was on a very windy Sunday in August 2014 when me and my nephew walked from our home town of Billingham (yes someone has got to live there!) via the village of Greatham to the coast at North Gare. From there we walked a little further up the coast to finish at Seaton Carew. We had originally planned to walk into Hartlepool but due to Sunday transport not being great and the wind driving a heap of sand into our faces, we gave up the ghost at Seaton Carew. We didn’t return to Seaton Carew until April 2015 to complete the walk where we not only got to Hartlepool but also decided to head further up the coast to the Headland.


This section of the Coastwalk starts at the small car park at the Teesmouth National Nature Reserve just off the A178 and a stone’s throw away from the Hartlepool nuclear power station. Teesmouth is home to a 350 hectare National Nature Reserve split into two sections (North Gare to the north and Seal Sands to the south) by the power station and is surrounded by heavy industry. Don’t be put off by this description though as the scenery is still fantastic and there is a whole variety of wildlife which calls Teesmouth home. More than 20,000 waterfowl visit the reserve each year along with Common and Grey Seals (over 100 of them at last count which makes Teesmouth the only regular breeding ground of Common Seals on the North-East coast) and a variety of birds of prey including merlins and peregrine falcons. In addition to the animal life, Teesmouth is also home to a variety of plant life including marsh orchid. 


From the car park we walked through a gap into the sand dunes out on to North Gare sands. The tide was out a fair way so it was possible to walk along the sands towards the breakwater at North Gare, however if the tide was in there is a footpath through the dunes to the breakwater which we could have used. The views across the estuary are brilliant (no honestly they are!) despite the presence of the nearby industry. It was also possible to see a number of ships sailing to Teesport down the River Tees. Access to the tip of the 19th century built breakwater was restricted (due to a partial collapse) so we continued along the coast onto Seaton Sands. There were a number of old anti-tank blocks leftover from the Second World War dotted along the sands and were a reminder of the long history of military defence associated with the area (and were also a bugger to walk around).  In 1667 a gun fortification was built at Sneaton Snook to defend the mouth of the Tees, particularly against the marauding Dutch navy. Remains of the fortification can be still found today. The town was also the site of a RAF airstrip during the First World War.

The constant wind was blowing sand into our eyes so we made a point to stop the walk in Seaton Carew a half-mile later as we were also tired after walking all the way from Billingham.


Seaton Carew is a nice little resort located to the south of  Hartlepool and is popular with local visitors (including myself as it is so accessible from where I live). The resort has recently benefited from a £1.5 million scheme to improve the town’s coastal defences along with the re-development of the promenade which has brightened the place up a bit. A further major revamp of the seafront has been given the go ahead which is designed to bring more people to the town. 

There has been evidence of human habitation at Seaton Carew dating back 2000 years with the remains of Roman buildings and artifacts being found on Seaton Sands. During the 12th Century the settlement passed into the hands of Robert De Carrowe resulting in the village being called ‘Seaton Carrowe’. Over time this has changed to the present-day ‘Seaton Carew’.

During medieval times salt was extracted from seawater and the resulting ash produced from the fuel used to remove the salt was dumped on North Gare forming a series of grass-covered mounds now located on the town’s Golf Course. A small priory was established in Seaton Carew although no trace of this building has been found. 


For most of the village’s history the inhabitants were mainly employed in fishing, agriculture and salt extraction and little changed over the centuries. However, like many nearby local towns such as Saltburn and Redcar, the arrival of tourists to the settlement soon changed the fortunes of Seaton Carew forever. In the late 18th and 19th Century Seaton Carew became a popular holiday destination for wealthy Quaker families from Darlington. Following the arrival of the railway in the 1840s the developing resort became even more popular with day trippers from Teesside and County Durham resulting in the village expanding to accommodate the extra holidaymakers.

Although it does remain popular with day trippers, in recent decades the resort has seen somewhat of a decline due to the advent of package holidays abroad. As a result the town has taken on a bit of a shabby appearance like many traditional seaside resorts up and down the coast. Hopefully if the regeneration scheme mentioned above is successful the fortunes of Seaton Carew will change for the better once again.


On our return to Seaton Carew in April 2015 the weather was much more calmer. We set off walking along the promenade which runs parallel to wedged the beach and the main road which links the town with Hartlepool. We noticed signs for the new England Coast Path National Trail which by 2020 (it is hoped) will cover the whole coastline of England (some 2,795 miles). This section between North Gare and Sunderland had recently been opened.

There were fantastic views up and down the coast where we could clearly see our destination at Hartlepool Headland sticking out into the sea to the north. To the south was the smoking factory chimneys of industrial Teesside and the huge cliffs of Huntcliff Nab at Saltburn. 


This part of the coast between Seaton Carew and Hartlepool is marked by the remains of an ancient submerged forest. In Mesolithic times (around 8000 BC) much of what is now the North Sea was low lying fenland and during this time this area was covered with trees and peat bog. As sea levels rose over time these forests eventually became submerged, however during low tide the ancient peaty soil which is all that remains of the ancient forest are exposed. Animal bones including deer and wild boar have been discovered here along with flint tools and lines of wooden stakes suggesting that humans have been using this area for thousands of years.


After a couple of miles we had to come in off the coast a little as new housing has been built which blocks access to the coastline. We walked along Maritime Avenue before taking a right onto Fleet Avenue and then a left onto Slake Avenue where we came out onto Hartlepool Marina. Across the Marina we could make out rising above the dozens of boats the tall masts of the HMS Trimconalee.

The HMS Trimconalee is Britain’s oldest floating warship and resides in the Hartlepool Maritime’s Experience museum. Built in 1817 in Mumbai, India the historic ship saw action in the Caribbean, having been used to quell riots in Haiti and to stop an invasion of Cuba. Later the ship was used to destroy Russian ships in the Northern Pacific during the Crimean War. Following her active service, the Trimconalee was used as a training ship in various ports around the country. The ship was sold to a Portsmouth-based scrap merchant twenty years later, however it was saved from destruction when Mr Wheatly Cobb purchased the ship to replace one he had lost during a storm off the coast of Blackpool and was renamed the TS Foudroyant  The ship continued to be used as a training vessel until 1986, after 169 years service, when it was moved to Hartlepool to undergo restoration. Over the next 15 years the ship was restored to its former glory and renamed the HMS Trimconalee

20150426_125702We continued around the Marina where we crossed a lock that allowed boats into the Marina itself. There was a little statue of a monkey on a pole attached to the lock which allowed people to throw money into a bowl resting in the monkey’s outstretched arms. For those of you not from the local area there is a good reason why there is a monkey located in Hartlepool Marina. According to legend on a cold, stormy December day during the Napoleonic Wars, the good people of Hartlepool could see a French vessel struggling in the storm off the coast of the Headland. The ship was severely damaged by the severe stormy gales (or normal weather as it’s called in Hartlepool) and sank with lots of wreckage washing up on the shore. Not wanting to miss out on a free bit of loot, the Hartlepudlians scrambled to the beach to find among the wreckage a very wet and very hairy survivor. Dressed in a military style uniform to amuse the crew was the ship’s pet monkey. Apparently not being familiar with what a Frenchman looked like the folk of Hartlepool held a quick trial on the beach believing that the monkey was in fact a French spy. Due to the fact that the monkey didn’t understand a word of English (obviously because he was French) he couldn’t answer any of the questions asked of him and he was sentenced to death and hung from a  nearby fishing boat. As a result of this bit of farcial injustice the inhabitants of Hartlepool have become known rather derogatorily known as “monkey hangers”. However, over time the local people have come to embrace this term  to the extent that the mascot of Hartlepool United Football Club is called H’Angus the Monkey. In a further comic twist in 2002 the people of Hartlepool elected H’Angus to become the town’s mayor on the basis of his campaign slogan “Free bananas for school children”. H’Angus (or Stuart Drummond to give him his proper name) obviously was a good mayor as he was re-elected on two further occasions becoming the first British elected mayor to serve three terms.

Until 1967 Hartlepool was in fact two separate towns – ancient Old Hartlepool which was situated on the headland, and the Victorian-built town of West Hartlepool located to the southwest of Old Hartlepool. At the beginning of the 19th century the port at Old Hartlepool had been in a long period of decline from its heady days in the Middle Ages. To save it from ceasing to exist altogether it was decided that more trade needed to be brought into the town, therefore in 1823 the town council and the Board of Trade agreed that a railway should be built to connect the town with collieries in County Durham so that Hartlepool could be developed as a coal port. The Hartlepool Dock and Railway Company was established in 1831 by Christopher Tennant which included the development of docks at Old Hartlepool. Mr Tennant then opened up a new line from the Durham coalfield to Samphire Batts (now Port Clarence) on the banks of the Tees. This was later extended to Hartlepool in 1841 under the guise of the Stockton and Hartlepool Railway Company (S&HRC) so that two railways were operating in the area.

Meanwhile, and after much difficulty, the new harbour at Old Hartlepool opened in 1835 along with the first of the town’s docks, Victoria Dock, in 1840. By 1850 eighteen collieries were shipping their coal from Hartlepool. Following the death of Mr Tennant the S&HRC was taken over by Ralph Ward Jackson who soon became frustrated with the rivalHR&DC for restricting access to the Victoria Dock. As a result Mr Ward Jackson established the West Hartlepool Dock Company (WHDC) and set about building a new harbour (called West Harbour) and dock to the south west of the old town in 1845. The S&HRC railway was diverted towards the new docks. Mr Ward Jackson also decided to build a new town to house the hundreds of new workers that began to flock to the area. He called it West Hartlepool. Ward Jackson encouraged new businesses to set up in the town including a shipbuilders and a timber merchants. Unsurprisingly the new town continued to swell in size. 

Hartlepool in 1859 (Source: Tomlinson, W.W. (1915) The North Eastern Railway; its rise and development)

Two new docks followed in the 1850’s as coal exports from West Hartlepool rocketed. The new town continued to grow and by 1881 West Hartlepool boasted a population of 28,000. Old Hartlepool also benefited from the prosperity of it’s new rival with its population swelling to over 12,000 in the same year. By 1900 the population of West Hartlepool had reached 63,000 and together the two Hartlepool ports were the fourth busiest in the country. 

Shipbuilding was a very important part of Hartlepool’s economy. By the outbreak of the First World War there were forty-three ship-owning companies located in both West and Old Hartlepool. The William Gray & Co shipyard achieved the distinction of launching the largest tonnage of ships of any shipyard in the world.

Following the end of the Second World War the town’s shipbuilding industry went into severe decline with the last ship to be built in Hartlepool, the Blanchland, being launched in 1961. By 1967 both Old Hartlepool and West Hartlepool had merged together and the town was now known as Hartlepool. Like many industrial towns in the North East, Hartlepool suffered severe unemployment (up to 30% of the town’s working population) during the 1980’s as more industries closed and over 10,000 Hartlepudlians found themselves out of jobs, resulting in the town suffering from urban decay and high levels of crime.


Fortunately Hartlepool has undergone somewhat of a rebound since the dark days of the 1980’s. Areas of the town which were blighted by urban decay have been renovated and new industries combined with the resurgence of traditional industries (such as PD Ports operating at Hartlepool Dock – the old Victoria Dock) have reversed the trend of economic decline. The £60 million re-development of the Marina (based around the old Jackson Dock and Coal Dock) has attracted new businesses to the town.

After viewing the monkey we passed a row of shops and restaurants before walking round the top end of the Marina and out on to Marina Way. I will admit that the next couple of miles to the Headland is not the most visually rewarding. After exiting the Marina we basically followed the footpath next to the busy A179 and A1048 and with trees lining most of the route there wasn’t much to see apart from the constant traffic, so I would say that it will be probably be best if you just close your eyes whilst walking this bit as you wouldn’t miss much. The only interesting bit about this walk is that it marked the transition from West Hartlepool to Old Hartlepool.


After a couple of miles we came to a sign saying ‘Welcome to the Headland: Ancient Borough of Hartlepool’. Rounding a bend in the road we passed next to an embankment which carried the old railway line over the road to the docks. The bridge was well known by the locals as the ‘border’ between Old Hartlepool20140621_134824.jpg and West Hartlepool. Next to the embankment was the old Throston Engine House (right) which dates back to 1830 and was used to draw coal wagons up the railway incline and on to the coal staithes. A dispute over access to the coal-shipping facilities at the Headland by railway companies led to the founding of West Hartlepool when West Harbour was built in order to bypass the use of the Engine House. 

20140621_135700.jpgAfter the old Engine House we followed the road (Northgate) which headed off to the right and we soon passed a large red-bricked building (right). This was once Old Hartlepool’s public library but is now used as an office by Hartlepool Council.  We followed Northgate right into the heart of the Headland where we came to the scenic Town Square which gave grand views of the Borough Hall and ancient St Hilda’s Church (below). Opened on 4th October 1866, the large Borough Hall once housed a police station, the local Council’s chamber and a magistrates chamber. Over time the Borough Hall has been adapted to accommodate new ventures including a skating rick and a dance hall. Nowadays the Hall is used as an entertainment venue.


The present church of St. Hilda dates back to the 13th Century (built as a burial place for Norman De Brus whose family owned a lot of land in the area), however the site has been used as a religious centre since 640AD when an Anglo-Saxon monastery was established by St Aidan for both men and women. The Headland was the site of the a monastery associated with St. Hilda. Built in 640AD the monastery’s first abbess was an Irish princess called Hieu which some believe gave rise to the name Heugh, the name of the Headland. A  small fishing village subsequently was founded next to the monastery. Hieu was succeeded by St. Hilda in 649AD who remained at Hartlepool for another eight years before leaving to establish a monastery at Whitby (she was probably attracted by the better fish and chips in Whitby). Over time the monastery at Hartlepool declined in importance until it was abandoned in the 9th Century. Eventually the site was used in the 13th Century to build the present church of St. Hilda. 

We followed Northgate a little further until we reached the coast and the remains of the old Town Wall. Built in the 14th Century 20140621_140824.jpgthe town walls were constructed to fortify and protect the medieval port of Hartlepool from Scottish raiders as the town was developed by the De Brus family to be the chief seaport of the Bishopric of Durham. In 1315 King Robert I raided the town following his victory at the Battle of Bannockburn the previous year over King Edward I and the evil English. The town had been taken away from the De Brus family when King Robert became King of the Scots and perhaps he was anxious to get it back. Some parts of the old town wall still exist including the Sandwell Gate located on the seafront.

It is believed that during prehistoric times the Headland was an isolated tidal island covered in thick forest. During the 19th Century an excavation was carried out on a marshy area known as The Slake (located to the west of Victoria Dock which has subsequently been drained and built upon) and several ancient tree trucks were found embedded in the clay along with deer antlers and teeth. This forest was still in place in the 13th Century which could be why the original Anglo-Saxon settlement on the Headland was called ‘Heruteu’ meaning ‘the Isle of the Hart’ (which is why the Stag (Hart) is used as a symbol of Hartlepool). This could be a reference to the stag’s head shape of the Headland or perhaps because the forest was full of deer who used the bay as a drinking pool. Heretu later became known as Hart or Hartness and became the name of a district centred on the Headland. To distinguish the Headland from the village of Hart the word ‘pool’ was added referencing the sheltered bay next to the Headland. The bay was used as a harbour around which the port of Hartlepool would form over the following centuries.

From the start of the Norman period the town began to prosper under the De Brus family who ordered the construction of the town’s first docks, allowing Hartlepool to develop as the primary port for the Bishopric of Durham which gained the town an important status. The 14th Century brought a period of massive change for Hartlepool following raids by the Scots in 1315 and the Black Plague in 1348 which killed of the majority of the town’s population and trade. As a result Newcastle became the region’s primary port. By the reign of the Tudors Hartlepool was primarily a fishing port and remained so up until the 18th Century, although it was still recognized for its strategic importance.

By the 18th Century the port at Old Hartlepool had fallen into considerable decline and the harbour itself was in dire need of repair. In the early 19th Century the harbour was enclosed for agricultural purposes and corn was grown on The Slake. In 1813 a petition was made by the townspeople asking for the harbour to be returned to its original use. Fortunately the powers that be agreed that the enclosure should be reversed and the harbour was re-opened. Ten years later the townspeople campaigned for a railway to be brought to the to town which soon arrived in 1831 (see West Hartlepool) and the rest, as they say, is history.


We ambled along the Old Town Wall for a bit stopping to rest on the little beach that exists on the Headland. We watched a ship as it left Victoria Harbour and headed out into the North Sea. After a little break we climbed back up the steps that led onto the Town Wall and continued on our way following the coast round the Headland. We soon passed a little statue dedicated to the comic strip character Andy Capp (see below) as the creator of the comic strip Reg Smythe was from Hartlepool, with the character supposedly being based on Smythe’s father who was an unemployed ship worker.20140621_143127

We soon came to the end of the walk at the Heugh Lighthouse. There have been three lighthouses located here or nearby over time with the current lighthouse dating from 1927.

Next to the lighthouse is the Heugh Gun Battery, now open as a museum. The battery along with two others located in the town was conceived to protect Hartlepool and its port from enemy attack following the Napoleonic Wars. In 1859 a more substantial battery was built and over the next few decades the guns were replaced regularly with heavier and more accurate guns as technology progressed.

20140621_144355.jpgThe Battery was heavily involved in the German raid on the town which occurred in December 1914. On the morning of the 16th two German battle cruisers (Seydlitz and Molker) and one heavy cruiser (Blucher) led by Vice Admiral Hipper descended on the town. They were part of a larger battle group which had left their base in Germany the night before to raid the Yorkshire coast. The remainder of the group had sailed further south to raid the town of Scarborough. Both Hartlepool and Scarborough were seen as legitimate targets as they were both fortified towns. The British navy were aware of this battle group and had made attempts to stop them in the North Sea but were unsuccessful.

At 8.10am the first shell was fired at the batteries and the lighthouse which took the inhabitants of Hartlepool completely by surprise. Even though the First World War had broke out several months prior, the British public believed themselves to be safe due to the superior numbers and firepower of the British navy compared to that of their German counterparts. However, on this cold misty morning in December 1914, this was not the case as the people of Hartlepool found themselves to be the first British people since the English Civil War to be in the line of enemy fire during a major conflict. By 8.25am the German ships had closed further in on the town and the shelling intensified on the gun batteries and also the docks. Some of the shells had delayed fuses and because they were fired from such short range a number of them bounced off the batteries and into the town.

20140621_144311.jpgThe batteries in the town returned fire, peppering the German ships with some 123 rounds and causing damage to the Blucher but unfortunately they were no match for the powerful German guns. For 45 minutes the town continued to be attacked with over a thousand shells being fired on the batteries and residential areas causing much damage and loss of life. 128 people lost their lives and hundreds more were wounded. The Headland area suffered the most damage as they were in the line of fire of the German ships. Several houses on Moor Terrace, Victoria Place and Cliff Terrace were completely destroyed. A plaque at the south-eastern edge of the Heugh Battery marks where the first shell landed and also where the first person to be killed on British soil during the war, Private Theo Jones, fell.

Fear of another attack forced many survivors to move further inland with their families and communities up and down the coast were at a heightened state of alert with notices being issued to warn people to stay indoors and not to travel unless they absolutely had to. The attack on Hartlepool had a positive effect on recruitment  to the Armed Forces as 22,000 Hartlepudlians joine up to fight soon after and thousands more took up work in the town’s munitions factories and shipyards. The town was also noted for its fundraising efforts during the First World War and on three occasions won awards for raising the most money per person per head than any other place in the entire British empire. The town was so good at fundraising that it raised the equivalent in modern money of £545 million which I think is something that the present-day folk of Hartlepool should be immensely proud of.

REFERENCES National Nature Reserve leaflet.!Teesmouth_Nature_ReserveTeesmouth National Nature Reserve…/seaton_carew_spd_-_adopted_september_2015.pdfSeaton Carew history Carew history Submerged Forest of the HMS Trimconalee of Hartlepool of Hartlepool with lots of old photos. of West Hartlepool published by Tees Archaeology about the Old Town Wall of the docks at Hartlepool and old photos of Old Hartlepool Borough Hall of Heugh Lifehouse of the Heugh Battery of the German bombardment of Hartlepool of the German bombardment of Hartlepool article on the German bombardment with some photos of the damage caused to housing with images of the same houses 100 years later. Archaeology leaflet about Anglo-Saxon Hartlepool. Archaeology leaflet about Medieval Hartlepool.


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