There’s a saying in life, that if you don’t know where you’re going you’ll end up somewhere else. That’s never resonated more than when I drove in to Redcar this week. I hadn’t really planned on being here, but with time to spare I casually drove in to this curious and near-forgotten town that even the locals call ‘Deadcar’.
The town at the mouth of the Tees has an identity crisis, having lost much of the tourist trade that flocked to it in its heyday, the shipbuilding that followed and most recently the skyline-dominating steelworks. It’s towns like this that highlight the plight of a hundred others across the country left without their main reason for being.
The steelworks closed in 2015 and cuts a sorry figure at the north end of the beach, the absence of steam and blast furnace activity invoking a feeling of unease, sadness even as I stood and watched an oblivious golden sunset stretch across the sky behind it. It may cast a menacing shadow far down the coast but it still makes for an impressive silhouette in the right light.
I was headed inland though, the first of two evenings I ambled about the river looking to capture the various bridges that straddle the waters, and first up was the Infinity Bridge at Stockton. It’s impressive, if a pain to frame up and capture whole, but in the stillness of the Tees below I managed to catch a reflection shot I was pleased with. The whole design idea was that its reflection makes the infinity symbol, though equally it could look like a big fish…
Pleased with my painstaking efforts and making pleasantries with another photographer, I jumped back in the car and drove through the warm night back to base in rural Moorsholm. Something about the air and the evening coupled with Groove Armada’s ‘Chicago’ playing as I left town catapulted me back to the summer of 2000. I’m not exactly sure why but it was no bad thing. It was just great to be out and about doing things like this.
The next day I explored more of the industry-dominated coastline, little gems catching my eye as I went. There’s a rusting Yorkshire engine on the cliffs at Skinningrove, a relic of another steel operation there, while a banksy-esque piece of art sits conspicuously out of place offering a comment on the pollution spilled out over the years. Its message is – doubtless unintentionally – reinforced all the more by the slab of reinforced concrete being purposely relocated the beach from its original location. And then I went to Saltburn…
I was initially impressed by the grand Victorian architecture lining the cliff tops, an unexpected distraction from that omnipresent steelworks on the distant horizon, but the place was packed with tourists and gridlocked with cars like Hell with the gates off. The much vaunted cliff tramway was closed for repairs and I wasted a good 20 minutes queuing for some of the worst fish and chips I’ve ever had the misfortune to eat while all the day-tripping families waited for their kids boxes full of greasy chicken nuggets and throwaway toys… The state of the nation was highlighted right there amidst the ceaseless yapping dogs and shameless owners. After a walk down the featureless pier I bought an ice cream and climbed back up the cliff road, vowing there and then never to revisit unless it was a bleak winter’s day when the place was deserted.
As evening approached I ventured back on to Teesside to take a look at the Transporter Bridge in all its glory. Stockton had a good feel to it the night before and I was keen to shoot a couple of the other crossings. The industrial surroundings of Middlesbrough on the south bank were largely deserted and belying the fact that there were cars parked everywhere – literally every available space, kerb and verge was occupied. Who knew where all the people were but I didn’t see a soul. The iconic Transporter was built in 1911 and is deservedly listed Grade II*. Contrary to what some viewers of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet believed at the time, it has never been dismantled and shipped to Arizona…
On the north side of the crossing is Port Clarence which exhibits a sense of foreboding all of its own, scores of homes on a relatively modern looking estate either boarded up or burnt out and groups of teenagers climbing on the bus shelters. Quite what the story was here I wasn’t sure but I had no desire to find out, and I cautiously passed through and parked up by the local a fly-tippers’ paradise.
The sky looked to be on fire as I clambered in to the estuary, first reassuring myself that it was in fact the setting sun and not more of the local authority’s housing stock going up in flames. I set my camera up and captured the scene in front of me before a local woman flailing her arms about littered the scene with a whole loaf’s worth of sheets of white bread for the greedy seagulls…
With some relief, I left and head down to the Newport Bridge.
If you can say anything about Teesside, it’s that they do bridges well. Designing them, building them, respecting them and lighting them up at night – you can’t go wrong here, and I’ve only covered three of them.
The confusingly named Newport Bridge – it’s not in Newport, and the South Wales town has its own transporter bridge to further muddy the waters – is a 1934 vertical lift bridge designed to allow ships to pass underneath, but following the decline of the port and the repealing of an Act of Parliament in 1989 dictating shipping rights it is now permanently lowered. And why not? This one is also Grade II* listed.
With that, and with the darkness now filling every unlit corner of the footpath network beneath, I wandered back to the car and head off to relax with a beer and plan the next day’s adventures.
Until next time, thanks for stopping by.