Paddy's Hole, looking South into the River Tees. To the left stand the giant unloaders of Redcar Ore Terminal (1980s)
The river Tees slices through the heart of Cleveland. It has been the area's lifeline to the world for centuries. At the river mouth, the man-made South Gare stands out into the North Sea like a protective arm. Often windswept and cruel in winter, the gare can provide a pleasant walk and interesting views on a summer's day when the wind blows off the land. With mammoth ships from all over the globe gliding past, the river reflects sunlight like a glittering array of polished metal plates. On the other side of the breakwater the sea laps lazily at the foot of the lighthouse, breaking onto a band of golden sand that garnishes the coast eastwards to Huntcliff seven miles away.
North-westerly, the resort of Seaton Carew merges with Hartlepool. Beyond Paddy's Hole where a flotilla of fishing boats huddle inshore, looking south, a concentration of heavy industry lines the river Tees. In the foreground the giant unloaders of Redcar Ore Terminal stand rigid as though afraid of getting their feet wet. Originally built by British Steel which was later rebranded Corus, they passed into Tata Steel’s hands and will perhaps find yet another owner in the Thai company SSI. The attached iron-making plant reaches out eastward, the largest blast furnace in Europe dominating the skyline. This, like the variety of chemical works and oil refineries that lay on both banks of the river, was built on reclaimed land. Heavy industry can hold an appeal all of its own, symmetrical towers, chimneys and cranes in silhouette against a dying sun in a raw cloud-streaked sky.
For thousands of years the ninety-eight mile river was left to its own devices, meandering in numerous switchbacks before eventually opening out into an estuary three miles wide where it reached the sea. There, the channels changed daily as the pattern of sandbanks shifted with the vagaries of wind and tide. The estuary bore a harvest of oysters, cockles and mussels, reaped by flocks of gulls and migratory birds while shoals of cod, plaice, sole and dab sated the appetites of a large seal colony that inhabited the rocks and sands. On the Durham side of the river the flats have been known as Seal Sands as long as man can remember, and long dark shapes can be seen basking there today. Many species of birds still visit the marshland on the Yorkshire side, now declared a wildlife sanctuary, and during the late evening or early morning numerous rabbits