The top of the climb south out of Guisborough onto Gisborough Moor with a fine but hazy view to the Teesside Wind Farm offshore at Redcar. Belman or Belmont is said to mean ‘beautiful mountain’ and has also been variously written as Belmund or Baumund. Bank refers to the sharp climb onto the high moors and gate is the old English for a road. A glorious winter day.
An old Yorkshire coble lies abandoned on the sands at Marske-by-the-Sea between Saltburn and Redcar. Further up the beach more cobles and tractors are a reminder that this was once a proud fishing community.
I went orienteering today … at South Gare, a complex area of sand dunes and reclaimed land created over 150 years of iron production. A bit rusty. Should have picked an easier area. A leg along the beach went past this World War II pillbox almost buried in the sand.
Pillboxes were hastily constructed after the fall of France in June 1940 as a defence against an expected German invasion. The intention was to primarily slow down an invasion to give time for reinforcements to be brought in. There were several ‘standard’ designs and for the pillbox spotters amongst us this in fact a Type FW23. It was made of concrete and comprised two compartments, one roofed with three embrasures or gun openings and an open section at the rear for a light anti-aircraft gun. It would have actually been built on top of the dunes which now lie 50m or so behind. In the 76 years since it was built the dunes have gradually been eroded away and the pillbox has not only dropped to beach level but is still slowly continuing to sink below the sands.
But what is the meaning of the graffiti?
A drab day. Rain and low cloud. But headed to Redcar in the afternoon so I thought I’d seek out a traditional coble. A coble is a flat bottomed fishing boat that’s found from the Humber to the Tweed. It’s clinker built, overlapping planks on a frame. The flat bottom enables it to be launched and recovered from the beach. It’s supposed to be a design that’s a direct descendant from the boats used by the Vikings that raided and eventually settled along the North East coast.
So to Fishermen’s Square where the boats are parked up on their trailers ready for the next launch. But to my dismay I couldn’t find a traditional coble; at least one that looked reasonably sea worthy. One characteristic I was looking for is a flat overhanging ‘horseshoe’ stern essential for launching and recovery (both done stern to beach) and to aid stability in rough seas under sail. This boat is one of many that are double ended, its stern is pointy and I have now learnt the design is actually referred to as a ‘mule’. Apparently it’s faster and more manoeuvrable and would have been the favoured boat for fishing for the herring using drift nets. But with the decline of sail as the means of power and tractors for launching the need for a flat stern has become redundant.
The North Sea Pilot, a 19th century guide to navigation along the North East Coast issued by the Admiralty, refers to these rocks as the Red Cars or Salt Scars. It is tempting to suggest the name Redcar comes from this Red Cars but it is considered that Redcar is in fact a corruption of the Old Scandinavian read kjarr meaning a ‘red marsh’. Scar comes from an altogether different word sker meaning a rocky outcrop in the sea that is dry at low tide and from which we get the Scottish skerry and Gaelic sgeir.
This scar is the southern of a pair, named on the modern Ordnance Survey map as Redcar Rocks and Coatham Rocks. Salt Scar is regulated to the easternmost outcrop awash at the lowest spring tide. The rocks are a SSSI, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. They belong to the Redcar Mudstone Formation, a rock composed of calcareous shales, formed in the Lower Lias (or more commonly the Lower Jurassic) period between 200 and 175 million years ago. Redcar Mudstone contains the fossils known as Devil’s Toe-Nails which can be found in great numbers along the beach towards Marske.
The North Sea Pilot also mentions a proposal for a harbour of refuge in the gap between the two scars “to prevent the annual loss of life and property which takes place in Tees Bay”. There is a pair of navigation lights on the buildings of Redcar which have been strategically placed to act as a transit to guide the local fishermen safely on to the beach between the scars at high tide.
The scars have caused many ships and boats to come to grief. Even with modern technology they have retained their treacherous notoriety. Late into the night on 13th December 1953, the 5,250 ton Greek Steamer, Dimitris, ran into the end of this particular scar. She was carrying iron ore from Boma, North Africa to Middlesbrough and ended up a total loss. In heavy swell the 36 man crew were successfully rescued by the Redcar lifeboat and local fishing boats. Her boiler is still visible at low tide.
When the Redcar Blast Furnace opened in 1979 it was the largest in Europe. It was the culmination of steel production on Teesside which had begun in 1851 when the first blast furnace was built by Henry Bolckow and John Vaughan build at their Vulcan Street works in Middlesbrough.
Just four years later there were 23 blast furnaces on Teesside, by 1861 there were over 40 and by 1868 100 furnaces. The number of blast furnaces continued to grow and by the end of the century Teesside was producing about a third of the nation’s output. Teesside steel has been used around the world. The iconic bridges at Sydney Harbour, Chien Tang (China) and Bichenough (Zimbabwe) to name three, were all built using Teesside steel.
But the Redcar Blast Furnace is now silent. Steam and smoke are no longer bellowing out. Yesterday it was announced that the Redcar Blast Furnace will be blown out. The owner, SSI, had gone into receivership and as no buyers had came forward the furnace will close. Along with the coke ovens, also owned by SSI, 2,200 direct jobs will be lost with upwards of 8,000 including contractors and supply chain.
It had been hoped the plant could be mothballed, a process which did happen in 2010, until such time when the price of steel improves and a buyer comes forward. But mothballing is not just a case of leaving a pilot light on. The furnace has to be cooled down slowly over a period of months otherwise irreparable damage occurs. It’s an expensive process.
What has particularly annoyed Teesside folk though is that a few weeks ago the government announced a loan of £45m to Evraz, the steel-making and mining company owned by the Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, with operations in the Ukraine, Canada, the USA and Russia.
A small man-made harbour at South Gare at the mouth of the Tees. Named after the Irish navvies who built the South Gare from slag from Teesside’s blast furnaces.