A little inland from Whitburn lies another village on Sunderland’s northern fringes; the village of Cleadon, whose name, like the Buckinghamshire mansion Cliveden, points to its location amongst cliffs. In Bucks those cliffs have been cut by the nearby Thames, in South Tyneside the name refers to Cleadon Hills, a limestone ridge dividing Wearside and South Tyneside that was once a series of islands in a prehistoric sea.
Though I had no idea of their geological origins there were a pretty cool place to play when I was young. A couple of miles walk from home, and remote enough from shops to justify packed lunches, they were a location made for adventures.
Their elevation made them an obvious choice for kite flying, the wartime pillboxes (now demolished and overgrown with gorse) were a ready-made inspiration for such un-PC games as Japs and British, and for some their remoteness from home made them a safe location for illicit drinking and early attempts at smoking. I recall one particular occasion when with Martin Burlinson and Stephen Jude I took a brand new pair of running spikes to try out on the plateau atop the hills. That I lost them that same afternoon did not win me friends at home!
Though not of great height, their location as the tallest point for miles around makes gives them clear views towards Tyneside in the north and Wearside to the south, so it is believed that the Romans at nearby Arbeia in South Shields may have stationed a look out post here. If that is true then no visible signs remain and the site is dominated by two much later structures.
The first is the shell of a 19th century windmill, similar in design to those nearby in Whitburn and Fulwell, its working life curtailed by a storm after fifty years of service, then used for artillery practice during the first world war. Its workings removed and its timbers long since rotted away, its masonry nevertheless stands proud.
The second structure is altogether more ornate, for an Italian bell tower rises to the west of the windmill. The campanile holds no bells however for this is in fact a chimney, part of the water pumping station sited 100 feet below the tower’s apex. Pumping stations with their accompanying reservoir were other sources of attraction for young boys as potential sources of frogs and newts. Cleadon’s defences were impenetrable however, its high walls not only difficult to overcome on entry, but preventing a speedy exit if caught trespassing!
The area has always been a popular spot for equestrians; my daughters both learnt the basics nearby so it was not surprise that I should meet two women out for a ride today. Unfortunately the 70-200mm lens that I had fitted was not built for including both, except at distance, and it was a challenge to fit both horse and rider in for either of the pairings. This then is Lucy on her mount Trooper (not the quality I would like to do justice to such a beautiful smile, but that was the trade-off for backing away to include Trooper).
From such a lofty vantage point I wonder if she spotted my running shoes?