The Tees bridges I’ve written about were sort of “freebies”. Shots that I have taken when in the neighbourhood. But what should I do with my first free weekend on Teesside? Head for the hills? Or Grade I listed Acklam Hall? Those options will come in time I’m sure, but for me there was only one place to begin really. The Coast.
My new home is 15/20 minutes away from the sea, one of the factors that influenced the move, but I have to say that my nearest stretch of coast isn’t classically pretty. All the same as a photographer I found my first trip very rewarding. I went to South Gare, though it’s not an area that makes you welcome. A private road leads behind the steelworks with plenty of signage to deter the unauthorised visitor, but even when you get past that stretch you are met with a myriad of further warnings and admonishments.
Perhaps this was why on my first visit here several years ago I didn’t stop to explore, but contented myself with a single image of the steelworks in action. At the time it was “mothballed” in the hope of a productive future. Those hopes, like the furnaces themselves, have since been extinguished, though this is where Dorman Long made the steel for their iconic bridges.
South Gare is a man-made, 2.5 mile extension to the mouth of the Tees, providing additional shelter to the shipping that continues to service the industries here, and is effectively a recycling scheme, since the “land” is all slag; waste from the steel works that was fashioned by a small army of Irish navvies in the 19th Century.
It’s a fairly bleak place to await the sunrise on a winter’s morning with the wind ripping through the bents grasses of the dunes and the landscape dominated by vents and chimneys of the chemical industry and the cadaver of the steel plant. And yet there is life here. Fishermen come to access a small harbour built into the gare, anglers ignore the signage and fish from beyond the lighthouse, and the dunes themselves, protected by all of those deterrent signs, are an SSSI (a protected conservation area – Site of Specific Scientific Interest) that draw birdwatchers too.
And not just life. It may be gritty and industrial, but there’s also beauty in the first light of morning.