Paul Kirkwood follows in the footsteps of celebrities as he cycles up the coast to Redcar.
When the North Riding of Yorkshire was abolished in the reorganisation of local government in 1974 the county lost its northern coastal corner but not forever and neither completely.
The area encompassing Guisborough, Marske, Salturn and Redcar formed a new county of Cleveland which became the unitary authority of Redcar & Cleveland in 1997. At the same time the area came back into the territory of the Lord-Lieutenant of North Yorkshire which, in short, means that he represents the Queen in both regions. Following him over the border so to speak – by bicycle, with my five-year-old son Bertie literally in tow and bucket and spade in my panniers – made for a fascinating day’s exploration. As I found out, Yorkshire’s loss is Redcar & Cleveland’s gain.
We parked at Kirkleatham Museum of local history housed in a 1710 Queen Anne building. We visited the museum when we got back along with the owl centre next door which has has one of the largest collection of owls in the country. Also worth a look is Turner’s Hospital over the road. Consisting of 26 almshouses set around a courtyard, it has provided sheltered accommodation for retired people since its construction in the 17th century. The gate is flanked by a pair of little bastions with battlemented turrets. Our first staging post, Wilton village, is just as attractive and interesting. Stout, honey-coloured houses hide among the conifers along with a another fine row of almshouses fronted by a green, the headmaster’s house and, next door, the village school which mimics Gisborough Priory.
That was our first rest spot which we certainly needed after labouring up a steep hill. We arrived at the Priory at the same time as actors from a travelling theatre company were building the stage for an open air performance of Pinnochio. I read about the ruins while Bertie scrampered over them. Just to the side of the eastern gable of the priory church as if in the wings of a theatre we came across a group of volunteers who are two years into a 10-year project to restore the formal 18th century priory gardens to their former glory.
There was no need for such restoration at our next port of call, Saltburn, a lovely old fashioned seaside town. It’s very name – in full, Saltburn-by-the-Sea – exudes Victorian gentility. Originally a fishing hamlet, Saltburn was developed as a resort in the 1860s by entrepreneur Henry Pease who’s sculpture we passed later. Two of his structures still boast superlatives. The pier is the the most northerly in the country and the cliff lift which connects it to the town is the nation’s oldest remaining water balance cliff lift. Using distinctive white firebricks from his own brickworks, Peace also built streets of terraced houses and the Italianate Zetland Hotel, unmissable on the cliff top. Among its facilities were a private railway platform and hot and cold seawater and fresh water baths.
In contrast with its neighbours, Markse – which also has that all-important ‘by the sea’ appendage – is unremarkable with the exception of St Germain’s Church which we passed. It consists of just a tower as if the nave is buried below the churchyard like children bury their feet on the beach. (The majority of the church was demolished in 1960). A headstone just to the west of the tower records where Captain Cook’s father is buried.
The beach between Markse and Redcar, the last town of this seaside trio, was the site of two world land speed records in the early 20th century, the long, firm, flat sands being the attraction. In Redcar – where sandyachting was popular – we came across modern day speed kings. Kite-boarders hurtled up and down on skateboards pulled along and sometimes hoisted up into the air by paraglider-type canopies.
The states of the most eye-catching hotels in Redcar and Saltburn reflect the towns’ contrasting fortunes. The Zetland in Saltburn has been turned into luxury apartments but the Coatham Hotel in Redcar, now called the Regency Mansions, is boarded up awaiting redevelopment like many other seafront properties. Back in the 60s and 70s the hotel was the venue of the renowned Redcar Jazz Club. Looking at building today it’s hard to imagine that the likes of The Who, Status Quo, Cream, Marc Bolan and Free all passing through its doors.
A somewhat chequered history had another celebrity twist in August 2006 when the building was dressed as Hotel L’Hirondelle to became part of the set for Dunkirk sequence of the Atonement film starring James McEvoy and Keira Knightly. The pink building next door was turned into ruin for the purposes of the film and still bears the ‘bottes’ and ‘cires’ legends that were painted onto the walls as part of its Second World War makeover. The film makers didn’t need to do much to send the Regent Cinema – which also features in the film – back to the 40s. Standing at the former entrance to Coatham pier, the cinema was was built as a theatre in 1928. Choosing the venue for the regional premiere was easy. It was attended by the film’s director Joe Wright who, the same day, unveiled a steel sculpture of packing cases and a directors chair commissioned by Working Title Films and still in place on the front as as a thank you to the town and the thousand locals who were extras.
Redcar has seen better days but things are looking up. Over the road from the Regency Mansions a bandstand has been restored and Coatham Boating Lake is underdoing a similar rejuvenation. The work forms part of a larger project to redevelop the 35-acre Coatham Links area which will eventually include 357 new homes, a leisure centre, pub, restaurant and other facilities.
Girding ourselves for the last stretch back to Kirkleatham, Bertie and I had ice creams on the beach looking northwards. The Teesside chemical works may not be scenic but, with kite-boarders in the foreground, they form a dramatic backdrop to the scene and emphatic reminder that the sands at Redcar are the final beach on this stretch of coastline – whether you consider yourself to be in Yorkshire or not.
Parking: Free car park at Kirkleatham Hall. Closes promptly at 4pm in winter and 5pm in summer. Alternatively, you could start the ride at Markse where there is a free car park just above the beach on the Redcar road.
Map: Tees Valley Cycling Map for Redcar & Cleveland is available free from local Tourist Information Centres including the one at Guisborough Priory. Highly recommended.
Refreshments: Camfields Coffee and Juice Bar which the route passes in Saltburn is a chic alternative to a conventional beach café and has a pleasant area for eating and drinking outside.
Distance: 23 miles.
Leave Kirkleatham Hall the way you drove in. Cross the main road via a cycle crossing and turn left. Keep ahead on cycle path until a t-junction with a minor road. Turn left down an underpass then left signed to Wilton and second right signed to and through Wilton village. Proceed up steep hill and after 4 miles pass under the A171 to enter Guisborough.
At t-junction turn left onto Church Lane then right down Redcar Lane which becomes Church St and leads to Guisborough Priory. Turn left out of the Priory and, at the clocktower, bear left to pass the Severn Stars pub. At the lights, turn left down Whitby Lane then right down Butt Lane. As it bears right (into Whitby Ave) keep ahead down a gravelly track. At the end of the lane, ignore the first left turn but take the second left which takes you onto the old railway track and is signed to Slapewath. At a crossroads of tracks turn left, again signed to Slapewath. Emerge from the track at Roundhouse Farm. Turn right onto another cycle path running beside the road. At the end of the path cross over the road around go around a lay-by like crescent that includes the Fox and Hounds pub. Continue beside the road for another 100 yards then cross back over it and down a now closed-off lane signed Cleveland Way into the village of Charltons via a bridge. Just before the end of a terrace of houses turn left to cross the main road and proceed down Margrove Rd. (You can cycle on the A171 from Roundhouse Farm until this turn but I think that crossing the road three times is preferable).
Pass through Skelton Green. About 300 yards after the village and just before the road bears sharp right turn right down East Parade (easy to miss) and immediately fork left down Willy Lane. This brings you out onto Skelton High St. Turn right then left down Saltburn Lane signed Rushpool Hall. Continue ahead at roundabout and descend to the seafront at Saltburn.
Where the road bears sharp left and up a steep hill turn right to follow the broad foot and cycle path past the pier and along the seafront. Where the Tarmac ends dismount and walk up a footpath through a wood to the road. Turn right and immediately right again before the railway bridge down Milton St signed for Route 1 of the National Cycle Network. Pass by some disused caravans and allotments, ignoring a track passing underneath the railway line.
On the outskirts of Marske and where the cyclepath ends turn right down Howard Drive signed ‘Cycleway to Redcar’. The road bears left into Windy Hill Lane and past Redmar convenience store. Turn right down Church Howle Crescent again signed to Redcar. St Germain’s Lane becomes Church St at the end of which turn right at a t-junction. Just before Bydales School cross over the A1085 at a pelican crossing and continue towards the sea and onto Redcar on the cycle path (still signed as Route 1).
Follow the path all the way round the Redcar beach forking right at Regency Mansions in Coatham. After passing a car park and at the end of the cycle route the road bears sharp left and joins Majuba Rd. Go ahead at the roundabout, over the railway and then left at the traffic lights to follow a cycle path running beside the A1085. At a crossroads turn right and follow Route 1 all the way back to Kirkleatham Hall. It starts with a traffic-free stretch on the far side of Mersey Rd. At a t-junction at the end of Mersey Rd turn left and almost immediately cross the road via a pelican crossing by a Netto supermarket. Turn right and follow the cycle path as it bears left and emerges at Low Farm Drive. Turn left and follow a traffic-free stretch through a housing estate to reach West Dyke Rd. Turn left and then right down Mapleton Crescent signed ‘Kirkleatham 1’. Turn right up East Lodge Gardens and immediately left down a paved passageway to a t-junction with Plantation Rd. Turn right and through a wood to return to Kirkleatham.
Note: A cycle path is indicated on the cycling map that links Waterfall and Airy Hill Farms and appears to provide an alternative to using the A171 at Slapewath. This is actually a bridleway, very steep and rough in parts and not recommended.