River Tees: From Source To Sea

The Tees is the river that gives we Teessiders our name and our identity yet weirdly it is all too often overlooked or taken for granted. The river is viewed as a geographical and political divider rather than the unifying reason behind Teesside forming and developing. Tosh Warwick and Jenny Parker have produced a book that should start to change all that. The two have produced a wonderful and enlightening new book that follows the river from its Cross Fell source into the sea at Tees Mouth and looks at the way our river has been a gateway to commerce and trade and an industrial driver through the ages.

tosh smallerI posed some questions to Tosh Warwick to get a flavour of what River Tees From Source to Sea is all about.

We live on Teesside but do you think Teessiders take their river for granted in some ways?

The River Tees has a fascinating history with stories of Roman forts, world-renowned bridges and I think perhaps the book provides a way to appreciate the role of the Tees in the past, in the modern day and in the future of the area.  Much of what we do is defined by the river – many identify as Tees-siders, live in the Tees Valley, work in Stockton-on-Tees, shop at Teesside Park or study at Teesside University.

I think particularly with the decline of traditional industries along the Tees having vastly reduced the number of people who engage and encounter the river on a daily basis has inevitably reduced familiarity, turning it into something that for many has  ‘always just been there’.  It has become historicised and profiled as something that is part of a bygone era of great uncles who worked on the cranes of Middlesbrough Dock, grandfathers who loaded cargo at Dent’s Wharf or ancestors who were brewers or tanners in medieval Yarm.  Of course the idea of the Tees as something consigned to the past, not relevant to the twenty-first century,  is not true – AV Dawson, located at Dent’s Wharf, are one of the region’s leading multimodal firms, Middlesbrough Dock is now surrounded by education,  leisure,  training facilities and acclaimed public art, whilst the Yarm riverside is populated with high quality housing, heritage and leisure space.

river tees dorman longThere has of course also been, and continues to be, long-term interest in and appreciation of the River Tees from groups and organisations including  River Tees Rediscovered, Tees Archaeology, Tees Nautical Studies  and Tees Wildlife Trust.

Are you telling us to look again at the Tees in Teesside?

I think for those from Teesside, the book offers an opportunity to celebrate and highlight some of the important aspects of the Tees, a means by which to discover or rediscover the ‘steel river’.  I remember when starting work on the Transporter Bridge project watching a DVD from a reminiscence project centred upon the Bridge, on which Rob Nichols commented that there was a perception that the town had, in a sense, turned its back on the River Tees.  That observation really hit home with me and I think in looking to the Tees and celebrating the unique structures that span it, the natural beauty along its banks, the landmarks of industrial heritage, the important role the waterway plays in the region’s economy today and the potential for learning, leisure and regeneration in the future can help allay those concerns.  The book highlights that, in fact, there is very much an increase in interest along the river and it has much to offer across a wide variety of interests.  There is a lot to celebrate and be proud of.

I also hope that River Tees: From Source to Sea will encourage people to explore some aspects of the River Tees beyond those with which they are familiar.  Jenny and I would love nothing more than for readers to then head down to a new part of the Tees or seek to find out more about something that they have encountered in the book.

river tees plan 1877What particular topics do you look at in depth?

 The book is not intended to be the definitive book on the Tees.  It is there to introduce readers to explore some key themes about the River Tees and attempts to provide something of an overview on the story of the Tees.  Jenny has delved into charting the river in looking at the ‘Tumbling Tees’, taking readers on a journey from source to sea and exploring the origins of the Tees’ name, exploring some of the communities, features, folklore and towns along the way before turning attention to ‘The Natural River’.  As Jenny acknowledges ‘for most of its length the Tees is strikingly beautiful and a delight for nature-lovers’, and it was important that the historic romantic tourism of the Tees, its geology, flora, the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, farming and fishing, nature reserves and saltmarshes received attention when celebrating the Tees.

river tees industryMy own background is in the heritage and history of the industrial areas along the Tees and I have focused on some of the industries along the river, ranging from well-known iron, steel and chemical companies to some of the less familiar interests along the river over the centuries.   Thus alongside the stories of ironmasters, ship builders and steel magnates, Yarm’s foreign trade links with Flanders and France, Stockton’s shipping of butter and a brass furnace at Billingham are explored.  We have also been very lucky in drawing upon some unique material held at Teesside Archives from the more celebrated firms along the Tees, including world-renowned firms such as Bell Brothers and Dorman Long.

yarm iron bridgeBridges of course feature in the book as an important part of the story of the Tees, its rich history and remain important today.  We look at the stories of bridges that remain today, some of which are world-renowned such as the Transporter Bridge, but also profile the history of some lesser-known, lost bridges, such as the collapse of Yarm’s ill-fated Iron Bridge in the 1800s, the daredevil bridge jumper Tommy Burn’s dive from Victoria Bridge in front of 4,000 spectators in 1890 and the tragic fall from Yarm Viaduct of a local farmer who mistook the parapet wall for the train station platform and plunged into the Tees.

stockton bridgeWe also consider the ways in which the Tees’ bridges have become iconic and have changed in their use and relevance over time from major parts of the industrial infrastructure to tourist attractions and extreme sports locations.  This is part of a wider look at the ways in which the Tees also has a lot to offer today for learning, leisure and the future of the region with the fantastic developments ongoing in recent decades with various education, learning and regeneration schemes which have included the opening of the Riverside Stadium, installation of Temenos and the establishment of world-leading further and higher education facilities close to the Tees.

transporter at nightDid you learn a lot through your research for this?

Researching the book has been a fascinating experience that has included delving into unique archival collections, sifting through historic photographs, speaking to those with knowledge of the river and also getting out and seeing the Tees ourselves.  It has been fascinating to discover new information about the role of the Tees in the civil wars, nineteenth-century riots at Stockton Stone Bridge on the issue of tolls and also to find out about the variety of activities ongoing along and on the Tees today, ranging from Tees Wheelyboats to the fantastic work carried out by Tees Wildlife Trust.

Do you think the river has a big role in the future as well as the past for Teesside?

We hope that whilst not shying away from the vast changes that the region has faced in recent decades which have changed the relationship with and role of the River Tees, we hope that the book also highlights the ways in which the River Tees continues to play an important role today and offers huge potential for Teesside moving forward.  It can unite the whole area and with the ongoing projects which celebrate and explore its importance and uses, and we hope that River Tees: From Source to Sea might contribute to this process.

river teesRiver Tees: From Source to Sea is published by Amberley Publishing and available in paperback now from https://www.amberley-books.com/river-tees.html and bookshops throughout the region.  The book will also be available on Kindle, Kobo and iBook formats.


Wildlife Lovers Walk to RSPB Saltholme To Save The Turtle Dove

After 13 days, walking over 300 gruelling miles, two intrepid explorers finally crossed the finish line at RSPB Saltholme, near Stockton, on 10 April in a quest to save the turtledove.
Jonny Rankin and Robert Yaxley set off from Lakenheath Fen, on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, on 29 March – along with their friend, Andrew Goodrick, who joined them for 100 miles – to raise money for ‘Operation Turtle Dove’, a project launched by conservation charities to save the European turtle dove from extinction.

Jonny Rankin and Robert Laxley reach the finish line.

The walk raised over £2,000 for the project, which is headed up by the RSPB, with Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England.
Jonny Rankin said: “We’ve been involved in Operation Turtle Dove since its inception in 2012 and each year we look for bigger and better ways of raising the profile and raising funds for this iconic species.
“This walk has given us a chance to start planning next year’s expedition. However, right now I’m terrified of taking my boots off because I feel like they’re holding my feet together!”
At the moment the trio are keeping their plans under wraps, but they’re promising something bigger and better next time.
Lydia Tague, RSPB Saltholme’s Marketing Officer, said: “These guys truly are an inspiration. Their passion is infectious, and we’re all excited to see what they do next.”

I chatted with the two intrepid walkers as they prepared to tuck into their meals after crossing the finishing line at RSPB Saltholme.

Q: Just tell me what it felt like when you saw the sign to RSPB Saltholme?

Jonny Rankin: Very, very good. It was the sign we had been thinking abuot since we left Lakenheath Fen RSPB and went to Frampton Marsh RSPB on the third night and once those two reserves were done we were focussed on Saltholme.

Q: A long way.

JR: Yes we reckon we got to the 300 mile mark, if not just a little over. Delighted to be here.

Q: Most people who walk long distance go along recognised paths but you were picking out quite an unusual route.

Robert Laxley: Yes although probably almost 70% of our journey was along footpaths of one kind or another. There was quite a bit of road today but generally speaking around the Lincolnshire coast and the Yorkshire coast we kept on footpaths. So it was really nice.

JR: There were good wildlife areas. Around The Wash, so we got to walk Donna Nook and the MOD range as well and we saw a lot of birds as well, short easred owls and hen harriers. All the good stuff.

Q: Can you tell me why you wanted to do this Dove Step, walk?

RL: Yes, we basically wanted to use what was available to us, which was principally ourselves and a couple of weeks off to do something dramatic and hopefully raising funds for Operation Turtle Dove and for the RSPB. We devised this walk.

Q: This has raised a lot of awareness as well. I must admit I had no idea about this dramatic decline of the turtle dove. One of our most famous, and sung about birds.

RL: Yes. They have declined 93% in this country since 1970 and about 63% decline in Europe over the same period. So within a couple of generations. Projecting forward we could be in for an extinction of this species within 10 years in UK. It was those sort of figures that prompted us to do something that we thought that was quite dramatic.

Q: Yes and you are certainly putting it into everyone’s minds now.

JR: Yes we have had the blog going everyday we have been walking so that’s been good. There was a bit of a preamble posting before we set off and we’ll have some now that we have finished. And we are just coming into a time where the turtle doves will be returning at the end of the month. So a nicely timed push and then they will be in people’s consciousness.

Q: And hopefully make some steps forward with the money you have raised in finding out what is happening to the turtle doves.

RL: I think that would be great if some of the money we have raised could go into researching perhaps where our turtle doves go exactly in the winter time. I know some French researchers have been doing work tagging birds with satellite tags. It would be very interesting if they could do the same for the turtle doves that come to this country.

JR: Does our population share a migratory route or do we have a distinct migratory route that we can help on that route? Do they avoid the guns over, say, Malta, but then get hit hard over the African countries where they shoot.

There’s loads you can find out but obviously it requires awareness and funds, so that’s why we had a crack at this.

Q: You are going to now tuck into some well earned food and a beer.

JR: Yes. We are sponsored by Bridgedale Socks, Wild Frontier Ecology, a premier ecologocial company in Norfolk, Black Bar Brewery in Cambridge who kindly brewed this Dove Step beer.

Rob is originally from and still lives in Norfolk and Jonny is originally from Durham, and Andrew Goodrick who walked four days is also from the Durham, two north east lads and one from Norfolk.

Lydia Tague, RSPB Saltholme’s Marketing Officer, commented: ”The guys have done an absolutely amazing thing walking 300 miles in 13 days to raise awareness of Operation Dove Step, which is a project led by the RSPB in partnership with other organisations. Basically turtle doves have declined by 96% and we don’t really know why. So operation turtle dove will do research into why that has happened and hopefully will reverse that trend. These guys are obviously really passionate about turtle doves and wildlife and have done an amazing thing in walking these 300 miles.”
To find out more about their journey, take a look at their blog dovestep.wordpress.com and for more information about Operation Turtle Dove visit operationturtledove.org
To keep up to date with events and activities at RSPB Saltholme, call 01642 546625 or e-mail saltholme@rspb.org.uk

Photos Tracy Hyman