A bit of light rain never put anyone off a nice walk. Last Saturday a group of walkers pulled up their hoods, umbrellas and donned their hats to wander round the route of the latest walking route in the town. Middlesbrough Big Walk was organised to unveil the “magnificent seventh” walking route in the town.
The Walk Middlesbrough initiative is compiling the most enjoyable local walks to promote a form of exercise that is free and available to all. The latest – and seventh on the list – is a stroll around the picturesque grounds of Stewart Park.
We had actual human guides for the launch on the Big Walk but a glossy pocket sized leaflet is now available detailing the route, which has been part-funded by the Friends of Stewart Park group. The walk is aimed at people of all ages and abilities and cover 1.3 miles, along solid paths making it achievable for all.
The hope is that Saturday’s Big Walk can become an annual event taking place in a different part of the town each year. Which has to be a good thing. There is nothing more sociable than taking a pleasant stroll with friends and the seven walks will allow everyone to get out of the house and into the greener areas of the town and borough.
Cllr Tom Mawston, member for Marton and Chair of the Friends of Stewart Park, said: “We are delighted that Stewart Park has been chosen as the ‘magnificent seventh’ Walk Middlesbrough route and honoured to host the first Big Walk.
“The planned route will take in all the highlights of the park such as the lakes, the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, the Henry Bolckow Visitor Centre, the Sensory Gardens, the animal enclosure and the woods.”
I asked Tom to tell us a little more about the Stewart Park walk.
“The walk itself could never have taken place because of the lack of this footpath we are taking on the north side of the park. With the Lottery Funding one of the essential parts of the bid was that we would create this walk. It is a restoration of the park.
There were six walks through other areas of the town and The Friends of Stewart Park thought this an essential piece of the jigsaw of walks in Middlesbrough. And we have contributed towards the production of the leaflet. That is part of our involvement. We’ve been involved with Stewart and his team in the production of the leaflet and we are very pleased with it and the turn out this morning despite this abysmal weather. But there again there is worse weather in other parts of the world and this is England.
So, it is fantastic that it has happened and I am very pleased with the turn out and I have got my brolly ready.”
Tom then told me a little about an exciting national project that Stewart Park has bid to be part of. Stewart Park has been short listed for selection for a very coveted award that will see them work closely with Kew Gardens to convert areas of our park into a managed wild area.
“The next step is the Grow Wild project which the Friends are working on with Middlesbrough Council. We have been successful thus far and hopefully we will win the bid and become a very prestigious park in the eyes of Kew gardens and the rest of the country. We are the only park north of Sheffield short listed. We are promoting this as a regional bid and we have got assurances already from different parts of the area to get behind this. We need communities all over the north of England to get behind this. Put the football allegiances to one side. This is a positive for Middlesbrough. And we don’t get enough positive things in the media.”
The six Walk Middlesbrough routes previously unveiled take in areas including Fairy Dell, Acklam Hall and Hemlington Lake. In fact nowhere in the borough is far away from one of these therapeutic walks. The little guides are excellent to follow and it just shows you don’t actually need to go beyond the boundaries of Middlesbrough to enjoy the benefits of a stroll in greenery.
On Saturday we were guided around Stewart Park by Nicky Morgan from Stewart Park pointing out many of the wonders of the flora and fauna. Several Friends of Stewart Park showed us old photos of Marton Hall and pointed to the various signs that show off historic features in the park, such as the site of the former boat house on the lower lake.
Nicky Morgan, Horticultural Advisor at Stewart Park took us under the shade from the park’s tallest tree, an American visitor it now towers some 35 metres tall. It took its name from Wellington and now stands guard over the recently established rose garden, close by Bolckow’s folly. Bolckow planted many of the trees 150 years ago; his wife was more of a rose person. Nicky also told us how to tell the three different cedar species growing near around the former lawn near Captain Cook Museum apart. But I must admit I will need a refresher course before I attempt the latin names on this blog.
At the northern end of the park close by Ladgate Lane there is a new area of managed wild vegetation to naturally drain what was always in the past an area prone to flooding. This is where Nicky Morgan told us a little about Wild Grow and her hopes to put the park on the national map.
I chatted with Middlesbrough Executive member, Councillor Charlie Rooney supporting this first Big Walk and asked him how important he thought events and walks such as this are for the health of the town.
“I think it is an excellent idea. I think the bid for the funding for the wild area in the park is a great idea as well and I do hope they have success in that. I think we should be encouraging more walking throughout the town and this is a great way to start in a place like this.”
He then told me his memories of Stewart Park.
“I remember from years ago when we used to have school dancing competitions here and that is one of my abiding memories of the park and then after that coming here and stealing a few sticklebacks out of the lake. The park is good and it should be used and isn’t that far from anywhere in Middlesbrough really. You can walk, cycle, come by public transport or there is a big car park. It is really accessible I think it is wonderful.”
“There are a huge variety of things to do here, as we walk around we can see the Fit Trail as well. So you can do a bit of exercise and reach a higher level of fitness or just walk if that is all you want to do.”
Councillor Rooney then told me a little about the different guided walks being promoted.
“There are guided walks around Middlesbrough and I think like all these things you have got to keep launching and relaunching. But this is a brand new walk today we are doing because the park has had money spent on it through the Lottery funding and previously the lower part of the park wasn’t really accessible because it was always wet but now it is accessible with a new path. And it is also available for people of all abilities as well. You don’t have to be fit to do it.”
I suppose the message is that you don’t have to go out of Middlesbrough for fitness and an enjoyable walk.
“You certainly don’t and we have a great cycling centre as well. We have cycling routes and walking routes and volunteers are essential to all these things like the Friends of Stewart Park. The volunteer cycling wardens who pedal the paths and make sure that they are free of debris and any problems. And it is great to see the people looking after the up-keep of their area as well for their own use and obviously for the use of everyone else.”
At the end of the walk we were given a pack of the seven Middlesbrough walks and a little pedometer to keep track of the distances. Maybge more importantly for my stomach there were also tokens for a £2 cake and tea from Henry’s café. I didn’t tell anyone that it was seconds for me as I had finished the parkrun in the very same port of call only an hour or so earlier. I have a feeling the café staff were wise to me however.
The walk is free and all are welcome to take part. For more information on Middlesbrough walks visit www.middlesbrough.gov.uk/walking