Big Walk in Stewart Park

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




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 and for more information about Operation Turtle Dove visit
To keep up to date with events and activities at RSPB Saltholme, call 01642 546625 or e-mail

Photos Tracy Hyman


Steps In The Write Direction

I have been writing creatively for many years and I’ve been walking for around five years. Well, actually, I’ve been walking since I took my first ever baby steps. What I mean to say is that I’ve been leading health walks as part of my profession for five years. It therefore made sense, to me, to combine these two aspects of my life in order to encourage writers to go take up walking and to be inspired by their outdoor environments.

As we all know, writers can be sitting at desks for long periods of time, only moving to turn on the kettle or to grab another biscuit or cake to go with that cup of coffee…or is that just me?

Okay, moving swiftly on then! As well as sedentary, writing can also be quite a solitary act so, along with the activity aspect, there was also the idea of socialising that appealed to me when coming up with my proposal. I was keen on providing an activity where writers and walkers could get together, not only to encourage writers to walk, but also to get walkers to give writing a try. I knew about Durham County Council‘s extensive walking programme which includes art and photography walks, so I contacted the organiser and asked if they would be interested in having me lead some writing walks. The response was a positive one and between us, we organised a pilot walk which was held in Durham City centre in July 2012.

St Oswald's cemeteryFifteen writers attended that first walk and as I remember it had been a fine day weather-wise. (Those who have attended my walks will confirm that I’ve had good, if not great, weather for every walk I’ve held to date). We walked along the river side, up to St Oswald’s cemetery, towards the cathedral and Palace Green and back to the starting point, stopping along the way to do some writing exercises.

Each walk is a circular and designed so that there is a good balance between the walking and writing. The pilot walk was such a success, I was invited to submit as many more walks as I would like, for each season’s brochure. I submitted a further three walks last season which all proved as popular as the first, especially the Bishop Auckland walk. Not only did we have exceptional weather and an overwhelming attendance, we had a fun day in the realms of fantasy, in and around Auckland Park.

I’ve received many compliments and comments from attendees and learned that one couple in particular had thoroughly enjoyed the walk as one was a writer, the other was a keen walker and my creative writing walk meant that they could spend time together, both enjoying what they love to do. I’ve also had a number of walkers, who haven’t written before, attend the walks and who have been inspired to write for the first time.

I am looking forward to the new season of walks where, along with the three walking routes from last season, I will be leading three new walks as part of certain festivals. At the start of the season in April, I will be leading a Walk at Beamish Museum as part of their Old King Coal Festival and at the end of the season, as part of the North Pennines Walking Festival, I will be leading a creative writing walk along High and Low Force. I will also be leading a walk which will take people to the site of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s birthplace. I’m sure such a place will be a great inspiration to writers and walkers alike.

People who wish to come on the walks are asked to bring their own notebooks and pens, refreshments and a folding chair or stool if they wish to sit down during the writing exercises. I do try to find areas where seating is provided but this isn’t always possible. The walks begin with introductions and a quick writing warm up, and end with a get-together where people can share the work they have written, if they wish.

Anyone interested in the walks can view, download or request a booklet from the Durham County Council Countryside website at or telephone 0191 372 9100. For further information on Chris Robinson you can email her at check out her blog at or find her on Facebook at