Greatham Creek

Jo’s Monday walk : Seal sanctuary


Today’s walk brings us full circle with where my Monday walks began, just over 2 years ago, in Greatham Creek.  Doesn’t time fly? And have I worn you out yet?  There are days when I feel quite weary myself.

On Wednesday I woke with that restlessness upon me.  The sun was playing hide and seek with the clouds and I needed to be out.  My partner in crime suggested Saltholme, the local nature reserve, but somehow that felt too tame.  I don’t do compromise well, but we headed along the Seal Sands Road, in that direction.  It’s an area I find very depressing, and if you saw my Forbidding skies on Thursday, you’ll know what’s coming.


Heavy industry crowds the skyline, and the power station’s ugly presence broods malignantly nearby.  If you can ignore that, there’s a world of wildlife to explore.  To give it it’s grandest title, this is Teesmouth National Nature Reserve, a site of more than 350 hectares.


Natural England have recently extended the footpaths and installed bird hides.  Parking on Seal Sands Rd, you can cross over A178 (carefully- you don’t want to be run over by a bus!) and follow the path beside the creek, out towards the sea.  In the distance you can see the Transporter Bridge, in Middlesbrough.  Closer to hand, a family of swans usually enjoy the salt water.




Looking back, A178 spans the creek, and on the far shore industry looms, threateningly.  But we won’t be intimidated.  A ragged sign on the fence gives a clue to the area’s past.  There are still defence structures to be seen, and if you are interested this document gives full details.


The skies alternately boil and shimmer, as I follow the path beside the creek, and along to the first bird hide.

If you click on the last shot you might be able to make out the windmills of the offshore wind farm.  Here they look very distant, but it’s not so.


This is a remnant of the military installations, but history goes much further back.  In Medieval times the area was important for its salt, which was extracted by boiling salt water until the liquid evaporated, leaving behind precious salt crystals.  For thousands of years, the sea swept across the Tees estuary, exposing mudflats and sand bars as it ebbed.  Defensive banks were built against the tides, changing the flow of the currents. Gradually the ground lost its saltiness and became fit for agriculture.  Sheep grazed on the salt marshes, growing the thick fleeces sold by medieval monks to much of Europe.

A second bird hide but a distinct lack of wildlife, though the sign tells us of plenty.  Maybe the birds are all at nearby Saltholme, where they will undoubtedly be better fed.  And then, the strangeness of the brine fields.

The landscape changed enormously after World War II.  In the 1960s the area east of A178 was intensively developed for brine fields and the storage of petrochemicals.  Pollution in the estuary had been heavy, but when Natural England became involved the site became a Special Protection Area.  Careful management and reclamation has helped to restore and maintain the natural habitat.



Returning along the creek, my sharp eyed companion spots a grey mammal, paddling his leisurely way out to sea.  They are one of the great success stories of the nature reserve.  200 years ago a seal population of around 1000 lived in these mudflats.  A survey in the 1930s failed to reveal any.  They had been decimated by hunting and pollution.  Today there are about 100 seals, and several pups are born each summer.


Thriving in the midst of all that ugliness.  It’s good to know, isn’t it?  The sign boards ask you to respect the seals privacy and remain behind the hide.  While this may not be the prettiest Landscape, I do hope that you found it interesting.

I know how you all like a cuppa after a walk.  RSPB Saltholme is just 2km south of this site, and the cafe has a panoramic lake view. The website includes a map and full details of the area.

walking logo

Two years and more of walking.  It must be time to put the kettle on!  Many thanks to all of you who’ve supported me along the way, and made such wonderful contributions.  Details of how to join me are on my Jo’s Monday walk page.  Just click on the logo.  You’ll be made very welcome.


Riverside walks are among my favourites.  A smattering of history makes them even better.  Thanks, Anabel!

Bothwell and Blantyre

Denzil is leading us intrepidly, step by step, across Belgium :

GR571: Aywaille to Stoumont

Jackie combines sunshine with some rather intriguing sculpture this week :

Lenora Carrington

Liesbet takes us roaming about in Connecticut, just one last time :

A Walk in Housatonic Meadows State Park

Time spent with Drake is absolutely never wasted!

Actually needed more time

Ruth joins us again, amongst some beautiful tree ferns :

Fern Tree to Spring Falls

Something I know you won’t be able to resist!  A trip to Narnia, with Debbie :

From Narnia to Albert Bridge

Just a little optimistic this early?  Elaine goes looking for Bluebells :

In search of Bluebells

Miriam’s got herself great company for her rather cloudy walk :

Meandering in Mount Macedon

Jaspa’s walk was written with Easter very much in mind :

Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem

BiTi is in love with green.  Colour themed walks?  Not a bad idea!

A Study in Green on my walk 

Coincidentally, Geoff is already ahead in this game :

Three Greens 

Please say hello to Patrick, who’s just starting a walking challenge :

52 Hike Challenge- No. 1

And to lovely Pat, ‘living life almost gracefully’, in Florida :

Walk in the Park

This week Susan goes looking for seals, (Snap!) and trying not to tumble over cliffs!

Estero Bluffs Walk

While Pauline captures all of nature with her camera.  Don’t miss this gem!

7 Day Nature Photo : Day 1- a walk in the national Park

That’s it for another week!  Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  I have one more walk for you next week and then I will be missing for a little while.  Have a great week everybody!

A note for Joanne : If you’re reading this, there’s a conversation between me and Bill Blackwell, who used to live on the creek, in the comments on my Greatham Creek post.  It starts- “I am one of the lucky kids whose family had a boathouse on the creek. At 80years old my memories go back to when in my opinion the creek was at its best, with more people than seals,yet I very much enjoyed the photos.”


Forbidding skies


It’s strange how little you know of your own area sometimes, isn’t it?  Countless times I’ve ridden the bus along Seal Sands Road, with my nose in a book, blotting out the ugliness.  It’s a highly industrialised area and holds little appeal, apart from the seals that inhabit Greatham Creek.

I was unaware of the Brine Fields, where saturated salt was once extracted and processed by the local Cerebos company.  Nowadays the resulting salt caverns are used for storage of liquid gas for the process industry.   A forbidding sight, complete with warning notices.


If you look very closely you might spot a grey head bobbing along in the water.  The seal is apparently oblivious to the stormy skies and forbidding landscape.  For humans those skies mean it’s time to get a move on home.  Always assuming they have a home to go to, of course.


Paula is asking for interpretations of Forbidding on Thursday’s Special this week.  This is mine.   If you come along on my walk next Monday I’ll tell you a little more about the area, and we’ll go and find those seals.  Bit of a change from butterflies, isn’t it?

Jo’s Monday walk : Greatham Creek

The spy holes in the hide

The spy holes in the hide, Greatham Creek

First, a word of explanation.  For quite some time I’ve been including walks in my posts, and most of you seem to enjoy taking a stroll with me.  It occurred to me the other day (when I was out walking, of course) that I could make this a regular feature, and invite people to join in and share, if they want to.  Lots of you will have favourite walks, and I would love to hear about them.

So, let’s start with Greatham Creek.  Now, unless you’re a local, I know you will be reading this as Great Ham, but the pronunciation is, in fact, Gree Tham.  Funny old language, isn’t it?  Not long since, I took you on a wander through the snowdrops in Greatham Village.  That could well be the start point for this walk, but I am choosing to do it differently today.

Instead, we're starting at the bird hide on the Seal Sands road

Instead, we’re starting at the bird hide on the Seal Sands road

See the peep holes? Now what are they looking at?

See the peep holes? Now, what are they looking at?

This fellow, and his friends

This fellow, and his friends

You did notice that I called it Seal Sands road, didn’t you?  The area is highly industrialised, with smoke belching from chimneys on the skyline, but for a number of years this has been home to a colony of seals.  So much so that, passing by on the bus to Middlesbrough with my nose stuck in a book, I sometimes even forget to notice them.  Not today, though.

Clear and bright with just a little nip to the air, it was perfect for socialising with seals.

Now a seal might like a little privacy, and rightly so

Now a seal might like a little privacy, and rightly so

So there are opportunities to hide yourself

So there are opportunities to ‘hide’ yourself

And still get a decent view of the seals (and the industry!)

While still getting a decent view of the seals (and the industry)

There is a car park on the Seal Sands road (the A189), right by the hide.  When you’ve had enough of playing hide and seek, cross over the creek on the road bridge and follow the public footpath off to your left.  Work is currently in progress to extend the footpath on the other side of the bridge, which will lead to another hide.

Crossing the creek

Crossing the creek

Which spreads out, inland

Which spreads out, inland

And the seals carry on doing what seals do

Passing the seals, who carry on doing what seals do
As does the industry!

As does the industry!

The creek is tidal, so the water level is variable.  The number of seals basking on the sands varies too.  To be truthful, it isn’t always the weather for basking.  When the skies are leaden the whole area is very depressing.

But whenever they can, they're there

But nobody seems to have told the seals!

The patterns carved by the creek vary too

The patterns carved by the creek vary, too

Unravelling like knitting yarn

Winding off like unravelling yarn

The footpath winds around the creek

The footpath follows the creek, with occasional steps up and down

Then it veers off to the right, heading towards Greatham Village.  The fields were still a little flooded in places, after the heavy rain, but passable, with care.  I didn’t have proper walking shoes on and opted to turn back.

There is a way around, honest!

There is a way around, honestly!

The walk continues, passing the derelict Cerebos site and over the railway tracks into Greatham. The “Hope and Anchor” on the High Street is an old favourite of mine, if you need a food or drink stop.  Or you can simply retrace your steps at any point.  I was only out walking for about an hour, having come with the sole purpose of seeing the seals.

So, that’s my walk for today.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Now I’m rather hoping that I might tempt a few of you into sharing walks with me?  You can include as much or as little detail as you like.  A full walk would be great but if you want to show me just a photo or two from a walk you know, I’d be happy with that too.  My walks will mostly be in the north east of England, because that’s home, but now and then I might just stray.

If you decide to participate, please leave a link to your walk in the comments box below.  Let’s see how far we can get, shall we?  I’m really looking forward to it.