What image does the word “Teesside” conjure up? A stark landscape where heavy industry meets the wind-whipped North Sea coast, perhaps? While this stereotype certainly forms part of Teesside’s character, there’s so much more to the intriguing northeast region than meets the eye.
Behind every gnarled relic of the bygone steel and coal industries, lurks something delightfully unexpected… Who would have thought that the small University town of Middlesbrough would possess a world-class public art gallery and designer boutiques? Or that it’s only a short drive to the North York Moors and quaint seaside towns? To help you start exploring this surprising region, we reveal our top tips for things to do in Teesside from the Mini Rough Guide to Teesside:
The Tees Transporter Bridge
The symbol of Middlesbrough’s industrial heritage, this 102-year-old steel bridge is the longest of its kind remaining in the world. It featured in the successful British TV comedy Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983–2004). You can admire its striking profile from afar or cross the bridge over the river Tees by foot or car in a gondola suspended beneath it.
Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art
Don’t miss the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, one of the UK’s leading contemporary art galleries. The impressive glass building – designed by Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat in 2007 – has housed innovative exhibitions by world-renowned artists, such as Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, Bridget Riley and local artist William Tillyer.
Temenos, a gigantic modern sculpture by Anish Kapoor, towers beside the regenerated Middlesbrough Dock and forms part of an impressive sculpture trail around the town. Not to be outdone by its neighbour, nearby Darlington also has a major piece of public art – David Mach’s 1997 brick sculpture Train commemorating the town’s contribution to the railways.
Sports at the Tees Barrage
Midway between Stockton and Middlesbrough, this mighty feat of engineering was designed to prevent flooding in the Tees Valley. The barrage itself is fascinating to walk around but if you’re a water sports fan then the adjacent Tees Barrage International White Water Centre is a must.
North York Moors National Park
Roseberry Topping, a distinctive peak known as the “mini Matterhorn”, is a mere 30-minute drive south of Middlesbrough. From the top, there are wonderful views right across the heathery moorland. In and around the National Park, be sure to visit stunning Rievaulx Abbey and the Hole of Horcum – a huge natural amphitheatre that is about a kilometre wide and 122m deep.
Captain Cook country
Just outside Middlesbrough, the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum in Stewart Park tells the story of one of the world’s most famous navigators and mariners . Cook grew up in the pretty village of Great Ayton on the edge of the North York Moors where a granite obelisk marks the spot where the family’s cottage once stood. Strange but true: in 1934 the Cook family home was transported piece by piece to Melbourne, Australia, where it was painstakingly reconstructed.
Quaint seaside towns
Scattered along the northeast coast are a string of seaside towns that make a great day trip from Middlesbrough. Saltburn is a Victorian spa town and mecca for surfers, with a Victorian pier and cliff lift; the shores near Ravenscar are a great spot for fossil-hunting; while the villages of Robin Hood’s Bay and Staithes, with their jumble of cottages and alleyways, were once the favourite haunts of smugglers; Whitby, meanwhile, was the atmospheric setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Rich nature reserves
Huge steel-crane dinosaurs guard a wall of colourful containers at Teesport at the mouth of the Tees Estuary. Rather incongruously, right beside this heavily industrial port is the wild Teesmouth National Nature Reserve where you can see grey seals basking on the mudflats. Other peaceful spots nearby for bird-watching include the expansive sand dunes of the Gare Peninsula and RSPB Saltholme Wildlife Reserve, which offers spectacular views out over the vast wetlands.
Stockton Infinity Bridge
Built in 2009 using 450 tonnes of locally produced steel, the newest bridge on the river Tees is a masterpiece of modern design. Two slender, asymmetrical arches sweep across the water and together with their reflections form an infinity symbol. When lit up at night, Stockton’s beloved bridge dazzles with blue and white LED lighting that changes colour as pedestrians and cyclists cross.
Great walking trails
Among the numerous walking trails that wend through the region’s gorgeous rolling countryside are two more challenging long-distance paths. The Cleveland Way is a 177km national trail that skirts the moors from Helmsley to Saltburn and then runs down the North Sea coast to Filey, taking in dramatic scenery along the way. Meanwhile, the 148km Teesdale Way celebrates industrial landscapes by taking walkers from the remote moorlands of Cumbria and Durham along the river Tees to the industrialized coast.