The Black Path is a track that runs for most of its route beside the Middlesbrough to Redcar railway line. It starts just behind the Navigation Pub in Middlesbrough and runs to the mouth of the River Tees. It also makes up the final stretch of the Teesdale Way, a long distance footpath that follows the river Tees from its source on Cross Fell to the sea. Although it is now seen as a leisure path it has a legacy that predates the formation of England itself.
The path follows the southern bank of the Tees, from the crossing point at Newport, to the mouth of the river. It is a route that has made up a boundary between many kingdoms, the earliest of which may have been that of the Celtic Briton kingdom of Gododdin or Hen Ogledd, a name which means ‘the old north’
In the late 5th century it followed the boundary between of the Anglian Kingdom of Deira to the south and the rival Kingdom of Bernicia to the north. These two territories were later combined to form the Kingdom of Northumbria.
Later, the Vikings founded the Kingdom of York, which stretched from the Humber to the Tees, so the paths route once again marked a significant northeastern boundary. The final ruler of the Kingdom of York was the wonderfully named Eric Bloodaxe, a Viking who could claim to have been the last true king of the North. The Kingdom of York gradually became the county of Yorkshire and the path marked the final land section of its northeastern corner.
During the Norman Conquest, the English rebel’s camp of refuge was situated close to the path on Coatham Marshes. It may well have been the route that the rebels used to escape from William the Conqueror when he and his army rode to the camp to in an attempt to wipe the rebels out, an action that eventually led to the infamous Harrying of the North.
From the Medieval period onwards the path was used by sailors to travel to and from ships at the ports of Coatham, Dabholm, Cargo Fleet and Newport, the path then became known as the Sailors Trod. The name appears in the early histories and maps of the new town of Middlesbrough.
During the industrial age, the path was used by workers as a convenient route to many industrial sites that had grown up along the railway track and river bank. This is when it became known as the Black Path, named for the industrial grime that lined the route.
Today the path is only used for leisure purposes. I believe that it is probably one of the most interesting public footpaths in the county as it winds its way through the industrial hinterlands of Teesside. I have walked the path many times and have recently noted the re-wilding of the area, I have seen foxes and hares on the path even once saw a deer at clay lane. The slag surrounding the path has decomposed to form lime-rich soils which support plants that you cannot find anywhere else in our area, their seeds were carried through the narrow corridor by trains arriving with cargoes of limestone used as flux in the iron industries along the track.
If you have never walked the path I suggest you give it a go, it provides a wonderful insight into our industrial heritage and takes you to places that you cannot reach by any other means.
The Black Path by Bob Mitchell. 2016
Coke Oven Triptych by Kirsty O’Brien. Painted as the Clay Lane Coke Ovens were closing in 2016
Northumbria Map Attribution – A compiled visualization from various public sources, CC BY-SA 3.0, link
England Map Attribution – link
Other Maps – Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland