Hartlepool - what's not to love?
PUBLISHED: 01:28 18 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:30 20 February 2013
It's off the beaten track and probably wouldn't make the Top Ten list of most people's places to visit in the North East, but Hartlepool has lots to offer. Andrew Smith reports.
The weather was unseasonally and unusually glorious when I revisted Hartlepool. I worked there for five years as editor of the local evening newspaper and rarely experienced days like this.
A warm sun, clear skies, and the sight and sound of people enjoying being out and about always help to create a good impression. On a grey and wet day when the wind howls up Church Street straight off the North Sea, Hartlepool can be much less inviting.
Nevertheless, those who know the ancient and historic town that lies beneath whatever shroud the weather lays over it cant fail to appreciate what an interesting and attractive yes, attractive place it is.
It was a pleasant change to visit Hartlepool almost as a tourist on this lovely afternoon, just to stroll around its honeypots all worthy of the description.
Seaton Carew is one of the more modest seaside resorts on the North East coastline but it is no less worthy of a visit because of that, especially in wonderful weather. On the contrary, the tidy, well-cared-for and almost fully-occupied seafront area and properties put many of Seaton Carews more lofty neighbours twixt Tweed and Tees to shame.
The beach was as crowded as any stretch of clean, golden sand in Britain is likely to be this summer. The ice cream parlours were doing a brisk trade and there was a queue out of the door of Almighty Cod, the seafront fish and chip shop, little wonder given the wonderful aroma that spilled along the promenade from this immaculate takeaway and dining restaurant.
The benches in the crescent of the rather beautiful art deco bus station were lined with friends, couples and families, not waiting for a bus but enjoying watching the world go by over an ice cream or a bag of chips. And not a spot of litter in sight.
Shimmering in the heat across the bay, the promontory of the Headland the original old settlement of Hartlepool appeared like a multi-coloured mirage of brightly-painted houses nestling beneath the dominant St Hildas Church, a Grade I listed late 12th century treasure on the site of the monastery founded by St Aidan, where St Hilda was abbess.
The Headland, protected from the sea by its Town Wall, is best explored in the company of the Headland Story Trail, a 17-stop circular walk around this historic little promontory.
This is the site of the Heugh Gun Battery Museum, a fully restored 19th century coastal defence battery. It was where the first British soldier to die on home soil since the Napoleonic Wars fell during a German bombardment on the morning of December 16, 1914. And it boasts the statue of Andy Capp, the workshy creation of Hartlepool-born cartoonist Reg Smythe in a characteristically bar-propped pose, looking out to sea, pint in hand.
Back in West, the Victorian town of Hartlepool, built on the prosperity brought by the railways, County Durham coal shipments and timber imports through the expanding port, the mighty masts of HMS Trincomalee, Europes oldest floating warship beckon the visitor into the imaginatively recreated Historic Quay and marina area.
Trincomalee, built in 1817 and magnificently restored by craftsmen in Hartlepool, forms the centrepiece of a visitor, retail and residential area that, on a warm and sunny day, is as good as any to be found on the Riviera, and thats not exaggerated literary licence.
Overlooked by stylish apartments and offices and boasting quality restaurants, hotels and shopping, the 500-berth marina occupies a basin retained by a sea lock which offers access for boats up to almost nine metres wide and 60 metres in length.
Can you get up early? I was asked as I admired the view across the basin. It was street cleaner Chris Rymer, Hartlepool born and bred and a man whose job description almost certainly doesnt include tourist guide. It should.
If you come to this spot at about half past six in the morning you will see the sun rising behind the marina just over there, he advised, helpfully, nodding eastwards.
It looks like it is coming up out of the sea. Fantastic.
Chris retrieved a pen and a piece of paper from his dust cart while I fumbled to find my own. He used to work on the bins and then on the back street cleaning shift in the town centre. You get a great view of the sunrise from the top of the multi-story car park in the shopping centre, too, he told me.
I put it to him that he clearly loved his work. I take pride in keeping this place clean, he said. Navigation Point (the main area of bars and restaurants) looks like a bomb site in the morning. The youngsters dont care what they do with their rubbish. But we quickly get it sorted ready for the workers and visitors that day.
And off he went in search of another carelessly discarded item of
}Weve got everything here from sailing boats to warships, speed boats and cargo ships. Weve even got the Titanic, but you cant see that!~litter, Hartlepools unsung ambassador.
I hope his bosses read this hes a credit to the town.
Finally, to Ward Jackson Park. As expected, it was busy with mothers and toddlers, families, students skiving from their studies to play football using jumpers as goalposts, lovers, singles, and the men and women who used to belong to Hartlepool Model Yacht Club.
The club no longer exists but a hardy gang of about 20 members continues to meet at the lake in the Ward Jackson Park on Wednesdays, Saturday and Sundays to sail their lovingly-crafted yachts and motor boats, free of charge all year round, weather permitting.
David Measor said: Weve got everything here from sailing boats to warships, speed boats and cargo ships. Weve even got the Titanic, but you cant see that!
Hes probably told it dozens of times but the joke still brought chortles of laughter from me and his model mariner buddy Robert Flannigan.
Robert said: The council let us sail our boats here whenever the lake isnt frozen.
They also tell us when they have events on in the park so we can come down and put on a bit of a show. The oldest member is 89 hes a former fighter pilot. Its not a club as such but we just come and get together. Theres always a few people here.
Do you heart Hartlepool?
Four pages about Hartlepool and not one mention of monkeys, bet thats a first. What do you love about the town? Send your stories, memories and views to firstname.lastname@example.org and dont forget you can upload your photos of Hartlepool to our website, northeast.greatbritishlife.co.uk.
The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012 issue of North East Life
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