Stockton and Norton – where history and the arts collide
PUBLISHED: 00:16 27 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:35 20 February 2013
Linzi Barber indulges her senses from water sports to retail therapy in one of the North East's most up and coming venues
A record holder for the widest high street in the UK, an international festival venue, a market with a traceable history back to the 1300s, home to the first permanent steam locomotive and today continuing to develop in the hope of securing its position on the 2012 Olympic map, Stockton is a vibrant, happening town with more to offer than first meets the eye.
Sitting on the northern bank of the River Tees, the area began as an Anglo Saxon settlement and the manor of Stockton was created in 1138. During these times neighbouring Norton was the centre of the parish, which included Stockton, but today this is very much reversed, with Norton simply being part of the Borough of Stockton. Stockton High Street runs into Norton Road, which leads you to the centre of old Norton village.
Today the village has many cottages, a duck pond and a village green. Standing on the village green feeding the ducks you could be forgiven for thinking you have stepped back in time in this peaceful haven.
St Mary the Virgin church, dating back to Anglo Saxon times, stands by the village green at the very centre of the community. The church, which is the only cruciform Anglo Saxon church in Northern England, was also the venue for Dragons Den favourite Duncan Bannatynes wedding in November, 2006. Norton is also home to a challenging and attractive 18-hole pay and play golf course.
During the latter part of the 12th century, Stockton was purchased by bishop Pudsey of Durham and 700 years ago, in 1310, Bishop Bek of Durham granted a market charter to our town of Stockton every Wednesday for ever. Stockton celebrated 700 years of market trading last year and the market, which now runs every Wednesday and Saturday, today boasts the status of the largest in the North East of England.
Shopping and trading have remained key to Stockton over the years. In September 1825 the Stockton and Darlington railway opened with Stephensons new locomotive Number One pulling 36 wagons. The track, which initially ran 26 miles, was built to connect inland coal mines to Stockton, allowing coal to be loaded on to boats for transportation to other ports at home and abroad. Today this line is still in operation, much of it used by the Tees Valley Line operated by Northern Rail, which offers great access to the this vibrant town from surrounding towns and villages.
Stockton is a haven for shoppers with two centres boasting over 130 high street retailers. At the bottom of the High Street you will find Castlegate Shopping Centre, once the site of Stockton Castle, captured by the Scottish in 1644 and occupied until the end of the Civil War when Oliver Cromwell ordered that the castle be destroyed.
The Shambles market hall is a Grade Two listed Georgian building that has undergone a transformation under Stockton Councils regeneration scheme. This is a unique shopping destination which houses local crafts, small businesses and the towns tourist information centre.
Dominating the town from its position at the centre of the High Street is Stockton Town Hall. The hall as it stands today, dates back to the 1700s and has a chequered history of its own.
The Town Hall was once a toll house where rents, tolls and fines were paid. It also contained a jail with cells just five feet high, where offenders were passed in through a hatch in the pavement outside and was the venue for the dinner where Leonard Raisbeck first suggested a railway to link riverside Stockton with the interior of the country.
Today the Town Hall is still used on a daily basis for meetings and events, although the council offices are based a few hundred yards down the road.
At the top of the High Street is Wellington Square shopping centre with big-name brands including Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and Goldsmiths. Shops are open seven days a week and parking is free on a Sunday.
When you are all shopped out, its time to take a look at Stocktons vibrant dining and arts scene. For eating out with a difference head back down to Castlegate Quay and board the Teesside Princess. Evening dining and Sunday lunch cruises are available throughout the year and booking is recommended. (www.princess
rivercruises.co.uk, 01642 608038).
Also on Castlegate Quay youll find the only full-size replica of Captain James Cooks bark, HMS Endeavour. This unique vessel is now available for guided tours, school groups, weddings, themed events and filming. Throughout the year, special events are hosted such as murder mystery nights and shipwreck parties. (www.hmsbarkendeavour.co.uk, 01642 608109).
While you are down on the water be sure to check out the bridges that span the Tees from Stockton. Opened in 2009 the 180-metre long Infinity Bridge provides a crossing for cyclists and pedestrians and is a breathtaking sight, particularly at night when this stunning icon designed to resemble a pebble skimming across the water is illuminated with LED lights.
With so much to do on the water it is no surprise that Stocktons International Riverside Festival has become an annual event. The riverside festival has now become Europes largest free open air festival. Held in early August, the festival sees Stockton transformed into an arena for shows and events including street theatre, music, dance and pyrotechnics and attracts top performers from all over the world.
Stockton is also firmly on the leisure map with the Tees Barrage, the home to water sports on the Tees. Opened in 1995 to retain a constant water level, the complex included a fish pass, slalom canoe course and warm-up lake. Currently, the barrage is undergoing a major regeneration which includes reconfiguring the main course, building a second shorter course and installing four Archimedes Screws to pump the water and create guaranteed conditions for canoeists and rafters.
The new course, which will be one of the best in the UK and among the top seven in the world, will feature obstacles identical to those on the Olympic course in Stocktons bid to become a pre-Olympic training ground ahead of the UKs 2012 event.
No matter what your age or interest, Stockton is sure to have something to delight and entertain.
Stockton and Norton offer quality living and recreation thanks to huge investment and the development of a caf-style society, with award-winning restaurants. Little wonder that the area aspires to host Olympic water sports teams in advance of the London Games. Do you agree with us that it is ready to take the international stage?Let us know by leaving amessage.