Castle Eden Walkway, Thorpe Wood and Wynyard Woodland Park
Wynyard Woodland Park started life as a working railway carrying freight to the ports along the River Tees. Based on a section of the old Stockton to Wellfield railway line, it started life as one of several nature trails throughout the country established on old railway track beds. The Castle Eden Walkway was opened to the public as a Country Park in 1981.
That former railway line now offers an excellent route for walking and cycling, with linking footpaths enabling visitors to wider park including Thorpe Wood Local Nature Reserve, Tilery and Brierley Woods (undergoing a major woodland restoration project) and the splendid Pickard Meadows (a huge, newly established wildflower meadow).
In 1983 the old Stationmaster's house was opened as a Visitor Centre and in 1989 an extension, built as a faithful reproduction of the previously demolished waiting room, was added. The former station house now houses an excellent café, and nearby there’s a fantastic, adventure play area in a stunning woodland setting.
Over time it has expanded in line with its popularity. It’s most recent acquisition, the purchase of more than 81 Hectares of woodland and farmland, has virtually doubled the size of the site and is now known as the Wynyard Woodland Park. The park is also home to a planetarium and observatory, managed by the Cleveland and Darlington Astronomical Society (CaDAS).
The old railway track-bed is a popular walking and cycling trail known as the Castle Eden Walkway. This route through Thorpe Wood passes beneath three fine brick-built bridges. The embankments of this old railway line have been colonised by trees, plants and flowers that have created a wonderful habitat for many species of plants, animals, birds and insects.
Thorpe Wood is semi-natural ancient woodland that has remained untouched for several hundred years, an old remnant of the original native wild woods of England with oak, ash and hazel trees cloaking the slopes of a small valley.
The Woodland Park is signposted from the A177 (Wynyard Road) in Thorpe Thewles, Stockton.
Tel: 01740 630011
Thornaby Wood lies to the north of Ingleby Barwick and is close to Bassleton Wood Local Nature Reserve. This wood is ancient semi-natural woodland and covers an area of just over 17 acres with oak and ash being the dominant species, roe deer are often seen here. Ancient woodland gets its designation from being in existence for some 400 years or more, and the animals and plants that use these areas have had time to develop alongside one another and in many respects depend upon each other for protection, food and for seed dispersal.
Thornaby Wood also has archaeological interest in the form of World War 2 pillboxes. These lookout posts formed part of the defence of Thornaby Airfield and are unusual in their design in that they incorporate two compartments linked by a covered through corridor. One compartment would house a machine gun and the other would act as an infantry post for up to five riflemen. Of the 90 pillboxes listed on the Tees Archaeology Environment Record, these are the only pillboxes with this particular type of design.
An artwork seating area has been provided on the footpath between the Gateway and the Tees on the Thornaby side, which provides a viewpoint across Bassleton Beck Valley.
OS Grid Ref. NZ450152. Tel: 01642 527652
Stillington Forest Park
Stillington Forest Park opened in 1995 and developed to benefit both wildlife and visitors who can experience the peace and quiet of the countryside, close to what is still an industrial area. Woodlands, ponds and wildflower meadows are now well-established on a site that was once dominated by brickworks and ironworks.
Much of the site is managed as wildflower meadows. There are several ponds and wetland areas, the main pond has been stocked with a variety of fish, and fishing is a popular pastime here. At the north of the site is an area of mature woodland, and the woodland paths leads to unspoilt views over Foxton and Sedgefield.
In summer the grasslands and wetlands are alive with butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies, but the Forest Park can be enjoyed throughout the year thanks to an excellent network of all-weather paths. From the Forest Park you can explore the wider countryside around Stillington using the excellent network of rights of way.
The peace and tranquility that can be found at Stillington Forest Park today could not be more different from the industry that dominated the site for more than a hundred years.
Parking is provided by a formal car park next to St John's Church and close to the main site entrance, which features an attractive metalwork artwork by Sculpture Artist Graham Hopper.
Inside the Park, close to the main entrance is a notice board with maps, information and featured Tile Artwork by Stillington Art Group.
Stillington Forest Park, Stillington Village, Stockton on Tees. Tel: 01642 676407
Grid Ref: NZ 3739 2390
Saltholme is the RSPB’s newest nature reserve. This £8m development is also the organisation’s ‘flagship’ nature reserve and discovery park. The reserve opened in February 2009 after several years of work creating and improving ponds and other habitats, the construction of a state of the art ‘green’ visitor centre, and a network of access routes and viewing hides.
In the winter, the wetland areas are home to large numbers of wildfowl and wading birds. In the spring and summer many birds breed here including Great Crested Grebes (the species that the RSPB was formed to save), several species of ducks and Common Terns – which nest on specially-created islands made out of cockle shells. The islands provide the ideal nesting site for these birds, as they are away from predatory mammals and accidental trampling.
The reed beds benefit birds such as water rails, reed buntings and reed warblers; the wet grassland areas of the reserve (part of the larger Tees and Hartlepool Foreshore and Wetlands Site of Special Scientific Interest) attracts increasing numbers of wintering wildfowl and waders including golden plovers, lapwings, wigeons, redshanks and snipe.
The water levels in the shallow open water pools and 'scrapes' are controlled to create muddy edges and bare areas for the large numbers of wading birds which stop off at the site during migration.
Comfortable viewing hides and RSPB staff and volunteers make it easy for beginners to understand the birdlife and a variety of additional facilities and events make for an enjoyable experience. Water Voles are also common on the reserve.
Leave the A19 on the A689 towards Hartlepool, following brown signs to Saltholme. At the second roundabout take the A1185 (signposted to Seal Sands and Saltholme). Continue along this road for about 3 miles then turn right at the roundabout (sign-posted to Saltholme). The reserve is a few hundred yards along this road on the right, just past the fire station.
Car park (there is a parking charge), visitor centre, cafe, shop, children’s playground, viewing hides, access routes.