If you’re ever near Middlesbrough, and fancy a breezy walk on an RSPB reserve, you could do worse than go to Saltholme. It’s modest enough to explore in an afternoon, and besides, there’s helpful signage to prevent your getting lost.
We had to go to Middlesbrough for an appointment the other day, so we thought we’d stay and explore.
Middlesbrough is what’s known as a ‘post-industrial town’. Once, its steel and other heavy industry and its port brought wealth (to some), employment, and attendant grime and looming industrial architecture. Now, it’s reliant on newer technologies, engineering and the presence of the university developed in the 1990s from the older Polytechnic.
But its landscape is still an industrial one, as is that of the surrounding towns: Billingham, Stockton, Redcar. Could it be true that the RSPB had developed a Nature Reserve here, on its outskirts?
It could. RSPB Saltholme. Though it was hard to believe, as we navigated along roads edged by towering chimneys, great metal hangars, clattering unseen machinery.
But in the end, there it was, among the industrial flatlands – wetlands actually, punctuated by shallow lakes and pools. We’d arrived.
But the birds had left. How silly of us not to remember. At our local nature reserve, Nosterfield, the birds regularly knock off at lunchtime, only reappearing towards dusk. Who knows where they go?
Never mind. We enjoyed a peaceful walk. We got a moment of drama when flocks of birds DID appear, swirling and swooping above the lake. It was quite likely that they were taking evasive action from a resident peregrine falcon hunting for a meal. Drama over, they disappeared once more.
A peregrine-inspired panic?
We enjoyed our time in this peaceful oasis. We explored trails that ended in well-equipped hides.
We studied noticeboards with information about what better-informed visitors had spotted that very day. We passed fields with the inevitable large numbers of greylag geese. And towards the end, we were rewarded with just a few sightings: some shelducks feeding; a shoveler or two; a few swans and a very distant heron.
Helpful what-we-have-spotted board. We did not contribute.
But we enjoyed our afternoon. A near-empty wetland, with its unusual backdrop of an industrial past and present, and the never-out-of-sight Tees Transporter Bridge made for a fine afternoon’s walking … and there was even a café.
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