co-author of The Meadow
Mike O'Hare
July - 9 - 2012 | 0 Comment


“Hartlepool is a town in the ceremonial county of Durham, and is part of the Tees Valley economic area in the North East of England.

It was founded in the 7th century AD, around the Northumbrian monastery of Hartlepool Abbey. The village grew during the Middle Ages and developed a harbour which served as the official port of the County Palatine of Durham. A railway link from the north was established from the South Durham coal fields to the historic town. An additional link from the south, in 1835, together with a new port, resulted in further expansion, with the establishing of the new town of West Hartlepool. Industrialisation and the establishing of a shipbuilding industry during the later part of the 19th century caused Hartlepool to be a target for the German Navy at the beginning of the First World War. A bombardment of 1150 shells on 16 December 1914 resulted in the death of 112 people. A severe decline in heavy industries and shipbuilding following the Second World War caused periods of high unemployment until the 1990s when major investment projects and the redevelopment of the docks area into a marina have seen a rise in the town’s prospects.”



I was born and raised in Hartlepool and, apart from having returned after spending 30 odd years in a nearby town, I still regard Hartlepool as my home both spiritually, mentally and physically. Here are some of the recent changes that have transformed Hartlepool into a town that is in the making.

Two vessels entering Hartlepool Marina for the Tall Ships Race in 2010

We’re at war – Captain Cook’s Bark Endeavour engaging the Russian Navy ship Shtandart; Lancaster bombers and Spitfires in action; parachutists dropping from the skies and England versus France– yet again – in Royal Marine and Battle of Trafalgar re-enactments. These are just some of the themes happening in one of the events originated and organised in Hartlepool.

Apart from the foreign-based visitor, the home-grown tourist could be forgiven for ignoring North East England. It’s a far throw from the capital and equally distant from scenic regions of Scotland, the Lake District being closer to hand. The British Isles has a lot to offer and presents you with the challenge to choose and enjoy the provinces as an alternative.

When the town of West Hartlepool was invented around 160 years ago, its founder – Ralph Ward Jackson – could never have imagined this Wild West industrial seaport would develop into a top tourist attraction. The demise of heavy manufacturing has been its saviour, rather than its nemesis; something which has taken many people by surprise.

A true headland

It languishes as a peninsula in the Tees Valley region between the cities of Newcastle and Leeds. As with any coastal town or city in the UK, it is not a sun-kissed resort with clear, warm, pearly waters. For those seeking ‘scorchio’ climates, it would be wise to stick with Caribbean or Mediterranean regions.

The place offers adventure, where there’s something for all ages – from historic buildings and archaeological sites to a museum, park, shopping centre, marina and a re-created Napoleonic port. Children are more than welcome and facilities are in place to guarantee their amusement. To round off the day, there are restaurants, bars, clubs and a multiplex cinema to keep that holiday spirit on the boil.

St Hildas dominates the background of old Hartlepool

Amalgamation with its ancient counterpart of Old Hartlepool in the ‘60s brought about change that would allow parts of its history to be re-written. Renamed Hartlepool, it has rediscovered itself in a way that must be the envy of many a British town. Origins of the ‘old side’ can be traced to ca 647AD and as a popular tourist spot, the abbey church of St Hilda– ca 658 AD – marks the beginning of a circuit of historical locations for the discerning visitor. This is the Headland and is known as Gateway to the Sea that can be seen through the ancient town walls.

Leave your planning exclusively for travelling and accommodation and let the town and its people take you on an adventure. Historical records and places of interest can be found locally. There are visitor centres and information points, not forgetting friendly help you can expect to receive. Leaving the Headland, travelling south, you encounter Hartlepool’s jewel in the crown that has received dozens of national and international awards. From relics of the old docks has risen a modern marina that compares with any in the UK.

A tourists’ centre of excellence

Apart from accommodating the usual flotilla of yachts and small craft, it boasts a re-creation of a Napoleonic port, a museum with free admission, and two restored ships, one of which is the Trincomalee – formerly the Foudroyant – the world’s second oldest floating ship. This is where world-famous HMS Warrior was restored. Now moored at Portsmouth, it’s an excellent tourist attraction.

Impressive masts and rigging of the Trincomalee majestically overlook this area known as the Historic Quay. Once inside there’s opportunity to experience life in the Lord Nelson era. If you feel like immersing into the atmosphere, there’s ample scope to join in some of the historic re-enactments occurring each day during the summer months. A day’s entertainment can be enjoyed with plenty to tempt the visitor back. Light refreshment aboard the restored paddle steamer Wingfield Castle is a great way to finish off the visit.

If sea air appeals, a trip along the promenade towards the seafront is a must. As you leave the Historic Quay via Navigation Point, pause a while and take note of the Parisian style restaurants and bars. At night, this place buzzes with activity. There’s a variety of cuisine – Chinese, Italian, Mediterranean, Indian, Tai and of course, English. Each establishment has unique style and some famous celebrities in particular, frequent one.

An early morning picture on Seaton beach

What can beat walking along the prom, especially when the weather is favourable? The reward waiting at the end of your walk is a magnificent beach that’s one of the UK’s finest. This is the mini resort of Seaton Carew and is in the process of upgrading to cater for visitors due to its Clean Beach awards.

Catering for all weathers

A day’s shopping never goes amiss and is an excuse to take advantage of inclement weather and be undercover in the third largest and third best – *that’s official – shopping complex in the North East. Along with major national names, there are regional and local shops offering good choice. Fast food and mall cafés ensure you never have to leave until you’re ready.

Leisure activities are high on Hartlepool’s priorities list. As a coastal resort there are water sports from jet skiing/sailing, to swimming/snorkelling. Those who prefer to relax can find beaches, parks, country walks, and bus/rail trips to surrounding places of interest such as the ancient city of Durham and the North Yorkshire Moors. Ward Jackson Park has an individual splendour. This idyllic setting, consisting of a lake, gardens, bowling green, pavilion and woodland is a world apart.

Ian Whitehead. “I just love coming back here.”

A regular visitor to Hartlepool is Ian Whitehead. As bus driver for Express Coachways of Rotherham, South Yorkshire, he jumps at any opportunity to visit the town. A coach load of ballroom dancers, preparing for national competition was all the excuse he needed. Having dropped off his ‘payload’ at the Borough Hall, he quickly sets about his task of sightseeing. “I just love coming back here,” says Ian.  “There’s so much to do and see, and the people are just great.”

The Tall Ships Race, 2010

Hundreds of thousands of visitors came to Hartlepool for the Tall Ships Race

Last but certainly not least I have to mention the very prestigious Tall Ships Race of 2010. Every year around the European waters, a huge flotilla of sailing vessels gather to race. In 2010 the race was organized to finish in Hartlepool. More than 6,000 people from 30 odd countries took part, most of them between the ages of 16 and 25. Up to a million visitors enjoyed the spectacle which finally put Hartlepool on the map.

I’ll leave describing the quaint, peculiar and idiosyncratic culture of the area at this point. Why not find out for more for yourself and visit Hartlepool?

*    Hartlepool’s Middleton Grange shopping centre was voted as one of the three best in the Northeast.  The results were revealed in the Going Shopping 2004 survey compiled by TW Research Associates and Churston Head.

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