Eston Hills – August 1952

“Mam! Tommy Woodrow and Cliffy Williams are going to Eston. Can I go?”

The answer depended on whether Mam had a few spare coppers for the Trackless1 to Eston village. This time I was lucky. I met the rest of the kids, at the Trackless turn-around at the end of Smeaton Street next to the school.

The Trackless

The small gang of kids of various ages alighted from the trackless at the Eston Village round-a-bout. We trudged up the cobblestoned track, chatting excitedly in anticipation of our imminent adventure. On past the old sandstone reservoir, purported to be ancient Roman ruins, now partially hidden by a blanket of bramble bushes, the path led to a rock-strewn trail  that headed upwards to the sandstone escarpment at the top. A huge weather-worn hill of mine-spoil, affectionately called ‘The Giant’s Bum’ because of the water worn crease down the middle, had to be scaled first.

“Ah’ll race you to the top of The Giant’s Bum!” challenged Billy, already at a run to get a head start. The rest of us all raced up after him.

“Ah won!” declared Billy.

“Don’t count – you cheated!” Eddy retorted.

On the way up, past clumps of gorse bushes and waist high fields of bracken and heather, hikers and ramblers paused for a rest, slaked their thirst from one of the many springs and searched for the deep-blue fruit of the dwarf shrubs of Bilberries. We continued up the steep track through the bracken, scrambling over loose sandstone rocks until we reached the cliff face. The boys of the party chose the climbing route, whereas the girls and the small ones of the group, decided on the more sensible side track.

Johnny Ray – ‘Walking My Baby Back Home’   1952
Gee but its great after staying out late
Walking my baby back home
Arm in arm over meadow and farm
Walking my baby back home

Once at the top, the landscape changed dramatically and we paused to recover our breath. Looking south, the gently rolling plain of Barnaby Moor, thick with heather, came into view. At the eastern and highest point of the hills stood Eston Nab, the remains of an ancient lookout station, perched on the edge of the sandstone escarpment. We set off along the narrow deeply rutted sheep tracks that criss-cross the heather, heading for Eston Nab. From that position, the whole of the River Tees estuary and a 180-degree view of the sea could be observed and would have been a perfect position to warn the local communities of the approach of marauding Vikings in by-gone days.

Even on a mild summer’s day the wind hardly ceased and the sparsely dotted trees leaned to the East as they struggled for a stunted existence against the prevailing winds. Looking down, the bracken and gorse covered slope gradually flattened out into the broad flat expanse of the Tees Valley. Through the haze, like a giant map, the River Tees snaked past miniature shipyards, chemical plants and steel works. Row upon row of jammed-in terrace houses fanned out from the southern bank of the river, then fragmented and slowly gave way to golden yellow and green fields. The muffled sounds of industry drifted up from the valley floor like mournful toll bells. Cotton-wool clouds spewed silently from the cooling towers of ICI and the steel works.

With my band of friends, we sat at the edge of the cliff to eat our sandwiches and take in the view. To the East the river widened and disgorged into the North Sea. Ships that looked like small toys headed out past Teesport and the South Gare Light in slow motion. We were unaware that we were standing on the northern extremity of the North Yorkshire Moors.

A few miles across the moor, over a series of dry- stone dykes and styles, the path led to an old ironstone mine pit head (Upsal Pit) which included a short line of abandoned miners’ cottages (known as Pit Top) and a man-made pond containing rust red water. The pit shaft was covered with rusting steel sheets.

The crumbling houses with peeling wallpaper, rotting stairs and floors were dangerous places. My friends and I spent hours running from room to room with imaginary tommy guns, shooting each other, accompanied by sound effects and smashing the remaining windows.

The Tees Valley from Eston Moor

The last time I saw it was when my army squadron used it for a disaster exercise in 1961 to recover victims of a simulated ‘nuclear attack’.

Now in 2014 the only evidence that it ever existed is the capped off well that was the water supply for the village.

Fats Domino – ‘Blueberry Hill’  1956
I found my thrill
On Blueberry Hill
On Blueberry Hill
When I found you

Next: 2014 – Market day

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  1. electric trolley bus using overhead wires