The Black Path 1954

With my mates from North Ormesby, we walked the 7 miles (11 km) along ‘The Black Path’ to the South Gare breakwater, four lads armed with a haversack containing hand lines, a newspaper pack of sandwiches and a bottle of lemonade. The Black Path was an ancient bridle-path so renamed because of the build-up of industrial grime along its length.

The general public also used the path and then cut through the steel works to the Breakwater Road. Often they would have to stand to the side of the tracks, backs pressed against the factory wall, while a line of molten slag ladles clanked past. They were oblivious to the dangers of the area but they were never challenged for being there.

The South Gare breakwater was built with 5 million tons of blast furnace slag, and was a popular fishing spot. Sand worms, cadged from the other fishermen, were used to bait the lines. After an unproductive hour or so of throwing hand lines in, we played chicken with the waves as they broke at an angle to the wall of the breakwater.

The South Gare breakwater

We set off along Cargo Fleet Road, turned right just before the railway crossing near the station, and headed down the narrow path that was sandwiched between the Tarry Beck and the railway tracks. The Black Path started at Middlesbrough Station, past Cargo Fleet and meandered through the steel works and finished at Warrenby Halt, the Works platform before Redcar Central. We left the path a mile before Warrenby, crossed multiple rail lines, ducked under railway wagons and emerged at the foot of the row of blast furnaces.

When the blast furnaces are tapped, the molten slag, which floats on the surface of the iron, is drawn off first and poured into huge ladles. The ladles are then pulled to the slag heaps where they are tilted to disgorge their molten load down the slopes to cool.

A line of slag ladles trundled slowly past us. There was only a matter of a few feet between the rail-line and the factory wall. As the ladles slowly passed, we could feel the heat soaking through our clothing and stinging our bare knees and faces.

Once clear of the Steel Works we took the road to the South Gare. We played in the sand dunes, around the fishermen’s huts and Paddy’s Hole, then wandered along the breakwater. On the way back through the sand hills we came across an inclined spur line. A goods wagon sat at the top end.

‘”Ah’ve never seen this before,” commented Eddy Granger.

“Me neither,” added Bobby Savage. “Let’s ‘ave a look.”

We climbed on and around the wagon opening doors, inspecting the rubbish in the corner.

“I wonder what this is for?” inquired Archie Pettit, as he inspected the cast iron paraphernalia near the buffers.

“Dunno, see if you c’n pull that pin out,” offered Eddy.

It was a team effort, but we managed to extract the rusty steel pin.

“Now see if you c’n pull that handle.”

It took three of us to move it. We had released the brake! The wagon groaned and the wheels made an ominous squeaking sound as it ever so slowly started to move.

“Fucken ‘ell, we’d berra gerroff!”

We all jumped to safety, as the beast gathered momentum and careered down the incline. The speeding truck eventually bounced off the rails and ground to a halt in a shower of dust and ballast rocks. We took off and hid in the sand dunes until the coast was clear, then made off home.

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