Welcome to the Tees Valley.
Probably most famous for its industrial background, the Tees Valley will almost certainly surprise you as a destination. The region straddles the River Tees and stretches from Darlington to the coast at Redcar & Cleveland but also incorporates Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool. From a heritage coastline to market towns, from a thriving foodie scene to nature reserves, the Tees Valley is that underrated destination that you have to experience.
As part of my ‘It’s Not Grim Up North’ series, I’m showcasing all of the areas around the North-East to prove that actually what we have on our doorstep is far greater than most people’s expectations. I am pleased to have teamed up with Enjoy Tees Valley in creating the ultimate guide to the Tees Valley. Whether you only have a few hours spare in the region or are planning to visit for a weekend, there’s plenty to do. I’ve set out below a few suggestions and a proposed itinerary for two days in the Tees Valley but equally many of the places on the list could occupy you for far longer.
Without further ado, here’s my ultimate guide to the Tees Valley.
THE PERFECT TWO DAY ITINERARY FOR THE TEES VALLEY
Wynyard Hall Estate
Set out in 120 acres, the Wynyard Hall Estate is the perfect introduction to the Tees Valley. Firstly, you’ll be welcomed by the impressive Georgian Wynyard Hall with its huge pillars guarding the entrance. Inside the rooms are enormously magnificent and, if you’re looking for a wedding venue, I can think of few better places than this.
In addition to the hotel, you’ll find a spa, a farm shop and café as well as a very impressive walled garden and the Glass House where you can enjoy meals with a plot to plate ethos. At Christmas, Wynyard Hall is home to a fantastic Christmas market
I’d also highly recommend the nearby Wynyard Woodland Park where you can walk along a former railway line through the woodland. There’s also a cafe and a playpark for the little ones.
Air Trail in Stockton
Right here in the Tees Valley, on the edge of the River Tees, you’ll find the UK’s biggest sky trail. Probably not one for those with an irrational fear of heights (like me) as my god it’s high. It’s set over four levels with plenty of different challenges to conquer ranging from tight ropes, stepping stones, plank walking and zip lines and will take a full hour to get all the way round. Definitely a fun and adventurous way to kick off your visit to the Tees Valley!
The Air Trail is open every Saturday from 10am but does open daily during school holidays!
Tees Barrage/San Seb/Stockton Millennium Bridge
Whether you’re planning on experiencing the Air Trail or not, you should take the time to walk along the River Tees at the Tees Barrage up to the Millennium Bridge in Stockton. It’s so peaceful early in the morning and you can grab a coffee/tea/matcha latte from San Seb for your walk. You’ll find San Seb in a blue 1958 Citreon van on the South side of the river opposite the Air Trail.
Hope & Union
Well, what can I say about this place? Hope & Union is a lovely little bar and kitchen in the cultural quarter of Stockton-on-Tees. I can safely say that I have not been anywhere as friendly as this place for a long, long time. Hope & Union has plenty of great beer options including the beautiful Vedett on tap and the food, well, you should come here for the food alone. For long-time followers of my blog, you’ll know how much I love a good burger and we obviously had to try them. We opted for the beer & beef burger with bacon relish, pickled red onions and monterey jack cheese as well as the parmo burger (when in Teesside right?). A parmo for those not in the know is essentially breaded chicken topped with béchamel sauce and cheese and is a Teesside delicacy known across the world. You can’t leave the Tees Valley without having tried one and you won’t be struggling to find one on a menu no matter where you eat!
Anyway, back to the Hope & Union, I absolutely love this place and can’t recommend it enough. This is the perfect place for a little chill before you get back to exploring the Tees Valley.
Now I can’t say that I’m an avid bird watcher but I love getting out in nature and having a good walk. RSPB Saltholme in the Tees Valley is a calming nature reserve nestled in amongst industrial surroundings. For £3, a non RSPB member can enter the reserve and have access to all of the walks, hides for bird spotting as well as a walled garden and play area for the children. I completed the short walk around the lake and was able to spot quite a few geese who were, as I was reliably informed, on their long migration to Africa!
Preston Park Museum & Grounds
On your way to Yarm, on the outskirts of Stockton-on-Tees, lies Preston Park a vast parkland on the banks of the River Tees. Preston Park Museum is well worth a visit if not just for the impressive Victorian Street where no trip would be complete without checking out the sweet shop. The park itself also has a cafe, a skate park and has brilliant access to the river itself for those that love a bit of stand up paddleboarding. Butterfly World is also based on the grounds and within its tropical rainforest you can see over 80 different species of butterflies!
Yarm is definitely one of the most scenic towns in the Tees Valley and I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful market town. The high street is lined with busy cafes, bars and restaurants sprawling onto the pavements where you can easily spend an entire day eating and drinking. There are plenty of brilliant places to eat such as Muse, Tomahawk Steakhouse and the newly opened Marshalls bringing with it some classic Teesside parmos. In addition to the bustling food and drink scene, you can enjoy relaxing riverside walks alongside the River Tees and under the beautiful Yarm viaduct.
Darlington Street Food Market
Brand new for 2021, Darlington Market has been revamped and now offers informal dining with plenty of street food on offer. To me, this seemed as though it was a great hub in the centre of Darlington for food (What’s Your Beef do incredible burgers) and drinks. What I love about this post-Covid world too is that you can place your orders online and still enjoy table service. This is the perfect way to end a day of exploration and I’m still thinking about that Nutella pizza right now!
Gisborough Priory / Forest
Gisborough is a small market town situated just outside of the North York Moors National Park. The main attraction in the town is the ruins of Gisborough Priory which was originally founded by an ancestor of the Scottish King, Robert the Bruce. Unfortunately, in 1540 the Priory was demolished though the East end of the Church was left standing and remains to this day.
The Priory grounds are opened at 10am and are free to enter and wander around. Whilst you might not spend too long at Gisborough Priory, you can instead head into Gisborough Forest which offers great views across the Tees Valley and coastline.
Possibly my favourite part of the Tees Valley, Saltburn-by-the-Sea is a tranquil Victorian spa town on the Cleveland Heritage Coast. Not only do you have the town which is full of independent shops (check out Lillan Daph for Scandinavian homeware!) and restaurants and bars (I enjoyed Signals Cafe and Bar) but you’ll find amusement arcades, a Victorian cliff tramway and a beautifully long pier down on the beachfront. The coastline is dramatic and those brave enough to face the North Sea will find a surfer’s paradise.
I’d highly recommend taking some time out at the Spa Hotel where you can enjoy a drink overlooking Saltburn Beach below and checking out the Seaview Restaurant which was recently featured on the BBC’s Remarkable Places to Eat.
Enjoy a Lemon Top at Redcar
In addition to the legendary parmo, visitors to the Tees Valley can enjoy another iconic treat; the famous Lemon Top in Redcar. Redcar is another seaside town just a few miles north of Saltburn-by-the-Sea and a stone’s throw from Middlesbrough. It would be remiss of a trip to the seaside without an ice cream and, more specifically, a Lemon Top. Can you guess what it is? Quite simply, this is a whipped ice cream topped with tangy lemon sorbet and there’s only one place that you should get this from; Pacitto’s.
The Pacitto family came to the UK in the late 1890’s and swiftly set up a series of cafes/ice cream shops. I’m not sure when but Pacitto’s were said to have invented the famous Lemon Top and so there’s nowhere else that you should get this from.
I do however have a pro tip – please take napkins/baby wipes as there’s no doubt you will experience some serious drippage with this ice cream.
Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art
MIMA, or Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, is set within Centre Square and, before you even step foot in the museum you’ll be blown away by the building itself. Completed in 2007, the building that houses MIMA is a stunning piece of architecture cladded in Turkish limestone. MIMA is part of Teesside University and consists of five galleries, various other spaces, plus a cafe, a shop and a roof terrace.
When I visited, the most impressive gallery was on the second floor where university students showcased their interpretations of the effect Covid-19 has had upon us. The most poignant piece was a simple collection of penny presses on paper though each penny press represented a life lost in the UK due to Covid-19. The first wall was covered and, upon turning the corner, another wall three times the size was also covered.
Seaton Carew is a small seaside resort between Hartlepool and the mouth of the River Tees complete with arcades, ice cream parlours and classic fish and chip shops. The golden sands beach here is expansive and is a great place to relax next to the North Sea. If you have your walking shoes on, you can walk all along the promenade up to the final destination in this ultimate guide to the Tees Valley; Hartlepool Marina.
Last but by no means least is Hartlepool Marina. A great place to end a trip through the Tees Valley with a huge range of independent cafes, bars and restaurants; there’s something here for everyone. The marina itself has room for 500 boats to dock and just across the water you will see the HMS Trincomalee, Britain’s oldest warship that still floats to this day. The ship is within the National Museum of the Royal Navy which is well worth a look too.
Anyway, you’ve most likely come to Hartlepool Marina for a few drinks and a bite to eat. As I said, there’s a wide range of cuisines available and we settled on Kilimanjaro which serves up a mix of African and Caribbean food. As expected, there are parmos on the menu with a twist and I can recommend the RastaHot version which was clearly massive but also very spicy. You won’t need to eat for days.
Getting To/From The Tees Valley
For those travelling from afar, the easiest way to access the Tees Valley is off the A1 at Darlington where you can then head east towards the coast! Darlington train station is on the East Coast mainline from London to Edinburgh and you can then get trains across the region to the bigger towns and cities.
Where To Stay In The Tees Valley
As you can imagine there are a wide range of places to stay on offer in the Tees Valley but it depends entirely on your budget and what you’re looking for. For all out luxury you could stay at Rockliffe Hall or Wynyard Hall, you could stay in a luxury lodge at Whinstone View or in a chain hotel such as the Hampton by Hilton in Stockton-on-Tees. All are great options and you could easily stay anywhere in the Tees Valley and have easy access to the whole of the region.
Hopefully, you have enjoyed checking out what the Tees Valley has to offer and I’m sure that there will be many of you looking to arrange a trip to the region. I’m more than happy to help with more tips and recommendations, just leave me a comment below or drop me an email. For more information though, I’d head straight to the Enjoy Tees Valley website where you can find a wealth of travel tips and up to date guides on what’s on at any given time!
This post was written in partnership with Enjoy Tees Valley who invited me on a press trip throughout the region.