My first visit in 2010

Reputedly called Paddy’s Hole because it was built by Irishmen from the slag produced by Redcar steelworks blast furness early 1800s.

Locally known as Paddy’s Hole. It is not for the feint hearted. In fact it does not even officially exist. 

On the strength of some well trusted local knowledge I found the courage to bypass the ‘Do Not Enter’ signs. I drove along the perimeter fence of the Redcar steel works. They were at this time belching out steam and flames.

I was warned about the signs and was assured that it was ok.

 My confidence increased when a car passed by coming in the opposite direction sporting  a surf board on its roof.

As you leave Redcar Steelworks works behind you the narrow lane winds for about half a mile through sandy grass covered slag heaps and eventually opens up to reveal the wide mouth of the Tees looking over to Hartlepool.

I parked up next to the few buildings that line the thin strip of land and jetty that divides the River Tees from Redcar Beach.

The first thing I noticed were the cluster of regimental green wooden sheds in a slight dip on the sea side of the strip. These are remnants of military barracks that form part of the defensive history of South Gare through two world wars. They are now used as fishing huts for leisure but are just as fiercely guarded.

Looking over to the river side I get my first glimpse of Paddy’s Hole. A horseshoe of mis fit huts, scuppered boats, planks, mangled metal and detritus which has evolved through  love sweat and probably tears over many years……and it is beautiful!

I found myself thinking back to Stinson Beach in California. An unlikely connection you may think but to me I could see the similarity. The huts evolved by ingenuity and invention and the need to be housed on the beach. Stinson grew out of the hippy movement in the 1960s and has long become a millionaires haven, the eclectic structures  having being refashioned into not so shabby chic.

Stinson Beach, California  2005

Now the folk of South Gare had neither the money or inclination but it is no less beautiful in its own way. 

The huts were first built some time in the 1920s by the miners and steel workers from the big steel works ever visible from any point. 

The whole family would spend high days and holidays on the banks of the river. I am reliably informed by the extremely friendly and slightly wary inhabitants of theses huts that they have no official permit but are tolerated and over the years an understanding between officialdom and hut dwellers has been reached. 

They do have fishing permits and are regulated by the fisheries and coastguards which has its offices only yards away.

A few years later I had the pleasure of meeting photographer Ian McDonald who has taken many stunning pictures of the steelworkers and their families over the decades. 

I have revisited Paddy’s Hole many times during the seven years I lived in Robin Hood’s Bay. I was starting to become obsessed by it and had to make a proper effort to move on to new places on the tour. It still is one of my favourite places and I take great pleasure in revealing it to anyone who asks. Sometimes I have had the pleasure of the odd cup of tea in a cabin next to a woodburner….bliss.

I feel I must bring my notes up to date by mentioning the massive transformation that took place in 2015 when the government went completely against all reassurances to the community and finally closed down the steelworks for good. This has devastated the entire community. Very few family have not been touched by this travesty.

Life Boat House

The oxblood life boat house sits on the seaward side of Paddy’s Hole. I first painted the boathouse and launch in 2011 and sadly it was removed in 2015.

These days you can just make out where the launch was by the blackened stumps that poke out of the water like old teeth.