The journey towards Teeside from Newcastle takes us along the A1 and across on the A689. Both roads are pretty uneventful. You get used to the beautiful scenery we have in the North East and take it for granted. Hills, fields, trees, dual carriageway embankments and the occasional flyover! It sort of becomes part of the background blur, until something different happens. And that something happened just around the corner from Saltholme.
Alan parked up on the side of the road and ran down the carriageway. What had he seen? It was a slightly surreal moment for a Sunday, but the scenery had started to change. En route to Saltholme the industrial landscape encroaches on the lush green fields. A few minutes later, he returned to explain that “There are sheep in the field between the gas pipes and electric pylons!!!”. He had to capture the imagery as it was heavy industry meeting nature.
The thing was for us this was new, for Saltholme this was it’s beginning!
Saltholme is an RSPB wetland and nature reserve near Middlesborough. As we’d never been before we really didn’t know what to expect. The Entry fee is usually £5 per car, which for a family of four is a very cheap day out. Nature hits you as soon as you turn off the road. Both sides of the entranceway are full blooming wild meadow flowers. To the abundance I’d not seen locally. A quick snap of the entrance sign and you’ll just see the Transporter bridge in the background too.
As we’d been invited to experience all that was on offer here, we were met at the entrance and given a brief run down on the facilities here. Saltholme has 4 bird watching hides located around the man made wetlands. Between the hides and around the wetlands are a collection of walks. The main one being about an hour in length, which can be added to by the connecting paths.
There is also an activity centre for kids to get involved with bird related activities and crafts. We we’re introduced to the team member, who pointed out what was on offer. As we planned to do the walk first, she offered us a WEX back pack. The WEX (Wildlife Explorer) pack contained spotting guides, magnifying glass, pencils, notebook, a little brush to flick insects into an examination pot and a Stethoscope!
We started off on the Green route around the main lake. This would take us past 2 newly refurbished hides. Also along this path were a number of wood carvings. First up was a Peter Rabbit character. We were told that the stethoscope would be useful to listen to trees and wooden carvings to see if we could hear any insects or noises with in. So Abigail quickly donned her Doctors equipment and gave the rabbit a quick medical.
Further around the walk was this Well Splash zone. A fun path that leads through a watery trail. Imogen with her wellies on took the challenge. Abigail, who had chosen walking boots couldn’t take the route as they would have filled up with water.
I’ll admit I’m not a big bird spotter, although Alan’s brother is an avid one. As we walked around Saltholme we spotted a lot of ducks and swans. To an expert, they would have noted the tufted duck from the mallard.
More wood carvings are near the second refurbished hide. An army of frogs (I believe that’s the collective term).
Although we didn’t photograph the inside of the hides, as there were several people using them at the time. They were immaculate. When ever we have been into a nature hide before it was essentially a shed with a couple of poly carbonate windows that were in need of a clean. These were on the luxury end of this. Carpets, chairs, a stepped seating area. The windows were tinted in sections, while other parts were nice large clean panels or windows that you would raise open.
As we headed back towards the visitor Centre, a slight detour took us into these beautiful gardens. A pond with water lilies absorbed Abigail as she looked for frogs.
Pond Dipping & Children’s Activities
Back to the activity centre and we picked up some pond dipping tools. A tray and some nets. Around the wetland are a hand full of designated pond dipping locations. The kids scooped through the pond trying to catch a newt or stickle back.
Our actual finds were water boatmen and mayfly larvae (we think).
Other activities included Build a Bird. Which was a game of creating either a frankenstein bird or completing a true bird breed.
A craft session to make a string of birds kept the Hoopsters occupied for a while. Abigail coloured her’s in to look like Robins.
Children’s Adventure Play Park
After a light lunch we had two locations to check out. First the gift shop. We can’t go any where without the attraction of a shop drawing us in. A central display that housed petrie dishes with a plastic frog set in a blob of slime was irresistible. Anyone who has kids will know that there is a slime obsession going on and I can’t see it ending soon.
Finally it was tie for us to sit and relax as the girls used up any of their last bits of energy up. Saltholme has a dedicated secured adventure play area. There are tunnels, swings and lots of wooden climbing structures. The trend of these now seems to be sort of total Ninja warrior style. With a route of climbing obstacles to continue thought. It wasn’t long ago when Abigail couldn’t stretch between the ropes, but now she’s got it like a pro.
We initially thought we’d be at Saltholme for about an hour and a half, but we were actually there around three and half hours. There is a lot of nature based activities to keep kids entertained, while there is also a lot of wild life to be admired at a slower pace. With in the bird watching hides, we noticed many people sitting still watching the birds for much longer than our visit into the space. I can imagine it being very relaxing sitting and witnessing their activities.
Our visit in September was in between some activity weekends. One that they were advertising was a special Halloween event on the 28th and 29th of October.
For the latest information about Saltholme and to see what activities they have planned in the near future, visit the RSPB website here for more details.