Situated at almost the very western reaches of the River Tees Rediscovered programme area lie the villages of Cliffe and Piercebridge, the former on the southern bank of the River Tees and the latter on the northern. The two villages are steeped in history and heritage, as well as being wonderfully located to get out and about to explore the area and see what the River Tees and its surroundings have to offer.
The range of heritage that has been discovered in the area shows how important the villages were, ranging from Stone Age arrowheads, bullets fired in Civil War battles, and Roman remains. The villages of course grew around river crossings, as with so many towns and villages, with a ford and later bridges spanning the river.
The riverside path which forms part of the Teesdale Way, a significant project of River Tees Rediscovered, gives access to some interesting and important archaeological sites. On the southern bank, up the hill from the bridge, you can follow the path which will bring you out at what is known as Betty Watson’s Hill, a Bronze Age barrow – a burial mound. Not much is known about the barrow, other than its significance to the understanding and learning of the burial practices of early settlements. Do you know any history of the barrow?
Staying on the southern bank of the river, you can access the remains of the Roman Bridge. The size of the stones gives an indication of the size of the bridge. You can stand where the base of the bridge abutments stood, and marvel at the ingenuity and construction skills of the Romans.
On the northern bank is probably the most recognisable and exciting, albeit tricky to find if you don’t know the area, heritage site - the Roman Fort. Tucked behind the houses east of the main road through the village and accessible by a path next to the church, it again highlights the importance of the location. The ford and bridge was such an important crossing point of the Tees that it was deemed necessary to build a fort to protect it.
River Tees Rediscovered did of course hold a re-enactment day in Piercebridge last June. This followed on from so archaeological investigation to discover if there was a Roman settlement further west than has previously been found. The results will be reported shortly, so keep your eyes peeled!
There are not only bridge remains, burial sites and fortsin these villages though. The medieval bridge that is still standing is still the main crossing point, with the road eventually joining the Roman Deere Street. The George Hotel also has a fabulous grandfather clock. This clock was the inspiration for Henry Clay Work’s famous poem. The clock, which stood in the lobby of the hotel which was run by two brothers at the time, was extremely accurate for the period. It is said to have lost time when the first brother died, until it eventually stopped when the second brother passed away aged 90. You can read the poem here. https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/grand-father-s-clock/
If you have decided that this is the year you would like to explore the Tees Valley a bit more, then why not start in Piercebridge and Cliffe. Follow the Teesdale Way, and look out for our upcoming Heritage Trails and Heritage Guides which will give you an even greater insight in to the area. While you are out and about, why don’t you send us your pictures?!