The A1 motorway divides County Durham into two distinct parts. Eastwards to the coast is the most heavily populated part of the county, an almost continuous built-up area, which grew with the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century. Yet, in places the coastline has long, sandy beaches and low, rocky cliffs, around which seaside resorts have developed. The many wooded valleys that line the plateau towards the sea are preserved as beauty spots. By contrast, the western extremities of the county comprise rugged Pennine peaks that loom over unspoilt moors and dales. Walkers explore the wild landscape, where waterfalls thunder through limestone gorges and drystone walls surround the scattered farmsteads. The older and more enduring fabric of rural life survives to delight the eye in farms and villages. The county now incorporates much of Teesside after the abolition of the county Cleveland.
The area formely occupied by Cleveland has a rich weave of history stretching back at least to the post Roman period, when both St Hilda & St Aidan were associated with an important monastery at Hartlepool in the 7 th century.This particular region was home to a dense prehistoric forest, a part of which was recorded as still existing in the 13 th century. Hartlepool was the pre-eminent town in the area for many centuries with wealth and status derived from a port that thrived in the Middle Ages; its importance may be gauged by the degree to which it was targeted by Scandinavian raiders and pirates as well as Scottish marauderers.
The town of Darlington is justly famous as the ‘Cradle of the Railways'; early in the 19 th century the ‘Stockton & Darlington Railway' became the world's first public railway, developed by the influential Tyneside engineer George Stephenson. For many centuries before the meteoric rise of Middlesbrough, Stockton was the most important settlement in the north Teesside area enjoying the fruits of busy trade through its port.
Middlesbrough remains alone among the large towns of north east England in having no ancient or medieval past - this ‘new town' was conceived in 1829 and expanded rapidly through the 19 th century. Situated near the mouth of the River Tees, Middlesbrough very quickly outstripped all competitors to become the pre-eminent industrial town in the county. Noted for its iron and steel manufacture it also enjoys an international reputation as the builder of famous bridges.
Viking associations are in evidence throughout the county, their legacy often being in the form of place names. They settled primarily in the region known as Lanebaurgh, an important meeting place for the Norse settlers. The high ground called Roseberry Topping is undoubtedly the best known natural landmark of this area. Steeped in local folklore it has many Viking associations. The noted sea-explorer Captain Cook was born in nearby Great Ayton, a short distance away from the beautiful ruined abbey of Gisborough.
Despite the Teesmouth landscape appearing to be nothing but canyons of industrial hardware, the area is surprisingly vibrant with wildlife while the partly industrialised Seal Sands, on the north bank of the Tees, are winter home to thousands of wildfowl and waders. Seal Sands, as one would expect, also plays
Ancient drovers' tracks cross a land rich in Roman and Iron Age remains, while the stark outlines of ruined castles and abbeys pierce the horizon. At the heart of the region is Durham City itself, with its splendid cathedral and castle towering proudly over the steep banks of the River Wear. The cathedral is a majestic sight which cannot fail to impress any lover of Britain's heritage.