Scottish Border to Berwick on Tweed
Tuesday morning, Newcastle Central station, and this year’s instalment of our adventure is about to begin. This is the 20th time since 1993 we have set off to walk the coast of England. For the first, and only time we are both travelling north to reach our start point on the Scottish border just to the north of Berwick-on-Tweed. For the last two years Brian has had to travel North, but not I, who had merely gone West.
We arranged to meet at Newcastle Central station in time for the 11 o’clock train to Berwick. This was an earlier departure than originally planned as Brian had travelled up the night before, staying in South Shields. The day did not dawn well with heavy lowering clouds and very heavy rain showers, one of which caused Brian to shelter in a shop doorway on his way to South Shields metro station. I was more fortunate in that my better half Kath agreed to take me to town in the car.
We duly met up at about 10.45 and just before 11 o’clock our train arrived on time and we made our way to our seats at opposite ends of the train – one of the consequences of booking separately. [By booking separately we were never going to get seats together so I decided to go first class for a bit of a treat. Sadly I forgot to mention this to Brian until we met at the station! So while Brian was at the front of the train admiring the scenery I was at the back doing the same thing and enjoying my complimentary coffee and bacon bun.] On the weather front things have become much better as the cloud lifted and the sun broke through. We enjoyed a smooth and rapid ride through the beautiful Northumbrian countryside to arrive on time at Berwick.
Our plan is to drop the packs at the digs and catch the bus to Marshall Meadows or the border and walk back to town. Our hosts for the night, Mrs and Mr Pam T, are expecting us at about 2pm and because we had caught an earlier train we have arrived some two hours before we originally expected. One phone call later we are walking the 300 yards to our digs. We are made very welcome and it is a matter of minutes before we are shedding all unnecessary weight from the packs prior to leaving for the bus out of town.
We have decided that we will start at Marshall Meadows rather than the border which will avoid a half mile walk along the busy A1. In the event the decision is taken out of our hands as we are offered a lift out of town by Mr T. The original plan still holds as we leave but at Marshall Meadows Mr T is unable to make the right turn across the dual carriageway and has to go to the border to turn around at the next junction. Once back on the A1 and heading South he pulls into the lay-by at the border and assures us there is a path from the lay-by to the coast path. So grateful for the lift and not totally displeased to be at the border we thank our chauffeur and prepare to leave. First order of the day is to don our waterproofs as it has started to rain quite hard!
A quick scout around unfortunately proves that the path does not exist so we have to make a careful progress down the side of a wet and noisy A1. The rain gradually eases but the spray from the passing vehicles is something to behold. At Marshall Meadows we turn left along a metalled track towards the railway line and the coast. We go past the hotel entrance and farm, cross the railway line and enter the holiday park with its collection of mobile homes. We finally turn South and make a steady progress through the park. At one point we are intrigued by a deep hole in the ground perhaps 15 feet across protected by fences and warning signs. We learn later that the hole was man made as an access point to the beach at the base of the cliff. We suspect it was for industrial use.
Our path after the holiday homes meanders to and fro across a narrow strip of land between the cliff and the railway line for the next mile. Nowhere is it more than 200 yards wide and narrowing to about 20 yards at one point. The rain stopped before we reached the holiday park but the ground is still very wet, not only from the shower we’ve walked through, but also the morning’s showers. All this has conspired to make the vegetation very wet. Just to add to the fun there is a considerable variation in the height of vegetation from boot high to chest high in one place, and we are not talking bushes either! The peace of the day is broken by a barely audible rumble from the A1 and the swish of the trains as they pass on the nearby railway line. Even the diesel hauled freights are very quiet. The views up and down the cliffs are quite impressive and include a rock arch. We take a short standing break to eat our lunch and then continue on towards Berwick.
After 90 minutes walking, just as we reach the golf course, the railway line swings away to the West. The line has been much busier than I expected with some eight or nine trains hurrying past us whilst it has been our close neighbour. The clouds are much higher now and a watery sun makes several brave efforts to brighten the day. We lose the line of the path at the golf course but this is no great difficulty as we skirt the fairways and greens with the sea close by to our left. The cliffs are somewhat lower now. So far we have seen only two fellow walkers – if this is the norm then the lack of traffic would probably explain the tall vegetation we encountered a bit earlier. Those who do not venture along the coast to Marshall Meadows miss out on a very pleasant walk.
We are getting quite close to Berwick now and take a break on one of the benches near the entrance to a much larger holiday home park. To our left is a beach with a multitude of black birds strutting around. Then suddenly there is flash of silvery white light as their white bodies and underwing feathers catch a burst of sunlight that chose to grace us at the precise moment, as if one huge bird, they all took off together. We follow the cliff top path around the holiday park to reach a second golf course. In the distance away to our right we can make out the stone faced earth banks that make Berwick’s Elizabethan town walls. As town walls go they don’t look very impressive compared to a mediaeval castle’s soaring stone walls and towers, yet these Elizabethan walls are a formidable obstacle designed to protect against cannon and musket fire. As such they were a technological marvel of the age. link
We have been gradually losing height and by the time we have passed the golf course we are practically at sea level. Before long we reach a small car park and then follow the road down to the breakwater or pier that protects the mouth of the Tweed. Brian asks if I would like to go out along the pier, taking the camera so we have a few shots from the far end whilst he has a little rest! I give him an old fashioned look that subtly hints that his life expectancy is greater if he keeps such daft ideas to himself.
Over the next 50 minutes or so we make a slow but steady progress along the town walls to the old bridge before heading up to the main street and a pub for some orange squash. This stretch is really interesting as we are walking along the town walls which just drip history and have the occasional boards detailing the points of interest. The views up and down the river, which is close to low tide, just round off a grand stretch of the day’s walk.
At Berwick Bridge link we left the river and headed up the narrow streets to the town centre. This bridge was built between 1611 and 1624. Four previous bridges stood on the site, with two destroyed by flooding (in 1199, the original, and in 1294, the third), one by an English attack in 1216 and the last, built 1376, served until James I of England ordered the construction of the present bridge. It was then on the main road from Edinburgh to London, and the king (who was also James VI of Scotland) had had to cross over the then dilapidated wooden bridge in 1603 while travelling to London for his coronation.
Once in the town centre we head back towards our digs, stopping en-route for the much needed orange squash in the local Wetherspoons situated at the town end of the new road bridge into town. The afternoon’s walk has been slow for us, and although we stopped to take quite a few photos and admire the views we both feel a little disappointed. We’ll have to be quicker than this to reach the Tyne!
Back at the digs we get into conversation with Mr & Mrs T. They get quite a few walkers staying and the run out to the Border is quite common for them. Mr T used to be a local fisherman and he tells us of his grand-father who came to Berwick from Bridlington in Yorkshire. He too was a fisherman and travelled by sea with his family and all their possessions towing eight Yorkshire cobles when he came. link link
We returned to the Wetherspoons for our evening meal where it was Steak Night – a steak and a drink for a very reasonable price! Poor old Brian has a sore tooth and doesn’t fancy having to bite in, I try not to gloat as I tuck into mine with some gusto. After our meal it is back to our digs where we watch one of the most bizarre and unexpected results in football history as Germany beat Brazil 7 – 1 in the World Cup Quarter Finals. England, of course were on the plane home having failed to qualify from the Group Stages.
Berwick on Tweed to Beal
We get a sunny start to Wednesday as we start to retrace our steps through the town centre to the Old Bridge. The weather forecast on the TV was a bit discouraging with rain expected any time after lunch, but at breakfast Mr T reckons that the sun will be with us nearly all day. We hope he is right! Berwick is pretty quiet as we leave, but the town must have been a nightmare of congestion before the by-pass was built with traffic trying to squeeze through the arch in the mediaeval walls.
We get some lovely views up and down the river as we cross the Old Bridge. It all looks very different this morning. The tide is in and has covered the mud rocks and mid-stream banks exposed by yesterday’s low tide. Once on the South shore we turn left to head off through Tweedmouth. We skirt the dock and make steady progress on the road towards Spittal alongside a wide grassy strip between us and the sea. Berwick, with its bridges and town walls, looks particularly charming as it basks in the morning sun. The grassy strip is replaced by houses and stone cottages when we reach Spittal. The map suggests we can cut through the houses to the beach and so get closer to the sea, but we decide to stick with the wide tree lined road. After the church the road narrows and the trees are no more. In the event the road and the beach soon converge and we are able to walk along a prom as the road swings inland a bit and climbs up to the top of the hill to our right.
After an hour’s walking we find ourselves at the end of Spittal prom as it reaches the cliffs of Bear’s Head. The view back along the beach to the mouth of the river and Berwick is beautiful. The air is so clear and the colours sharp and vibrant. The deep blue sea with small white horses comes rolling onto the beach as the seabirds swoop low and fast over the water. For the first time we feel the rather brisk breeze that just takes the edge off the temperature. Overhead there are a few high white fluffy clouds that just add to a lovely scene.
We climb up a path toward the railway line and the top of Bear’s Head where we the Coast & Castles South cycle route, as it makes its way from Berwick to Tynemouth. It will be our companion for much of the walk this year. The Coast & Castles though is just a small part of the National Cycle Route 1 which stretches for 1695 miles from Dover to the Shetlands. From Colchester to the Shetland Islands it forms the majority of the British part of the North Sea Cycle Route, also known as EuroVelo 12, linking Britain - via Bergen in Norway and the Hook of Holland - to other countries that share a coastline on the North Sea. link link link
The view from the top of the hill is possibly even better than from the prom as we can now see over the roofs of Spittal and Tweedmouth. The track makes for easy walking and as yesterday the East Coast Main Line is our close companion just to our right. It is really warm by now, except when we are exposed to the sea breezes. Once past Huds Head the path is trending steadily down-hill past Redshin Cove and Cargies Plantation.
At Sea House the track is met by the road from Scremerston, just over a mile inland across the level crossing. The road makes a sharp right turn to head South along the coast. We and the cycle route join the road and within a quarter of a mile past Sea House, our view changes from a cliff top road to one of a landscape of dunes and sand that stretches away to the South as far as the eye can see. At Cocklawburn Beach we enter the dune country and take a break down on the beach. We share the beach with a couple of family groups who are soaking up the sun and generally enjoying themselves. After our lunch we return to the cycle track and soon pass an old pill box bearing the slogan “Come Meet My Cat” the significance of which is lost on us.
The cycle path continues on its slightly undulating and meandering path past the pill box; beaches and rocky outcrops of Near; Middle and Far Skerr; and Cheswick Black Rocks before heading inland to Cheswick. Away to the right we can still see the occasional train go by, and in the far distance the Cheviot Hills. In front of us we can just make out Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island some 7 or 8 miles away.
It is somewhere around here that we head for the beach of Cheswick Sands and can see several dozen folk spread out along the clean golden sands. Since lunch there has been a pretty incessant roar as the waves break on the beach and it continues as we make our way south in glorious sunshine along the sands. The tide has just turned so there is a strip of damp sand for us to walk on. In this strip there are countless small holes in the sand, presumably left by small beasties that have burrowed into the sand as the tide retreated. We need to keep a good eye out however as to where we return to the dunes as there is pretty substantial stream, the North Low, in front of us. Looking at the map it is too wide to cross on the beach and we will have to go back through the dunes, across a golf course and pick up the good old cycle path as it returns from its visit to Cheswick.
The map also indicates two tracks through the dunes. In the event we miss the first one but find the second one. There are various large concrete structures and several containers in the dunes which have a sort of official feel to them which is quickly confirmed by signs warning for unexploded ordnance from the ranges that used to be here. A little further into the dunes we see a line of concrete blocks that have all the hallmarks of anti-tank obstacles – probably relics from the Second World War. Once clear of the dunes we walk along the track through the golf course to the Club House and road. I eye up a posse of golf trollies wondering if they would be missed – I feel quite confident they would be easy to convert into back pack carriers.
We are very grateful for the bench outside the club house and take what we consider to be a well-earned rest. The walk through the dunes and along the beach has been tiring. The wet sand on the beach was just that little bit too soft for easy walking. After a too short break we head south along the road towards Goswick. We are passed by several cyclists and meet a fellow walker who really should do the lottery this week. He has just had his specs returned to him after losing them on the beach the week before. The sun continues to smile upon us as we, like the cycle route carry straight on at Goswick where the road turns sharp right to head inland. For the third time this day the National Cycle Route Number 1 takes to the grass on its way to Dover. We get glimpses of the sea and beach through the dunes to our left and also, across the mud flats left by the retreating tide, we glimpse Holy Island, or as some call it, Lindisfarne.
The next feature we have to deal with is the stream known as the South Low. It is no barrier at all despite being quite wide and deep as some kind person has built a sluice gate substantial enough to carry the cycle route and us across. We are both pretty hot and tired by this time. Mr T has been right and the rain has not come, nor any clouds that might have given us a little respite. At the sluice we have a choice – to stay with the cycle path or to stay with the coast. For two pins I would follow the cycle path and cut the walk by about three-quarters of a mile, but Brian says “we are walking the coast….”. He’s right of course so we turn left and follow the coast. Some walkers going the other way advise us to go through the gap in the hedge about 50 yards in front of us and follow the foreshore round to the start of the causeway.
We follow their advice and are soon treated to a grand view across the mud flats and sand to Holy Island. We also find a bird watching hide that not only provides a place to sit down, but shelter from the sun and a bird watcher to tell us some interesting things about the Island; the coast and the bird life that inhabit or pass through the area. Apparently the Northumbrian coast is a bit like Clapham Junction for the migratory birds that pass through from the Arctic on their way to sunnier climes in Southern Europe and Northern Africa. We also get a little of the history of Holy Island which played a major role in the early Christian movement in England between the leaving of the Romans and the Norman conquest. link link
From the hide we do not see much bird life but we do see a steady procession of cars, with the sun glinting on their roofs and windows, crossing the causeway to Holy Island. We eventually stir ourselves, bid farewell to our new found companion and set off again. To our left are some water meadows that run into the sands and mudflats. We spot some swans lazily drifting on the South Low and a few sheep on the water meadow. This bit of foreshore is probably only one or two feet above the high tide mark - we both sense that it is no place to be when the tide is high with maybe a storm in the air. After about 10 minutes we reach the car park at the end of the causeway. The traffic going across is quite heavy – not nose to tail but enough to make one wonder where they will all go when they reach the island. Holy Island is a major tourist attraction but can only be accessed when the tide goes out. There are several large warning signs informing drivers to check the tide tables and take care on the causeway. Despite this, several times a year, the local rescue crews have to rescue foolhardy drivers who try to race the tide. A hut on very tall stilts has also been built on the causeway as a refuge for the foolish or hard of reading.
Our path takes us inland here and we have less than two miles to go to our hotel for the night. We are both very pleased about that. The first part is on a purpose built cycle path that has a firm wide all weather surface paralleling the road from the causeway up to Beal. From there up to West Mains and the A1 we are blessed with a footpath. There is no doubt that they make a huge contribution to the safety of cyclists and walkers. At Beal we have to wait at the level crossing for a train to cross the road as it hurries on its way to Newcastle and the South. Arrival at the Lindisfarne Arms at West Mains cannot come soon enough as we face the gradual but steady climb from the causeway. Mr T has been proved right and the sun is shining down on our endeavours as bright and hot now in the late afternoon as it was this morning.
The hotel was originally a pub, but now has a two story block of motel style rooms at the rear. We check in and sup a well-deserved orange squash in the bar before heading to our room, which of course is upstairs and about as far away as is possible from the bar. We are both very tired, my feet hurt and I have a small blood blister on my right big toe that I decide to leave alone. Today has been a hot 12 miles, but thankfully we have been quicker over the ground than yesterday. We eventually go back down to the main part of the building for our evening meal which we take in a light and airy extension with picture windows all round. From our seats we can see Lindisfarne and a broad sweep of the countryside. Dinner is good and before sunset we are making a slow and slightly painful walk [hobble] back to our room. The rain still hasn’t arrived – Met Office 0 – Mr T 1.
Beal to Belford (Purdy Lodge)
After a good night’s sleep; a very pleasant breakfast and a visit to the shop at the nearby garage we are back on the road – literally. Today we will be leaving the Northumberland Coast path behind and follow Cycle Route 1 to Belford. [As this Cycle Route will be a pretty constant companion I reckon we need to get on more familiar terms, it now has a nickname – No 1 ed] Our reasoning for this option is that the coast path is where we left it – about two miles away down at the coast by the causeway. The path heads south over the causeway for about 400 yards and then turns sharp right and heads inland across the fields to Fenwick Granary before crossing the A1 to reach Fenwick. So we can go 2 miles to the coast for a 400 yard walk along the foreshore to walk 2 miles back to the road. Also the weather forecast is not good with heavy rain predicted .It really doesn’t seem worthwhile. No 1 on the other hand takes a much more direct route to Fenwick and on to Belford.
So fully provisioned we set off under a blue sky with a few high clouds. We leave West Mains, which is little more than a pub, garage, shop and a dozen houses, and cross the A1 to head along the lane towards Mount Hooley. There is a steady gain in height before we turn left to head in a more southerly direction. We get some interesting views down the hill to the A1 and the coast beyond. The railway line is down there somewhere but is difficult to spot as it flits from cutting to cutting. Although the clouds are quite high and patchy overhead they are much lower and thicker along the coast to the east and south and it appears to us that there is some rain over there.
The climbing is done for the moment as No 1 gently undulates its way toward Fenwick. Fenwick is a proper village unlike Beal and West Mains, with a neat and tidy collection of cottages and bungalows; some old, some new , one is even blue but I don’t think any of them are borrowed. Strangely though there is no pub or shop. We find a bench and take a break. The clouds have closed in totally and hidden the sun. A group of a dozen or so walkers arrive at the road junction and then head off up the road towards the Kyloe Hills – and we shall shortly be following in their wake.
When we do set off we are on the Castles and Coast path for the first time today, but not for long. We catch the walkers up at the next road junction where they have stopped to have a break. We stop for a chat [and in my case to catch my breath as the climb was a bit steeper than the last one]. The hint of hot coffee wafting from an open flask is very alluring. The group are on a guided walk of about 6-7 miles through the local countryside. The Coast and Castles path takes to the woods that cover the hill in front of us. The walkers will be going into the woods but we shall turn left along the road towards Detchant.
The first half mile or so is pretty uninspiring with the woods to our right and Fenwick Woods to the left blocking any views. Once past Fenwick Woods things don’t improve much as the hedges on both sides are just tall enough to obscure any views. The road is pretty straight with a few undulations. The main sources of excitement are the several groups of cyclists that pass us and a couple of cars. The hills have not been too steep so the walking is fairly easy – we just wish the hedges were a little lower as we keep getting fleeting glimpses of the countryside from time to time through the few gaps and gateways. Approaching Detchant there is by far the steepest hill we’ve encountered today. By the time we reach the summit we are puffing and blowing like a pair of geriatric steam engines, however we don’t feel too bad as a pair of cyclists that passed us just before the start of the climb were forced to dismount near the summit!
At Detchant we turn left and pass through the hamlet. The road has a general downward trend and a bit of excitement is engendered by a milk tanker negotiating a farm entrance. It is getting hotter and the day has been getting steadily brighter since we left Fenwick. The peace though is suddenly shattered as an RAF Tornado makes a low level pass. Within minutes it is thundering overhead again before coming back for a third pass. Obviously “they” are finally satisfied that we are two [relatively] harmless individuals unlikely to spread anarchy in rural Northumberland and the plane moves away to disturb someone else’s peace.
The roar of the planes is replaced by the rumble of cars and trucks as our route comes within 150 yards of the A1 before turning right towards Middleton and Belford. We are immediately confronted by a long steady climb before the road drops down to Middleton where we stop for our lunch. From the top of the hill we were able to get some good views away to the coast some three miles away. The rumble from the A1 is little more than a whisper now and it disappears altogether as we drop down the hill. Once again it is quite peaceful with minimal traffic on the road. The rain forecast at breakfast time has not materialised and we are able to have our lunch in sunshine with a cooling breeze – all very civilised.
We set off South and almost immediately start to climb a fairly steep hill. On the outskirts of Middleton we pass an ornate gateway to Middleton Hall which dates back to the start of the 12th century. The hall itself is shielded from the road by woodlands but the gateway looks impressive, if a little forlorn and unloved, with some vegetation sprouting from the tops of the two towers. link
Once at the summit of the hill there is a steep descent into Belford the main centre hereabouts. We are reasonably confident of getting digs as we have a little list with 5 establishments on it and it is quite early – not quite 1.30pm The day’s walking has been pretty good except for the boring bit mentioned earlier and the fact that in the last mile the big toe on my right foot has started to be very uncomfortable. We pass a couple of B&B’s on the way to the centre of the village and are a little disconcerted to note they have No Vacancy signs up. link
We adjourn to the Blue Bell Hotel for some squash and a bit of plotting. In passing we find out that the Blue Bell has no vacancies and after a bit of a phone around we are getting worried. Every establishment on our little list is full, except one that did not answer. The lovely young lady at the Blue Bell gives us a couple more numbers but they are full. Eventually I walk round the corner to the one that didn’t answer the phone but sadly they must be out as they didn’t answer the doorbell.
On my return the lovely young lady gets us a couple more orange squashes and suggests we try the Purdy Lodge about three miles further South on the A1. She even phones them for us and they have a vacancy and we take the room. All we have to do now is get there. We examine the maps and the options are not good – just shy of 3 miles, mostly on the A1, or nearly 5.5 miles via the lanes avoiding the A1. We bid farewell to the lovely young lady and head for the bus stop to examine the bus times. There is a 70 minute wait for the next one. The rising temperature and our tiredness make us seek a taxi so it is back to see the lovely young lady in the Blue Bell for a taxi number. She phones for us but there is no answer but we leave a message on the answer machine. We go back to the bus stop to await developments and the bus.
After 10 minutes or so a minibus with dial-a-ride plastered all over it pulls into the square. I hobble over and enquire how this works and yes, he can he take us to the Purdy Lodge. So with our packs in the back and with only one other passenger we head for our bed for the night. The fare is more than a bus but perhaps slightly cheaper than a cab and worth paying to avoid a hot walk in the afternoon sun. As we arrive we get a call back from the cabbie so have to disappoint him by saying we had arrived.
The Purdy Lodge is a comfortable resting place but perhaps not quite as good as the Lindisfarne Inn. Today has been a long hot day. The rain forecast at breakfast time never materialised, indeed the sky only clouded over at tea time but remained warm well into the evening. Out of the breeze it was really hot all day except for 20 minutes or so when we were passing through Fenwick. My big toe doesn’t appear to be any worse so I decide to leave it alone again. The blister undoubtedly caused the discomfort dropping into Belford – I’ll have to watch this one. Brian doesn’t have any blisters but like me is feeling quite tired and has been suffering some pain in his knees. It has not been a bad day to be honest – we have had some lovely views toward the coast and surrounding countryside and we cannot express the extent of our gratitude for the help of the lovely young lady at the Blue Bell Hotel, Belford.
Belford (Purdy Lodge) to Seahouses
We had a comfortable night in Purdy Lodge, but it lacked the atmosphere of the Lindisfarne Inn. Breakfast was pretty decent and after checking out we headed to the garage and the attached shop. One of the disadvantages of staying at the Purdy Lodge is that the first 31/4 miles or so are along country lanes. If we had found room at the inn in Belford there would have been a long section across the fields as the Coast Path made its way back to the coast. We are, as the saying goes, where we are and so set off. The lanes are very quiet and after an hour or so and several stops to check our route on the map we are climbing a steady hill that is gradually getting steeper towards what the map indicates is a windmill. The walking has been steady and our views have been mixed as in places the hedges are quite tall, but we get enough gaps to appreciate the gently rolling countryside.
Once at the windmill we take a proper break so it’s packs off and time for a look around. There is a board attached to the wall which informs us that the tower is the Grade II listed Outchester Ducket, and it is not a windmill; it may have been a dovecote [“ducket” is a local word for dovecote, but it is not the ideal shape being tall and narrow]; a folly or some sort of navigation aid. Nowadays it is a holiday “cottage”. The tapering cylindrical stone tower has a conical roof of Welsh slate and is some 65 feet high dating back to the 18th-century. Whatever it was in a previous life it certainly dominates the local countryside.
We would like to relax on the comfortable looking lawn inside the wall, but the gate is locked. Whilst we are here we meet a couple of guys. One arrives in a van and unlocks the gate and drives in – he doesn’t look as though he would let us sit on the lawn. The other is a walker who arrives from the Belford direction. We get chatting and indeed he has come from Belford, he is an ex-policeman from Dawlish on a walking holiday doing pretty much what we are – walking the coast path.
We told him of our surprise at Belford being full and asked him if he had arrived on spec or had pre-booked. Turns out he has booked a week or so walking with a company that has arranged his accommodation each night and transfers his luggage each day. His destination today is Seahouses and he shows us a picture of his accommodation for tonight. Altogether we spend a pleasant 10 minutes or so chatting in the morning sun before deciding we had better make a move.
Our route takes us down a steep-ish and twisty tree lined lane to the bridge over the Waren Burn which is a sizeable stream. A handful of cottages cluster around the bridge and along another lane branching off to the left just after the bridge. Our route takes us down this lane for several hundred yards before we take to a footpath and head up the valley side. It is appreciably cooler by the Burn and a bit humid due to the trees that throng our path. After a couple of hundred yards more the worst of the climb is over and we leave the trees appreciably higher up and just a little winded. Our ascent is much more gradual now and we pass through some more trees, back into the sunlight past what looks like a long abandoned lime kiln. Also somewhere near our line of walk is the site of an ancient settlement, but our unpractised eyes can’t see it.
I am now walking in my own footsteps as I have passed this way before. About 15 months ago I and two ex-colleagues from my working days at Twinings had a day out on a circular walk from Bamburgh to Budle Bay and Waren Mill before heading inland from the other end of the lane we joined at the bridge. Indeed Brian and I could have continued along the lane to Waren Mill; Budle Bay and into Bamburgh, but after some discussion we had decided to take the inland route to Bamburgh. This was partly at my recommendation as I had told Brian the view from the top of the hill we were approaching was rather good. [I was beginning to hope that he would enjoy it when we got there!]
Our path takes us through a caravan park and back onto a lane. After a few hundred yards we get the first tantalising glimpse of the view I had been hoping for. We follow the lane before taking to the fields again and head for a cluster of trees a third of a mile away. We make the gentle climb in relatively quick time and are making our way around the tree covered rocky outcrops. Then the View appears. To the East; South and West we get a wonderful panorama to the sea and Farne Islands; Bamburgh and its castle and the fields to the West and South. [But he would say that wouldn’t he – ed].
We take a break for lunch here and our fellow walker soon passes us on his way to Bamburgh. We exchange brief pleasantries but he is keen to get on to the village of Bamburgh with its beach side castle dominating all. It is quite the tourist attraction. Yet most people only see it from the village or beach. Up here, a mile or so out of town one can appreciate the scale of the place – just how big the castle - is and the countryside it stands in. Brian is suitably impressed and after lunch and a few photos we set off too. We leave the fields and take the road directly into Bamburgh. It is still warm but the breeze is very welcome. The road is quite steep initially and we both feel our calf muscles pulling as we go down. Thankfully the descent soon becomes less steep.
Bamburgh is little more than a modest tree lined triangular village green, the Grace Darling Museum, less than a hundred houses and cottages including the hotels and shops. Then there is the castle with a cricket ground and bowling greens nestling beneath its walls. Just to add to the attractions are - the lack of attractions - and arguably one of the best beaches in the country. As a consequence Bamburgh pulls in a large number of tourists each year and their fair share are here today. We head for one of the bars for an orange squash and are grateful to find a seat. After our squash we head back to the village green and sit on one of the benches whilst we plan the rest of the day. link link link link
Accommodation for the night is a major concern after our experience in Belford. Our target, Seahouses, has a large number of B & B’s, most of which I have on a little list. So we start by phoning them up. We start with the one our fellow walker is staying at on the basis it must be pretty good if a tour company uses it. We are fortunate and take the last room they have available.
The next item on the agenda is do we hit the beach before or after the castle for the walk into Seahouses. As Brian wants to take photos of the castle we decide to stray on the sunny side of the castle and walk past it on the road before heading into the dunes and down to the beach. By the time we reach the beach the sun has hidden behind the growing cloud cover sand we are walking into quite a stiff breeze. It has become much cooler as we and several hundred people enjoy the beach. Most are walking to or from Seahouses. The tide is also starting to come in, but such is the nature of the sand we make fairly easy progress southwards. Shortly after a quarter past 3 three we are settling into our rather comfortable digs. We have really struck lucky here. We have a mini-suite comprising a large twin bedroom, a small lounge area with a couple of arm chairs, coffee table and telly leading to the en-suite bathroom – all very chic.
Whilst we recover we both take stock of our physical condition. Brian’s knees have been grumbling most of the day as have the soles of my feet. The main “wounds” are a burst blister on my left little toe and the blood blister has become somewhat larger. Another cause for concern is the availability of accommodation. We passed many a “No Vacancy” sign as we passed through Seahouses. Our next target, Craster has only a handful of places so we decide to phone ahead. The results are disappointing as all are full. We decide our best bet will be to walk to Craster and get the bus back to Seahouses tomorrow. When our hosts return we will ask if they can do us another night.
We hobble back to the town centre and enjoy fish and chips in one of Seahouses fish restaurants, and follow that with a stroll round the harbour and a pint in one of the pubs. We manage to get a seat in a small snug, but will have to vacate by 7.30 as it is reserved for diners from then. The bar when we get to it is absolutely crowded. Our hosts are still out when we return so we will have to wait for the morning to enquire about another night.
Seahouses to Craster
After a pretty good night’s sleep we awake somewhat refreshed. I decide to pop the blood blister as it has grown a little larger overnight. This is undoubtedly the biggest blister I’ve had for many a year. Breakfast was good, but sadly our hosts cannot accommodate us for another night. They offer several alternatives, all of which we had phoned the previous night with no success. So after breakfast we pack up our packs and head to the Tourist Information Office to seek out accommodation. By 9.30 we have found a B&B and joy of joys the room is available now so we can drop the packs off and repack as day bags.
By 10am we are off and head back towards the harbour and points South. The town is coming to life but once we start out for the cliff tops by the harbour we are pretty much on our own. We can see another couple in front of us as we head past Braidcarr and Snook Points. One sad thing is that a fret [or haar or mist] is rolling in off the sea. Not only has the temperature dropped significantly but very quickly our vision is cut to a hundred yards or so and we lose sight of the canoeists who had been paralleling our course out to sea. There are a few souls on the beach in front of us as we come down from Snook Point but our path takes us inland across the golf course towards the road. We have to do this so we can cross Swinehoe Burn, a pretty substantial stream some 20 feet wide where the road crosses.
We decide to stay on the road to reach Beadnell. The dunes to our left are pretty overgrown and we don’t fancy the beach. There is a good wide footpath so the road it is. The view to our left is blocked by the dunes that reach up to a considerable height in places. To our right we can see across the coastal [plain to the hills away to the West. The fret is still with us for most of the way to Beadnell, but after a mile or so we catch a view of the sea as the dunes assume more modest proportions. The fret has disappeared by the time we reach Beadnell but the sky is still a dull light grey as we pass Nacker Hole – a shingly break in the low rocks stretching from the shore line out to sea. We take a sharp right turn and head for the village’s car park where we find it about a quarter full. Our progress through Beadnell has been a bit uninspiring as we passed houses built at various dates since the end of the Great War. We take advantage of the loos and have a cuppa from a catering caravan before heading towards the far side and the caravan park.
We make a steady progress through the caravan park and eventually reach the countryside proper. The map indicates that the footpath runs inland from the dunes rather than on the beach so as the sky gets brighter and brighter we find ourselves partaking of a rather pleasant walk on a well defined path through the grass in increasingly warm weather.
We take our second break of the day just after crossing Brunton Burn via a large modern wooden footbridge. There are large swathes of grass to stretch out on and we rarely miss such opportunities. The greyness has been replaced by white fluffy clouds and clear blue skies – all rather relaxing. There are some pretty yellow flowers in the grass near us and I attempt some arty photos, which when downloaded scream at me why I am not a professional photographer.
We continue to make steady progress inland from the dunes flanking Beadnell Bay, and the closer we get to High Newton the more walkers we see strolling in the morning sun. We reckon most of them have parked at either Newton Links House or Low Newton car park or have walked out of Craster, being tempted by the good weather and the chance of a very good pint at the Ship Inn at Low Newton. As we top a rise shortly before reaching Low Newton we catch our first real view of Dunstanburgh Castle, its ruined walls and towers standing like broken teeth on a low rocky outcrop.
We decide not to partake of a pint at the Ship but take the path behind the pub for a hundred yards or so where we have spied a bench. We take a short break and amongst the passing walkers there is a gent wearing a patchwork shirt of many colours pushing a wheelbarrow containing a large bag with many straps – very colourful and strange. Apart from the passing walkers it is very peaceful on our bench but sadly no bird song.
Our metalled path soon turns into a well defined path through the grass as we head away from our bench and we are soon walking through the vegetation covered dunes as we head past the golf course. The beach is some twenty to thirty feet below us as we twist and turn our way past a succession of beach huts firmly planted in the dunes. Some of them are quite grand affairs being much larger than those say on Brighton prom. With the beach huts behind us we walk along the edge of the golf course with Embleton Burn between us and the lower dunes and the beach.
We cross the burn near the club house and have to time our progress very carefully so as not to be hit by flying golf balls. The golfers really must be fed up with the situation where a very popular public footpath goes right across their course. We estimate that there are more walkers on the course than golfers.
Once past Dunston Steads the land begins a gentle ascent to the Southern end of the golf course before dropping us almost to sea level in front of Dunstanburgh Castle which, even in its ruined state is very imposing on the rocky outcrop in front of us. From here we get a good view of Embleton Bay stretching away to the North. Our path negotiates a small valley between the castle and the low rocky hills to our right. Our little valley gradually opens out and the rocky outcrop the castle stands on gradually comes down to meet us. The main gate to the castle faces South and we are soon walking away from the castle down the more gentle approach to the ruins of the gatehouse.
We cross several fields, having to queue at one of the gates to let other walkers through. I don’t think we have been part of such a large number of walkers and folks out for a stroll at any stage of our walk to date. The fret of this morning is a thing of the past but the cloud level has been building up all afternoon. The weather is still good though without a hint of rain or strong winds.
Our entry into Craster takes us past some relatively new houses before passing some much older cottages. To our left there is a strip of grass and a low cliff behind the rocky foreshore. We get a good view of the small harbour with its twin breakwaters jutting into the sea. The far one has a curious concrete arch at the seaward end.
In front of the cottages the scrubby grass is replaced by a series of small private gardens. In the centre of the village is a cross roads with a large open space. One road leads toward Dunstanburgh Castle [the one we have just walked; to the left the road rises twenty feet or so past the smoke houses where they prepare the world famous Craster kippers and the pub and some shops; houses and a café. To the right is the only road in or out of the village. A hundred yards or so up this road is the entrance to an old quarry now used as the village’s car park and home to the tourist information office. In front of us slightly to the riaf=ght is the lifeboat station with a slipway running across the road. There is another slip way just to our left. All in all, on this warm afternoon a pleasant vista which explains its popularity with day trippers; walkers etc. link link link
Our bus leaves in about 45 minutes so we take our ease on this little village green, chat with some visitors and visit the tourist information office. The bus duly arrives and we head back to Seahouses. We pass the pub where our walking ex-copper will be staying. The bus passes through Beadnell and we see a whole new part of town which is rather attractive.
We repair to our digs on arrival and eventually dine in anther fish restaurant that is as good as the one we used last night. We decide an early night is in order and so it was back to our digs and to bed!
Craster to Alnmouth
Our experience of accommodation hunting since leaving Berwick has made us very wary, so the first order of the day before leaving the B&B is to book some digs in Alnmouth. That task duly completed we head off for the bus stop, the only fly in the ointment being the rain that falls in a very steady and determined manner. The bus retraces the route from last night and it is still raining when we arrive in Craster. We dismount at the end of the line just past the pub and don our waterproofs and, as so often before, the rain stops within 10 minutes. We leave Craster through a small housing estate and are soon on the cliff top path and heading out past Black Hole and Cullernose Point by which time the cloud has lifted considerably and it is very warm, especially when sheltered from the breeze. The Northumberland Coast Way has an alternative name here – St Oswald’s Way. The route links some of the places associated with St. Oswald, the King of Northumbria in the early 7th Century, who played a major part in bringing Christianity to his people. link link link link
Several hundred yards after Cullernose Point we make a brief re-acquaintance with No 1 on the approach to Howick. This section from Craster has provided us with some amusement as we have passed a group of artists down on the rocks sketching the cliffs; met up with our ex-copper [again] and passed a group of people wearing yellow hats jumping into a rock pool whilst a guy in a white hat watches. We also pass a couple of sea-anglers fishing from the rocks, a pastime not too dangerous today as the sea is calm with only a gentle breeze. [Fishing from the rocks and beaches of Northumbria is a major hobby and my ex-boss used to do it. Some of his tales about the risks some people take are frightening to say the least. Let us just say that in my opinion standing on a beach is OK, but standing on wet slippery rocks at night is a different ball game altogether!]
We continue alongside No 1 for about 300 yards before he swings away inland towards Howick. Our path takes us past Rumbling Kern and we take a break on a small sandy beach near Howick Haven. We continue on our way and a branch of No 1 joins us from Howick. No 1 has two routes from Howick to Boulmer – an all-weather route along the roads via Longhoughton, and a more adventurous one on farm tracks and the grass more closely aligned with the coast. This section is so quiet and peaceful. The sea barely makes a murmer and the only other sound is that of distant bird song. Our path continues along the low “cliffs” past some bushes before dropping down to Howick Burn which is spanned by a wooden bridge. We have to give way to some cyclists here and so far they are the only people we have seen since Howick Haven. As we set off up the gentle rise to the South a couple of groups of walkers pass us heading North.
We continue along the coast past the rocky foreshore, past rocks with strange names such as Red Ends; Longhoughton Steel and Boulmer Steel before coming on a metalled track past some buildings and onto the road through Boulmer village. We decide to stop at the pub for an orange squash [a bit pricey] before setting out again. The road [and oiur route runs along the sandy beach of Boulmer Haven before swining inland about half along the haven. Our route however takes to the grass once more to the end of the beach and the rocks beyond.
Our path takes us just inland of the low dunes to our left and once round Seaton Point we pass by a small caravan park before going down to the beach near the golf course. We ford a small stream meandering its way across the beach and spy a largish container ship heading North. The day has continued warm but the cloud level has been gradually building.
We leave the beach before we reach Marden Rocks however and go up past the club house, Foxton Hall, making sure we are quiet as a group tee-off on the 7th. As we head up to the club house we first hear and then see a helicopter from the RAF base at Boulmer. We go round the club house and head south towards Alnmouth with the greens and fairways to our right and the sea to our left. The land is gently rising in front of us and after about half a mile we have a glorious panorama of another, smaller golf course and Alnmouth Bay spread out before us. Just to the right of centre we can see the roofs and steeples of Alnmouth itself.
Our path then takes us down to the second golf course and via some wet land onto the streets of Alnmouth. We do not go into the village itself but take the road that parallels the river – oddly enough it is named Riverside Road. Across the river atop the dune hill at the mouth of the river is St Cuthberts Cross marking the location where St Cuthbert agreed to become Bishop of Lindisfarne when petitioned by the king in the 7th Century. link
Brian has some distant memory of staying somewhere along this road in a previous life but thinks the place must have been demolished in the intervening years. We eventually reach our digs and meet Janice our host. She is a mine of information about where to eat; the local tourist business – not been this busy for years -and reels off a list of breakfast options that I find hard to take in. Truth to tell we are both very, very tired. As a result of our conversation we end up with a table booked in a local Italian restaurant for later that evening and a promise of a list of accommodation in Amble, our target for the next day; and an offer to dry our damp clothes!
Today has been quite enjoyable but we both feel we have been very slow. When we calculate the stats on return the day has not been dramatically worse than any other, but it felt it. We seemed to make a lot of little stops and both of us felt tired for long parts of the day. All in all both of us were pleased when we reached our digs and could get our boots and packs off. The view from our bedroom window was really beautiful as the sun set over the river before us. link link
Alnmouth to Druridge Bay
After a pleasant meal in the busy Italian restaurant, a pretty good night’s sleep and a good breakfast [I finally decided on scrambled eggs and smoked salmon in preference to the more usual full English] we are ready to set off. The River Aln is one of those annoying rivers we have met throughout our peregrinations over the years. It is less than 200 yards from shore to shore at its narrowest and with the tide out the river is much narrower and appears to be fordable, but of course it isn’t. To cross the river we have a 2 mile detour to the lowest crossing point. To be fair this is not too heavy a cross to bear as once out of town we are exposed to some super views up and down the river. We take to No 1 again to leave town on the road to Hipsburn and Alnwick. Shortly after crossing the bridge over the river we are the beneficiaries of a major investment in No 1. Instead of continuing along the road to Hipsburn to reach the main A1068 to Warkworth No 1 takes to a tarmacked line across the fields to the A1068. Here we are not dumped on the main road but No 1 continues its separate way parallel to, the main road. In the morning sun and under blue skies we are grateful for this. Where Nio 1 reaches the main road a sculpture has been erected which looks rather grand.
Since turning toward the main road our path has been uphill and continues so for a mile or more. Eventually we part with No 1 and head towards the dunes to the south of St Cuthbert’s Cross down a stony track. When we reach the rather tall dunes we turn right and walk alongside them for several hundred yards before we spot a path to the beach through the dunes. Along here it has been very warm as we have been sheltered from the breeze, and rather boring walking as the views are much less than inspiring – scrubby dunes to the left and scrubby land to the right.
However once we reach the beach all changes. To start with it is cooler as the breeze is back, but we have the privilege to walk on one of the best beaches in the country. Where we join the beach there is over a mile of glorious sand in front of us and half a mile or more behind us. Out to sea in front of us we can see Coquet Island quite clearly. We make steady progress along the beach – the sand is good for walking near the waterline. Near Birling we leave the beach and clamber up through the dunes to the car park and lane that will lead us to Warkworth. There is more cloud now but it is still warm. I get totally confused here and keep thinking the lane we are on is the main road into Warkworth. Eventually my reason returns as we do reach the main road by the bridge over the River Coquet.
Warkworth is one of the more beautiful places on earth. There are two bridges here – the modern one taking the road into town; and the medieval one, complete with gatehouse, that did the job for centuries before. The village is built inside a loop of the River Coquet and just about every building in the village is built from stone leading Brian to say he felt as though he was in the Cotswolds.
We take our lunch on a bench in Dial Place which would have been the market place in days past but is now full of parked cars. In front of us is Castle Street which leads up the hill to the castle which dominates the scene. Warkworth is one of the prettiest and atmospheric villages I know, and, dear reader, you will not be surprised when I say I like it very much and agree totally with Nikolaus Pevsner link who said: "Warkworth must be approached from the north. With its bridge, its bridge-tower, then Bridge Street at an angle, joining the main street up a hill to the towering, sharply cut block of the keep, it is one of the most exciting sequences of views one can have in England." link
We are confined to the road [and old No 1] for the next mile or so as we head up to the castle and on toward Amble. Once past the castle we turn sharp left at the road junction and catch our first glimpse of the Coquet as it runs down to the sea at Amble. We drop back down to “sea level” almost as sharply as the hill up to the castle and are relieved to find a footpath alongside the road. The river gradually widens and we spot several birds lazily swimming on its surface. Eventually the road and the river part company and we take to a riverside path that leads to Amble’s Marina. This section has been quite pleasant but very warm as the sun blessed us with its presence since leaving Warkworth. At the marina we leave the river and head into town to find our digs. What we do find is the Tourist Information Centre near the revamped village square. We acquire a street map and directions to our digs and some leaflets about the area; the net result of all this is that at 14.25 we arrive at our digs feeling hot and tired. The mood is not helped by the fact that we beat our host, who is returning from the shops, to the door by five minutes or so and I discover that I do not have my notebook, without which these works of literature [eh! – Ed] could not be written. I phone the Tourist Centre and am informed that they do indeed have my notebook tucked safely under the bench. So feeling somewhat sorry for myself I leave Brian and return to the Office for the wretched thing. My mood is not improved much to see Brian relaxing on the balcony outside our first floor bedroom. link link
Things soon improve however when I get to the room; take of me boots and join Brian with a cuppa on the balcony. We are both wondering what to do with ourselves though. It is still early in the afternoon – not 3pm yet. I eventually suggest that we push on to Low Hauxley about 2 miles away or the Druridge Bay Visitor Centre at 4 miles or so and get a taxi back. In the end we decide to go for it, our break has raised morale a lot and moving on will help with the staging over the days ahead.
So we leave Amble on the road [No 1 again] and head to Low Hauxley. On leaving Amble we have a choice to stick to the road or walk through the dunes to our left. With the tide coming in the beach would be problematical so we decide to stick with the road and make good time to Low Hauxley. We both decide to carry on and in a real role reversal I am now the one setting the pace and trying to keep spirits up. We leave the road behind at Low Hauxley and stick with the metalled surface of No 1 as we head South. The beach is not an option now as it is blocked by the tide at Silver Carrs and Bondi Carrs.
About 90 minutes after leaving Amble I spot the small wood that signifies the approach to the Visitor Centre. We are both pleased to reach the short path through the trees that lead to the Visitor Centre and arrive just too late to get a cuppa in the café. We are both feeling a little pleased with ourselves and having moved on and the walk has been quitter pleasant. The only downside being that we have not been able to walk on the beach as Druridge Bay is one of the best in the country. link link link
We phone for a taxi which arrives quite soon afterwards. During the drive back we make arrangements for the pick-up in the morning and he advises us that they are busy up to 9am but then things quiet down on the taxi front. Back at the digs we get showered changed and eventually head out for our evening meal. I am disappointed to find that the fish restaurant near the digs is closed and although the take away is available but we want to sit in some comfort. So we head into town with my feet and legs protesting at every step. We eventually find an Indian restaurant which is pretty good. The only downside being the walk all the way back!
Druridge Bay to Newbiggin
In the morning our taxi arrives at the appointed time to whisk us back to the visitor centre on Druridge Bay. We start the day by following the track just on the land side of the dunes for a mile or so. Then we go down to the beach and enjoy for the second day in a row one of the best beaches in the country. Yesterday it was Alnmouth Bay; today it is Druridge Bay, and nature has decided to be on pretty good behaviour to showcase it at its best. The clouds are high and patchy affording plenty of sunshine; the tide is out revealing the long broad sweep of the bay to great effect. There are few people about at the moment but there are hundreds [if not thousands] of birds at the waterline or swimming close to the beach. Every so often a swarm of them would take to the air to swoop and swirl in the most fascinating manner. There is a gentle breeze to keep us nice and cool and good firm sand to walk on. The air is clear and Coquet Island to the North can be clearly seen. All in all it is very peaceful.
As we move South the cloud cover increases and the sun plays hide and seek amongst them. Our boots get wet as we cross several small streams running down the beach. We pass the sad sight of a dead seal lying on the beach – it being much bigger than we imagined a seal to be. Also there are more people at this end of the beach, confirming what I had been telling Brian that this is a most popular destination for locals and those from further afield.
As we have been heading south I have been keeping an eye out for our route off the beach as we will almost certainly have to take to the road to get past Lynemouth about a mile south of the bay; and also because Cresswell is home to another very popular tourist attraction which I insist we visit. The steps through the dunes to get us off the beach are very easy to spot and so 2 hours after setting off we are in the heart of the village of Cresswell and about to enter the café known as Cresswell Ices - the tourist attraction of the village. This watering hole not only makes some of the best ice cream on the premises it also does a pretty good cup of tea. We purchase our goodies and sit outside at one of the picnic tables enjoying the view across the field to Cresswell Tower, one of the many pele towers or fortified houses that are scattered all over Northumbria and built as a defence against the Border Reivers. This one is also reputedly haunted. Footnote || link link link link
Our reveries are broken when a white 4x4 pulls up and we hear “Well hello there Roger! You’ve made it to here then!” It is Hector, my ex-boss accompanied by a friend who are on their way to do some bird watching further up the coast. Our meeting up was quite fortuitous as we had not planned to meet. Hector and I had been exchanging texts over the past few days as Hector had been hoping that we could share a beer when we were passing through his neck of the woods. [He lives about 4 miles away as the crow flies]. Unfortunately he is unable to join us tonight as he and his wife are going to a concert in Newcastle. We have a brief chat and Hector does offer to give us a lift the next morning from Newbiggin to Blyth. This is a most welcome development as this section had been exercising my mind for some time, but more of that later.
The next bit also presents us with choices. Take to the road through Lynemouth on good ‘ole No 1 – a somewhat convoluted route that shapes up as an inverted “S”; or the more direct route on the foreshore. We have been told that when the tide is out it is possible to walk from Cresswell along the beach/foreshore past Snab Point and Headagee and so pass Lynemouth power station along Lyne sands before skirting the golf course past Beacon Point and so into Newbiggin. Indeed I have walked this way from Newbiggin to the power station, but not the bit from the power station to Cresswell. The key bit in all this being “when the tide is out”, and the tide is coming in. Also from the map it is not at all clear how one gets past the River Lyne near the power station.
In the end we decide to take to the road and cross the Lyne on the bridge and see how we go from there, maybe we can get down to Lyne Sands after crossing the river. Our walk out of the village is fairly pleasant for a while as we pass the caravan park and follow the gentle undulations of our route as the chimneys of the power station and closed aluminium smelter draw ever closer. About three-quarters of a mile from the river though the scenery changes and becomes more drab and dreary. By the time we cross the River Lyne all the land to our left is occupied by the power station and to the right although a little greener is not particularly inspiring. Any thought of getting to the beach after the river is driven from our minds by the 8 foot fence on our left. We consider going to the beach before the river, but it looks too deep and wide to be anything but a barrier when it empties into the sea.
The road swings round in a big sweep to double back on itself and so we find ourselves heading North into Lynemouth. Once in the village we come across the Lynemouth Resource Centre which is now run by the locals for the locals with the help of the village trust. The thing that particularly interests us is that it hosts a café! We are soon ensconced inside with a cuppa before moving outside to eat our lunch on the picnic tables provided.
Lynemouth was originally a pit village, but then the mines closed and in the 1970’s the aluminium smelter and the power station to power it were built. Sadly the smelter was mothballed in 2012 with the loss of 512 jobs. With this sad recent history it was good to see the efforts made by the local trust to get life back into the community.
After our lunch we continue on No 1 as it crosses the village to the other main road. Here we turn left and head out of the village. We made steady progress along No 1 to the entrance to the power station. We turn left off the main road and bid farewell [again] to No1 to pass under the railway line leading into the power station and make a right turn onto a path across some rough ground leading to the golf course. Rather than head for the coast and come into Newbiggin via Beacon Point we head straight for the town and eventually go down some side streets leading to the main road. We turn left at the main road and head to the coast. We spend the next 20 minutes or so resting opposite the caravan park enjoying the view across Newbiggin Bay from Church [or Newbiggin] Point to Spital Point at the South end of the bay. The thirteenth century Parish Church of St Bartholomew stands in splendid isolation on Church Point.
In 2007 there was a major revamp of the whole bay. The beach, which had eroded badly during recent decades underwent a massive redevelopment when more than 500,000 tonnes of sand were brought up the coast from Skegness and placed on the beach. Part of the project includes a new breakwater, graced with a sculpture called The Couple by artist Sean Henry. link link link
We start a slow stroll along the promenade towards the Ship Inn – one of the possible B & B’s in the town. In the course of our stroll we pass the lifeboat station and a miniature [but still almost life size] copy of the Couple statue in the bay. When we reach the Ship we find it closed but advising us to telephone for information. We duly do this and find they have no rooms. So we settle down to phone around with the list of numbers we have . It is the same story as Belford – each of the 6 or 7 places we know about is full. Eventually the last one on the list can help us. The B&B is full but they also have a house they let out for holiday makers and are prepared to let us have it for one night. We grab this immediately and so at least have a roof over our heads.
Our digs are in Seaton Avenue near the southern edge of Newbiggin so we set off on the road out of town. On the way we pass a couple of B & B’s with No Vacancies signs prominently displayed. We arrive at the house and the landlady is there to give us the keys. We are quite fortunate there are some basic supplies in but we will have to go out shopping for our breakfast. Before settling down totally we decide to explore a bit and extend the walk to the edge of town. We make our way to the sea front, this time we are on an upper promenade. We pass some nice looking Victorian / Edwardian terraces; a bowling green and tennis courts before the prom runs out. We call it a day here as neither of us fancy going further on the cliff top path to Sandy Bay caravan park, chiefly because it would just be a there and back trip and we are both feeling quite tired.
On the way back we call in at a corner shop and get some essential provisions; there is a chippy if we want it and a pub that sadly does not do meals tonight, but can provide us with a pint. While we quietly sip at our beer a couple of guys walk in - obviously a son and his dad. They are German tourists and they enquire if the pub has room for 4 people. Sadly the pub cannot accommodate them and after a few minutes they find themselves heading for the Travelodge in Ashington about 3 miles away. Fortunately they have a car. This little episode reminds us we were fortunate to nab the last available beds in Newbiggin an hour or so earlier.
After our drink we go back to the house; get showered and changed and order take away pizza to have with the bottle of wine that mysteriously found its way into the essential supplies we bought at the shop. A quick text exchange with Hector to make arrangements for the morning and we are set to enjoy our home for the night. We even have separate bedrooms!
Newbiggin to Tynemouth
Today we are to get a ride to Blyth which is about 4 miles or so away as the crow flies. Sadly there are two rivers and a major stream in the way. The motorist is well catered for as the A189 Spine Road crosses all three waterways, and although footpaths are present on the bridges, there are no linking footpaths alongside the busy A189 dual carriageway. So to get to Blyth town centre one is faced with a walk of 10 miles or so – in effect a day’s walk to go less than 5 miles!
Getting over the River Wansbeck is not too bad. It is a fairly pleasant walk along the cliffs to Sandy Bay holiday Park, then onto the beach to follow the river upstream to the bridge where footpaths take one up to the dual carriageway. The Wansbeck is a teasing river. On an earlier walk hereabouts I had a good look at the river as it crosses the beach to the sea. On the face of it, it seems not too wide or fast flowing and surely it is shallow enough to ford. But then one remembers how deep and wide it is little more than a few hundred yards upstream to realise this is not an option!
Once over the Wansbeck one has to decide whether to walk round the Cambois “peninsular” or not. It is further this way but one is following the coast. Sadly this is not the prettiest part of Northumberland with much derelict industrial land. The beach is pretty good though once one has walked the mile or so to the coast. The irony is that there is still a road sign near North Blyth pointing to the long defunct ferry between there and Blyth that closed in 1997. If only this ferry was operational …. link link
Whether one goes round via Cambois or not the route involves going inland via East Sleekburn and possibly Bedlington Station to cross the River Blyth and the Sleek Burn. Our friend No 1 goes via Cambois; East Sleekburn; Bedlington Station and Furnace Bridge before following the banks of the Blyth downstream. In short it is a scruffy day’s walk and I for one am not disappointed to be missing it out. I have waxed probably too long and not so lyrical about this so on with the story.
We make our breakfast clear up and set out to the end of the street where Hector will pick us up. I had expected Hector to take us to the town centre but he drops us off near to Blyth South Pier which is a bit of a bonus. . Blyth, in its heyday, was one of the busiest ports in Britain, but with the decline of King Coal and the ship-building industry the town has suffered some serious setbacks. That said major efforts have been made to revitalise the place. After saying our goodbyes and thanking him once again we set off towards Whitley Bay, initially on the beach but then on the recently refurbished promenade past Blyth Battery – a World War One relic now open to the public. link
As yesterday the day is fine but the wind is blowing into our faces. We decide not to take to the beach for the walk into Seaton Sluice but take to the tarmac path through the dunes, which also happens to be our old friend No 1. The path gently rises and falls as it meanders its way through the dunes. The view to the sea on our left is blocked by the dunes for much of the way but we get a good view of the flat coastal plain away to our right. The dune system between Blyth and Seaton Sluice, is a local nature reserve, and is recognised nationally for its diverse flora and fauna. The dunes, like most along the Northumberland coast, attract many migrant birds both in spring and autumn and have good communities of reptiles and invertebrates that are regionally and nationally important.
We take a break on a convenient bench near the Northern limit of Seaton Sluice before heading into the village which judging from its current appearance one would not suspect has an industrial heritage based around coal; salt and bottle making. The small harbour gives a clue as something must have warranted the cutting of a channel through rock to form a harbour. link
We leave No 1 on the road and head to the harbour before taking to the gently rising land and cliffs that lead past Crag Point and on to Hartley just over half a mile away. We briefly join up with No 1 before we head back to the coast at the Delaval Arms. Our path takes us across the fields as the land gradually drops towards the symbol of Whitley Bay – St Mary’s lighthouse and Island. St Mary’s Island is just that – an island connected to the mainland by a causeway. The island boasts a lighthouse and the keepers’ cottages. The lighthouse closed in 1984 and the whole place is now a visitor centre. Much of the land facing the island is a nature reserve and we pass a couple of bird hides facing a small lake. link
We choose not to go to the island but head more or less directly for Whitley Bay Links – a mile and a quarter of open grass land with the odd floral bed; miniature golf course and so on. The whole stretch is subject to covenants banning the building of permanent structures whose roofs show above ground level. There is a lower prom between the beach and the links and the buildings that there are on this stretch are built on the prom. One of these is the famous [or infamous] Panama Swimming Club, so named after a ship that was wrecked nearby, in the 1930s. The club has many members that like to indulge in sea swimming – at all times of the year. Indeed the annual New Year’s Day swim frequently makes the local TV news reports. Why anyone would swim in the North Sea in Summer [when it is at best cold] let alone the middle of winter is beyond me.
We stay above the promenade to start with and can see No 1 50 yards or so away running along the road. We drop down to the prom near the Panama Clubhouse and a few yards further on is the Rendezvous café where we repair for urgent intake of hot tea. Whilst we are sipping at our tea we start to think about where we should finish the walk. The Tyne is the natural place to stop, but should we go to South Shields or take another day and go on to Sunderland even. Should we call it a day at Tynemouth on the North side of the river. There are pros and cons for all these ideas but eventually we decide to call a halt to this year’s walk in Tynemouth. We also decide to book digs in Whitley Bay; and drop the packs for the last bit onto Tynemouth. link
After an all too brief sojourn we carry on toward the other spiritual home of Whitley Bay – Spanish City, a Grade 2 listed building on the seafront. At one time it was the centre of attraction of the holidaymakers that flocked to the town before the Costas took over. Today  it is being refurbished. link
We start to play Spot the B&B as we pass them on our way into town to find the Tourist Information Office. We are both surprised by the number of “No Vacancies” signs on display. We are both feeling very tired even though we have only been on the go for about 4 hours and this results in some muddled thinking at the Tourist Information. We let the staff know where we want to stay and a price range, and we are eventually booked into a sea front hotel at the lower end of our price range.
When we get to our hotel we find it to be comfortable enough and value for money, but both of us wish we had spent a little more to get those little extras that make a place more homely. With the packs safely in our room we head for the final few miles. We will be on pavements and promenades and Good ole No 1 again pretty much all the way from now on. The clouds have been building up since the morning, but apart from a few spots of rain that do not trouble us it remains pleasant walking. There is little excitement as we walk along Whitley Bay’s prom through a townscape comprising some hotels; bars and restaurants before gradually shifting to tennis courts; houses and plots awaiting redevelopment on one side and a fairly grey sea on the other.
On the approach to Cullercoats we leave the road to walk out to Brown’s Point, and along the few hundred yards of rocky shoreline to the Queen’s Head, Cullercoats, for an orange squash. On leaving the pub there is a change in scenery as green and gold re-join the palette. First we walk past Cullercoats Bay, a sandy beach protected by two breakwaters that hint at its former life as a busy little port before the railways came in the 19th Century. link
We continue past the manicured lawns and flower beds leading down to Saddle Rocks before we catch our first glance of Tynemouth Long Sands – yet another of Northumberland’s beautiful sandy beaches. We decide to stay on the promenade rather than go down to the beach and embark on the last mile and a half of this year’s walk. For the first half it is not at all apparent that we are walking in a built up area. On the right the housing is on the far side of the Metro Line about 200 yards away. The space in between occupied by open spaces; a hotel and the boating lake and bowls greens etc. To our left is the sweep of the Long Sands with only one late Victorian building to block the view. There used to be two, but the Plaza, built in the late Victorian period as a Palace of the North for holidaymakers, was destroyed by fire in 1996.
At the southern end of the Long Sands on the beach sits the former open air swimming pool. Once a mecca for tourists it too suffered decline. After years of disuse it was converted to a tidal rock pool area by adding sand and rocks so folk could potter amongst the rocks and sand looking for shell fish etc in the pools left behind when the tide retreated. Sadly this has never proved to be popular.
In the second half of the walk the buildings come closer as we carry on past the Grand Hotel built as a summer residence in 1872 for the Duchess of Northumberland, and converted to a hotel in 1877. Next to the hotel is one of the strangest homes in the area – a converted Second World War observation tower.
The road now goes uphill as we pass Sharpness Point and pass along the cliffs overlooking King Edward’s Bay and the Short Sands. To our right is the impressive Victorian terrace of Percy Gardens. The landmarks continue as we pass the ruins of Tynemouth Castle and Priory that dominates the end of the main street. We continue past the Castle and go down to Priors Haven, a small sandy beach within the breakwaters of the Tyne, then up past the Spanish Battery where we finally say goodbye to No 1 as it takes a different path dropping steeply down to the river promenade and heads upstream to join other branches of the National Cycle Network including the Coast to Coast linking the North Sea and Atlantic coasts.
We take the short path in front of the Lifeguard cottages and museum which ends at a fence overlooking mouth of the Tyne. From our vantage point we get some spectacular views out to sea to the East; South Shields and the coast to the South and upstream to North Shields and beyond. Opposite is South Shields; in the middle distance the stack of rock just off the coast at Marden that used to be an arch before the top collapsed into the sea; and Souter lighthouse in the far distance. To our right on the North side a few hundred yards away we can just make out the infamous Black Midddens - rocks that have been the scene of more than one ship wreck - being covered by the advancing tide. In the far distance upstream we can just make out the funnel and upper decks of the ferry to Amsterdam. link link link link
The weather has been kind during the afternoon and we have been treated to a typical British summer's day. It has been warm, the large fluffy clouds scudding cross the blue sky, occasionally blocking out the sun. On days like this Tynemouth attracts hundreds of people. Indeed since leaving Cullercoats we have met an increasing number of people out for a stroll; or jogging or cycling to and from Tynemouth.
After a good few minutes admiring the river and lands beyond we slowly make our way back to the Castle and turn left down the main street to find some liquid refreshment and a cash machine. We find both at the far end of Front Street and so take a short break before going back to our hotel in Whitley Bay. Brian is thinking of taking the Metro or a bus but I, or more accurately my rather painful feet, don't feel like that and by some magic they force my hands to remove the phone from my pocket so I can surreptitiously call for a cab to take us back to our hotel.
The last night was very pleasant to say the least. There was a good Italian restaurant about three doors down which served well cooked food in a pleasant ambiance that fitted our mood perfectly. Next door to the restaurant was a reasonable bar for a pre-prandial beer or two. We must have presented a funny sight though as we hobbled our way along the street. The next morning it was a fairly leisurely hobble up to Whitley Bay's Metro station for Brian to get to Newcastle and his train home. I only had a couple of miles to get to my home in Tynemouth and it was certainly a strange feeling when I was sat at home having a cuppa before Brian had reached Newcastle!
This year's walk has been a bit odd for me. In previous years there was always a strong sense of exploration as we passed through new places and landscapes. This was lost for me once we reached Waren Mill a few miles North of Bamburgh as over the years I have walked the stretch from there to Tynemouth. Despite walking through some beautiful places and being more than pleased to revisit old friends the spark of mystery and discovery was lacking and took the edge off the experience. Brian also had similar feelings during our walk through Whitley Bay and on to Tynemouth as he has walked this way more than once before.
This year's walk was one of the most gentle in the whole project so far with hardly any steep hills. The easy terrain had led us to speculate that we might get all the way to Saltburn this year, but in reality it was all a bit pie in the sky. Stopping at Tynemouth was the logical thing to do and was in part dictated by leaving a reasonable amount to walk next year.
For some reason we both suffered a degree of discomfort not experienced previously. For me it was the soles of my feet, particularly the right one, which gave an almost continuous ache. The level of discomfort varied through the day and from day to day. I don't know what was causing it as there were no blisters or bruises. The blisters I picked up early in the walk whilst looking ugly did not cause any real discomfort.
For Brian it was his knees which caused him quite severe pain on some days, and a background level of discomfort on others. Like me he was pleased to reach the end of a day's walk even on those days when his knees had been relatively benign.
However let us not end this year's walk on the negative points. We met some interesting people and learnt a little about Berwick's fishing history. The walk from the Border to Tynemouth was through some beautiful countryside. The beaches were superb; and in places the cliffs were high and rugged enough to please anyone. The road walking through to Belford also offered a welcome contrast and some fine panoramas across the land leading to the sea. We saw magnificent castles in varying degrees of disrepair, some pretty coastal towns and villages and my favourite - Warkworth. Yes, on balance a very good walk.