The Northumberland Coast – wild, yet beautiful
Northumberland is an unspoilt county; even though there is easy access to the cosmopolitan city of Newcastle upon Tyne, and many small towns and villages, it is possible to get far away from it all. Nowhere is this more obvious than on its amazing coastline, where there is everything from traditional seaside towns (although admittedly, not many!) to remote beaches where all there is to see is sky and sea.
Starting from the southeast corner of the county, in the borough of North Tyneside is the mouth of the mighty River Tyne, where coal has been a major cargo in past times, and from where passengers have travelled to Scandinavia until quite recently. Now ferries to Amsterdam are available from here. At Tynemouth are the ruins of a castle and priory, of which the priory may have been founded by King Edwin of Northumbria in the seventh century. Here also is the monument to Admiral Lord Collingwood, who assumed command at the Battle of Trafalgar after the death of Nelson. Collingwood’s home was in Morpeth, a pretty Northumbrian market town.
Further up the coast is the town of Whitley Bay; at one time the archetypal seaside town, with a funfair, donkey rides, amusement arcades, and all the trappings required for a seaside holiday. With the scaling down of this kind of holiday, resulting from the popularity of holidays abroad, Whitley Bay has also scaled down, but still retains the charm that attracted, and still attracts visitors.
Blyth is the next town of any importance in the south east of the county; famous for its submarine base during the Second World War, and for its many coalmines. These are all gone now, and many people live there but work in Newcastle. It has a very long stretch of beach with sand dunes, which are the delight of many residents who enjoy long walks there, relishing the fresh sea air. Blyth is at the forefront of wind turbine technology too, this is demonstated by the pier, with its windmill like generators.
Travelling by road involves moving inland to enable renewed access to the coast. Taking the A189, and then the A1068, with detours to the small seaside town of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, and the magnificent beach and nature reserve at Druridge Bay, the next stops are Amble for its pretty harbour on the mouth of the River Coquet, and Warkworth for its castle. This castle was once the home of the Percy family, and, famously, that of Harry Hotspur, who gave the Scots a really hard time!
Look out for the turn off to Alnmouth, a beautiful fishing village which shouldn’t be missed. With its pubs, great walks, and a welcoming Franciscan Friary to visit, Alnmouth is the perfect place for an overnight stay, or perhaps even for even longer.
Joining the B1339 at Lesbury and then on to the B1340 will take you to Seahouses; a good base for exploring points north and south of the town. Seahouses is a fishing village and seaside town, with some of the attractions you would expect; the one of the best being a boat trip to the Farne Islands to see all kinds of seabirds, including puffins, and in the autumn, the seals. After enjoying what Seahouses has to offer, take a trip south again and visit the coastal village of Craster, famous for its kippers. From Craster there is the ruined Dunstanburgh Castle, reachable only on foot, but well worth the effort. It was built in 1313 by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and is in a very dramatic location on the edge of a cliff. Going north of Seahouses, the next place of note is Bamburgh and its castle, which is markedly different from Dunstanburgh, being occupied and restored. Nearby is the Grace Darling Museum, commemorating Northumberland’s most famous heroine, and telling of the brave sea rescue performed by Grace and her father. Here road travellers must make their way to the A1 motorway to continue the journey northwards.
The next amazing place to visit is Lindisfarne or ‘Holy island’. As indicated by its name, it remains a place of pilgrimage for Christians, and has impressive priory ruins. It was the home of St Cuthbert (the most important northern saint, and dear to the heart of many) and his monks, and is only accessible by a causeway when the tide is out. Always check the tide tables before you visit! There are places to take refuge if caught by the tide, but it’s a very long wait before you can leave.
The last stop is Berwick upon Tweed, a town with a very chequered history, having been Scottish and English in turn through the centuries, depending on to whom it belonged. It is currently English, and seems set to stay that way! Walk around the walls and look at the lovely views over the sea and estuary, as well as exploring the town.
Much of the coastline can be seen on the Northumberland Coastal Path, and there is a walk that can be taken in six stages, all the way from Cresswell (north of Newbiggin) to Berwick. There are also planned cycle routes to take.
Part of the coast, from Berwick to the River Coquet, is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and is perfect for lovers of wildlife, being home to many wading birds and species of geese and ducks, which feed on the mud flats.
Of course, visiting here means that many other wonderful places in the county are accessible; Kielder Forest and Hadrian’s Wall, to mention only two; but make sure you find your own special place on the coast first!