PUBLISHED: 16:09 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:40 28 February 2013
Think of the beautiful Northumberland coastline and two places immediately spring to mind, Bamburgh and Seahouses. They sit, side by side, overlooking the Farnes and Lindisfarne, equally attractive but individually distinct. Steve Newman explores
There are many places in the North East where you can step out of the car and feel history all around you. Bamburgh is certainly one of those where you can almost breathe it in.
Perched on its huge rock, Bamburgh Castle can be seen for miles around and dominates the pleasant village below, clustered around its green. The churchyard holds a monument to Grace Darling and graves of victims of shipwrecks on the nearby Farne Islands.
Even the local greengrocer and newsagent's is situated in the 17th century walled garden of the old manor house. This is Clarks, which is open every day of the year except Christmas day and serves Bamburgh with fruit and vegetables, houeshold provisions, bedding plants and also holds the prescriptions for the chemist's in nearby Belford, while a television screen donated by the Seahouses Development Trust announces local events.
'I am the fourth generation here,' said Peter Clark when I met him with his father Douglas in one of their polytunnels. 'There have been massive changes in the village over the past few years. There were far more shops and businesses but many houses are now let as holiday homes and we have an ageing population.'
Bamburgh and Seahouses are linked by a number of factors and one is Rachel Clinton, who was brought up in Seahouses but now lives in Bamburgh. In November, Rachel will be setting up her studio and kiln in the walled garden as the village's only artist in residence. 'I'm constantly inspired by the beauty of the coast,' she says. 'Making sculptures from driftwood and ceramics with a local theme is a passion for me. I got my BA in Edinburgh but there is nowhere like the Northumberland coast for inspiration.'
The long strip of grass between the Grove (the village green with its trees and squabbling rooks) and the cottages on the south side of the street was where the medieval market was held. On this same street you will find one of the culinary treasures of the North East, where Mick runs Robert Carter and Son, the butcher's, home of the award-winning Bamburgh Banger. 'We've been here since 1887,' said Mick, 'when my great grandfather set the business up in this very shop.' Traditional home made sausages vie for space here with traditional Scotch pies both made on the premises and the long queues outside testify to the quality of the products.
This link with Seahouses surfaces yet again with Claire Thorburn, who lives equidistant between the two villages a short walk away from the shore. 'I was raised in Seahouses and worked as journalist in Yorkshire before deciding to come home to the coast.' Now her company, Impact PR, has many clients based in the North East but, unlike many of those who work in this high pressure industry, she find's she has a very useful stress reliever on her doorstep.
'I start every day with a walk on the beach with the dogs. It clears my mind and I can begin to think positively and practically about the day. When I worked in the city I did miss the coast. This is such a wonderful region.Where else could you find so much beauty and history in such a small area?'
Bamburgh is a small community of some 600 souls but come here on a summer's day and you will find several times as many walking around, taking in the sights of the village. However, if you think Bamburgh is busy in July and August, then spend a day in Seahouses at the same time. With its shops, amusements and fish restaurants, and the boats taking visitors from the picturesque harbour to the Farne Islands, the village becomes a magnet for day trippers and holidaymakers alike.
Tourist boats and fishing vessels sit side by side in the harbour showing the diversity needed by today's boatmen. Seahouses grew out of the village of North Sunderland as the fisherman there decided that the long walk from the harbour to the village each day was unnecessary, so they built the 'sea houses' by the side of the harbour.In fact, for a while, the village was known by the rather clumsy name of North Sunderland Seahouses.
As with other North East ports, the herring was king here and the village has a very informative heritage trail that you can follow with information boards to explain its history. In fact, Seahouses folk will tell you the kipper was invented here when one of the herring store sheds caught fire and the result has graced the world's breakfast tables ever since. The manufacture of kippers still carries on with Patrick Wilton, who went to school in Seahouses, running Swallow Fish in the old part of the village, which has remained almost as it was in the 19th century.
'We still smoke the herring in our smokehouse with the traditional oak chippings but these days the fish come from Iceland and Norway. All our shellfish, lobsters and crabs come off the local boats.' Old pictures show the harbour crammed full of herring boats but these days the fleet is far smaller.
To maritime historians, however, Seahouses is important because the local boatbuilding yard of Dawsons produced some of the finest Northumbrian cobles, the traditional fishing boat here. The fishing industry also is remembered in the stone pillars in Chapel Row, which still bear the scars of countless times the fisherman and their wives sharpened their knives here for baiting the lines.
It's also worthwhile grabbing a pint in The Ship, overlooking the harbor, as it has a plethora of fishing memorabilia inside. 'The local seafood is spot on,' said Sean Donkin, manager of the Bamburgh Castle Inn, which has magnificent views of the port and the Farnes. 'I have only been living here for six months but it's a lovely place to wake up in the morning and people are so friendly. To get what must be one of the most stunning panoramic views in the country every minute of your working life has got to be a bonus!''
Perhaps it is indicative of the popularity of the two villages that the inn gets a large amount of its occupancy from people coming for weekend breaks. Indeed, even during the cold nights of February it was 98 per cent occupied. Dating back to the 18th century, parts of the building were once the village fire station. The inn abuts the huge lime kilns where the roof garden gives superb views of the harbor and the beach sweeping northwards with Bamburgh Castle dominating the horizon.
The local storms can alter the beach dramatically, revealing rusting ships' boilers until they are slowly covered again by the waves and it's not unusual to see horses galloping along the sands here throughout the year. 'That's true, although we only allow experienced riders on the beach.' said Marian Nicol, who runs Slate Hall Riding Centre in the village.
'Part of the joy of riding here is we can offer lessons, treks, and beach rides surrounded by such beautiful beaches and countryside but we also have an allweather riding surface.' Born and bred in the village, Marian also gets many birdwatchers staying at her dog-friendly B&B. 'I feel so lucky to be here,' she said.