Northumberland coastline still a secret
PUBLISHED: 08:31 23 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:25 20 February 2013
We have chosen to overlook the administrative demarcation for the purposes of a feature that explores the traditional geographical Northumberland coastline from the Tyne to the Tweed
It has been called Englands best kept secret and, outside the northern half of the country, few people would be able to list two or three of the locations on Northumberlands magnificent coastline.
Unlike the tourist hotspots of the Cotswolds, the Lake District and the South West, Englands most northerly county remains relatively unknown, a place to pass through on the train or the main roads to Scotland.
And, selfishly, all those not reliant on tourism for their business would wish it to remain so. It means we can enjoy the most beautiful coastline in the country without the hoards of people who make the popular destinations so difficult to access and enjoy.
We begin out tour of the old Northumberland coastline in Tynemouth, the attractive little village hugging the clifftops where the River Tyne enters the sea. The ancient priory here dates back to 1090, although there are remains of an earlier priory founded in AD 617.
An impressive monument to Admiral Lord Collingwood, who was born in Newcastle, lived in Morpeth and assumed command of the British fleet following the death of Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, stands sentinel over the harbour entrance close to the sites of World War One gun batteries used to defend the river.
Tynemouth has been an upmarket settlement since the railways made it easy for wealthier people to work in Newcastle while living at the coast and today it still offers good dining and exclusive shopping for visitor and resident alike.
Passing through the pretty fishing village of Cullercoats, where working cobles still are stored by the roadside overlooking the little harbour, we next arrive in Whitley Bay, built mainly by the Victorians as a hugely popular seaside resort offering an excellent beach, bracing air and street upon street of quality B&B accommodation. The Spanish City amusement park and ballroom, 100 years old this year, became the stuff of legend and its famous preserved dome, along with St Marys lighthouse, remain the iconic symbols of a resort and favoured residential town that is undergoing a resurgence under the umbrella of the Whitley Bay Development Trust. With good quality shopping and a vibrant nightlife, Whitley Bay shouldnt be missed.
Moving north along a coastline steeped in history we pass through Seaton Sluice, a small village with an extremely attractive tidal harbour which once boasted a thriving trade in bottle and salt-making and the export of coal.
North of a beautiful three-mile stretch of unspoilt beach and sand dunes lies Blyth, the largest port of the Northumberland coast and one founded on coal and shipbuilding. Millions of tons of coal passed through Blyth from the South Northumberland collieries and the towns last surviving pit, Bates Colliery, huddled the harbour just across river from Blyth Power Station.
The collieries and power station have gone now and Blyth has invested heavily in reclaiming the riverside and seafront for new business enterprises and tourism.
A few miles to the north of Blyth, the River Wansbeck enters the sea at an attractive estuary and the small town of Newbiggin comes into sight, notable for the defiant promontory of land on which stands the 13th Century St Bartholomews Church. Newbiggin offers seaside attractions for the former colliery town of Ashington and neighbouring inland farming communities and was once a major shipping port for grain, being listed only behind London and Hull in importance.
If youre visiting Newbiggin, dont miss the nearby Woodhorn Museum, based around the preserved Woodhorn Colliery pithead buildings, where the story of Northumberlands coal mining industry is told in imaginative detail and reconstructed settings and the most comprehensive collection of work by the miner artists now known collectively as the Pitmen Painters is on display.
From Newbiggin, the journey north by road next links with Amble but to go straight there would be to miss one of the coastal jewels in Englands crown, Druridge Bay and the tiny seaside village of Cresswell, start of the 64-mile long Northumberland coastal path to Berwick upon Tweed.
Druridge Bay is a seven-mile stretch of unbroken and often deserted beach, unremarkable save for its peace and abundance of wildlife. Once identified as the possible site of a nuclear power station because of its remoteness, the threat of such an abhorrent intrusion has now passed and the bay is part of a country park with nature reserves, a recreational lake, visitor centre and childrens play area.
Amble is one of the oldest settlements in Northumberland, with evidence of a prehistoric burial ground and occupation by the Romans. It owes its development to coal, which resulted in the construction of its harbour in 1838. Colliers have given way to yachts and pleasure craft, with a few commercial boats, and Amble now boasts one of the largest marinas in the North East.
Just upstream along the River Coquet lies historic Warkworth, a very attractive village dominated by its 12th century castle, now managed by English Heritage but owned for 300 years from 1332 by the Percy family, of which the current Duke of Northumberland is a descendent. Cosy coffee shops, pubs and guest houses are a feature of this charming place.
From Warkworth it is a short hop up the coast to Alnmouth, established in 1150 and once a small grain port and centre of boat building. Today Alnmouth offers quiet living and excellent walks around its horseshoe-shaped shoreline between the sea and the Aln estuary. For those really seeking peace, the Franciscan priory at the north end of the village offers accommodation to pilgrims and day visitors can relax in the gardens.
Boulmer is a little fishing village to the north of Alnmouth, best known as an RAF base which maintains a constant watch over the North Atlantic and former Soviet nations as the hub of the Air Surveillance and Control System Force Command, in short the UKs early warning centre. RAF Boulmer is also home to the Sea King search and rescue helicopters of A Flight 202 Squadron. For those off duty, including tourists, the nearby Fishing Boat Inn offers excellent food.
Next stop along this meander is Craster, another ancient and delightful fishing village with an inn, cafes and the wonderful Craster Kippers smoke houses run by L Robson and Sons.
The second of the Northumberland coastlines four magnificent castles is encountered at Dunstanburgh, which can be reached in an easy foreshore walk from Craster. Dating from 1313, Dunstanburgh has an air of mystery that captivated eminent landscape artist JMW Turner, who painted the descolate ruin several times.
Continuing north through Embleton and Newton by the Sea, the next port of call is the old fishing and lime-making village of Beadnell, with its own charming, sheltered harbour.
Next comes Seahouses, the tourist honeypot of the North Northumberland coastline, with a charming harbour given over mostly these days to fishing and pleasure boats ferrying visitors to the nature reserves of the Farne Islands, which lie between two and five miles offshore. Seahouses also boasts hotels, guest houses, seaside gift shops and caravan and camping sites, a golf course and, of course, wonderful fish and chips.
By contrast, Bamburgh, three miles to the north of Seahouses and with the finest, if not the oldest, castle on this spectacular coastline, tries to preserve an air of resistance to all things commercial, although it sometimes struggles given the volume of visitors who descend upon it. There can be no finer a setting for a cricket ground in the world than that nestling beneath the towering outcrop and walls of Bamburgh Castle.
Bamburgh is also home to the Grace Darling Museum, celebrating the exploits of the lighthouse keepers daughter who, with her father, tookm to a stormy sea in a rowing boat to rescue stricken mariners from the SS Forfarshire in 1838.
Within sight of Bamburgh across the wild expanse of Budle Bay lies Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, accessible only at low tide. This windswept sanctuary was home in the Seventh Century to two of the most notable Northern saints, Aidan and Cuthbert. The solitude, birdlife, priory ruins, beautifully preserved Tudor castle and a close-knit village community provide a magnet for visitors while the tides out and a fortunate few who book accommodation to stay on the island when the water rises.
Finally, we reach Berwick, which lies in Northumberland today despite much to-ing and fro-ing between England and Scotland over the centuries. This walled, garrison town has been an important port and strategic settlement for more than 1,000 years and it continues to prosper.
There are quicker ways to get from Tynemouth to Berwick than the route we have followed, but none that comes close to equalling its splendour.
What is your favourite place along the Northumberland coastline? Tell us where you love to visit and why.