An Alnmouth walk far from the madding crowd
PUBLISHED: 00:16 03 January 2011 | UPDATED: 10:46 09 October 2012
Alnmouth was once a bustling port, busy with ships carrying grain far and wide, but the town's fortunes changed dramatically
on Christmas Eve in 1806
The Northumberland coast is a quiet haven, far from the madding crowds of Newcastle or Sunderland. Its always been that way of course. Nothing has disturbed the peace for oh, at least five minutes.
You see, a lot has gone on along the coast from Alnmouth to Craster. Still goes on in fact, as well discover on this months walk.
Start the walk at the car park on the sea front at Alnmouth. Were going to be heading north from here, but before we do, take a look back at the village. It would take a leap of the imagination to believe that Alnmouth was once a bustling port, busy with ships carrying grain to London and the continent. And yet, during the medieval period, this is precisely what it was.
The towns fortunes changed dramatically on Christmas Eve in 1806 when a violent storm permanently changed the course of the Aln. Without a harbour, trade quickly declined and the town ceased to be important commercially. One reminder of this is Church Hill, on the other side of the Aln. It is now cut off from Alnmouth and the eponymous church is now a disused ruin.
Follow the footpath, signposted as the Coast Path across the golf course up and along the hill to Foxton Hall. Continue from there to Seaton House and then strike almost due north to the village of Boulmer.
The dark side of Alnmouths former life was the local populations predilection for smuggling. This charge can also levelled at the inhabitants of Boulmer. Though, I hasten to add, not these days of course. The most infamous practitioner of this black trade was Wull Faa, who in the 1700s ran his operation from the Fishing Boat Inn at the centre of the village.
Faas speciality was the smuggling of whisky and gin, a trade commemorated in a local rhyme Jimmy Turner, of Ford didnt think it a sin, to saddle his horse on a Sunday and ride to Boulmer for gin. You can still get gin in Boulmer if you want to, legally at the Fishing Boat Inn.
Boulmer is now more widely known for the RAF station based near the village. During the Cold War the station was an Air Defence Control Centre, tasked with watching for the incursion into British airspace of Soviet long-range bombers. Since 1978 the station has also hosted 202 Squadron, a vital part of the regions Air Sea Rescue service. The custard-yellow Sea King helicopters are a familiar and reassuring sight along the Northumberland coast.
Follow the footpath to the right of Boulmer Hall, keeping the sea front to your right. Geologically speaking, the Northumberland coast is very, very interesting. The seashore is a heady mix of sandstone, limestone, metamorphic shales and dolerite intrusions, all of which can be seen in the space of a few miles. Its what gives the coast its distinctive character and, not coincidentally, was the source of building material for nearby homes.
The oldest home in the area isnt made from rock. Its made of wood and is the remains of a Mesolithic Roundhouse, built almost 10,000 years ago. What attracted these proto-Northumbrians to the coast was the abundance of food - fish and wildfowl. Unlike the buildings of today, the round house would have been thatched and slightly more draughty. Still, it was in use for almost 150 years, longer than some modern buildings.
The geology of the area has also led to some downright bizarre names used to describe the various formations you can see along the route. The prize for the most odd must go to Rumbling Kern. Its a sea arch thats difficult to see properly but makes its presence known when the sea crashes through, making well a deep rumbling sound. Close your eyes and theres something primeval about the sound. Its not the Grand Canyon but its still a northern geological marvel.
Follow the path from Rumbling Kern on towards Howick, passing the Bathing House along the way. This Grade II listed building is now in the care of the National Trust and can be rented out for romantic cliff-top holidays overlooking the North Sea. The house stands on a bed of sandstone, the abstract swirls in the rock denoting the path of ancient river deltas that brought silt and debris down to the sea.
From the Bathing house follow the path along the cliff top to the next bay. This bay is dominated by round boulders of dolerite, a hard black volcanic rock. From rivers to volcanoes in less than a mile. Thats how interesting the Northumberland coast is. Step down briefly into the bay and you can see Cullernose Point and Swine Den, names that bring a smile to the face.
From the bay continue to follow the path until you reach the outskirts of the village of Craster.
Pontefract has its cakes, Cheddar its cheeses, and Craster has its kippers. Craster kippers are a highly regarded delicacy. They have been endorsed by top celebrity chefs and are a source of culinary pride in the region. The firm of L. Robson and Sons have been smoking kippers in Craster since 1906 and the fourth generation of Robsons now runs the business.
Were now at the end of the walk, so, hopefully convinced that the Northumberland coast is actually a pretty lively place, turn and start to follow the path back to Alnmouth.
Start Point: Alnmouth
Grid Reference: NU 245 105
Ordnance Survey Map: Alnwick & Morpeth (Sheet 81)
Length: 13 miles (22kms)
Difficulty: Moderate - flat paths but long
Time: 6 hours
Nearest Pub: The Sun Inn
Nearest town: Alnmouth
For more information about the Northumberland coast visit: http://www.northumberland-coast.co.uk