Work under way to keep the Northumberland coast even more special

PUBLISHED: 01:16 07 May 2012 | UPDATED: 21:22 20 February 2013

Work under way to keep the Northumberland coast even more special

Work under way to keep the Northumberland coast even more special

From solar powered castles to free wine for bus passengers, all sorts of schemes are afoot to keep the Northumberland coast special. Chris Titley reports

Bleakly magnificent, the Northumberland coast is place of contrasts. Rugged cliffs give way to velvet-smooth sands. Soft dunes look out on islands of wrecking rocks.

The coastline is among the worlds unsung wonders. But perhaps because of its physical contradictions, everyone seems to have a different favourite spot.

The coast is absolutely amazing. There are fantastic beaches, spectacular cliffs and coastline, and the rural hinterland is so beautiful as well, says Pat Scott.

As chair of the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, she knows every nook and cranny. But she hones in on a singular seaside quality.

I remember hearing the art critic Brian Sewell on Radio Newcastle, and he said that hed stood at Seahouses harbour at sunset looking across to the Farne Islands and his spirits had been lifted by the luminosity of the light.

Its something that is so wonderful. And its why you get a lot of artists in this part of the world.

For Simon Lee, National Trust property manager, one of the best views is at Low Newton as you come down over the hill and look at the fishermens cottages and the beach below. You can get very quiet days there that give you some of the best beach experiences possible.

Walker Jon Monks picks out a hidden bay south of Craster as his favourite. You rise up and youve got this fantastic bay called Sugar Sands. Its very hard to get to and thats why its so beautiful.

Like so many people in love with this shoreline, Pat, Simon and Jon are all concerned with keeping it special. The buzz word is sustainability.
How do we retain the natural beauty of Northumberlands coast while encouraging more visitors here, who are the lifeblood of the economy?

Many businesses are already doing their bit, like the Seahouses B&B owner who has dreamed up a rather merry way of encouraging his guests to use public transport. If they show their bus tickets hell give them a free bottle of wine with dinner, said Pat. And I thought, what a positive way of reinforcing the message about sustainable travel.

Traffic is perhaps the biggest worry in these areas and the pretty village of Bamburgh has suffered more than most.

A couple of years ago Bamburgh was absolutely gridlocked one August Bank Holiday. The parish council and local residents were determined this wasnt going to happen again, said Pat.

The result is a project which will see ugly yellow lines replaced by a restricted parking zone in the centre of Bamburgh. The village green, long reduced to the status of a road junction, is being restored to its role as a focal point, and there are many other design improvements.

If the project reduces traffic impact, the same ideas will be rolled out to other places Pat mentions Newton-by-the-Sea and Craster as two which could benefit.

Two feet, rather than four wheels, are the preferred mode of transport for Jon Monks. He runs Shepherds Walks, a company which takes around 2,000 people a year on guided walks around the county.

Its name comes from the fact that Jon was a professional shepherd for many years. Originally from Lancashire, he worked on Rupert Murdochs sheep station in Australia and at Highclere Estate near Newbury better known to millions as Downton Abbey before a job brought him to Northumberland.

As soon as he arrived he felt at home. I said to my girlfriend, who became my wife, this is absolutely gorgeous, I could live here. It was the first time I ever felt like that, driving across Northumberland, this bleak landscape. I thought, wow, this is truly stunning; this is it.

Last year he launched the Northumberland Coastal Challenge Walk. Its back this year, taking place on May 7th, Bank Holiday Monday. More than 200 people are expected to sign up for the walk, which ranges along just over 26 miles of coastline, starting at Budle Bay north of Bamburgh and ending with a much-deserved beer and barbecue at Alnmouth cricket club.
Its a very varied section of coastline. It is the best section of the Northumberland coast, said Jon.

The event raises money for the RNLI 6,500 in 2011. Again, the emphasis is on sustainability, with participants encouraged to catch the train to Alnmouth, and the walk is carefully vetted to ensure no damage is caused to the route.

I do a lot of public speaking around the country on the subject of sustainability how to manage the landscape from a shepherds perspective, said Jon.

As somebody who was brought up in the landscape I understand what we need to be doing with it.

With more than a centurys experience, the National Trust knows a thing or two about conservation. It looks after Lindisfarne Castle, the Farne Islands and about 12 miles of coast in Northumberland.

Property manager Simon Lee said: Conservation is one of our core purposes. Thats reflected through everything that we do. But we also own these amazing places and its about creating access to them and encouraging people to get out and enjoy them.

Its a balancing act. For example, its breeding season at the bird sanctuary on the Farne Islands and the puffins have arrived. This is the time when people can see it at its best. Breeding season is one of those memorable David Attenborough moments, says Simon.

To ensure they enjoy the spectacle without harming nature, visitors are greeted on the islands by the wardens team and they follow wooden walkways so as not to disturb burrows or nest sites.

A very different sustainability scheme is underway at Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island. This 16th century fortification has been fitted with some very 21st century solar panels on its roof, which are now generating electricity. They cant be seen from any public vantage point and are reducing the castles energy consumption.

Meanwhile a team from Yorkshire National Trust property Nunnington Hall have been involved in creating a vegetable garden next to the old lighthouse on Inner Farne.

It means the wardens will have a regular supply of fresh fruit and veg across the year, particularly when theyre cut off by bad weather, so they dont have to live out of tins, said Simon.

Home-grown grub you dont get much more sustainable than that.

The Nest is ready to fly

Tourism businesses across Northumberland are to be given wings by a new group which aims to help them work together more effectively.

Nest Northumberland Encouraging Sustainable Tourism is based on a social enterprise scheme in Cornwall which promotes local produce, crafts and businesses around the county.
The plan to replicate the idea here was hatched by Iain Robson, from the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership. He said: There are so many similarities between Cornwall and Northumberland that I think the model can be replicated here.

We are both dominated by the sea, we both have economies largely dependent on tourism, we both have a mining heritage, were both 300 miles from London and we both have those feelings of isolation and independence.

Down there if you stay in a holiday cottage youre likely to find the soap was made locally, the candles were made locally, the food in the local pub was reared or grown locally and they shout about all of that. They really make a big deal of the fact that they celebrate their local business and they promote them properly.

Thats what I want to see more of here. There are examples of it happening around this area but not enough to make a real difference.

Nest was launched at a meeting in Berwick in March and Iain added: If guest houses and hotels for instance agree to buy their meat locally, that money stays in the local economy and supports local shops, farmers and all the businesses associated with the industry. If they spend that money at the supermarket on imported meat, that money is lost to the region for ever.

We want the group to be about sustainable marketing too we dont need to say Come to the coast in summer because its full already. People come here for the landscapes, the heritage and the culture and we have to manage it carefully to ensure there is something for people to visit in the future.

But we also need to get the message out there that there are great walks here in autumn and winter and that there are all these other terrific places which deserve to be known about and promoted.

* To find out more about the Nest scheme, sign up for newsletters from their section of the Coast website at

The print version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of North East Life

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