START: Amble, Northumberland
FINISH: Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland
DISTANCE: 13.9 miles
APPROXIMATE TIME: 4 hours (however if you take your time like I should have done, then it should be 5 hours.
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 325 and 332
Saturday the 1st of August 2015. A day like any other when I first woke up on that sunny summer morning. Trawling through the news channels whilst having my breakfast, there was nothing momentous happening in the world, and yet it turned out to be what could be a significant day in my life. Why? It was the day I decided I wanted to walk around the coastline of the United Kingdom, or at least give it a damn good try!
I had been planning on continuing walking up the Northumberland coastline ever since I’d finished the last walk in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. Looking at the OS map the next logical step would be to finish the walk in the small town of Amble, nestling at the mouth of the River Coquet. Good, I’ve got a destination in mind, so now I would need to decide whether to start or finish the walk at Amble. Google Maps suggested that it would be a journey time of just over 3 hours to Amble on the X9 and X18 from my home. Hmmm…a bit of a long trip back after completing a long, potentially tiring walk. Having finished the last walk at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, I knew it took about 2 hours 15 minutes on the X21 and X9 to get back home and that it was a pretty straightforward journey. Right ok, my mind was made up, I should stick with what I know – it would be best to start the walk at Amble and finish at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea where it would take less time to get home, and I would also miss most of the busy Saturday night traffic in Newcastle.
So off I went to Amble. Little did I know that there was a good reason for the 3 hour journey from Teesside. The X18 bus from Newcastle serves pretty much every village and town between Newcastle and Amble. At one point the bus headed towards HMP Northumberland prison a few miles to the south of Amble, and for a moment I honestly believed I was on a prison bus because I had been arrested, tried and sentenced for daring to climb over a locked gate on a weir across the River Wansbeck in the previous coastwalk. Fortunately I wasn’t, although it was a bit disconcerting.
Anyway, after a long but very scenic journey, the bus dropped me off in the centre of Amble and I worked my way through the town until I reached the quayside where I started the walk.
Naturally with it being a sunny Saturday in the summer holidays (try saying that really quickly!) Amble was packed. There was a car boot sale/market in full swing on the quayside and I had a quick browse along the numerous stalls before continuing on my way. I walked along the town’s South Jetty and there were great views down the River Coquet towards Warkworth, where I could see it’s castle standing proudly above the village.
Amble (either deriving from the Old English ‘Annebelle‘ meaning ‘Anne’s Promontory’, or the Gaelic ‘Am Beal’ meaning ‘the river mouth) is first mentioned in 1090 when lands in the area were given to the monks of Tynemouth Priory. The monks built a Grange (basically a country house with a farm attached) overlooking the River Coquet which allowed them to levy tolls on ships which anchored on the river for hundreds of years until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th Century.
Ships had been docking on the River Coquet since at least Anglo-Saxon times, however Amble was little more than a hamlet due to being quite a distance from the sea. This changed in March 1764 when, following heavy rain, the river below Warkworth significantly changed course and sought out the most direct route to sea, bringing Amble less than one third of a mile from the new river mouth. In 1844 a new harbour – Warkworth Harbour – was built, replacing a medieval harbour which had been there since the 14th century. Soon the expanding coal industry nearby found the new harbour at Amble very convenient for shipping its goods, and the hamlet exploded in size as exports from the harbour grew. The village also benefitted from a new railway line being opened in 1849 which transported goods and passengers until its closure in 1969.
Amble was not just reliant on the coal industry for its fortunes. Salt making had existed in the settlement since the 12th century and only finally ceased in 1927. The village was also home to a shipyard from the end of the 18th century until the early 20th century. Amble was an important sea fishing port and there are still a number of fishing boats which ‘set sail’ from the town on a daily basis, although in reduced numbers now. Even though the traditional industries have either declined or ceased altogether, Amble is still going strong in the 21st century thanks to its burgeoning tourist industry, which was fully evident on my visit there.
Time was pressing so I didn’t stay in Amble for long. As I worked my way along the jetty there were a number of fishing boats docked up, some of which were unloading their latest catch. South Jetty is triangular in shape, enclosing a small bay of water, so when I reached its northernmost tip, I turned southwards and headed back on to solid land. As I worked my way southwards along the coast on the edge of town, there were great views of Coquet Island sitting just under a mile offshore (below).
The island is owned by the Duke of Northumberland, however is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) as a bird reserve. Due to the large number of birds on the island (including 18,000 pairs of puffins and several thousand Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns) it is not possible for members of the public to land on the island, however a company in Amble operates boat trips around the island so it is possible to at least look at the island from reasonably close-up. The island is also home to 90% of the UK’s rosetate tern population which is an endangered species, therefore the RSPB do not want Joe Public stomping about the place scaring these precious birds away. So don’t trespass on there or you’ll have an angry warden on your case!
Coquet Island has been occupied since the 7th century, initially as a monastic cell (it was on this island where St Cuthbert was persuaded to become a Bishop of nearby Lindisfarne), the remains of which were incorporated into the lighthouse and lighthouse keepers’ cottages built in 1841. Nowadays the lighthouse is automated and the keepers’ cottages are used by RSPB wardens who live on the island during the spring and summer. Not a bad job I suppose! The island was also home to a garrison of Royalist soldiers during the English Civil War who surrendered to the Scots in 1643.
Continuing my way southwards, I followed the Northumberland Coast Path through the dunes south of Amble. After a couple of miles I came to a narrow road which led into the tiny village of Low Hauxley. More a collection of houses then an actual village, Low Hauxley was a pleasant place to stroll through as I hurried my way past Hauxley Nature Reserve, created on the site of an old open cast mine by Northumberland Wildlife Trust who landscaped over the industrial site creating a man-made lake with islands. Unfortunately I didn’t have chance to look around the reserve as I was pressed for time – a key feature of this walk to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.
The remains of an ancient forest were found near Low Hauxley in 2016 due to sea level rises which have cut back the sand dunes and revealed the remnants of 7,000 year old tree stumps. Dating back to 5300BC these trees once existed in an area of low lying land littered with bogs and marshes called Doggerland, which connected Britain with mainland Europe. Ancient hunter gatherers would have lived in these lands for about 300 years until rapidly rising sea levels around 5000BC drowned the land and the area remained underwater until now.
Following Hauxley Nature Reserve, the Northumberland Coastal Path continues along a cycleway which soon reaches the northern tip of the magnificent beach at Druridge Bay.
Rather than drop onto the beach immediately I continued to follow the cycleway for another mile or so until I reached the outskirts of Druridge Bay Country Park. I then followed a path down on to the beach, which I then walked along for the next five miles.
Druridge Bay was a wonderful beach to walk along, however as I was rushing I didn’t stop for long to admire the wonderful scenery. This actually spoilt my walk a little as I was that concerned about not missing the bus home (even though the buses from Newbiggin-by-the-Sea run to Newcastle well into the evening) that I was rushing the walk and not fully taking in the sights around me. In fact, I was walking so fast that I actually felt a little ill and had to stop for half-an-hour about a couple of miles from Cresswell just so I could settle myself down and have a bite to eat. I think it was at this point that I decided it would be much better that instead of travelling for hours, then rushing the walks before journeying back home again, it would be much better to stay over at a B&B and do some walks over a couple of days or more without having to return home.
Druridge Bay is a long flat beach perfect for an invasion force from the sea and indeed the British Government recognised this potential danger and during the Second World War a number of defensive structures were built along the bay and in the surrounding areas, including pillboxes and anti-tank ditches along with a couple of platoons of infantry nearby ready to fight off any invaders. These line of defences were sometimes referred to, rather strangely, as ‘Sir Edmund Ironside’s Crust’. There are still some remains of these structures hidden along the Bay, however time and the erosive action of the sea have destroyed a fair number of these wartime constructions. Following the War, Druridge Bay remained in the hands of the military until the 1970s. A proposal was then made for a nuclear power station to be built near the bay, however these plans were eventually dropped in the mid 1990s.
Druridge Bay has been in the news in recent months due to proposals to create an open cast mine to the west of the Bay. Unsurprisingly this has been met with anger and campaigns from local people and despite Northumberland Council unanimously approving the plans in July 2016, the Government has stepped in and has ordered a public inquiry to take place in May 2017. I can see the pros and cons of opening a mine near Druridge Bay. Whilst it would bring much-needed jobs to an area devastated by the closure of collieries and other industries, there is a danger that it could harm one of Northumberland’s natural jewels. I have seen the devastation that mining caused further down the coast in Durham which the coastal environment is still trying to recover from and, whilst I appreciate industrial companies are now more environmentally conscious than they have been in past decades, there is still that ever-present danger of environmental harm. Fortunately it’s not up to me to make that decision and I hope that all angles are considered before a decision is made.
Anyway, after I had a bite to eat and a bit of a rest, I continued along the rest of Druridge Bay, eventually climbing up a set of steps from the beach into the small village of Cresswell.
Cresswell supposedly takes its name from a spring of fresh water at the eastern end of the settlement where it was said that water cresses grew. The village also gave its name to the Cresswell family who lived in the area since at least the 12th century. Over time the Cresswell family gained more and more land in the area and in the 15th century they were responsible for building the still existing (although derelict) Pele Tower which was used to defend the village against the Border Reivers who frequently raided the surrounded area.
The Cresswell family built a lot of the houses which can still be seen in the village during the 1820s and 1830s including St Bartholomew’s Church and a number of cottages. The family also built themselves a grand hall in the 1820s which was sadly demolished in the 1930s after the Cresswell estate was sold and the family moved on.
Interestingly, one of the Cresswells – Joe Baker-Cresswell – was involved in the capture of a Enigma cypher machine on the 9th May 1941 which allowed British intelligence to crack the German naval code, resulting in the Allies winning the war in the Atlantic and ultimately to Allied victory over the Nazis in 1945. Baker-Cresswell was the captain of HMS Bulldog which captured a German submarine boat – U110- that had been forced to surface after being damaged by depth charges. Baker-Cresswell gave the order for the stricken submarine to be boarded, where British soldiers recovered a horde of German classified documents and most importantly an Enigma machine along with handy codebooks for the documents to be decoded. Baker-Cresswell was later awarded a Distinguished Service Order and was told by King George VII that the capture of the Enigma machine was “the most important single event in the whole war at sea”. Well done that man!
Whilst I was in Cresswell I stopped to have an ice cream from the little shop in the village (which I can wholeheartedly recommend as it was very delicious). I was still feeling a bit shaky from rushing the walk, especially as it was quite hot that day so I stayed in the village for about twenty minutes or so, managing to take a look at the ruined Pele Tower in the distance. After I was feeling a little better I followed the coastal road out the village past the Golden Sands Holiday Park. Cresswell is at the southern terminus of the Northumberland Coast Path, so the rest of the walk was on a route of my own making.
Just after the Holiday Park the path next to the road stopped, which meant for the next couple of miles to Lynemouth I had to walk on the road. Whilst it wasn’t the busiest road in the world, there was still a fair amount of traffic meaning that I kept having to step into the rough grass at the side of the road every couple of minutes to let cars past. This got a bit repetitive after the first five vehicles and made me a bit grumpy. There wasn’t much of note to see on the road to Lynemouth, apart from the distant smoking towers of the power station just to the north of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. There used to be an RAF base just to the south of Cresswell where during the Second World War, a Mr Albert Lancashire had an otherworldly experience whilst on guard duty at the base when he spotted a light in the sky which went behind a cloud. Suddenly a yellow beam shout out from the cloud directly into Mr Lancashire’s face and he felt himself floating before he passed out. He woke a few minutes later, a few yards away from where he had been, and was feeling too sheepish to mention it to anyone until 50 years had passed.
Unfortunately there were no UFOs whilst I was walking along the road, which is a shame as it might have brightened this section of the walk a bit. After crossing the River Lyne and dodging a car for the 50th time, a roadside path suddenly appeared which I followed into the village of Lynemouth.
Lynemouth, like many villages and towns in this part of Northumberland, is a former coal mining settlement. Until 1927 when the colliery opened Lynemouth was just a tiny hamlet consisting of a farm and a cottage. Shortly after the colliery opened, over 500 houses had been built by the Ashington Coal Company seemingly overnight to house the colliery’s new workers and their families – around 2,000 people in total. In 1983 the colliery merged with nearby Ellington Colliery, effectively closing the colliery at Lynemouth. Ellington Colliery itself eventually closed in 2005 following a catastrophic flood in the mine – bringing an end to deep coal mining in the region. Lynemouth Colliery was demolished shortly afterwards and the former site remains empty and concreted over.
Lynemouth’s most famous son is the ‘Voice of Darts’ Sid Waddell whose father was a coal miner for 48 years in Ellington Colliery. The ‘Lynemouth Lip’, as Waddell became known, grew up in the village before embarking on a career in sports commentary where he is remembered for his sharp one liners whilst commenting on darts matches, including gems such as “He looks about as happy as a penguin in a microwave” and “His eyes are bulging like the belly of a hungry chaffinch”. Sid Waddell sadly passed away in 2012 but his memorable one-liners continue to bring joy to people across the country.
Lynemouth was used in the 2000 film Billy Elliott with the village’s cemetery doubling up as Everington Cemetery where Billy’s mother is buried. The village also had an important part in the 1985 docu-drama Seacoal about the ‘seacoalers’ who made a living collecting coal from the beaches near Lynemouth.
Nowadays Lynemouth is a quiet place, at least it was when I walked through on that particular day. Naturally the village suffered from economic and social decline following the closure of the colliery, however Lynemouth is fortunate in that nearby industry is still in place to provide some employment for local people (including a power station), however Lynemouth was hit by the closure of a nearby aluminium smelter in 2012.
I was in the village a short while as I followed the road out of Lynemouth. I walked past the site of the old colliery before turning left under a railway bridge towards Lynemouth Power Station. Immediately after the railway bridge there was a public footpath sign pointing to the south-east towards Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. I followed this path which worked its way along the edge of Newbiggin’s golf course. At this point I was really tired, my legs were aching and I had to stop a number of times on this short stretch of the walk just to stop myself from falling over. It was still quite warm and rather stupidly I had run out of water. Also my thighs were chafing like you would not believe and I was really starting to worry that they would spontaneously combust (I apologise for the awful images that are probably going through your mind right now).
After a little while the footpath came to the edge of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and I walked through the streets of the town until I finally came to the point where I finished the last coastwalk near the church of St. Bartholomew. Rather luckily for me there was an ice cream van piling its trade and a well-earned bottle of water was immediately bought from it. My thighs had now cooled down significantly enough that I wouldn’t need to get the fire brigade on standby just in case of flare-ups, although I was still walking like John Wayne. Whilst I walked back to the bus stop and waited for the bus home I still felt like crap, and for the rest of that day on the journey home I was feeling a bit shaky (and it took me a few days to stop walking like John Wayne). Whilst this walk was reasonably enjoyable, looking back on it now it does seem to be a bit of a blur, probably because I was going too damn fast.
This coastwalk was the final one of 2015 and it wasn’t until the following year that I did another, this time a little walk on the North Yorkshire coast. I didn’t return to Northumberland until September 2016 when I booked myself into a B&B for a couple of nights so I could do the next 30 miles of Northumberland’s coast, but I shall tell you about that another time!
http://amblenorthumberland.co.uk/doc/HISTORY_OF_AMBLE_2014.pdf – History of Amble
https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/find-a-reserve/reserves-a-z/reserves-by-name/c/coquetisland/about.aspx – Information about RSPB Coquet Island.
http://www.amblenorthumberland.co.uk/coquet%20island.html – History of Coquet Island
http://www.englandsnortheast.co.uk/SeatonDelaval.html – History of Coquet Island
http://www.nwt.org.uk/reserves/hauxley – Hauxley Nature Reserve
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3593219/North-sea-reveals-7-000-year-old-human-footprints-ancient-forest-Woodland-stretched-Denmark-covered-ocean.html – Daily Mail article about the ancient submerged forest at Low Hauxley.
http://www.aenvironment.co.uk/downloads/Druridge%20Bay%20Management%20Plan.pdf – History of Druridge Bay particularly with reference to the Second World War.
http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/date-set-public-inquiry-plans-12629133 – Newcastle Chronicle article about plans to open an open cast mine near Druridge Bay.
Leach, Lenoard C. (1986) THE HISTORY OF CRESSWELL – ELLINGTON – LINTON – TYNEMOUTH and WOODHORN. Hythe Offset. Accessed from http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mwi/tynmouth.txt – History of Cresswell.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Baker-Cresswell – Wikipedia article about Joe Baker-Cresswell.
http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/northumberland/ufos/cresswell-ufo-1942.html – Webpage about the Cresswell UFO.
http://www.parish-council.com/lynemouth/index.asp?pageid=508395 – History of Lynemouth