START: Bamburgh, Northumberland
FINISH: Craster, Northumberland
MAPS: OS Explorer 340 and OS Explorer 332
DISTANCE: 13.3 miles
APPROXIMATE WALKING TIME: 5 hours
Following on from the previous day’s walk between Amble and Craster (see Coastwalk #12) I was keen to see what the next 14 miles of Northumberland’s coast had in store for me. After I had wolfed down my breakfast courtesy of the Cottage Inn in Dunstan, I climbed on board the number 418 bus to Bamburgh, alighting a little over 40 minutes later next to Bamburgh’s stunning castle. On the bus journey through the coastal villages I got to sample some of the sights I would be seeing over the next few hours on the walk which made me more excited about today’s coastal ramble.
The first thing you notice when you get within sight of Bamburgh is the magnificent castle, standing proudly on a rocky sandstone plateau high above the coastline. There is evidence of human use of the castle area dating back 6,000 years and continuous human occupation of the castle site for more than 2,000 years. Before the Anglo Saxons came along the castle was the site of a stronghold belonging to an ancient Celtic tribe known as the Votadini who called the place Din Guaire (or Din Guayroi).
In 547AD the imaginatively titled Anglo-Saxon King Ida the Flamebearer took over the stronghold (which still retained its old Celtic name) and established a new capital of his fledgling Kingdom, Bernicia at Bamburgh Castle. Bernicia was to become a key player in Anglo-Saxon England as it went on to conquer old Celtic kingdoms based around modern-day Teesside and Cumbria, and in 603AD it seized control of the neighbouring Angle Kingdom of Deira. The merging of the two kingdoms brought about the formation of a powerful new Kingdom known as Northumbria, which became one of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. As the Kingdom’s prestige grew, so to did that of its capital, Bamburgh. It was during this time that Bamburgh got the origins of its modern day name. During the reign of King Aethelfrith, the first King of Northumbria he named his stronghold (or ‘burgh’) after his wife, Bebba. For some time the castle was named Bebbanburgh before being shortened to Bamburgh.
The original castle was destroyed by everybody’s favourite historical plundering barbarians – yes it’s those Vikings again. Not happy with just destroying Whitby Abbey and various other landmarks along the North East coast, they also ransacked Bamburgh Castle in 993AD. The castle was later re-built by the Normans, which forms the core of the present day castle.
Following an unsuccessful revolt against King William II by the Castle’s owner Robert de Mowbray in 1095, the Castle passed into the hands of the Crown. In 1464 Bamburgh Castle took centre stage during the Wars of the Roses when the Lancastrian King Henry VI and his wife Queen Margaret of Anjou fled there after his army was defeated by Yorkist forces at the Battle of Hexham. For a few short weeks in the summer of 1464 Bamburgh Castle formed the extent of Henry VI’s kingdom. Yorkist forces under the leadership of the Earl of Warwick besieged the castle on behalf of King Edward IV and the castle soon found itself the target of something that no English castle had ever faced up until this point – cannon fire. The Castle soon surrendered and King Henry’s last bastion in the North of England was defeated – he would go on to lose the war against King William II.
Over the next few hundred years the castle changed hands many times before being bought by the Victorian industrialist, Lord Armstrong in 1894 who completed the restoration of the castle started by previous owners in the 18th century. The castle still belongs to the Armstrong family who have opened the castle to the public since the mid 20th century.
I started my walk just underneath the castle’s towering walls, nearly falling over backwards as I tried to take in the full view. After cricking my back into place as I had twisted it out of all proportion trying to look up the walls, I followed the main road out of the village. I was supposed to be following the Northumberland Coast Path, however between Bamburgh and Seahouses the footpath takes a more inland route. As I was keen to keep as close to the coast as possible I followed a track just outside of the village which led through the dunes to the beach where I hoped I would get a nice view of the sea.
I certainly did. As I passed through a hollow in the dunes I suddenly came out on to Bamburgh’s glorious beach with the crystal blue waves of the sea directly in front of me. With the sky being almost cloudless it was a little hard to tell where the sky ended and the sea began. I had great views up the coast towards Holy Island and I could just about make out Lindisfarne Castle on the horizon. In front of me, a couple of miles out at sea, were the history-laden Farne Islands.
THE FARNE ISLANDS
Lying between one-and-a-half to four-and-three-quarter miles off the Northumberland coast, the 20 isles of the Farne Islands have a long and fascinating history. First recorded in 651AD, the islands were first home to St Aidan and then St Cuthbert who lived on Inner Farne in two stints. He had lived on Inner Farne for sometime as a hermit before being elected Bishop of Lindisfarne. St Cuthbert was reluctant to accept the post, however after being persuaded by King Egfrid of Northumbria he left the Farne Islands for Lindisfarne. St Cuthbert always wanted to return to his hermit life on the Farne Islands so after 2 years he resigned as Bishop and returned back to his former home on Inner Farne.
Whilst living on the Farne Islands St Cuthbert formed a close relationship with the birds on the islands, including the Eider Duck which is known locally as the ‘Cuddy’ duck (‘Cuddy’ being a local nickname for St Cuthbert). Such was his admiration for the birds that he introduced the world’s first bird protection laws in 676AD which protected the Eider ducks and other birds on the islands. St Cuthbert died on Inner Farne in 687AD, and it is due to his foresight in protecting the birds on the islands that there is still a healthy population of a variety of birds on the Farnes over 1300 years later.
Following St Cuthbert’s death the islands were used by hermits intermittently until the last one, Thomas De Melsonby died on Inner Farne in 1246. Almost a decade later a monastic cell was established on Inner Farne by Benedictine monks. This cell existed for nearly three centuries until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. A 14th century chapel used by the monks still exists on the island, albeit heavily renovated to its present state in the 19th century.
As well as being home to famous saints, the Farne Islands were also home to a heroine – Grace Darling. Born in Bamburgh in 1815, Grace and her family moved to the Farne Islands weeks after her birth as her father, William, was a lighthouse keeper on Brownsman Island. William’s father, Robert, was the lighthouse keeper on Brownsman from 1795 until his death in 1815 when William took over as the principle lighthouse keeper. The Darling family moved to a brand new lighthouse on Longstone Island in 1826 and it is from this lighthouse that Grace and William (particularly Grace) became nationally famous.
In the early hours of 7th September 1838, Grace saw from an upstairs window the wreck and crew of the Forfarshire which had foundered on the rocks of a nearby island during the night and broken in half. Both Grace and her father deemed that it would be too stormy for the lifeboat from nearby Seahouses to launch so they decided to row across to the survivors where they picked up four men and a woman. News of the rescue soon reached the public and Grace’s bravery led her to becoming a national heroine, with over £700 raised for her benefit by the public (including £50 donated by Queen Victoria). Sadly, four years later, Grace Darling fell ill on a visit to the mainland. She never recovered and died from tuberculosis at the age of 26 and was buried in St Aidan’s churchyard in Bamburgh.
Keeping the Farne Islands in view on my left, I followed the beach for a couple of miles, occasionally having to scramble over some rocks smoothed flat by the constant action of the waves. I could soon see the harbour wall at Seahouses and it wasn’t long before I was leaving the beach behind and making my way through the dunes to re-join the coastal road into Seahouses.
Seahouses was completely packed, which was surprising considering it was a weekday and not a school holiday. I guess it was just because the weather was great and Seahouses is such a popular place with tourists. I managed to wade my way through the crowds where I was able to find a bench in a quiet spot overlooking the harbour whilst I had a quick bite to eat. Whilst there I watched a boat returning from Inner Farne which was carrying passengers who had ventured across to the islands that morning. There was a long line of people queuing on the dock waiting to go across on the next journey. I was tempted to join them, however time was pressing so on finishing my snack I was soon on my way.
Seahouses used to be known as Sunderland (so called because it was south, or “sunder” of the capital of the Kingdom of Northumbria at Bamburgh) and was located a mile or so inland. With the expansion of the Wearside city with the same name, Sunderland became North Sunderland so as people didn’t get confused as to which Sunderland they were heading to (even if the new name essentially meant it was called ‘north south land’ which is a bit confusing).
During the 18th century a small harbour developed near North Sunderland on the coast to accommodate the burgeoning herring industry. A new community was built next to the harbour for the herring fishermen and their families. These new “Sea-end houses” were initially separate from North Sunderland but over time as both communities grew the two villages merged. “Sea-end houses” became “Sea Houses” and then finally “Seahouses”. As Seahouses grew in importance and size the two communities became known overall (particularly by tourists) as Seahouses, although locals to this day still differentiate between the two.
Herring fishing was the mainstream of the local economy and saw a boom in the latter half of the 19th century which lasted until the First World War. Nowadays the fishing tends to be shellfish based and the industry is nowhere near the heights of its boom days, with tourism being the main money-maker for Seahouses. Still there were fishing boats returning from sea with their catches as I left the harbour behind and followed the coastal path out of Seahouses.
I followed the coastal path a little while through a golf course before a sign pointed towards the main road where the footpath would continue inland towards Beadnell. I decided not to follow this path and instead descended down on to the beach where I thought I would get a better view. I wasn’t wrong. I walked along the golden sands, enjoying the scenery until just before I reached Beadnell. Coming off the beach, I followed a narrow path through the dunes until I reached the main road, which was my companion for the short walk into Beadnell.
Beadnell (the name possibly deriving from “Bede’s Hall”) has a long history with evidence of Bronze Age burial chambers being found near the village. During the 12th or 13th centuries a chapel was built on Ebbs Nook, possibly being built over the remains of an earlier chapel dating back to the Anglo-Saxon era. The chapel was dedicated to St Ebba, a 7th century Northumbrian saint. The chapel went out of use in the 18th century and very little remains of it, although an archaeological dig carried out by Channel 4’s Time Team in 2011 uncovered the remnants of the medieval chapel along with the remains of a number of skeletons including those of several infants dating from the 16th-19th centuries.
Following Harbour Road for a little while, I was starting to get a little peckish and I was keen not to tire myself too early on this walk, having walked 15 miles the previous day. Luckily I found a convenient bench overlooking the coast and so stopped to have a sandwich and a 15 minute break to re-charge my batteries.
Once the sandwiches were wolfed down and my aching limbs had recovered a little, I was on my way once again and I followed Harbour Road right down into Beadnell’s small harbour. Next to the harbour (which by the way is the only west-facing harbour on the east coast of England) was the well-preserved remains of old lime kilns (right). Dating back to 1798 the kilns were built to produce lime which was then exported from the newly built harbour to various ports around the country. The lime industry had peaked by 1827 and in the decades afterwards the kilns were left empty as the lime trade ceased.
Smuggling was also an important activity in Beadnell during the 18th century with one famous smuggling haul in 1762 capturing 2700 gallons of illegal brandy, 1000 gallons of wine and 400 gallons of rum and gin. There must have been one hell of a party that day in Beadnell! However the smuggling ‘industry’ was not to last and coupled with a decline in the lime industry too, Beadnell had to rely more on marine activities for its income, particularly the fishing of herring. This too declined in the 19th century, and although there is still small scale fishing in the village (there were a couple of fishing boats in the harbour whilst I was there) Beadnell nowadays relies mainly on tourism along with sporting and leisure activities such as windsurfing and sailing.
Leaving the harbour and lime kilns behind I made a quick pit stop at the public toilets located in the car park before deciding which route to take to get to Low Newton-by-the-Sea, the next village down the coast. The Northumberland Coast Path once again took a more inland route so I decided to walk along Beadnell Bay’s magnificent beach as I hoped it would be more scenic.
Halfway along the Bay I decided to stop for a few minutes just to admire the peace and quiet as there were not many people around. Like the previous day these few minutes turned into an hour as I nodded off once again – the noise of the waves breaking on the shore soothing me into sleep. Once again I woke up with a start, and on wiping a little bit of drool that had seeped out of the corner of my mouth, and making sure I looked respectable, I was on my way once again.
Beadnell Bay was very scenic and I was glad I had chosen to walk along the beach rather than follow the coastal path inland. At the other end of the beach I headed through the dunes, following a narrow path which worked its way around a couple of small headlands including Newton Point. Again the Northumberland Coast Path took a more direct route further inland towards Low Newton-by-the-Sea, however my route was better and as I rounded Newton Point I got great views of Dunstanburgh Castle at the other end of Embleton Bay.
I decided to take another breather here, stopping near the former LORAN (long-range navigation) station which was built during the Cold War. The station was part of a chain of sites which transmitted a navigation signal which transmitted a signal to V-bombers in Eastern Europe, and was in service from 1961-1978. The transmitting tower is still in place, however it has been quiet for a long time. Having rested for a little bit, I followed the path down into the beautiful tiny village of Low Newton-by-the-Sea.
The attractive twin villages of Low Newton and High Newton have a long history. High Newton dates back to at least the 13th century when the manor of Newton-by-the-Sea was held by John Viscount “for one knight’s fee”. Over several hundred years the manor and lands changed hands several times until it passed into the care of the Forster Family who built Newton Hall in the late 18th century. Low Newton was originally known as Newton Seahouses and was built in the early 19th century to provide a place to live for fishermen.
Nowadays both villages are very popular with tourists, and there were certainly plenty of people in Low Newton, with a large number congregated in the attractive open-ended square outside the 17th century Ship Inn pub (once known rather unglamorously as the Smack Inn). I was sorely tempted to stop for a drink myself, however I still had a few miles to go and I was keen to see Embleton Bay and Dunstanburgh Castle once again.
Leaving the village behind I once again decided not to follow the Northumberland Coast Path on its inland route to Dunstanburgh Castle. Instead I dropped down to the beach at Low Newton (called St Mary’s Haven or Newton Haven depending on which map you look at) and because the tide was out I was able to follow the beach around Embleton Links and in to the beautiful Embleton Bay.
EMBLETON BAY & DUNSTANBURGH CASTLE
What more can be said about Embleton Bay? It is quite simply an absolutely stunning curved beach. There are a number of attractive beach huts overlooking the sea at one end of the bay and the magnificent Dunstanburgh Castle at the other end. Coupled with golden sands it makes Embleton Bay an absolute jewel on the Northumberland coast and it is one of my favourite places I have visited on the Coastwalk so far. Unsurprisingly the beach is popular with visitors and it was recently crowned ‘beach of the year’ by readers of BBC Countryfile Magazine.
Like on my previous visit to the Bay two days prior, I took a long break on the beach to soak up the scenery and atmosphere. I must have sat there for well over half-an-hour just watching the world go by and I was very reluctant to leave. With it being a weekday evening it was a lot quieter than at the weekend, although there was still a fair number of people about. After a while I could hear my stomach grumbling at me, signalling that it was time to get back to my accommodation at The Cottage Inn at Dunstan and see what I could have for my evening meal at the Inn’s restaurant. First things first though I had to work my way along the rest of Embleton Bay and past the grand ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle.
At the other end of the beach I joined the Northumberland Coast Path working its way through the dunes around the edge of a golf course. Whilst walking towards the castle you get a sense of how important the area was for defence, not only just during the 14th century when Dunstanburgh was built but also six centuries later during the Second World War when a number of pillboxes along with numerous other defences were built along this section of the coast to defend the beaches from possible invasion by Nazi Germany. On the way to the castle I passed the remains of a pillbox looking out to sea and the remains of another have recently been discovered hiding underneath a sand dune on Embleton Bay.
After the pillbox the coastal path heads straight for Dunstanburgh Castle as if the path was put in place to allow me to mount a charge up the steep flanks of the hill which the castle sits upon. Just before the castle is reached the path takes a sharp right under the watchful eye of a crumbling tower nestled on the hilltop above. The path follows the contour of the hill until it reaches the front of the castle and the remains of its large gatehouse (below).
The castle commenced construction in 1313 on orders of the landowner, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. The Earl had led an uprising with other earls against King Edward II the previous year, which resulted in the king having to escape by sea and also the capture and death of his favourite (and alleged lover) Piers Gaveston. Gaveston was captured at Scarborough and later executed in Warwickshire on the Earl of Lancaster’s land. King Edward II pardoned the earls who were involved in the uprising, however he had every right to seek revenge so the Earl of Lancaster commenced the building of Dunstanburgh Castle as a stronghold to retreat to in case things heated up.
The castle took between five to six years to build, however despite all this work the Earl only got to see his castle once in August 1319 when he visited on his way to a siege at Berwick. Three years later Earl Thomas was involved in another campaign against King Edward II, however this time he failed and was captured in Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire on 16th March 1322 whilst retreating to Dunstanburgh Castle. The Earl was tried and executed in Pontefract and the castle passed into the hands of King Edward II.
Over the next three hundred years, the castle saw the odd Scottish raid and was involved in the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century when pro-Lancastrian Dunstanburgh was besieged and eventually captured by Yorkist forces on two separate occasions. Following the Wars of the Roses the castle went into a long period of decline as it was not deemed to be of strategic importance and so was left to rack and ruin. Stonework from the castle was removed and used in the construction of other buildings nearby. The castle’s large enclosure was also turned over to agriculture during the 17th century.
Fast forward three centuries and the castle found itself at the centre of a defensive strategy once again as during the Second World War nearby Embleton Bay was highlighted as a potential landing site for invading enemy forces. The castle was incorporated into a new system of defences and was the home of a detachment of the Royal Armoured Corps who used Dunstanburgh as an observation post.
Nowadays, the castle is a more peaceful place, although there were a number of people paying the £5.00 fee to look around the ruins managed by English Heritage who have looked after Dunstanburgh since 1929. Presumably they didn’t charge the soldiers of the Royal Armoured Corps £5.00 to enter the castle.
After admiring the Dunstanburgh’s ruins from outside (I didn’t go in as the last admissions of the day had already gone in) I followed the mile long path from the castle to Craster (occasionally glancing back at the castle retreating in the distance) where today’s journey would end. Soon I reached Craster and as time was getting on there were a number of tourists heading back to their cars to begin the journey home. I too had a short journey back to the Cottage Inn where I would reflect on two days of excellent coastal walking, following the Northumberland Coast Path for a further 30 miles from Amble to Bamburgh. I was keen to return to complete the remainder of Northumberland’s coast to Berwick-upon-Tweed, however that would be a task for 2017. In the meantime I wanted to walk some more of North Yorkshire’s coast before winter arrived. I was aiming to walk the 14 mile section between Robin Hood’s Bay and Scarborough with an overnight stay in Scarborough, before continuing on to Filey the next day. Fortunately I was able to get this done (well half of it anyway) in October 2016 which I will talk about in my next post!