START: Belford, Northumberland
FINISH: Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland
DISTANCE: 17.4 miles
APPROXIMATE TIME: 7.5 hours
MAPS: OS Explorer 340 and 346
Sunday morning had arrived. A little achy but refreshed from the previous day’s walk between Bamburgh and Belford, I was keen to keen to return to Belford and continue the walk northwards towards Berwick and complete the Northumberland Coast Path. Having been treat to a lovely full English breakfast courtesy of Liz and Graham at the Tweed View Guest House in Berwick, I hopped on the first X15 bus of the day outside the B&B and made the short journey down the A1 to Belford. I stocked up on some food from the Co-op in Belford for the long walk ahead, and soon after changing into my walking boots and sticking on a baseball cap to shade my head from the sun, I was on my way once again.
MIDDLETON AND DETCHANT
I had followed the Northumberland Coast Path almost to the letter on the previous day’s walk, however after Belford the path takes a much more inland route through the woods to the north-west of the village. This would have added too much time to the walk so I ended up making my own route which was a little bit closer to the coast, although I still wouldn’t reach the sea until I was nearly halfway through the day’s walk. I followed the road northwards out of Belford for a couple of miles and was aiming for the A1 turn-off near the small hamlet of Detchant. As the road out of Belford was up a height I got great views of the coast and could easily make out Lindisfarne sitting out in the glistening sea. I was really looking forward to walking across there on the following day’s walk.
On the way to Detchant I passed a grand turreted gatehouse (right). This guarded a road which led to the 19th century built Middleton Hall, now a luxury hotel. A little further on I passed through the small hamlet of Middleton, which like the neighbouring hamlets of Ross, Detchant and Elwick are all that remains of much larger medieval villages that were gradually deserted over time. Following Middleton the road descended downhill and just before the A1 turn off there was a single-track country lane which led to the hamlet of Detchant. Walking through Detchant I came across another country lane which led northwards towards Fenwick. I followed this lane for a couple of miles enjoying the peace and solitude of the walk. Well I say peace, the sound of gunshots seemed to have followed me from the previous day’s walk and I assumed that there was shooting of game going on in the woods to the west of me. Either that or someone was trying to take shots at me.
I passed a number of cyclists on this section of the walk. Not only was this country lane part of the National Cycle Network, but it was also part of the Sandstone Way mountain biking trail which links Berwick-upon-Tweed to Hexham. I would follow the Sandstone Way most of the way to Berwick, albeit doing it on two legs rather than two wheels.
FENWICK AND FENHAM
Just before I got to Fenwick there was a bench next to the roadside so I had a 10 minute stop to have a quick bite to eat. There was a great view towards Lindisfarne and the coast and also of tiny Fenwick village itself. At this point I had also re-joined the Northumberland Coast Path which had returned from its sojourn through the woods.
After munching my bar of chocolate I headed down into Fenwick where I passed a large group of ramblers who had stopped to enjoy their lunch in the sunshine. A little further on I reached the A1. Fortunately it wasn’t as busy as the previous day when I crossed this road near Belford so I was able to get across almost straight away. The Northumberland Coast Path headed down another country lane, past a farm and a row of cottages which made up the hamlet of Fenwick Granary. Just past the cottages a Northumberland Coast Path sign pointed me up a narrow track which led past a disused quarry before reaching yet another quiet country lane.
This lane led to the hamlet of Fenham which was once a monastic grange farm owned and ran by the monks of Lindisfarne. Dating back to the 11th century the land at Fenham was donated to the monks by the Bishop of Durham who owned much of the land hereabouts. A chapel was built on the site in the late 12th century and by 1339 a manor existed here. Due to its location in the border lands between England and Scotland a defensive tower and moat were built to protect the grange from attack by enemy soldiers. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries the lands passed into the hands of the Reade family, however by the end of the 17th century the Reades had passed on the land. Meanwhile the manor house and farm buildings, along with the defensive tower were left to rack and ruin and all that remains nowadays is a number of lumps and bumps in a field next to a modern farm.
I didn’t go all the way down to Fenham, my path instead lay northwards towards Lindisfarne. Another Northumberland Coast Path sign pointed me down a track which according to the OS Map was called Fishers Back Road. Presumably this track was once used by fishermen who lived in Fenwick and other nearby villages to travel to and from the sea. I didn’t pass any fishermen on my way to the coast, the fishing industry having disappeared from these parts.
The path was starting to descending down towards the shoreline, however before I could reach it, there was the small matter of trying to cross the East Coast Main Line again. Even though it was a Sunday I had seen plenty of trains on the way down from Belford shooting up and down the line so I thought it was a good idea to ring the signalman again using the phone provided. The signalman said it was ok to cross as long as I didn’t dawdle. I don’t know what he thought I was going to do – handstands on the tracks perhaps? He did have a good point though as a couple of minutes later trains from both directions had gone through the crossing point. No doubt both drivers would have been a bit bemused to have knocked down a grown man who was carrying out a display of gymnastics on the railway line.
After crossing a couple of fields, I finally reached the coast, a few hundred yards away from the causeway to Lindisfarne. It had been a long detour around Budle Bay, no doubt it would have been much easier if there was a route open to the public along this part of the coast. As I got to the shoreline I did notice a track going off to my right towards Fenham so it may have been possible to just walk this section. Anyway I was here now and I noticed (not that it was hard to miss) a number of large concrete blocks laid in two rows stretching along the shoreline. These were anti-tank blocks laid down during the Second World War as part of a system of defences designed to prevent an invasion by enemy forces. Not long after the outbreak of the Second World War the North Northumberland coast was identified by the government as a potential invasion site due to the long, low expanse of land and numerous beaches which could be used to land troops on. As a result a number of defences were constructed up and down the Northumberland coast including these anti-tack blocks near the causeway.
The blocks provided a good place to eat my lunch so I decided to scramble on top of one to sit and eat my sandwiches whilst watching the many vehicles making their way to and from Lindisfarne. I was hoping to stay a longer but after about 15 minutes the wind was picking up and it was getting a little chilly so I clambered down off the concrete block and was on my way again.
I crossed over the road to Lindisfarne and walked past the busy car park at the other side of the road. Just after the car park the coastal path passed another two lines of concrete blocks before making its way along the shoreline. The next couple of miles were a little tricky to negotiate. The path basically followed a narrow embankment in-between a fence and the coastline. At various points the path was so overgrown and poorly maintained that I had to drop down onto the exposed sands. I was very fortunate that the tide wasn’t in as this wouldn’t have been possible if the sands were covered in water. For the next mile the path followed South Low which empties into Budle Bay after passing underneath the causeway. It was very boggy along this stretch and I had to gingerly step my way along the waterlogged path. Fortunately I was soon able to climb on to an embankment which had a wide gravel path. I crossed South Low and then followed the gravel path for a hundred yards or so until the gravel path merged into a grassy path which wound its way through the dunes near Goswick Sands.
A number of danger signs warned me that the area around Goswick Sands used to be a former military area and that it would be a very bad idea to stray from the path as there could be unexploded ordnance laid about waiting for a dozy walker like myself to step on and blow themselves to kingdom come. Goswick Sands was used during World War II by rookie RAF pilots to practice dropping bombs on in preparation for doing the real thing on the enemy. Thousands of bombs were dropped in this area, some of which buried themselves in the sands without exploding. Since the end of WWII the RAF have returned to the area periodically to remove some of the unexploded ordnance and since 1995 have maintained a permanent presence in the area. Bombs are still being uncovered, including two 500lb bombs in 2005 which were exposed following a storm. These had to be safely detonated on site by a RAF disposal team, the resulting explosion being heard in Berwick over 10 miles away.
Fortunately I am a sensible walker (most of the time) and so paid heed to the signs and was able to get to the small hamlet of Goswick without losing any limbs or worse to hidden bombs. Goswick, like most settlements, around these parts was much larger during medieval times, however due to the constant raids from Scotland the inhabitants scattered to places of safety. Nowadays Goswick is altogether a much smaller and quieter place, consisting of a couple of farms and some cottages along with a small caravan park.
Passing through Goswick I followed a narrow road which passed along the edge of Goswick Golf Course. After passing the club house, the path took a sharp left and then a sharp right just before the East Coast Main Line. The path followed a narrow strip of land between the driving range and the railway line. There were a group of lads working on their golf driving skills, one of whom wasn’t very good as he nearly wiped me out with a wayward golf ball. The Northumberland Coast Path continued alongside some fields, out of view of the sea which was hidden by some towering dunes, before coming to a track which led through to Cheswick Sands. Whilst the coastal path continued onwards through some more fields, I decided to follow the track on to Cheswick Sands as I hadn’t seen much of the sea on that day’s walk. There were only a couple of people on the beach, the majority haven’t started making their way back to their cars to begin the journey home. I sat down on the beach for 15 minutes just to give my legs a bit of a rest. I was hoping to stay longer, however once again the wind was picking up and it was blowing in a cold air which made sitting down for too long uncomfortable.
I was soon on my way once again and I walked along the sands until I reached the end of the beach. I then had to clamber up amongst the dunes which formed part of the Cocklawburn Dunes Nature Reserve. Following a path through the dunes I passed a large WWII pillbox nestled on the hill, again demonstrating the strategic importance of this section of Northumberland during the Second World War. A few yards past the pillbox I came across a small car park and road where I re-joined the Northumberland Coast Path. My legs were getting really tired at this point and this wasn’t helped when the road was gradually beginning to climb.
Another three quarters of a mile and the road reached a cluster of cottages nestled next to the clifftops. Whilst the road veered away to my left under the railway line towards Scremerston, a Northumberland Coast Path sign pointed me down a track which headed towards the cliffs. I followed this track which wound its way between the clifftops and the East Coast mainline. It wasn’t until this point that I realised how much I had climbed since leaving the beach at Cheswick. There were fantastic views once again up and down the coast and I could now see my final destination at Berwick.
I soon came to a flight of steps which led down to the promenade at Spittal. It was a steep descent and was pretty hard on my knees. I stopped for a bit at a bench on the promenade just to rub some life back into my legs as they were well and truly grumbling at me at this point, having done some 14 miles by this stage of the walk.
It was really pleasant on the promenade, especially as the sun was now on the wane as the day headed into evening. There were a few people about on the promenade, including one old bloke who was being pushed along in a wheelchair. I don’t think he had a clue where he was but he seemed to be happy next to the sea with the sun shining on his face and I suppose that’s all that matters in life.
After a little rest I continued along the promenade, passing more and more people who were spending one last hour on the beach before retiring home for the evening. I passed by an interpretation panel which was part of a trail about the famous painter L.S. Lowry (1887-1976) who made regular visits to Berwick from the mid 1930s until the year before his death. Whilst on his various stays in the town he made over thirty drawings and paintings of Berwick and the surrounding area including one of Spittal Sands painted in 1960 (above).
Spittal takes its name from a medieval hospital (‘hos-spittal’) dedicated to St Bartholomew. Founded before 1234 the hospital largely treat lepers, however no trace of it exists today. Spittal was primarily a fishing village with herring being the main source of income for the fishermen for many centuries. This all changed in the early 19th century when Spittal began to develop as a resort to accommodate the increasing number of visitors attracted to the village’s long scenic beach. The arrival of the railway in 1847 from Newcastle brought thousands of Geordie visitors, followed by an influx of holidaymakers from the Border areas when the line from Kelso reached nearby Tweedmouth in 1851. By the end of the 19th century, the village had grown into a substantial coastal resort with a number of boarding houses in place to accommodate the thousands of visitors, many of whom had come to view the brand new promenade completed in 1899.
Spittal’s popularity as a resort continued throughout much of the 20th century until its inevitable decline in the latter half of the century where the advent of cheap package holidays abroad made trips to the British seaside unfashionable. This hasn’t troubled Spittal too much – many people still visit the village (I saw evidence of that whilst I was there – it was quite busy even on a Sunday evening) and even though it does look like it could do with a bit of a touch up, it still has lots of character and was one of my favourite places on this section of the coast.
The promenade soon came to an end, however the path continued a little further on towards a car park at Spittal Point. I passed a chimney stack which is all that remains of a large chemical works which used to exist on the site. Following the car park I walked through a small industrial estate before joining Dock Road. This led along the side of the River Tweed and had great views across to Berwick. I stopped for a couple of minutes to watch a fishing boat return from sea with its daily catch.
I followed the riverside road into Tweedmouth, passing the dock which was built in 1876 to replace the port that had been in place on the north side of the Tweed for over a 1000 years. The south bank of the Tweed was identified as being much more suited to handle the larger ships which sailed the seas and so a brand new dock was opened at Tweedmouth. This is still Berwick’s one and only dock and handles cargos primarily to do with the agricultural industry.
Tweedmouth itself dates back to the Anglo-Saxon era. Tweed is a Celtic name meaning ‘powerful’ (presumably meaning that the River Tweed is a powerful river). For the first few centuries of its existence the village and its inhabitants was primarily concerned with fishing and agriculture. However, when the border between England and Scotland was established as being on the River Tweed in the 10th century, Tweedmouth became a far more important place on the border between two warring countries. A wooden bridge is recorded as being in place across the Tweed by 1153 which linked the English settlement of Tweedmouth with the growing Scottish settlement of Berwick at the other side.
Soon a rivalry began between the two settlements, however Berwick became far richer than Tweedmouth thanks to the wool trade from the Border Abbeys which passed through the port at Berwick and out to European markets. Berwick also grew as a town of military importance to the Scottish king, so to counter this King John of England built a castle at Tweedmouth to neutralise the threat from Scotland. The castle at Tweedmouth was destroyed twice by King William I of Scotland in 1208 or 1209, however was rebuilt by King John following his destruction of Berwick in 1216. Nothing now remains of the castle at Tweedmouth, presumably with Berwick becoming an English stronghold as early as 1482 the castle quickly declined in importance and was left to crumble.
Tweedmouth was a reasonably nice place to walk through at the end of my journey. Not long after the dock I came to Berwick Bridge. This is the old bridge into Berwick built in 1626 to carry traffic across the river, something which it is still doing this day. Across to my left were the other two bridges which cross the Tweed at Berwick. Immediately next to the old bridge was the 1920s built Royal Tweed Bridge which used to carry the then Great North Road across the river, but now carries the A1167 into Berwick. Further downstream was the magnificent Royal Border Bridge opened by Queen Victoria on 29th August 1850 which provided a direct rail link between London and Edinburgh for the first time.
I crossed the old bridge and finished off my walk at the other side of the River Tweed. To my right the footpath continued along the riverside and eventually joined up with the Berwickshire Coast Path which I will follow the next time I return to Berwick. This will take me across the border and into Scotland. However, my path this time lay to my left, back along the river and up the steep riverbank to the B&B I was staying at. As I headed along the river the sun was beginning to set behind the Royal Tweed Bridge. The golden reflection of the sun dancing off the calm waters provided a truly beautiful sight and a great way to finish off the walk.
Just as I turned off the riverside path to head up through Castle Vale Park, I saw a train crossing the viaduct high above me, beginning its journey to London. The passengers would have a very scenic trip to look forward to whilst they followed the Northumberland coast southwards. No doubt they would appreciate the same beautiful coastal scenery I had enjoyed over the past couple of days which makes the Northumberland Coast a very special place.
There was still one more journey to complete on this mini-holiday in Northumberland – a trip across to Lindisfarne on the following day, something I was looking greatly forward to as it would be a first visit to the island in 25 years. I couldn’t wait for the next day to come!
Middleton and Detchant
Fenham and Fenwick