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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Walk 65 The Headland, Hartlepool to Seaham

Walk 65          The Headland, Hartlepool to Seaham (following the Heritage Trail)

(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in Kent to Berwick at the border with Scotland).

Map: L/R 93 and 88
Distance: about 14 miles
Difficulty:  Moderate 
Terrain: footpaths and pavement
Access: Parking in Seaham and The Headland at Hartlepool
Public transport: Rail connections from Seaham. The No 7 bus goes regularly Mon-Sat from Hartlepool bus station (next to rail station) to The Headland.

Walk to the Heugh Gun Battery near the lighthouse on The Headland. The lighthouse was built in 1927 on the sight of an older one. Heugh Gun Battery (which can be visited at certain times) defended the Port of Hartlepool for more than 100 years (1859-1956). They are the only coastal guns to be fired in anger during this time. A plaque near here states that this is where the first British soldier was killed on home soil during World War 1 – he was hit by a German battleship.

Further round the Headland are the North sands with a view to the pier and up the coast. The walk continues along the road past the industrial site then along a path which crosses a golf course. There is a further walk to Crimdon Park. This was once a popular holiday resort which declined in the 1970s and 1980s although the caravan and camping site is still there.

About two miles further up are Blackhall Rocks and Blackhall Colliery. The beach at Blackhall featured in the 1971 film Get Carter starring Michael Caine. It was mainly black with coal then but has since been cleaned up after the closing of nearby Blackhall Colliery in 1981. The ‘rocks’ was a minor holiday resort in the mid 19th century and the village had a station closed by Beeching in the 1960s. There was a hotel here until the 1970s. 

The next feature on the walk is Dene Mouth with the prominent Castle Eden Viaduct. The area is a national nature reserve managed by Natural England. Saltmarshes which were prominent before mining in the area are slowly returning. Sea-coaling was popular in the past - coal washed up on to beaches was collected for domestic use or sold. Evidently, it was a common site to see men with sacks of coal slung over their bikes.

Nearby is Horden village and Horden Beach. Black coal sand is still evident here as the Horden Colliery which closed in 1987 was nearby. Half a million tons of material have been removed so that the area can be reclaimed for leisure and light industry.

A few miles north of this point is Easington Colliery. The colliery extended for over 5 miles into the sea; in May 1951 81 men died following an underground explosion. You will see a cage like structure on the hill – take a diversion to have a look at this. If you’re lucky you may meet an ex-miner (as I did) who will tell you all about it. If you are a Thatcher fan (I am definitely not!) it would be wise not to mention this here - the devastating effect of the mine closures in the 1980s and the aftermath are still strongly felt.  The pit cage, which contains a time capsule, was erected to form a landmark and lasting reminder of an industry that once shaped the coast. Every household in Easington Colliery was invited to store a millennium message in the chambers.

Hawthorn, a couple of miles or so north of Easington, reflects a contrasting life style.  There was once a private station here where members of the Pemberton Family at Hawthorn Hall could stop any train passing. The hall was a 30 room mansion which was demolished in 1969. The whole of this area has been designated as one of special scientific interest because of its range of wild flowers, trees, shrubs ferns and orchids.

About a mile south of Seaham is Noses Point and Blast Beach. The point does actually look like a series of noses! An artificial beach was created here by the daily dumping of slurry and slag. This stopped in 1991 and since then the area has been transformed with cleaner water etc. The Dawdon Colliery, one of the most productive in the country, was closest to here. The name of Blast Beach is thought to have come from the ironworks here in the 19th century or from ballast dumped from merchant ships.

Pictures show: Castle Eden viaduct; looking to the Headland at Hartlepool.

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