(First leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs in
Map: L/R 88
Distance: about 8 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Terrain: footpaths and pavement
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Rail connections from Seaham to Sunderland
Start the walk to the south of Seaham. The shopping area is called Byron Place and reflects the connection that the poet Lord Byron had with the town; more about this underneath. Overlooking the seafront is The Londonderry Building with a statue of the Marquess of Londonderry outside. He was responsible for the creation of Seaham Harbour in the nineteenth century. It was built initially to facilitate the transport of goods from local industries and expanded in 1905 to deal with millions of tons of coal from local collieries. Prior to the building of the harbour Seaham was mainly an agricultural community. While I was walking there some extensive work was going on around the harbour.
A memorial can be found on the cliff top near the harbour asking readers to ‘remember the heroes’. In 1962 the town’s lifeboat capsized drowning 5 crew and 4 people rescued from a fishing boat (including a 9 year old boy). Further along the promenade is an interesting sculpture celebrating the local mining communities. Seaham Colliery was known as the ‘nicky-nack’ because this was the sound that the pulley wheel made when winding men back to the surface. In 1880 164 miners and 181 pit ponies were killed here in a mine explosion. The bodies of the men and boys were left sealed in the seams causing many local protests including strikes.
The walk on the cliff-top seafront ends at a car park on the headland to the north of the town. The original cliff path has been closed from this point for a mile or so due to erosion. A sculpture and stone circle in the car park includes information about the area, for example, the headland is now known to have been a sacred place for at least 4000 years with the discovery of ancient burial mounds.
Looking across the road Seaham Hall and St Mary the Virgin Church can be seen. The hall was the venue of Lord Byron’s marriage to a local landowner’s daughter in 1815 – their marriage was short lived. The church stems form the 7th century and is regarded as one of the 20 oldest churches in England. Ramsay McDonald (first labour prime minister), who was MP for the area, and Paul Gascoine, who lived here when playing for Middlesbrough, are two well known past residents.
The walk, rather tediously, continues up the main road until after a mile or so a railway bridge crosses the road. This is to the south of Ryhope and looks very dangerous for pedestrians to walk through. Just before the bridge is a path on the east side of the road which you can follow right down to the coast. From the shore you get a good view of Pincushion Rock. Retrace your steps back inland and you will see some steps which give access to the northern cliff path. (There is a chance that any of the cliff paths along here could be closed due to erosion). From this path Sunderland and the docks can be clearly seen. Eventually, the walk involves roads and I used the map to navigate a route to the Eastern Docks. From here the walk is a pleasant one along the River Wear into Sunderland.
The port at Sunderland originally took shape after the city sided with Cromwell in the Civil War and gained the coal trade. People from Sunderland are often known as Mackems (various spellings) – the origin seems to have been in the ship building industry. The impressive Wearmouth Bridge dominates the view along the river and is well worth walking across to get a view down towards the estuary. The first bridge here was built in 1796 and helped greatly in the growth of Sunderland. It was rebuilt in 1857 by Robert Stephenson and the current steel arch bridge was constructed in 1927.
There are a number of impressive buildings in the centre of Sunderland including terraces of late Georgian and Victorian houses. In the town’s museum a stuffed Walrus inspired Lewis Carroll to write The Walrus and the Carpenter – the carpenter was a local shipwright.
Top photo the mining sculpture at Seaham; Seaham Hall; late winter afternoon view along the River Wear at Sunderland.