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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Walk 70 Whitley Bay to Blyth

Walk 70          Whitley Bay to Blyth (Northumberland)

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

Map: L/R 88 and 81
Distance: about 13km or 8 miles
Difficulty:  Fairly easy
Terrain: footpaths and pavement
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Metro at Whitley Bay – buses from Blyth to surrounding towns and Newcastle.

Join the cycle path route at Whitley Bay.  

Whitley Bay is a holiday resort that is particularly popular with the Scottish. Its popularity was increased with the arrival of the loop railway which is now part of The Tyneside Metro. The town was known just as Whitley up to 1890 but was often confused with Whitby. This even caused a body to be taken to Whitby for a funeral by mistake. Whitley Bay is now a popular destination for stag and hen parties – the notices in some of the B&Bs/hotels make it clear that such groups are welcome. Bearing this in mind, the boisterous night life in the town is not surprising.

Along the front is an attractive building called The Spanish City Dome. This was part of a permanent fun fair established in 1909. When I was there it was being converted into a hotel and leisure centre. Famous residents of Whitley Bay include/have included the actor Robson Green and Ian Le Frenais the writer of The Likely Lads and other comedies.  

The walk continues out of Whitley Bay and alongside the road for a couple of miles to St Mary’s Lighthouse on St Mary’s Island - it can only be reached by a causeway at low tide. The lighthouse started working in 1897 and was decommissioned in 1984. It is on the site of an old monastery where a sanctuary light would have guided ships.  It is now run by the Friends of St Mary’s Island and can be visited most weekends and during school holidays.

Close to St Mary’s Island is Curry’s Point. On the 4th September 1739 Michael Curry was executed for the murder of the landlord at the Three Horseshoes Inn, Hartley (a nearby village). His body was hung in chains from a gibbet at this point within sight of the scene of his crime; ever since this gruesome event the headland has been known as Curry’s Point.

The coastline is rugged from here to Seaton Sluice.

Seaton Sluice was once a thriving industrial area which saw the production of coal, glass, ship building, bricks and salt. Coal mining began as early in the thirteenth century and continued until a disaster at Hartley Hew Pit in 1862 killed 200 men.

There was an artificially constructed harbour built at Seaton to service the old industries. As can be seen, this has now silted up and is now only suitable for small sea boats. The decline of its industries, the coal disaster and the development of ports in the 19th century at Blyth and Tyneside all combined to diminish the importance of the town. In the early 20th century an attempt was made to turn Seaton Sluice into a tourist area but this failed with the outbreak of the First World War.

I walked to Blyth on the beach – a pleasant walk on a calm, cold winter day. As you arrive to the south of Blyth there is a curved brick wall. Guns were housed on here during both World Wars when it was known as the Southern Gun Emplacement and Blyth Battery. After the war they were adapted as shelters with seats.

A wind farm is clearly seen to the north as the walk continues along Blyth promenade. Blyth dates from the 12th century as a port but major expansion didn’t happen until the early 1800s. The main early industries were coal, ship building salt and fishing. Nowadays the port is importing paper and pulp from Scandinavia and aluminium. Two white buildings sit on the dunes; these were searchlight emplacements used during World War 1 – sliding steel shutters exposed the light when needed.

Continue the walk on to Blyth quayside. This has been regenerated with the old power station being removed and the decline in industry. The large brown silos are used to store aluminium unloaded from ships. The ‘pointy’ sculpture called Spirit of the Staithes was unveiled by Princess Anne in 2003 to mark the regeneration of the harbour.  

Back behind the shore near to some houses is the oldest building in Blyth. It is the High Light Lighthouse the first part of which was built in 1788

Pictures show: Spanish City Dome, Whitley Bay; St Mary's Lighhouse; Curry's Point.

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