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Monday, 23 July 2012

Walk 73 Craster to Seahouses (Northumberland)

Walk 73        Craster to Seahouses (Northumberland)

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

Map: L/R 81 and 75

Distance: about 10 miles or 16 km
Difficulty:  Mainly easy
Terrain: footpaths, pavement, cliff paths, sand dunes
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Bus 401 from Alnwick to Craster, 501/505 Berwick/Alnwick to Seahouses – check with Traveline.

Walking out of Craster through pleasant fields the first significant landmark is the impressive Dunstanburgh Castle. This ruin, on a small hill close to the sea front, was built in the 14th century. The nearby derelict harbour once sheltered the navy of Henry V111. It changed hands several times during the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century and has been a ruin since 1538. The castle is now run by English Heritage and can be visited for a small admission fee. Coloured quartz crystals known locally as Dunstanburgh diamonds can be seen on the shore near the castle.

The walk continues past the sandy Embleton Bay and towards Low Newton by the Sea. This was once a fishing village and some of the quaint fishermen’s cottages are still there. An offshore reef has created a natural harbour.

Out past the intriguing named Football Hole is Beadnall Bay. This includes a bird sanctuary and a large area owned by the National Trust. Some distinctive lime kilns from the 19th century have been preserved.

After Beadnell you can walk along the road or across the sand dunes until the golf course to the south of Seahouses is reached. The path then goes around Snook Point before arriving in the town.     

Throughout the 19th century Seahouses attracted wealthy naturalists, birdwatchers and artists. Some visited because of the town’s proximity to The Farne Islands and many still do. The islands have been important wildlife sanctuaries since the days of St Cuthbert of Northumbria who lived on them from 676-684AD. From the 1920s Seahouses became a holiday destination – mainly due to the development of road and rail travel.

Pictures show: Dunstanburgh Castle; shore near the castle; Embleton Bay; harbour at Seahouses.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Walk 72 Amble to Craster (Northumberland)

Walk 72          Amble to Craster (Northumberland)

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

Map: L/R 81

Distance: about 19 km or 12 miles
Difficulty:  Moderate
Terrain: footpaths, pavement, sand, cliff paths
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Buses from Newcastle/Alnwick to Amble. Bus 401 runs every couple of hours or so from Craster to Alnwick Bus Station – check with Traveline.

Amble is at the mouth of the River Coquet. This area has seen many invasions first by the Anglo-Saxons then the Danes. The accent of the local people is said to have originated from the settling immigrants. The town grew in later years as collieries opened; it was an ideal point to export coal and build and repair ships. There is now a modern, attractive harbour and it is an important base for touring the area.

The coastal path works its way past Amble harbour towards Warkworth. There is a stunning view of Warkworth Castle and its reflection in the estuary of the river. I was lucky as it was a sunny day, unfortunately the photo beneath does not do justice to the view. It was at this castle that Henry Percy and his son Harry Hotspur plotted to overthrow King Henry 1V. The castle features in the play by Shakespeare.

Warkworth is an attractive town to walk through. On the way out to the north is one of the few remaining fortified bridges in the country. It was built in the 14th century at an idyllic spot that spans the river. Take care to look for the path on the right after this point – I nearly missed it.

The walk continues across the dunes, with access points to the beach should you fancy a paddle. Birling Carrs (a cluster of rocks in the white sand) and a caravan site are two of the features along this stretch. Some of the caravans had strong straps holding them to the ground – presumably the winds can be very strong here! Along the path I saw hundreds of toads and was lucky not to have trodden on one. They seemed to be in twos – was this some sort of mating ritual?

The path cuts inland before Alnmouth and follows the road before cutting over to a bridge over the River Aln. (there is a shorter way across the estuary which is marked on the map but a bit chancy as it is only passable for 90 minutes a day). Follow the road into Alnmouth.

John Wesley the preacher once describe Alnmouth as a small seaport famous for all kinds of wickedness. This is partly borne out by an event in 1895; riots were caused  when a bunch of fishermen from Amble on a pub crawl clashed with locals. A local constable was beaten up and peace was eventually restored when reinforcements from Alnwick arrived and made several arrests. It looks a peaceful enough place now with an attractive main street and good views.

Alnmouth was a shipbuilding centre in the 13th century but suffered from Scottish raiders and later the Black Death. The town took several centuries to recover and was prosperous again by the 17th century. Today it is a popular holiday resort.

Follow the beach from Alnmouth then cut through to the golf course and the main coastal path. The golf course is the second oldest links course in England.

The walk to Craster has some very attractive views e.g. at Boulmer Haven. Unfortunately, the peace is regularly shattered by fast, low flying, air force planes.

Near to Howick look out for a fenced off structure on the cliff top. Excavations took place along here during 2000/2002 to reveal a stone-age settlement. A stone-age hut has been reconstructed on the site to show what the huts would have looked like in approximate 8000 BC.

Craster is a quiet place with a tiny harbour built early in the twentieth century. A dark rock was extracted here in 'heughs' or quarries (the road where the bus stops is called The Heugh) and used in the building of roads. However, it is the herring that made the place famous. A hundred years ago fish were brought here to be gutted, washed and smoked then exported to Billingsgate in London and to as far away as Russia. The smoke houses are still active with fish sent down from Scotland. One near the sea front boasts a shop, coffee lounge and restaurant. The smell from the smokehouse which was in operation when I visited was quite distinctive.   

Pictures show: Warkworth and castle; the old bridge at Warkworth; a caravan strapped down; view of Alnmouth and estuary; sculpture near South Sands; Anglo Saxon hut cliffs near Howick; herring smokehouse at Craster.