. . . Oh, I do like to be beside the sea.
A few days back, the weather being the warmest and sunniest of the year so far, Steph and I took a walk along the coast south of the River Tyne here in the northeast of England, and about 11 miles from home. And as we sat down on Marsden Beach to enjoy our picnic lunch, I told Steph that I still had to pinch myself that we now lived so close to the coast.
We moved to North Tyneside (just east of Newcastle upon Tyne city center) 18 months ago, and whenever we get chance, we head off to the coast to enjoy a bracing walk along the beach, the dunes, or cliffs. At its closest, the coast is less than 4 miles as the crow flies.
I hail originally from Staffordshire in the north Midlands, which is almost equidistant from the west and east coasts. So, when I was growing up, a trip to the seaside was always a treat, and holidays with parents were almost always spent camping at or near the coast.
Steph, on the other hand, comes from Southend-on-Sea and the closest beach to her family home was just 5 minutes walk.
Moving away to university in 1967, I chose Southampton on the south coast in Hampshire. However, apart from the odd day trip or field excursion connected with my botany and geography degree, I didn’t see much of the coast at all. Not so a decade earlier. Southampton is a major seaport, from where my father sailed when he worked for the Cunard company in the 1930s. And he took us visit the docks in the late 1950s/early 1960s just when both of Cunard’s Queens were in port.
When Steph and I moved to Peru in 1973, we lived just a few hundred meters inland from the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Lima suburb of Miraflores. During the ‘summer’ months between January and March, we’d spend at least one day each weekend on the beach at one of the resorts about 50 km south of Lima.
Moving to Costa Rica in 1976, we made only two trips to the beach in the northwest of the country to Playa Tamarindo on the Pacific coast of the Guanacaste peninsula (map). It was about 350 km (almost 7 hours) by road, but new routes have probably made the journey quicker since then. And just one trip to the Caribbean coast at Limón.
In the Philippines, we made about eight or nine weekend visits each year (over almost 19 years) to Arthur’s Place, a dive resort at Anilao on the Mabini Peninsula (map), a drive of just under 100 km south from Los Baños that, in 1992 (until about 2005), used to take about 3 hours. I’d go diving and Steph would snorkel.
In December 2003 we traveled to Australia and drove down the east coast from Sydney to Melbourne, around 1000 miles, enjoying each stretch of coastline every day. At Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria we stopped off at Tidal River, the furthest south (at almost 39°S) I’ve ever traveled. Antarctica next stop! And that same evening, New Year’s Eve, we sat on the beach near Wonthaggi and watched the sunset over the Indian Ocean (map).
Since retiring, we’ve visited the west and east coasts of the USA in Oregon and California, and Massachusetts and Maine, the coast roads right round Scotland, the coast of Northern Ireland, as well as Cornwall, and the southeast of England in East Sussex and Kent.
While here in England’s northeast (North Yorkshire, County Durham, and Northumberland) we don’t enjoy tropical temperatures, the region does boast some of the finest stretches of coastline and beaches in the country.
Dunstanburgh Castle and Craster
This is a rocky coast and the castle itself was built in the early 14th century on the Whin Sill, an outcrop of igneous dolerite that cuts across Northumberland. The castle is a walk of about 1¼ miles from the fishing village of Craster; there’s no road into the castle.
Craster itself has ample parking away from the harbor. The village is also famous for its smoked fish, especially kippers.
At Dunstanburgh a healthy population of kittiwakes nest on the cliffs.
To the north there are excellent views of Embleton Bay that we have yet to visit.
A tricky pronunciation. Some say ‘Aln-muth’, others ‘Allen-mouth’. I have no idea which is correct. It’s a pretty village at the mouth of the river of the same name. There’s good paid parking behind the beach for a couple of hundred cars.
We’ve only visited the beach once, back in April 2018. It’s a nice long stretch of beach accessed from the north side of the town, which is more famous for its 12th century castle.
Standing at the mouth of the River Coquet, we’ve found the beaches very pleasant on the south side of the town (where there is free parking), and facing Coquet Island which is now a bird reserve with an internationally important colony of roseate terns in the breeding season.
Druridge Bay and Hauxley Nature Reserve
This must be one of the longest beaches in Northumberland, with massive dunes at the rear of the beach in its southern portion.
At the northern end, and just inland is Hauxley Nature Reserve, owned by Northumberland Wildlife Trust. When we visited last week, we observed 37 different bird species in the space of two hours. It really is a wonderful site, and we must go back there on a regular basis. There’s no entrance fee, but parking costs £2 all day. There’s also footpath access on to the dunes and beach, which lie just beyond the reserve’s perimeter fence.
This was one of the first ‘northern’ beaches that we viisted in 2021, just 17 miles from home. It’s both sandy and rocky, and we saw somone collecting sea coal that had been washed up on the shore. All along the Northumberland and Durham coast there were once extensive coal mines. Waste from the pits was dumped in the sea. In places the beaches look quite black.
Blyth and Seaton Sluice Beaches
These are the closest to home, but are in effect a singe beach. Both are very popular with dog walkers, and we enjoy often heading there on a Sunday morning, weather permitting, for a late morning stroll.
At the Seaton Sluice southern end of the beach, there is a small harbor, that had originally been constructed in the 17th and refurbished in the 18th century to handle coal shipments from local mines.
St Mary’s Lighthouse and Whitley Bay
The lighthouse was built in 1898, but there had been lighthouses on the island for centuries. This lighthouse was decommissioned in 1984. The island lies at the north end of Whitley Bay, a popular resort.
The island is approached across a causeway that is submerged at high tide. On the visits we have made we’ve often seen the grey seals that bask on the rocks.
King Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth
This is a small bay that lies beneath the headland on which Tynemouth castle and priory (now owned by English Heritage) were built.
From the headland there are magnificent views north along the Northumberland coast.
To the immediate south is the mouth of the River Tyne, and beyond the shore at South Shields and the coast south into County Durham.
Souter Lighthouse and the Whitburn coast
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1988. It stands on the edge of magnesian limestone cliffs, that stretch both north and south.
To the south of the lighthouse, there was a colliery and this area has been reclaimed and opened (under the National Trust) as a recreational area.
Immediately outside the walls of the lighthouse to the north is the site of a former mining village, Marsden, that was demolished soon after Whitburn Colliery closed in 1968.
Marsden beach was very popular holiday or day-out destination in the early 20th century.
The cliffs are home to colonies of cormorants (one of the largest in the UK), herring gulls, kittiwakes, and fulmar petrels.
The abbey, built in the 13th century, occupies a headland that juts out into the North Sea above the town of Whitby. It’s the furthest south we have ventured over the past 18 months.
The approach from the north along the A174 high above the coast affords the most spectacular views over the town and right along the North Yorkshire coast. Most impressive.
I don’t think I’ll ever tire of visiting the seaside. There’s something magical, inspirational about the interface between land and sea. Solid and liquid.