On this walk I’d be returning to the former mining town of Easington Colliery and following the coast north to reach the city of Sunderland, part of modern day Tyne and Wear but historically part of County Durham. I had mixed feelings about this walk because I could see that a lot of it (especially further north) was built up as I approach the large conurbation of Tyne and Wear so I knew I’d be walking beside busy roads for quite a bit of this walk.
Once again I was travelling from home and had booked a return train ticket from London to Sunderland for only £32 (a bargain I thought) on Grand Central Trains. So I took a train to London Waterloo, two tube trains to get from there to London Kings Cross and then a train from London Kings Cross to Sunderland. I arrived on time and from there took a bus back to Easington Colliery, getting off opposite the stop where I finished my previous walk.
From here I headed back to the point I left the coast last time, back to Fox Holes Dene. Once again I was following the new England Coast Path, which wasn’t yet marked on the Ordnance Survey maps, so I had to hope it was well signed. In fact talking of signs the first one showed an England Coast Path sign at a slightly jaunty angle and a “Heritage Coast Footpath” sign that had been attached upside down. Not the best of starts!
Today was a good day in terms of weather and soon I neared the coastal end of this steep wooded valley and had a fine view back along the coast back south, where I walked last time.
In the other direction the coast was quite spectacular with a shingle and pebble beach backed by low cliffs.
I only walked a short distance along the coast when I reached another valley.
This one is much shallower and called Busiers Holes. It looked like the valley was suffering a bit from erosion.
The beach below also showed a bit the impact of the dumping of mining waste here, with a layer of material at the back of the beach where the sea never reaches now (because the beach has been raised), which was grassing over.
Near the north end of the beach the public footpath marked on my map headed a bit inland to briefly run parallel with the railway line. However I was pleased to see that the new England Coast Path stuck to the top of the cliffs instead, so I was able to follow that better route.
At the north end of the beach I could look back where there was more evidence of earth slippage on the cliff face. I wonder if some of the instability here is caused by the former mining activity?
The coast path ahead is now right on the cliff top and squeezed in between this and the railway line (over which I had travelled to get here). The path is excellent and soon I have a view back over the little rocky islands that have formed as a result of erosion.
Ahead the coast was beautiful with lots of little rocky headlands ahead. It was turning out to be a far more beautiful coast than I had imagined.
I rounded this beach, Shippersea Bay, soon with a train rattling along the line beside me.
Beyond Shippersea Bay the coast path continued right along the cliff top for a short distance until I reached another large valley ahead. This is called Hawthorn Burn. (The name is another sign of progress, what I’d call a stream is now a “burn”, a phrase I’m more familiar with in Scotland). It turns out this is quite a deep valley and the railway crossed it on this impressive brick viaduct.
Unfortunately for me, walkers do not have the luxury of such a structure to cross the valley, so it’s time to descend into it.
The path passes under the viaduct further into the valley along a lovely wooded path with views through the trees of the impressive viaduct.
The path then crosses the burn via a footbridge a little inland, which gives fine views of the viaduct.
The bottom of the valley is quite impressive with the burn forming a small gorge with high cliffs on either side. This shady damp valley is quite a contrast to the drop open cliff tops above.
Now over the valley the path heads steeply back up to the cliff top where I can cross the railway line via a crossing over the tracks, with a warning to stop look and listen.
Oddly there are two routes of the coast path signed here, one over the railway line (the one I chose, since it is nearer the coast) and another ahead.
I’m not sure the coastal route crossing the railway I followed is (legally) possibly any more (it was at the time). I believe the crossing may have since been closed (and if not, closing it is certainly being consulted on). Certainly the England coast path now sticks on the landward side of the railway line for another couple of hundred meters where there is a (probably new) footbridge to cross instead where it returns to the coast. I suspect this is why at the time there were two routes signed, as the intention was to close the more coastal route (a shame, if true).
Once back on the cliff top I have a fine view back to the beach at Hawthorn Hive. It is surprisingly rural, being backed by trees and without any buildings in sight. However I can see the line on the beach where the coal mining waste dumped here has been eroded in the years since, making the beach two levels.
Ahead I can see the buildings of the town of Seaham, the edge of which is now a mile or so ahead. Still between that and me is another beach, which oddly is un-named on the Ordnance Survey map. It is absolutely beautiful though, with beautiful grassy cliffs and more impressively a couple or rock stacks.
I hadn’t expected this and am pleased to find there are steps down to the beach. I follow them, keen to take a closer look. Down on the beach there is again the layer of old mining waste at the back of the beach and the beach being lower near the shore, where it has been eroded.
In this case, the mining waste remains just behind the rocks stack, which presumably reduces the power of the waves.
To the north the beach is beautiful but you can clearly see the two layers of the beach here. I stopped for lunch here, it was a beautiful, peaceful and secluded spot.
After lunch I decided to continue on the beach, I could see people at the other end and what I took to be a path off the beach I could see on the cliffs ahead.
Ahead a man was fishing and I wondered how clean the sea was here. The previous pollution of the sea here is well known and whilst it is much much cleaner now I could still see a black line washed up by the waves on the beach.
At the north end of the beach the height difference between the two layers of the beach was larger and the top of the higher level, on top of the coal mining waste was starting to grass over as the sea no longer reaches here.
At the far north end of the beach I found a fenced up cave in the cliffs. I suspect this was once something to do with the coal mining too, although smuggling is another possibility.
I now followed the path I could see at the far end. I had already seen people following it, but it was quite steep. It was only at the top I realised it was an un-official path (despite being clearly well used), as I had to climb over a wooden fence to get back onto the official coast path behind it.
Now back on the official coast path I can follow this again right along the cliff top, passing a National Trust car park to Noses Point and another beach beyond. This goes by the rather unlovely name of “Chemical Beach”. I kid you not. It is so named because behind it was a chemical works. Coal mining waste, blast furnace slag and glass from a nearby glass works were all dumped on this beach. It is cleaner now but with tricky access, I stuck to the coast path.
At the end of Chemical Beach I’m very much back in an urban area, as the coast path now follows the pavement beside the A182. This road soon goes over another that is a dead-end road that heads into the docks beyond. I continue on the coast path over it. Sadly things are not so scenic now. On my right are the docks which don’t look to be much used and look rather derelict (it looks like part of the harbour wall is propped up by scaffolding at the far end).
On the left things are little better, as I’m passing a large retail park.
However just a short distance ahead I’m surprised how quickly things improve again. Beyond the north harbour wall is a lovely unspoilt beach, which unlike the beaches further south is not showing the scars of industry.
This is called Seaham Red Acre beach, which seems an odd name to me. I mean the sign is red, but not a lot else is.
The path now runs right along the cliffs at the back of the beach and on the left I pass an odd sculpture. This is a sculpture of a World War I soldier and today it seems to be attracting quite a lot of attention (perhaps it always does).
The path follows the cliff top to a little headland (marked Featherbed Rocks on the map) to reach Seaham beach just beyond. Truth be told, it’s not much of a beach. In fact the path follows a man-made concrete wall at the base of the cliffs below which there is very little beach at all.
Perhaps at low tide there is, but today it’s just a concrete wall beside the sea. Still it is much nicer than the road.
The beach narrows and the second part is I believe called Glass Beach. I presume this is so called because glass waste was dumped here but I’m told it is now a great place for collecting sea glass, presumably as the glass dumped gets washed back up onto the beaches.
When the sea wall ends at the north end of this beach the path returns to the cliff top.
Seaham is now behind me and the cliff top scene is rural once more.
This is a lovely stretch of coast with an excellent coast path right along the cliff top. I can follow this for a little under a mile until I reach another valley. This is Ryhope Dene and again the path heads inland around this valley, where ahead I can see another rock stack eroded from the cliffs.
At the end of this the path meets the road, the B2187. I only have to follow the road a short distance but on the short distance I’m on it, I leave County Durham.
Ahead a sign welcomes me to the City of Sunderland.
These days Tyne and Wear, of which Sunderland is a part, is a metropolitan county. Formerly it was part of County Durham with the river Tyne forming the border between County Durham and Northumberland.
Either way it’s a sign I’m making progress, moving into another county (albeit not a historic one). So now County Durham “Land of the Prince Bishops” according to the sign is behind me.
I only have to follow the road a short distance before I can turn right onto a rough track that soon narrows to a path back to the cliff top on the other side.
This is a wonderful stretch of coast again with an excellent coast path right along the top. It seems quite a contrast looking north along the coast where I can see beautiful cliffs and rock stacks, but beyond the chimneys and tower blocks of Sunderland.
The cliffs are clearly soft here. Not only are there numerous rock stacks, but I can see the water is brown with mud washed from the cliffs where it touches them.
In around 3/4 of a mile I reach another valley. This is Ryhope Dene.
The coast path heads a bit inland here again to get around it, but the cliffs are not steep and I can see there is a fairly well worn route back to the cliff top ahead. I decide to avoid the inland diversion and make my way up this instead. It is a bit steep but not that hard and so I’m soon back on the official path on the other side of the valley.
Having made it back up to the cliff top I find that here there is access down to the beach on another path to the right. I am making good time so I head down onto the beach.
The tide is high and the water is reaching the base of the cliffs in places. However it is very beautiful with rock stacks visible to the north and high cliffs to the south.
Sadly the tide being in makes it impossible to continue along the beach so I have to head back up to the cliff top, but it was worth the climb down and back up.
The scenery continues to impress. Below I spot a rock arch cut by the waves into the cliff. It is unexpectedly beautiful.
In another half a mile or so I’m at Grangetown where there is again access down to the beach, but with the tide being high there isn’t really much in the way of beach to access. Still it does not stop me heading down to it!
I can now get a closer look at that impressive arch in the cliffs and the soft cliffs ahead. I hadn’t expected the scenery here to be so good.
Sadly the industry of Sunderland ahead was getting ever closer. The cliff top path continued over grassy cliffs but to my left the railway line and A1018 were close by, with lots of houses visible beyond them.
Soon there was a long beach ahead and it was backed by a promenade.
I headed down onto this (I think the official coast path sticks to the top). In truth again it was not much of a beach as the sea was lapping against the concrete wall of the promenade.
At the north end of the beach the beach was backed by a car park which seemed mostly to be used by people that park here and sit and look out at the sea (or fall asleep, in some cases). Ahead sadly my way was soon blocked by the breakwaters of Sunderland harbour with large gas holders visible beyond.
So I had to turn left along the “Promenade” road that serves the car park. This is also the official route of the coast path and it’s pretty horrible.
The road soon becomes a narrow concrete-cavern with no pavement as it heads under the railway lines. There is no pavement so I’m glad no cars approach at the narrowest parts. Gradually the road climbs out of it’s ugly concrete cavern to reach the A1018 ahead. I have to follow this north for around a mile. I’ve heard of other coastal walkers actually walking along the railway tracks to avoid this part. Apparently these tracks are disused and you can get through the fence back onto the road ahead. However I wasn’t prepared to take the risk the railway tracks were in fact disused, or that I’d be able to get back onto the road ahead, so I stuck to the official route beside the road. There was at least a pavement.
This took me past industry, some still operating, some derelict and some demolished and much of this was behind high metal fences. It was not a pleasant area to be walking and it was I had expected (and feared) Sunderland would be like. After a mile or so of this I reached a roundabout ahead, where the industry had changed to office buildings and business parks. Here I could turn right off the main road onto Lawrence Street beside these offices. It being the weekend, this area was quiet.
At the end of the road ahead the path crosses the road and then follows a more pleasant grassy path through a park. The tarmac path through the park heads for the coast but at the end the way ahead is blocked by a brick wall (behind which is Sunderland docks) so I turn left with the path alongside this brick wall to reach another road, Prospect Row. This is residential now with a mixture of bungalows and houses. I turned left with the road (as this is a peninsula) to soon pass the entrance to Sunderland docks on the right.
Rounding the corner however things soon got much better. I suddenly had a wonderful view of the the river Wear and Sunderland harbour ahead, and the Wearmouth bridge that crosses the river.
It looked a bit like the more famous bridge over the Tyne in Newcastle but on a smaller scale.
A short distance ahead I was pleased to find there was a path down from the high road to a path right beside the river. So I followed this. This was quite pleasant now, an area that has clearly been “re-generated” and is now quiet and pretty.
Here I could pass flats, businesses and even the halls of residence of the University of Sunderland, which were beside a seemingly disused dock.
Ahead of me now was the impressive Wearmouth bridge.
I had not heard of this before and was quite impressed with it, towering over the river, it makes quite a statement. Behind it is a parallel bridge that carries the Tyne and Wear metro. Of course the bridge was high up and I needed to get on to it in order to cross the river Wear (this is the lowest crossing point). Happily here there was a steep path on the left climbing back up to the road. Before I followed it though I headed under the bridge for a fine view along the river Wear inland.
Actually I wasn’t going to cross the bridge today. I was ending my walk in Sunderland (but in either case the city centre, where I’m heading, is just south of this bridge) so I needed to get back up to the road level.
Before I did so (as I had made good time) I followed a path beside the river a little (part of the Weardale Way path) to get a good view back to the twin (road and rail) bridges over the river Wear. I hadn’t expected this river or it’s crossing to be so spectacular.
Now having got a nice view of the river it was time to head into the city centre and to the railway station for my train home. This arrived in the dismal station on time and soon I was heading back south. On leaving the underground station at Sunderland the train heads through a few tunnels but soon follows the railway line I had been walking beside for much of my walk. It was nice to re-trace my steps from the comfort of the train and re-visit the coast again briefly from the train.
The train was pleasantly quiet as far as York, but got much busier beyond it. Thankfully it did have a buffet car from where I was able to get some food (buffets cars seem to be rapidly becoming a thing of the past having recently been phased out on the Great Western routes from London Paddington).
This was an unexpectedly lovely walk. Yes it’s true parts of Sunderland were quite grim and industrial. However not as much of it as I had expected. The rest of the coast was beautiful and my enjoyment was increased because the new England Coast path was excellent sticking right to the cliff tops for most of it. I hadn’t expected the coast to be so pretty and varied and it is good to sea the damage caused by dumping of coal waste on the beaches has nearly gone. The river Wear too was far prettier than I had imagined. All in all it had been far better than I had expected.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Arriva bus service 23 : Hartlepool – Blackhall Colliery – Horden – Peterlee – Easington Colliery – Seaham – Ryhope – Sunderland. Every 30 minutes Monday – Saturday. No service on Sundays. It takes around 35 minutes to travel between Sunderland and Easington Colliery.