Like much of the coast of England, I didn’t walk the coast of Northumberland in order. In fact I did a surprisingly large part of it as a day trip from home, despite the distances involved. That left me with roughly 4 day walks which I wasn’t able to do from home as a day trip by public transport. So this was the first day of a 4 day “gap filling” trip where I hoped to complete the coast of Northumberland.
A few weeks previously I’d booked 3 nights at the Premier Inn at Newcastle Airport for a very reasonable £105. I had opted for the airport rather than the city centre firstly because it was much cheaper to stay there than the city centre but also because I was staying on a Saturday night and I know that British city centres on a Friday or Saturday evening are not usually very quiet. Airports aren’t usually very quiet either to be fair, but I knew that flights did not run at night so I hoped it would not disturb me much. The hotel was also right beside a metro station, providing easy and cheap access to the city centre.
I’d then booked train tickets from London to Newcastle for £28.40 and back from Berwick-upon-Tweed 4 days later, this time in 1st class, for precisely £0 (but more about that on a later post).
I thought I had everything all planned out. But the day before my departure I was working out my plan for the 4 days and printing out bus timetables but for one of my days I just couldn’t work out a plan that worked using buses and trains. It was simply not possible to do all that I planned over my 4 days without resorting to an expensive taxi at least on the Sunday when there is more limited public transport. I’m not sure if the bus times had changed since I booked the train tickets or if I’d just assumed the bus timetable would be suitable and now that I was checking in more detail I had discovered that it wasn’t. I didn’t want to have to make another trip after all having intended to complete the coast of Northumberland on this trip.
For the days where I was able to do my planned walk I thought it would be straightforward to take a train from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed or Alnmouth and a bus from there but I was shocked to discover that the 45 minute journey from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed would cost over £35 return if I wanted to arrive before 10am on a weekday (as I would need to). I hadn’t expected the trains here to be so expensive.
I considered whether to use a taxi on Sunday or to abandon going by train at all (which would mean wasting my tickets) and drive from home instead. However as a last minute thought I decided to look into the possibility of hiring a car for some of my time, so that I could go ahead with my planned walk. I found that Avis had a branch very close to Newcastle station. The evening before I was due to leave I checked their website and was astonished to find that they quoted me a price of only £44 in total for 3 days car hire for the cheapest car (a Hyundai i10, so I was told). I was expecting it to be at more than that per day, not in total. So I snapped that up for my first 3 days, with public transport enough for my last day (and I was booked to travel home from Berwick-upon-Tweed anyway). This saved me quite a bit of a money now I had seen the train fares because after that I only needed to pay for fuel.
In fact the train fares and car hire costs were still less than it would have cost me to drive my own car here. Of course one downside is that I might be pressured into taking more expensive insurance when I arrived because whilst the hire included all the legally required insurance, the excess on it was £1000. That is a lot of money to risk losing. Knowing that hire car companies are notorious for finding “damage” (that was often already there but not recorded) and charging inflated prices for repairs (that they most likely won’t carry out) I also opted to take out “Car Hire Excess Insurance” myself for £6 for the 3 days. This would mean that if I was charged the excess for any damage on the car, I could later claim back the entire sum on this excess insurance and avoid paying a hefty premium for the hire car companies own extra insurance and essentially bringing the excess down to £0.
So having arranged that, the next morning I walked to my local station, took a train to London Waterloo, two tube trains to get to London Kings Cross and then my booked train from London to Newcastle. I was on the 8am train which was due to arrive into Newcastle at 10:49am. However 20 minutes out of London the train ground to a halt. Then it was stationary for 40 minutes due to a points failure. We eventually got moving, but now I was worried that all my carefully laid plans were going to unravel thanks to the unreliability of Virgin Trains East Coast. The car hire company closed at midday at the time (as it was Saturday). I also needed to allow time to get there from the railway station so I could not afford a significant delay or I would get there after they closed. I had to telephone them to warn I would be late (in case they decided I was a “no show” and cancelled my hire agreement), but was assured this would be no problem so long as I could get there for midday. Thankfully by the time the train arrived at Newcastle the delay was down to 35 minutes. Annoying, but thankfully not enough to ruin my plans.
The basic map I had printed from Google was enough for me to find my way from the station to the car hire office, where I arrived at 11:45am. The next problem now became apparent. When booking I had selected to return the car at 8pm, 3 days later, as I wanted to allow enough time for my planned walk and to drive back to Newcastle from north Northumberland. This website assured me that whilst it was not possible to hire a car after 6pm that day (as the office closed at 6pm), it was possible to return cars later than this using the “out of hours drop off facility”, for no additional cost. It was clearly shown on the website (and still is) that this location has “24-hour drop off”.
However as I arrived at the car hire office a notice stuck to the window informed me sternly that all cars must be returned no later than 6pm and that you must NOT leave the car after this time, as a barrier was put across the car park and that you also must not put the keys of any hired cars through the post box either.
On reaching the front of the desk everything else was fine but I was indeed told that it was not possible to return the car at 8pm as I had booked. I pointed out this was what was printed on my pre-paid voucher and that the website had made it clear that there is 24 hour drop-off. After a bit of discussion (where the member of staff checked and confirmed the website did indeed show this) it was agreed that if I was not able to make it back for 6pm, they would let me return the car to their airport branch instead, which would be open at that time, and that they would not charge me any additional cost to do that.
So having resolved that matter satisfactorily I was then taken outside to my hired car where the friendly lady went over the (surprisingly extensive) existing damage to the 3 month-old Peugeot 2008. This included a dent in the back, a large scratch down one side, cracked wing mirror indicators and various other minor scratches and scuffs. Then I was free to set off. I was surprised to be given a Peugeot 2008 as it was a much larger car than I had booked or was used to driving. I acquainted myself with the controls, having first confused the hand brake with an arm rest. I mean, I haven’t ever come across a hand-brake that looks like this before!
Next I had the slightly daunting task of navigating my way in an unfamiliar car out of an unfamiliar city-centre (I have never driven to or around Newcastle before) without having a street map or sat-nav. I was now heading to Cresswell because the buses back from Creswell stopped running quite early, so I planned to catch a bus from there to Blyth so I could walk back to the car without any worries about the time. I think I only made one (minor) wrong turning which I was quite pleased with and soon got used to the larger car (apart from the hand-brake, which I always found a bit awkward).
I should have plenty of time for the drive but the delay to the train meant I arrived in Cresswell only 10 minutes before the bus I needed to catch was due. I expected there to be somewhere to park at the end of the road, where I reached the coast, but a car park was signed left here. It turned out to be about 1/4 of a mile further along the road, where I reached the beach car park in the dunes. I parked here and had to run back to the bus stop at the end of the road. I arrived 2 minutes after the bus was due, but thankfully looking down the road it was just approaching, so was late. I made it with about 30 seconds to spare and had time on the bus to catch my breath.
Now onto my route. I had previously walked the most beautiful part of the Northumberland coast path as far south as Cresswell, but south from there there was no good path and a lot of industry – I could see why I had missed this part out initially and put it off for later! So I had left a gap between Cresswell and Blyth that I was planning to fill today and the map showed that much of the area was industrial and with several rivers to cross too. This was, it has to be said, not a part of the walk I was looking forward to.
It took a while on the bus to get to Blyth Bus Station. Blyth is a large town and so it’s a surprise to find it does not have a railway station. It also seems to be quite a poor place.
I stopped to buy a sandwich for a (late) lunch. Exiting from the other exit for the shopping centre there seemed to be a bit of a fairground in the process of being dismantled so I found my way through this down to the harbour area.
I initially followed the B1329 around the dock area, which was not as busy as I had feared. When this turned off to the left I was able to continue north along the coast along quieter residential streets.
The road ahead soon had barriers across it preventing use by cars but was open for pedestrians and cyclists, making for a peaceful walk. At the end here I could follow a cycle path through a new park created as a result of some old coal works (there was a sign but I don’t remember it in detail) and at long last I was able to reach the water of the River Blyth. In fact, I could see both the Blyth River and the Sleek Burn heading off it to the right, both of which I would soon need to cross.
I was now able to follow a good cycle path along the waters edge for a half mile or so after which there was a little inlet to get around.
Thankfully there was a path around this inlet and I was then back alongside the River Blyth. I continued west along the river front, always surprised to see the number of wild flowers that are able to grow in such industrial areas. Ahead I could see the bridge I hoped to cross, carrying the A189 over the river. The river itself was barely visible, I guess because the tide is low.
I had hoped to cross on this bridge, but it was not clear if there was access up onto it and if there was, if there was a pavement. Happily it turns out that there is a path up and there is a pavement. The path starts after you pass under the bridge and then climbs to the road level. The traffic was not that busy and I was able to enjoy the views of the river from up here and the rather more flimsy looking railway bridge over to the left (look closely below, it is quite well camouflaged!)
It was also clearly low tide – the wide river had been reduced to what looked little more than a trickle from the bridge.
Once across the river the cycle path descended back down to ground level and the B1331 road. Here there was a gentle path heading to the B1331 which required a longer walk and a steeper path (probably un-official) which had a warning of being dangerous but was shorter. I took the latter, creeping down the steep embankment to the road which headed under the bridge. I followed this heading under the bridge and as this road turned off to the left there was a path ahead alongside the river. One river crossed, one to go!
The path ran along the south edge of the river bank passing under numerous power lines on a narrow but more pleasant path – more pleasant because this side of the river is more rural rather than industrial. Near Mount Pleasant Farm the path along the river ends, so I had to turn inland along this footpath. Things started well enough, but the path became overgrown and difficult to follow as I neared the farm buildings. I made it to another path going left to right which turned out to be the farm drive. I didn’t turn right here because the path is a dead-end so I crossed this drive and continued north. The path was initially good, but became increasingly overgrown. I continued north along the western edge of the field. It was a bit of a battle to get through, but I made it and on reaching the river though there was no path west.
I stopped and double checked the map. Then I realised I had gone wrong -the path was meant to turn left about 150 metres before I reached the river, I had gone wrong. I returned but could not see any gap in the field edge where I was meant to have gone. So I headed back to the river and crossed into the next field there instead. I headed around the edge of this field instead and eventually found the path across a little valley, but the brambles were almost head high! Scratched and frustrated, I made it through.
Here there was no sign of the path at all, so I turned right and followed the field edge again, beside the river. On reaching the far side of the field, I could see no path. I was supposed to follow a track alongside a barn on the right, according to the map. But there was no track and thick bushes to get through. So I had to continue west until the bushes thinned enough I was able to just about climb over and reach an access track to Sleekburn Grange Farm, where I could turn right and finally reach the public road – what a performance! I was not pleased at all these footpath problems I’d had already.
On reaching the road, I turned right and crossed Sleek Burn via the minor bridge, the A189 along my left. After all the trouble that stream had caused me, it looked like it was shallow enough to have waded.
I follow the road through East Sleekburn up to the main road where I came across this curious sign. Well it is certainly one confused sign!
The road had no pavement, but thankfully there was a neatly mown grass verge.
I could follow this heading due east to an un-named village, presumably East Sleekburn East (since I’d already passed East Sleekburn, and there is also West Sleekburn further west)?! I soon came to a roundabout, but the only road other than the one behind me and ahead had been blocked off, making it rather redundant. Presumably it once led to industry that has long since gone?
I confirmed this later checking on Google Earth, which showed a huge expanse of waste land where presumably something important once existed. I soon passed the little village on the left and had a high metal fence to my right, but at least there was a pavement again now.
A faded sign with the dreaded (by me, anyway) Npower logo told me I was passing Blyth Power Station, but of the power station itself, there was no sign just more waste ground. It had obviously been demolished and presumably causing more job losses in the surrounding area, which is already depressed. (In fact it had been demolished by 2003).
I continued ahead though to reach the road along the coast and continued ahead down a path under a railway line and through the dunes to the beach. Proper coast at last!
I was very glad to leave the industry behind. Here my route ahead was to turn left. So I turned right instead.
There was a narrow spit of coast to the south that formed the northern breakwater to Blyth Harbour. By turning left, I would miss this out, so I decided that although it was a dead-end I would walk down the beach as far as I could, and then come back. A wind turbine was at the end, but I doubt it provided anything like the power generating capacity of the old power station.
It was a pleasant walk and I was enjoying the more natural surroundings at last. I headed up into the dunes for a while, following a well worn path alongside the beach.
At the end the path headed down to the beach which was now backed by pebbles I headed down to the beach and walked until the way ahead was blocked with rocks.
Ahead there were a couple of round buildings though their purpose evaded me. I assumed it was not possible to continue ahead given it became industrial and walk along the long East Pier. This was used for a scene in the film Get Carter when the tracks and railway signals were still complete, but I don’t think it is used any more. So I turned back here and re-traced my steps along the beach, now heading north. It was a lovely walk, stretching for around 2 miles or so along an unspoilt and virtually empty beach.
Near Cambois though there was an outlet pipe stretching out over the beach. To get around this I headed up to the cliffs behind and found a good path north from a small car park.
I followed this to another small car park giving access to the beach near another part of Cambois. Here I headed north along the road until I reached a small boat yard. Ahead was another river I needed to get over, this one the river Wansbeck.
I headed to the end of the boat yard and headed left.
There was a very feint path along the waterfront. I tried to follow it, but soon it was covered by the tide and I almost twisted an ankle trying to get around it. I returned, deciding this was no good and noticed as I went back a sign saying it was private. Oops. I returned along the road and after the last house on the left found a path off to the right into the field edge. This took me behind the houses and along a good path along the edge of the river Wansbeck, (this path is not marked on the map).
On approaching the bridge the path split, so I turned right to head under the road bridge, where a footbridge was marked on the map just after, where I hoped to cross.
However it was barriered off and marked private. So I headed up a track behind to get to the road bridge above, where I could then turn left and join the pavement to cross the next river, the River Wansback and look back at that footbridge.
I had seen from the bridge there was another path on the north bank of the river I could follow back to the coast, but the cycle path and footpath I had been following was heading north. I continued, wondering if I should try and climb down the bank to get to it but just before some allotments there was another tarmac path off to the left. I followed it and found another track off to the south which headed down steps and got me down to the river path alongside the north end of the footbridge I was not allowed on. Here I could turn left, head under the road bridge where I could follow this path alongside the river Wansback.
Another river crossed! The path soon headed through another area of waste ground (there certainly a lot of that around here!). At long last I was back beside sandy beach and the northern mouth of the Wansbeck, where some children were playing.
I used a rough path through the dunes which lead to a large caravan site, presumably the one the children had come from. There was a footpath marked right along the coast here, but I couldn’t find it because there was a fence between me and the cliff top. So I followed another path, marked as a bridleway a little inland and turned right when I could back to the sea. Here I was met with this notice.
Well I certainly was going to use it at my own risk! I was able to follow the rough but fairly well walked path around the edge of some fields with pleasant low orange cliffs to my right.
This soon took me a on a rough track past some assorted buildings at Spital Point and here I could pick up a track off to the right which lead down to the sea. All my route finding frustrations were eased now since I had reached Newbiggin-by-Sea which had a good beach and soon a promenade, too.
I headed along the beach to the start of the promenade, then followed it.
It was now around 6pm. I could see route finding ahead after Newbiggin was likely to be a problem and there seemed to be nowhere likely to eat, with no pubs marked at all on the map north from there and none in Creswell. I suspected it would be at least a couple of hours before I got back to the car and then I would have to find somewhere open still serving food. I decided therefore to seek out a takeway. I found one fairly quickly and there was a queue, I took this to be a good sign. I ordered pie and chips (I am not a fan of fish) and took it down to the beach to eat. I soon regretted it, the pie was cold and soggy the chips tasteless. Still it filled me up, which was the main purpose.
At the far end of the beach the promenade ended and I passed the pretty little church at Newbiggin Point, with it’s large grave yard around it.
From here north there was no right of way along the coast, but there was a footpath a bit inland. However marked on the map was a track to Beacon Point. I hoped I could follow this instead, so I followed it behind the church to the golf course club house. I was pleased to see several dog walkers walking along the track and the golfers alongside did not seem to mind, so I took it too.
It became narrower as I went around, to Beacon Point, where it was rocky.
However I was able to make it to the far end of the golf course, where the beach to my right seemed heavily polluted, like those I had seen on the Durham coast where the old coal pits had discharged their waste right onto the beach. This had not been cleaned up fully though unlike Durham and there were numerous motorbike tracks over the material suggesting this had become a popular if unofficial motocross circuit. It seemed a rather odd contrast to the golf course alongside, but I made my way over this ground to the beach.
Here I spotted there was a track alongside the back of the wall of Lynemouth power station.
My alternative had been to head inland here where my track joined a footpath and follow another track to the road near Lynefield House then head north along the road to Lynemouth. However the presence of the track along the coastal side gave me hope I might be able to make it along the coast instead of following roads inland. I had the river Lyne ahead to cross, but there was a bit of shingle that seemed to cross the river marked on the map, I hoped it was a bridge of some sort, although no paths are marked either side of it, and that I would be able to cross it here.
So I followed my track which was now black with coal dust from the adjacent Lynemouth Power Station which I presume is coal fired. There were plenty of tyre tracks too suggesting the motorbikes had been this way too. I passed the metal frame that I suspected once held a sign to my right, but the sigh had gone, just the frame remained. I wondered what it would have said. I passed piles of coal to my left and when the track started to turn inland I realised I probably should not be here. But I couldn’t see anyone around, and I did not want to turn back now, it was not the sort of area I wished to walk through twice. So I continued ahead on a path which headed down to the most disgusting stream I had ever seen. It was bright orange and flowing to a pool to my right and out to sea.
It was quite unpleasant and I dreaded to think what was in it to have turned it that colour, and what it was doing to the sea. I presume some sort of waste from the power station. I realised now I certainly should not be here, but not wanting to turn back I stubbornly carried on.
I could step over this narrow orange river, since it was enclosed by concrete walls only a little over 1ft wide, so I could step over it. Beyond it, was a pile of coal ash I presume and a rough path up onto it. I tried to follow this, but I could see a fence ahead and soon came to a knocked over wooden sign facing the ground alongside the path. I picked it up. It said “Danger Strictly No Unauthorised Access”. There was also a fence ahead and I decided to try and follow over this coal waste, which might be unstable to walk on, was stupid and dangerous. I therefore headed back to the dreaded orange stream and with difficulty I made it down onto the beach below, avoiding the orange water flowing out. The beach was a mixture of pebble and sand with the low cliffs of the coal waste to my left.
The tide was nearly reaching the back of these cliffs, but I could see a couple of fisherman ahead on the beach. I doubted they had taken the route I took to get there, so if I got there I suspected I would find access back to civilisation.
So I made my way along the beach and soon came to the next obstacle, the River Lyne. There was no sign of any bridge though. Looking left, the river seemed to continue inland back into the coal waste and industry to my left, which was mixed into the piled up pebbles on my left. I didn’t fancy that way.
Helpfully however just as it began to descend down to the beach, to my surprise the water seemed to sink between the gaps in the pebbles, meaning I could get across the river simply by stepping over these (slightly wobbly) pebbles. Having made it safely over the river I was back on the beach approaching the fisherman, and feeling rather pleased with myself.
I continued on the dark coal polluted sands mixed with pebbles past the fisherman who gave me a slightly quizzical look as I passed but said nothing. I could now continue north on this beach and could also see that ahead a road came close to the beach again.
There was soon another couple walking and I could see a track up to the road, so at last I knew for sure I would not have to go back.
I decided not to push my luck any further and take this track and follow the road north because at least I knew I would get there, and there was not much traffic. I soon passed the sign welcoming me to Cresswell.
Just before Snab Point I came to what I took to be a little parking area on the right. I decided to head through this and found a track to the end of it leading down to a low rocky area.
Here I was able to make my way along the top of these rocks over pools of water, where I came across a group of teenagers who had set up a tent on the rocks for some reason but they were friendly enough as I walked right past them.
Ahead I now had a good sandy beach below the caravan park marked on the map.
I could make it down to this and continue north. The sun soon came out, for the first time since Blyth, to boost my spirits. It was lovely in the low evening sun.
At the end of the sand, I found a path up back to the road through this pleasant village.
I followed it back to the bus turning circle where I had just caught the bus in the morning and continued north back along the road to the car park where I had left my car in the morning.
My (hired) car was the only car left in the car park now. It was just after 8pm, so I was glad not to finish any later, as it would soon be getting dark.
I then had to drive to the outskirts of Newcastle to my hotel. I headed south to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, without any problems. I then took a wrong turning and realised I was wrong when I saw a sign showing I was heading for the Tyne Tunnels – but was able to turn back and this time take the correct road for the airport and my hotel.
I checked into the hotel and had a nice long bath.
It had certainly been walk of contrasts and frustrations, but I was buoyed by being able to find a more coastal route (despite the difficulties), rather than roads and enjoyed the last couple of miles along the beach very much. I was also very glad that at last I could draw a line on my street atlas I use to track my progress to mark this bit of the coast complete. I was hoping the rest of my walks on this trip would be simpler and through more beautiful areas.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-
Arriva bus route 1 : Blyth – Cowpen – Bedlington – Stakeford – Ashington – Wansbeck Hospital – Lynemouth – Ellington – Cresswell – Ellington – Widrington Station. The bus runs hourly Monday – Saturday between Blyth, Cresswell and Widrington Station. Three buses per hour run on the section between Blyth and Wansbeck Hospital, Monday – Saturday. 4 buses per day run on Sundays to Cresswell. It takes a little over 35 minutes to travel between Blyth and Cresswell.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.