251. Alnmouth to Craster and Dunstanburgh

April 2008

This was my first walk in the county of Northumberland (as I didn’t walk Northumberland in order) and I was very much looking forward to it. It was to take in some of the classic features of the coast of Northumberland, namely beautiful beaches, spectacular castles and pretty villages.

Once again I was doing this walk from home. I took a train from my local station to London Waterloo, two tube trains to London Kings Cross and then a train from London to Alnmouth (which helpfully you can reach direct, despite being only a village). I had booked tickets in advance for only £13 each way, which was a good deal.

Sadly the downside with booking in advance is I don’t know what the weather will be and sadly on this day it was not as good as I hoped.

My train arrived at Alnmouth station around 10 minutes late which wasn’t too bad given the distances involved (this was around a 600 mile round trip!).

Alnmouth

On reaching the station I was keen to stretch my legs after several hours sitting on the train! I headed along the station approach road and then followed the road down through the village of Hipsburn (curiously, although Alnmouth station is called “Alnmouth for Alnwick” on the station signs it is in neither Alnmouth or Alnwick). On reaching the roundabout with the A1068 I continued east along the B1338 which had a pavement at least.

The coast path south (which I did on a later walk, but is the last walk that I wrote up) turned off but the coast path north continues along the road. Soon this reaches the river Aln itself, after which Alnmouth is named and the road crosses the river on this rather elegant bridge.

Bridge in Alnmouth

The River Aln

It is known as the Duchess Bridge and dates from 1864. The bridge doesn’t have a pavement, but happily a new metal footbridge had been built alongside it so I didn’t need to walk in the road.

Once over the bridge I could turn right on a footpath that ran alongside the eastern bank of the river. Looking inland to the village of Alnmouth the land in front of the houses was flooded suggesting the river is running rather high after the winter.

Alnmouth

Alnmouth

Looking ahead I could see the mass of sand dunes at the mouth of the river indicating the sea was close by.

Alnmouth

Nearing the shore the land beside the river had now become sandy (rather than mud) and I could see the tide was out as the boats rested on the sand.

Alnmouth

I continued ahead to the sandy mouth of the river, which I could now see meeting the sea.

Alnmouth

The coast north of Alnmouth

Looking out to sea I could also see Coquet Island a few miles away to the south.

Coquet Island from Alnmouth

I now rounded the corner into Alnmouth bay and what a beautiful place it was.

The coast north of Alnmouth

The coast north of Alnmouth

Now I had a glorious sandy beach, backed by dunes with hardly a person visible. Now I turned north along the beach, following the firm sand near the shore.

Ahead the beach got a few wooden groynes (which were in a state of disrepair) and there were some rocks at Marden Rocks.

The coast north of Alnmouth

The coast north of Alnmouth

The coast north of Alnmouth

As I neared these rocks I left the beach and returned to the coast path as I wasn’t sure if it was possible to get around them on the beach.

The coast north of Alnmouth

The path then briefly went inland on the landward side of Foxton Hall which is now the club house of Alnmouth Golf club, but beyond it, I could return to the shore.

The coast north of Alnmouth

The coast north of Alnmouth

In fact the coast path north from here had been closed due to erosion and the official diversion was along the beach itself. The beach was now a mixture of shingle and rock at the back of the beach but with an area of firm sand near the shore, which was much easier to walk on.

The coast north of Alnmouth

The coast north of Alnmouth

The coast north of Alnmouth

Ahead the Whaw Burn flows out onto the beach but even in early spring it is shallow enough I can just step over it.

The coast north of Alnmouth

Once past this I could rejoin the coast path as I could see low cliffs were now forming ahead, a mixture of sand dunes and mud.

The coast north of Alnmouth

At the north end of the bay the coast path took me through a very run down looking caravan park. Some of the caravans had certainly seen better days – this one looks a bit draughty!

Derelict caravan

At the end of the caravan park I turned north with the coast and could see the village of Boulmer ahead.

The coast north of Alnmouth

The low cliffs soon ended and there was plenty of sand so I headed down onto the beach to continue my walk.

The coast north of Alnmouth

However it soon became a bit rocky, so I returned to the coast path on the grass at the back of the beach.

The coast south of Boulmer

The coast south of Boulmer

I passed the beach car park for Boulmer and soon approached the village itself. The green behind the beach seemed to double as the village harbour, with boats pulled up onto the grass, along with the tractors and trailers that are used to launch them.

The coast south of Boulmer

Boulmer

I soon reached the life boat station. This was formerly run by the RNLI but after they withdrew in 1967 it has become independently operated.

Boulmer

It is rather disappointing they have had to put a “No Parking” sign in front of the gates, it is hard to believe people would be so selfish as to park blocking the lifeboat access, but I guess it must have happened to have warranted the sign.

The weather began to take a turn for the worse here, with a blustery shower coming in. The houses of the village were a mostly grey stone or pebble dash and it looked to be a working coastal village, rather than just holiday cottages.

Boulmer

IMG_5519

IMG_5521

The rain soon became heavy and I was battling a bit to take any photos as I seemed to be walking into the wind and rain. North of the village the beach became very rocky so I stuck to the coast path on the low cliffs just behind it.

The coast near Boulmer

The coast near Boulmer

The coast path north of here is marked as a byway but in fact it was more a path than road and continued on the low cliffs above the rocky beach to turn  left with the coast at the oddly named Loughoughton Steel.

The coast near Boulmer

Here I rejoined a familiar stream, the Whaw Burn, which seem to be in a giant U-shape behind the coast. The north end of it was a bit more substantial than the south end and this time there was a wooden bridge to help me across.

Whaw Burn near Boulmer

After the burn the beach became mostly sandy again rather than rocky, as I reached Howdiemont Sands.

The coast near Boulmer

Ahead I was excited to see that I could now make out the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. I had seen photos of it, but never seen it for myself, and now I was getting very close.

Dunstanburgh castle from near Alnmouth

I continued on the somewhat sandy path at the back of the beach, heading down onto the sands again for a while.

The coast near Boulmer

A small rocky area separated this beach from the next one, Sugar Sands (don’t think I’d put it in my tea). This beach was a little quieter, most probably because it didn’t have a road to it.

The coast south of Howick

At the end of this beach there was another river to cross, this part of the Northumberland coast being very low-lying, there are quite a few streams. This is the Howick Burn. It looked to be in spate and was quite muddy, but once again a wooden footbridge had been provided, which was welcome, as it was still quite wide (albeit not that deep) as it flowed out to the sea.

Howick Burn

The coast near Howick

The coast near Howick

At the north end of the sandy beach at the mouth of the river, the coast path left the byway and ran closer to the shore, as low cliffs now raised up from the beach.

The coast near Howick

Sadly the weather had turned very wet again and in fact I had rain for almost all the rest of the walk, often heavy. This made the coast path a bit muddy and slippery too.

The coast near Howick

Still despite the weather I was very much enjoying it and the coast ahead was now become more undulating with the foreshore a mixture of rocks and sand again. The bay here is called Howick Haven.

The coast near Howick

The coast near Howick

The geology too was quite interesting with some layered rocks with horizontal lines on it. Inland I was passing the hamlet of Howick which was primarily a farm and a few (former) workers cottages but I suspect it was once a bit larger as there was also an old rectory and a telephone box marked on the map.

Just past this I reached a quite spectacular beach. Here there were rocky outcrops beyond the sands, presumably where the sea had eroded the softer rock behind and at the end was a rather remote cottage overlooking the north of the bay (I believe it is a holiday cottage now).

The coast near Howick

The coast near Howick

Sadly I wasn’t able to photograph the beauty of this beach very well due to the persistently heavy rain (the forecast had been for showers, but in fact it was mostly rain).

Beyond this the foreshore became incredibly rocky as I enter the bay known as Swipe Dene (for some reason), with Cullernose Point at the end of the bay.

Cullernose Point

Cullernose Point

The coast path made it’s way right along the top of the cliffs and now I look back at it, the geology seems similar to that I found in part of North Somerset around Hinkley Point and St Audries Bay. As I headed north the cliffs got a little higher with some low rock stacks on which birds were gathering, I suspect they nest here.

Cullernose Point

As I reached Cullernose Point I could look back towards Boulmer along this spectacular coast, despite the greyness because of the heavy rain.

The coast south of Craster

Beyond Cullernose Point the geology had changed again and now the rock seemed much firmer (granite?). Now the coast path was along the grass but there was an area of rocks between the coast path and the shore, it looked a bit like limestone paving.

The coast south of Craster

Craster

Ahead I was now reaching the small village of Craster. Craster is known for it’s smoked kippers, but not being a fan of sea food I didn’t try any. I continued along the coast path in front of the houses to soon reach the harbour, with fairly substantial walls but it didn’t seem much used now and it being low tide was mostly empty of water too, the sole boat present resting on this.

Craster Harbour

Beside the harbour was a pub, the Jolly Fisherman. I would be needing this later!

The Jolly Fisherman, Craster, Northumberland

A few more boats were pulled up on the back of the beach behind the harbour, I suspect taken out of the water for the winter and on the north side of the harbour were some pretty cottages.

Craster

The village was very pretty with dark stone buildings topped with red-tiled roofs. I liked it.

Craster

Craster

Craster

Looking at the time I had reached Craster in fairly good time. I was planning to take the bus back from here, but I had well over an hour for the next one. That gave me time to continue north to see Dunstanburgh Castle, rather than hang around Craster in the rain (I was already soaked through at this point anyway).

So I decided to do that, as I had wanted to see this famous ruined castle for some time. It is also quite remote, there is no road here and it can only be visited on foot.

Out to sea I could see a little rocky island with a man-made sort of pyramid structure built onto it, I presume to warn ships heading for Craster of it’s presence when the tide covers most of the rocks. Alongside the path was some gorse, which added a nice splash of colour.

Craster

As I neared the castle the rain began to ease giving me a most wonderful view of this spectacular castle.

Dunstanburgh Castle

The Northumberland coast is known both for it’s wonderful beaches and impressive castles, and I had got to see both on this walk.

Dunstanburgh Castle

The castle dates from the 14th Century. It suffered most of the damage during the War of the Roses changing hands between the two sides at various points and by the 16th Century was already described as having fallen into decay. It passed through various owners after this eventually being sold to the state in 1930. It saw it’s last use during the second World War II where it was partly re-fortified and acted as an observation post and defended with barbed wire and a minefield, amongst other defences. Now it is owned by the National Trust but operated by English Heritage.

The ruins were spectacular and far larger than I had expected. I was very impressed with this stunning view. The gate house in particular was impressive with just a few parts of the ruins of the higher walls above it now standing, almost as towers.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

As luck would have it, as I approached the castle for the first (and last) time of the day, the sun broke through the clouds to treat me to some rather atmospheric views of the castle and it’s stunning coastal location with the outer walls of the castle just a few metres from the waves.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

I’d have liked to have looked inside, but it was closed by now, so I had to make do with a look around the outside. But what a place, I was so glad I had made it here. It is unusual to find a large castle like this so remote from any settlement and in such a stunning location by the sea like this.

As I returned back the way I came to Craster, the castle was briefly lit up by the sun, but with the the threatening black clouds behind giving quite moody feel. I was quite pleased with the photos.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle

As I neared Craster those clouds were to dump their contents on me too, so I was quite wet again. I had a quick look around Craster and then went in search for the bus stop. I found it where the bus turns around at the end of Haven Hill, as Craster is only served by one dead-end road. Here was a shelter I could wait in out of the rain and a bus timetable that confirmed the bus stopped here, and I had about 10 minutes to wait. A few minutes after the bus was due I was getting a bit nervous. Another 5 minutes and I was worried the bus was not coming. As it would have to turn around I began to walk a bit along the road it followed, past the pub and back to the harbour. When I reached the harbour I could look along the road to the village, where I saw the rear end of an Arriva bus just disappearing as it headed out of the village. So now it was clear I had missed it but I was puzzled because I was standing at the bus shelter clearly marked with the correct timetable and yet the bus had never gone into the centre of the village, because I had been on the only road it could use the whole time.

However it had happened, it was clear that I had missed the bus. The next one was in 2 hours. That would mean I’d miss my train from Alnmouth. I was also booked on the last train from Alnmouth to London. So if I didn’t catch that train, I’d not be getting home that night. That would mean I’d have to find a hotel somewhere and buy a new train ticket for the next day. I think the train ticket alone would come to about £100 rather than the £13 I had paed. So missing that train would probably cost me upwards of £150 (because I’d also have to pay for a hotel). That is the downside of making such a long day trip on a cheap ticket valid only on that one train, if I miss it, the financial consequences are rather large!

So having missed the bus my only option to make it for my train was to call a taxi. That too turned out to be easier said then done. Craster is a small place on a remote part of the coast and so my phone showed no signal. Not just “Emergency Use Only”, but “No Service” – there was nothing at all! So how was I going to summon a taxi? Well just at the corner of the harbour was a telephone kiosk. I would have to use the payphone.

I hadn’t used a payphone since I was a student. Back then you could call “192” for directory enquiries for free from a pay phone. Sadly that was no longer possible as this service ended with the numerous “118” services being the replacement. So now you have to pay. The telephone box smelled of the usual combination of stale cigarette smoke and urine but at least the phone seemed to be working. I put £2 in the phone and called 118 118 because it was the only number I could remember. I asked for a taxi serving Craster and after spelling out the name of the place they told me they would put me through. The phone rang for a few seconds then the call cut off! My £2 had run out, even though the call was less than 2 minutes! I had no idea getting a telephone number was so expensive now. My mistake was being put through rather than asking for the number so I could call them back at the local rate. I looked in my wallet but I had only a further £1 coin and a few silver coins. It was not enough and the telephone did not take cards that I could see. Now I was in trouble, no way of getting home and seemingly no way of summoning a taxi. I was beginning to panic a bit now. Then I had a thought. People in pubs often need a taxi (often after drinking too much and being unable to drive home). So I headed to the pub in the hope they had the number for a local taxi firm. I was in luck because they did. They also had a pay phone. So I could call there (where it was warm and dry) for a taxi to come and take me to Alnmouth station.

The driver could come out right away and I agreed to wait in the pub entrance, as it was getting very tight for my train by now. Soon the taxi arrived (I never did find out where from) and drove me back to Alnmouth station. It arrived at the station a little under 10 minutes before my train. Phew! From my notes I had noted that the taxi fare was a very reasonable £15 too (which in hindsight seems too cheap, though it was 10 years ago) and so I had fortunately got enough notes in my wallet to pay it in cash, I’m sure it would be more now. This (so far) remains the only time I’ve had to call on the use of a a taxi (well at my own expense) on any of my coastal walks. (I did once get one paid for by Virgin Trains for me, but that’s another story). I’ve also so far never missed any pre-booked trains and had to buy a new ticket either.

So I made the train home in a bit of a panic but I was very grateful that I had made it. It was a pleasant journey until Darlington. Here although I was sat in the “quiet carriage” the train filled up with very loud, very drunken and quite aggressive Millwall football supporters. When one noticed it was the quiet coach they exclaimed loudly “not anymore it isn’t” and proceed to bang on the tables, windows and anything else they could find, making as much noise as possible. This caused another passenger to confront them over their behaviour. There was some sort of altercation (I didn’t see it all) and the train guard called to intervene. After hearing both sides he called the police to meet the train at the next stop (York) where the football supporters involved would be removed That did happen (delaying the train) but only the worst behaved of them were removed, not all of them. The one sat next to me was so drunk he kept falling asleep and leaning on me with all his (not insignificant) weight, I had to keep pushing back to wake him up! So it was not an enjoyable journey home from the end of the walk, even though the walk itself had been lovely.

After getting home I contacted the bus company (Arriva) to ask why the bus did not serve the stop I was at. I was told that the bus stop at which I attempted to catch the bus from “had been out of use for some time due to building work carried out by the Council“. I was also told that “Notices are displayed on bus stops informing passengers of this and advising them to catch the bus from the Tourist Information Office bus stop” (which I later found out is in the car park further along the road).  I was advised to contact the Council if there was no notice displayed. Well there wasn’t so I was unaware the bus stop I was at was closed. So I did as suggested and contacted the Council to ask why. I was advised by the Council that “Buses in Craster were unable to turn at the usual location as a result of roadworks in the village. Whilst the County Council is responsible for providing printed timetable information at bus stops we have to be reliant on the bus operators to redirect passengers when temporary diversions are in force. On this occasion, it appears the diversion and roadworks continued for longer than anticipated. Although Arriva’s mobile inspectors were able to initially place a notice on the bus stop it disappeared and it was no longer there at the time of your journey“. They went on to explain the notice had been placed by Arriva outside the bus timetable case and not inside it and this was likely why it had disappeared (or been destroyed by the weather).

So essentially the bus company blamed the Council and the Council blamed the bus company. Sadly this is how it usually seems to be when two organisations are involved. Neither would refund the cost of the taxi I had had to call so I had been left out of pocket because, not being local, the information provided online and at the bus stop was incorrect.

Still despite all the travel problems getting home and the very wet weather I still really enjoyed this walk. I had passed many lovely beaches, some spectacular areas of scenery, a pretty village and ended at the truly impressive ruins of Dunstanburgh castle, a real high point on which to end the walk. I had also had an excellent coast path to follow the whole way. The coast of Northumerland was turning into one of the most enjoyable.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.

Arriva bus route X18 : Berwick-upon-Tweed – Scremerston – Haggerston – Beal – Belford – Budle Bay – Bamburgh – North Sunderland – Seahouses – Beadnell – Embleton – Craster – Longhoughton – Boulmer – Alnwick – Alnmouth Station (only some buses) – Alnmouth – Warkworth – Amble – Broomhill – Red Row – Widdrington Station – Pegswood – Morpeth – Regent Centre (Tyne & Wear Metro) – Newcastle (Haymarket Bus Station). Hourly between Belford and Alnmouth Monday – Saturday (and broadly once every 2 hours north of Belford). Three buses per day on Sundays. Note that other than in the evening the buses do NOT serve Alnmouth station anymore. However they do serve the village so it’s likely quickest to walk back from there than to try changing buses if you are on one that does not stop at the station.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

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4 Responses to 251. Alnmouth to Craster and Dunstanburgh

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, I think your experiences underline why I rarely travel long distances on trains. !0 years ago I stopped off at the Jolly Sailor with my family on our way to a holiday cottage at Budle Bay. I popped into the smokery then and a few years ago when I walked through the village on my way south.

  2. Coaster and Dunstanburgh are places I know. The pictures of the castle in the day’s only burst of sunshine are stunning! I think i’d have been very miserable walking in all that rain, and in a total panic at missing the bus.

    • jcombe says:

      Thank you Anabel. I was quite pleased with the pictures. As you might have guessed I had a last minute bit of indecision as from my write up I intended to put one photo there but in the end I couldn’t decide which was best so I put on all 3! Yes I would have preferred no rain but unfortunately by booking in advance I had to take whatever the weather through at me and I guess on this day my luck wasn’t in!

  3. snowgood says:

    Great pictures – just. Few weeks ago I was there – Craster is fabulous

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