The crashing of waves, the fresh sea breeze and the far cries of seagulls wheeling overhead; there’s a reason people pay a lot of money to have the sounds of the sea on tape to lull them to sleep. We urge readers to experience the real deal with a trip to the North East coast, coupled with a brisk walk along its dramatic cliffs and dunes. Whether you’re wandering the coastal paths, exploring the region’s heritage and fishing industry, or simply admiring the wildlife, our favourite destinations hold a certain kind of magic that’s difficult to find anywhere else.
CRASTER AND HOWICK
It’s easy to see why this wonderful slice of Northumberland coastline is considered an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Frequently described as one of the top ten best coastal retreats in the country, the varied walk is a microcosm of what the region’s coast has to offer, encapsulating its fantastic wildlife, traditional fishing villages, open farmland, dramatic castles, golden beaches and rugged cliffs.
The walk begins and ends in Craster, the famous home of smoked Craster kippers, which it would be criminal not to sample, and journeys down to Howick in a six mile circular route. The footpath to the south of Craster runs along the foreshore from the harbour, quickly stumbling upon Cullernose Point, a headland of whinstone cliff forming the northern limit of Howick Bay. It is a stretch of geologically diverse rock characterised by fascinating formations and pools, and if you look closely enough, you may be able to spot some of the resident kittiwakes and fulmars that nest on the rock itself. Pass Howick Hall’s bathing house, a Grade II listed building built in the Victorian period, which stands just above the foreshore. It is now available to rent as self-catered accommodation. Howick itself contains some fascinating glimpses into the area’s past. Between the bathing house and the outfall of Howick Burn, the remains of an ancient settlement were discovered by an archaeologist and soon transpired to be one of the country’s best examples of a mid-Stone Age house. The mesolithic Howick House, which once resembled a thatched hut, was used as a shelter for tribes almost 8,000 years ago as they fought to survive the long, cold Northumbrian winter.
If you’d like to draw out your day trip, clear some time for a visit to Howick Hall and Gardens. Voted in the top five coastal gardens in the country by BBC Gardeners’ World, the summer months see the formal borders and terraces at their very best before they ripen and glisten with autumnal berries. The stately Earl Grey Tea House serves homemade lunches and afternoon teas in honour of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, whose family seat was Howick. Sip a cup of his namesake tea, famously blended especially for the water in the area, before resuming the last leg of the walk back to Craster.
COCKLAWBURN TO LINDISFARNE
The north Northumberland coast is often forgotten in lieu of its southern counterparts, but this glorious stretch of beach is among the best in the region. Begin at Cocklawburn, an interesting golden beach scattered with a series of rocky pavements spearing seawards between the layered rock of Near, Middle and Far Skerrs. There is plenty of rockpools to explore, fossils to discover, and rugged landscape to navigate before reaching the comparatively smooth white sands just beyond Far Skerr.
Cheswick and Goswick beaches, lined with grass-topped dunes and stretching for four miles south of Cocklawburn, are often deserted. Devoid of intrusive rocks and, for the most part, gaggles of tourists, the vast and peaceful expanse of perfect sand is interrupted only by the sound of crashing waves and the occasional decorative tree trunk. A mile south of the structured, sand-clamped Cheswick Black Rocks, leave the beach through the low dunes to join a narrow path to South Low. From there, Beal Point and the surrounding tank-trapped salt marsh are negotiated via a squelchy path that leads to the Lindisfarne causeway. Follow the Pilgrims’ Way east, passing the stilted refuge hut, to reach the famous Holy Island. Once you’ve arrived, you can either choose to meander around the perimeter of the island to tour all of the sights, such as the Lindisfarne Priory, or kick back in the beer garden of the Ship Inn, a public house with oodles of character and copious amounts of national praise.
The sensational coastline of South Tyneside is as diverse as it is beautiful; from giant sculptures to a 250 million year-old natural phenomenon, walking its length via this seven mile coastal walk will amaze even the most seasoned of walkers.
The walk begins at the Conversation Piece, a stunning work of art created by the late Spanish artist Juan Munoz. Comprising 22 life-size bronze human figures, weighing a quarter of a ton each, the works were installed in 1999 as part of a scheme geared towards celebrating the area’s rich maritime heritage. Set off south along the pristine sands of Littlehaven Beach before arriving at the dune-lined golden stretches of Sandhaven, adequately filling your quota of beautiful beaches.
For a change of terrain, the Leas National Trust area extends across 300 acres of limestone cliffs and coastal grassland. A favourite destination for wildlife as well as walkers, the site boasts panoramic views all the way down to Souter Lighthouse. The glacial drift covering the underlying limestone was deposited over the area following the retreat of the last Ice Age as many as 18,000 years ago, and the National Trust leave much of the area untamed to allow nature to flourish. Continuing to walk south along the coast, you’ll soon reach Marsden Bay and the astonishing landmark of Marsden Rock. The limestone stack is surrounded by cliffs, caves and arches that were formed almost 250 million years ago. The seabird colonies of kittiwakes, fulmars and cormorants nestle happily in its grandeur, so if you’re an avid birdwatcher, grab your binoculars and see what you can spot. Further south, the iconic beacon of Souter Lighthouse, the first electric lighthouse in the world, stands proudly between the Tyne and the Wear. Following its decommission in 1988 after over a century of work, the National Trust acquired the building and opened it to the public in 1990. Today, the Lighthouse allows visitors to explore the life of a Victorian lighthouse keeper in a bygone era. Climbing the 76 steps to the top of the tower provides unrivalled vistas of the dramatic coastline, the perfect place to stop for ten minutes or so to catch your breath and enjoy the scenery before completing your journey towards Jackie’s Beach and Whitburn.