Following a North Sea coastline12th March 2012
After having thought of it for a few Saturdays, I finally sorted myself for a walk by Northumberland’s coastline from Alnmouth to Embleton. It had been January 2006 when I last walked from Alnmouth to Craster. Then, the hoped for combination of blue skies and sunshine didn’t materialise so photographic opportunities were limited. While amazed at how long it took for me to follow up on the earlier visit, there was set to be no problem with the weather for February’s visit. In fact, I was playing with the idea of an overnight stay with a less taxing Sunday to follow a coastal on Saturday, but returned home that night and went for a short cycle around Macclesfield and Bollington the next day. Limbs may have been tired, but both places saw the sunny that didn’t come their way the previous day.
Having not been there for more than six years made for imperfect recollection of the route as I found out more than once. It also made for changes such as extra cycle paths added by SUSTRANS for their Coast and Castles cycling route (NCN 1). This was what I discovered at the other side of a hedge while going from Alnmouth train station to Alnmouth. Also, there was little sign of the Northumberland Coast Path when I came this way last and it’s made an appearance on maps since then as has St. Oswald’s Way, with which it shares some of the same route. Nevertheless, there was little sign of waymarks for the latter and those for the former had become faded so I really needed a newer map to be sure of the line of my route.
After a road walk took me from Alnmouth railway station, I reached the village of the same name. Prior to entry, I stopped on the bridge over the River Aln to see if I could make some photos before continuing on my way. In my haste to set off walking along the coastline the last time around, I avoided Alnmouth’s pretty main street on my first visit, but this omission was remedied this time around. Everything may have been a little too close together for photos but it was good to savour it all the same. At its end, I picked up a coastal path and trotted along it before dropping in on a handy public convenience.
Rather than sticking with rights of way that cut through a golf course, I opted for a well trodden path up by its coastal side before cutting a little inland to pick up the Northumberland Coastal Path again near Marden Rocks. Then, it was onto Foxton Hall, the hub of yet another golf course and one of which I oddly have no recollection from my first passage by there. That may explain my need for establishing my route onward from there before I dropped onto the beach as the right of way dictated. For those occasions when high tide obstructs the route, there is an alternative that goes by public footpath and road.
To get to Seaton Point, I needed neither though walking over loose stones was less pleasant than threading on grassland and reaching wet sand didn’t come a moment too soon. Then, it was a case of rising up off the beach to reach Seaton House and its assorted collection of summer houses, by which the right of way passed. Beyond those, it was straightforward and quite undisturbed walking to Boulmer. The OS map may make it look as if you are going along a beach for much of this but I was walking on grass turf for the most of it.
At Boulmer, the signed restrictions on the taking of fishing bait from a proscribed area were a curiosity, as was that of the local sea rescue service. The first was the business of Alnwick District Council while it surprised that the second wasn’t that of the RNLI. They say that there is an independent spirit in Northumberland so that may be part of the explanation for that state of affairs.
Leaving those curiosities behind, I continued with heading north by using a byway open to all traffic that is an off-road section of NCN 1. At this point, I began to veer away from that around Longhoughton Steel and got in generous views up the coast towards Bamburgh Castle. The perceived distance did spur me along, but there was another deviation from the line of the trail before I decided on keeping to its line more rigorously. Twitches in muscles may have helped to convince me of the sense of this, but there had been no loss of route completeness since I have been the way before anyway.
Around Iron Scars, I left the byway after me to pick up a footpath. Since I was beyond where the end of a road leading out from Longhoughton, there were more folk about now than was the case earlier and families were among them. Views were shared and I shortened the distance to Rumbling Kern. Beyond there I passed Howick and noted improvements to the path since I last had been this way, particularly the part that shadowed a single – track road.
Cullernose Point was growing ever closer now and the proximity of Craster was yet another explanation for how many were going the way along with me. The glorious day must have drawn them too, as did the school midterm break. The weather certainly was a departure from the struggles that the sun had in effecting any light on cliffs when I passed this way before. The result this time around was a feast for the eyes and there remained quiet spaces at which I could stop awhile and take it in before the path took me up onto Long Heugh and over by those same cliffs.
The progress into Craster was good and the sight of Bamburgh Castle was luring me along though Craster is a not unpretty spot either. Last time around, it was at this point that I decided to turn around before without passing the nearby castle at all. With time in my favour, I decided to set that piece of unfinished business to rights.
What an English Heritage monument like this wasn’t going to offer was having it to myself so getting photos like what you see above needed some patience. Nevertheless, good things come to those who wait and a few uncluttered photos of the ruin were mine to keep. It was below the castle that I decided to continue to Embleton after making good time from Craster. Unfortunately, there was no time to dawdle around the castle itself, but that can be an excuse for another visit, never a bad thing.
Beyond the castle, I noticed a defensive element not apparent from the south: a cliff face. That would have made it difficult to approach from the north so they had cut down on one option for attack. It’s being atop a hummock too must have helped until the age of the cannon finally did for the fortification. The ample views up and down the coast must explain the position of the castle too. Maybe that’s also why so many spend time around there.
The rest of my walk was to carry me across yet another golf course; they seem to be plentiful in these parts, perhaps because of the sandy soil. While the public footpath weaves its way across the course, the coastal path takes a less intrusive line by following its boundary. Nevertheless, there were waymarking posts directing those who fancied using the former, though the later would be my personal preference.
Light was declining at this stage and I reckon that time went faster than I’d have liked it to go too. Maybe I dallied as I walked along, but a reality check around Dunstan Steads saw an end to any sense of dawdling. From then, it was with a sense of purpose that I reached the end of the road from Embleton and then dealt with the height gain to reach the village itself. Travel contingencies were emerging in my mind but I was in time for a double-decker bus to pick me up from the front of the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel, even if I was unsure of its being an official stop; others with signs were to be seen later so that’s useful information for future excursions.
In the fading light, it was a curious experience to feel the undulations of Northumberland roads on the top deck of the bus. It weaved in and out of Craster (telling me where the main bus stop is to be found) before making for Longhoughton and passed Boulmer RAF Helicopter Station before going through Lesbury on its way to Alnwick. It was along roads like these that I trotted to return to Alnmouth train station on my first visit to the area, with a head torch being needed south of Longhoughton. This time around, I was able to relax, rest my limbs and let the bus do the work while I pondered a return to explore Alnwick itself and other places besides. Northumberland remains a place of unfinished business for me, but the same can be said for anywhere that I have visited, if I am to be honest about it.
Train travel from Macclesfield to Alnmouth with changes at Manchester and York. Bus service 501 from Embleton to Newcastle and train travel home again, changing at Manchester.
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