I followed the coast of Northumberland southwards from Berwick upon Tweed. Crossing the Tweed by the stone bridge which had been built in the early 1600’s at the behest of James I, in order that he might travel between his two kingdoms of England and Scotland by means of a structure more appropriate to his royal status than the ancient wooden bridge which had spanned the river in earlier times.
In the grey early morning light I walked down the beach for hours, along the line where the waves met the sea. Some way before the Holy Island of Lindisfarne the sand turned to coastal marsh; at Beal I approached the tidal causeway which at low tide joins Holy Island to the mainland. The headlights of cars crossing the long sinuous curve of the causeway swept across the sea and shone dramatically through the low sea mist.
In time I reached Bamburgh, its massive castle obscured by rolling clouds of fog. I had not realised that the ancient kingdom of Northumbria was so named as the kingdom which stretched North-of-the-Humber to the Firth of Forth. Originally the Saxon state of Bernicia had been ruled from Bamburgh, a system perpetuated by the Normans. In time the Scots appropriated the lands as far south as Berwick, and the Tweed served as an uneasy river border for centuries. Northumbria was then reduced to the lands between the Tweed and the Tyne, at Newcastle.
I continued along beaches made indistinct and non-descript by the fog and in time came to the little town of Seahouses. I had not seen anyone all day and was rendered disoriented and confused by the sight of tourists eating fish and chips, buying souvenirs and waiting around the harbour for boats to the nearby Farne Islands.
South from Seahouses I walked round two big sandy bays at Beadnell and Embleton. The history of this part of the coast is characterised by two architectural features: limekilns and Pele towers. As in many parts of the country, to meet the demands of an expanding population in the 1700’s, lime was put on the fields to boost the productivity of the soil and maximise crop production. Fortified Pele towers were built and maintained as places of refuge from the marauding bands of border “reivers” who terrorised and ransacked the badlands of the border country for centuries, until their depredations were eventually stamped out in Stuart times.
Where the sandy shore is replaced by rocky reefs I saw the picturesque shell of Dunstanburgh Castle and followed a particularly scenic stretch of coast down to Alnmouth, where the sand reappears, and I continued on sandy paths through the dunes adjacent to the long sweep of Druridge Bay.
As I headed south through Northumberland I noticed how people’s accent was changing. The warm and soothing Scottish burr was gradually being replaced by intimations of Geordie: a deep, rich, sonorous, almost musical, front-of-the-mouth way of speaking which I noticed first when instead of “mate” people began to call me “mayut”. By the time I asked for directions at the security gate of the Lynemouth power station I received the full blast of “Norr mun, you gotta gorr doon the rorrd!”. I liked the direct, forthright manner of the Geordies.
The path detoured slightly inland to Warkworth with its castle, medieval bridge and Norman church, and then I rejoined the coast at Amble for a pleasant walk to Newbiggin by the Sea where I spent a night in a seaside pub listening to the sound of the waves breaking on the shore. Next morning there was a magnificent sunrise and I set off on the final stretch down to the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne which everyone hereabouts calls “The Toon”.
Beyond Newbiggin the coast became busier and more built up, with signs of industry and coal mining. I had to take to roads to cross the River Wansbeck and the River Blyth. Eventually, I reached Whitley Bay, orderly with its boating lake and golf links, known as the “Blackpool of the North East”. Whitley lies at the outer end of the Newcastle metro system and I finished this walk at the train station.
© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2015.