In the late afternoon, together with a party of effervescent school children and homebound commuters, I took the metro from Newcastle Central out to Whitley Bay, the “Coast Line”. Later, in the gathering dusk, I walked several miles along the coast to Tynemouth and the Shields Ferry which crosses the River Tyne. I crossed the river next morning in company with a man who told me he had recently returned to Tyneside after spending many years down south, and how marital breakdown had made him think of returning home; he was now, he said, at peace and happy to be back in the north east. He spent much of his time walking too; revisiting remembered haunts and favourite places.
On a day of mainly urban road walking I walked from the mouth of the Tyne at Newcastle to the mouth of the River Wear at Sunderland. Eventually I got beyond the urban sprawl and the coast path took me along the cliff top around a succession of bays and coves, each divided by low cliffs of some friable stone which looked so loosely packed and fragile that I could imagine it being dissolved away by the incoming tide, like sugar in tea.
Rain blew in as a dense wet mist and approaching Seaham I was drenched, my teeth chattering with cold. Research had shown that there was only one B&B in Seaham and I got there to find it closed. Asking around, no one knew of any alternative accommodation until a lady with shopping bags who I stopped in the street, having shaken her head for some time, suddenly said “Wait a minute. I think there is a hotel just around this corner!”. I was dripping wet and pools of water formed on the floor around me as I checked in at reception. That night I went to sleep with almost every item of clothing I had hanging out to dry all around the room.
Next morning it was a bitterly cold sunny day and I walked past the fenced off and boarded up docks of Seaham down to Hartlepool with a copy of the Daily Telegraph stuffed inside my fleece for insulation. I have found that as a broadsheet the Telegraph can be folded in from waist to neck and provides far more warmth and protection from the wind than a tabloid. There was something desolate and unfrequented about this part of the coast and it was therefore a surprise to meet a number of dog walkers and joggers. Without exception all the men nodded at me and murmured “Orrright” whereas the women all said brightly “Hiya”!
A unique feature of this part of the County Durham coast are the small wooded valleys, known as denes and gills, which run down to the sea and which make for extremely steep walking. At the top of one particularly steep dene I met a young couple preparing to descend, the girl heavily pregnant. She looked down the vertiginous slope and muttered “Might induce the baby”.
All the way along the clifftop path here I noticed withered wind-tossed bunches of flowers tied to fence posts and occasionally a notice encouraging people to call the Samaritans. The flowers often had messages attached, sometimes a simple in memoriam, others with messages of aching poignancy, one to Mum – “life seems so empty without you”.
I walked a mile with a particularly nice couple, recently retired they were out with their three bounding red setters. I commented that I had noticed that the beaches below the cliffs seemed blackened and they told me this now empty coast had until recently been lined with industry, collieries belching out smoke and pollutants, and how huge buckets on conveyor belts had transported the waste products and dumped them straight on to the beach and into the sea. Until a massive clean up operation had been launched the whole coast was coated and covered in thick black coal dust. Nature was playing its part too and little by little the devastation was being repaired. They told me that a cove I had just walked past was known locally as Blast Beach and that it had once looked so much like nothing on earth that it had been deemed the perfect location for shooting the opening sequence of the film “Alien 3”. Further down the coast I passed Blackhall Beach where the final scenes of Get Carter were filmed: Michael Caine wrestling a man to the ground on the coal covered beach.
I walked into Hartlepool and found the excellent and friendly Douglas Hotel. Overnight Storm Abigail, the first named storm of this winter, blew in and the next day dawned with violent gusts of wind and sheets of rain which were forecast to last for three days. I decided to take a break and to resume my walk down to Teesside and Yorkshire in a few days time.
© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2015.