The Northumberland Coast, a few days of extreme dog walking adventures in England’s least populated county at the edge of the empire in Northumberland, along the coast of Northumberland from Newbiggin to Berwick-upon-Tweed to Hadrian’s Wall. A bit like the original tourists here, the Romans, and later, the Vikings, but with less colonising, raiding, raping, pillaging and plundering in the wild frozen barren desolation of the north as some would have us believe. While it may have some savage industrial remains, it also has miles of unspoilt sandy, beautiful beaches and a countryside of crenelated castles.
You know you’ve reached the north when you pass by the Angel of the North, or my wife as I sometimes call her, 200 tons of rusting iron guarding gracefully from Gateshead and where the lasses only put a coat on when its -10.
Once again we’re stopping in a caravan to shelter us from the cold of the Northumberland coast. It’s not doing a very good job however. The skin of the caravan is micro-millimeters thick and at nighttime, cold enough to convince any scientist that the big chill has set and the next ice age is well underway. You know those Royal Marines that do ice breaking drills in the Arctic? Try stepping out of the lukewarm shower into a cold caravan, this is a middle-aged man’s equivalent. Bravery indeed. The weather is gloriously sunny but deceptively cold with a vicious north easterly wind that bites at the face, doing a sterling job of trying to mask the damage from the glowing radiation burns that now adorn my crispy friend face.
Stopping at what we first thought was the inappropriately named Sandy Bay, as the beach appears anything but, as coal washes up, evidence of the savage industrialness that once dotted this coastline. That didn’t last long as the next wild wave from the windy sea swept in and swallowed it up. Newbiggin-by-the-sea is home to the sculpture in the sea of ‘Couple’ by Sean Henry, standing silently as the seas sprays over them. It’s as this point you realise that there is an awful lot of sea. Some say we should never have left the seas and this couple look like they’re about to suicide back into it.
Craster is an unspoiled fishing village with a fine view and walk along a boulder strewn coast to the romantic ruins of 14th century Dunstanburgh Castle. In the distance we can see Bamburgh Castle. Banburgh, once the ancient capital of Northumbria is a small village with the castle rising majestically off one of the finest beaches in all of the UK. We’ve been to many fine beaches from Wales to Cornwall to Scotland and a deserted Bamburgh beach would truly take some beating.
From here we head to Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, accessible only when the tide is out (check the tide times here). Today, Lindisfarne is still a small settlement, easily walkable in only a few hours. We decided on a stroll to Lindisfarne Castle currently undergoing heavy renovations and quite typically when we visit anywhere, surrounded by scaffolding (like everywhere in Italy). The last destination of our Northumberland coast trip is to Berwick-upon-Tweed, an English town on a Scottish river, testament to its history swapping 14 times before finally being conceded to English hands in 1482.
No visit to Northumberland is complete without a walk on the wall. For some its a crumbly old ruin, for others, Hadrian’s Wall marks the edge of an Empire, the most northern border of the Roman Empire. In AD122, the Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of the wall from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. 73 miles of wall up to 15 feet high to keep out the Scottish barbarians I described not so long back and it was built in only 6 years. I’ve seen brand new houses crumble in less than that time, just remember that next time you call the bloody Romans and what they’ve ever done for us. We’ve visited Broclitia at the Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh, the fortress at Housesteads, Steel Rigg to Sycamore Gap for some stunning and familiar film scenery.
Not that our knees enjoyed the steep walk. After climbing the first steep hill, we’ve immediately dismissed the idea of an extreme walking holiday in Nepal and vowed for the 13 millionth time to get fit. Sun-burnt, with our backs plastered with sweat, we can only speak to each with a series guttural grunts. This is not the glamorous and glorious walk I envisaged, it’s endurance not enjoyment and only enthusiasm carries us through. Extreme is in the eye of the beholder and we are now extremely tired…