The Northumberland Coast Path Passport – an experience with trying to use it

Published 13 March 2022

The Northumberland Coast Path Passport – your passport to adventure!

When I was in the early stages of planning my own Northumberland Coast Path walk, I was looking at the trail’s official website. One of the sections on the website extolled the Northumberland Coast Path Passport. It is, apparently “a must for walkers”. They go on to proclaim “the passport will end up being a treasured possession, a great reminder of all the places you have stopped at or stayed overnight.”

The premise of the passport is simple. Stop at certain locations along the trail and the business there will stamp your passport. Collect at least two stamps each day and you can get a certificate at the end of your walk. Whilst the list of supporting businesses is not online, each Passport comes with a list of places where you can get your passport stamped.

Such promises brought a little element of scepticism but the principle behind it is to encourage you to support local businesses along the route. And that’s an idea I can support. Buying the passport was only £2 so I thought, what the hell, I’d give it a go. It duly arrived through my letterbox, alongside the copy of the official guidebook I’d ordered.

The passport itself is pretty simple. It’s a small, pocketsized booklet. Each page has space for six stamps. Tucked with it was an A4 piece of paper with the list of businesses I could get a stamp.

I confess I had a bad feeling about the whole endeavour looking at the list of businesses, especially given I was supposed to need to get at least ten of them. For starters, only one of the places we were planning to stay at, was on the list. In fact there were very few accommodation providers on the list, full stop. Nor where there many pubs. Before getting the list I’d assumed both would be mainstays of the Passport scheme given every walker would need a bed and food. Nor, it seemed, where there many businesses that supported the scheme in the towns and villages we’d be staying in. And those that were, seemed a little random and not necessarily likely to be much use to the Northumberland Coast Path walker. Now fair play to the local sewing shop for getting involved, and I wish them well, but the chances were that I wouldn’t need any dark blue stretch satin, or a Stottie and Westie Cross-stitch kit whilst out walking. Although that’s perhaps just me.

It looked like it would be a challenge, but I wasn’t to be deterred. All things considered, I thought it likely we wouldn’t quite get ten stamps, two for each of the day were were walking. But I’d get some, surely?

Exciting! My first passport stamp!

So at the start of the trail in Cresswell, I bought at ice cream from the truly excellent Cresswell Ices, and got my first stamp in my passport. One stamp right at the beginning of the trail. I was, at least, off to a start. And there was a good chance I’d get my second too. For one of the places on the list was Druridge Bay Country Park Visitor Centre. The Visitor Centre’s a short way off the trail but it’s mentioned in the Guide Book, has toilets and a cafe, and we had planned to make the detour anyway. Sorted!

Except we couldn’t find anywhere on the site with a stamp. I’d assumed there would be some exhibition space. An information point. A shop. That kind of thing. But we couldn’t find anything like that. Maybe they were closed due to Covid-19 (the country was in the slow process of opening up after a winter lockdown) but there didn’t seem to be any suggestions there was anything there at all. The only open place we found was a cafe with a huge queue and selling nothing either of us particularly wanted to buy right then. They may have had a stamp, but I felt a bit guilty about the idea of delaying others without purchasing anything.

Even my absolute backup option of the sewing supply shop in Amble failed as our first day was a Sunday and they were having a day of rest.

It kind of set the story for the whole passport endeavour. On our second day we had 17 miles to walk, and the few places we could have got a stamp were places like castles that we wouldn’t have time to see. Of the businesses we did use that day at (a cafe, deli, B&B and a local pizza delivery service), none were in the Passport scheme.

Day 3 started with some optimism. We’d planned to get some lunch in Seahouses where there was a pub that stamped passports! Excellent! Now I’m not saying we deliberately went to that pub for lunch purely on the basis of the passport, but I will admit it was a factor. Clearly these things work. We had our food, something to drink, and I asked about a stamp.

Clearly it was not a common request. The first person we spoke to had never heard of it. They passed it on to someone else who had. But who, despite much hunting, couldn’t find their stamp anywhere. In the end, we gave up.

After that my heart rather fell out of the whole thing. At the end of Day 4 we got to the only B&B to be listed in the scheme. I couldn’t even be bothered asking about it. When we reached Berwick-upon-Tweed, the tourist information office was supposed to have a stamp. A local micro-pub apparently would offer a free drink to passport holders. I couldn’t even be bothered to get the Passport out of my bag.

So many pages, so few stamps.

I’m sure the Passport scheme was founded with good notions. Encouraging walkers to use and support local businesses and services is no bad goal by any means. But without B&Bs and pubs onboard, the whole thing seems doomed to fail.

As it stands, my Passport isn’t really a “treasured possession”. Nor is it is a “great reminder of all the places you have stopped at or stayed overnight.” It’s just a booklet that will sit on my shelf near the guidebook.

It only ever gained one stamp. One stamp from the very start of the trail. The stamp from the Cresswell Ices. And their ice cream was so good I don’t really need a stamp to remind me of it.

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