Northumberland Coast Path Day 2 (Part 2): Alnmouth to Embleton

Published 21 November 2021.

The beach near Alnmouth, on the Northumberland Coast Path

Heading along the county’s stunning coastline, the 62 mile/100km long Northumberland Coast Path offers some of the best coastal walking in the UK. Running from Creswell to the south of the county, all the way up to Berwick-upon-Tweed near the Scottish border, the path offers beautiful sandy beaches, a vast array of wildlife, rare birds, a glimpse of holy islands, and a good dose of history. Our second day started off with a gentle stroll by castles, dunes and estuaries. The afternoon would see more castles. And the fog was coming…

Alnmouth is the home to Britain’s oldest 9-hole golf course. In fact the club, founded in 1869, is also the fourth oldest in England. I know what you’re wondering. The oldest is the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in London, founded in 1608. But that has 18 holes. And is nowhere near Northumberland, so let’s not worry about it too much.

The Coast Path was determined to fulfil Bowden’s Law of Long-Distance Trails. It’s a simple law. It says that any long distance walking trail must always go past, or through, at least one golf course. I’ve yet to find a single trail that doesn’t meet the criteria at least once. With two courses in a few hours, the Northumberland Coast Path hadn’t let me down.

After a morning on the dunes, we spent the next few miles following the sand, ignoring the “Proper” Northumberland Coast Path as it bounced along the dunes. The sea breeze made this a far more attractive option. It was humid; the sticky heat kept in place by low cloud. And now a sea mist was coming in, soon changing to be fog. At times we could see little ahead of us. All we could see were ghostly looking apparitions of others ahead of us, their forms hidden in the cloud. Well, we thought they were people. Could some ghosts have escaped from the Schooner Hotel. Who was to know for sure?


Sand becomes stones on the beach

In contrast to Almouth, the village of Boulmer a few miles up the coast was not touristy. Crab and lobster pots were dotted around the place. And there were tractors too. So many parked-up tractors. All with trailers with boars on them. If the prime business of Boulmer wasn’t fishing, I’d be amazed. It was also rather quiet. The only busy place appeared to be the the village pub, heartily recommended to us by a man with three black poodles straining at the leash. But we had no time to stop for tea or coffee, as he had suggested. We were walking against the clock.

As well as having to do 17 miles, we had a deadline. For reasons unknown, our accommodation provider could only check us in between 2 and 5pm. A fact only learned after we’d booked the place. We weren’t doing too badly, but there was no time to dawdle if we were to get there by five. In our rush, the afternoon began to pass in a blur.

A caravan hides in the bracken

Bam! There was a bridleway out to the village.

Wham! There was the mysterious Seaton Houses Caravan Park, which looked like someone had haphazardly dumped a load of static caravans in random locations on the hillside.

Swonk! There we were in a queue of people trying to use the narrow path that led into Craster.

This boat may not be going anywhere for a while.

Craster is best known for kippers. You can wander round, checking out the smokehouses that process the herring that you may – or probably don’t – eat for breakfast. You can sample the produce in the fishmongers. Get some to take home with you to enjoy. If you can’t, don’t worry for you can also get them sent through the post.

An interesting place. Well, if you have time to wander and explore. We didn’t. All we saw was a brief glimpse of a harbour, before we had to rush out again. Within minutes of arriving, we’d left Craster and its kippers, and were storming up a grassy hillside to 14th century Dunstanburgh Castle.

The spooky looking ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle

Suddenly there were people everywhere, all taking in the views of… well, precisely nothing. The mist that had parted a little at Craster now was back with a vengeance. Views had disappeared. We were lucky if we could see 20m ahead of us.

So we did what we needed to. Marched on, footsore and weary. Our chatty conversations dried up to little more than mutterings. Ponderings about what time we’d actually arrive at Embleton. Would we make this strange 5pm deadline? Would we be late? How late would we be?

The castle loomed into view. But there is no time to look around. No chance to stand inside and admire the ruins that sit close to the wave-battered coastline. Not that we’d have seen much due to the fog. Besides, thanks to COVID-19 the castle was only open for pre-booked visits only, and we certainly hadn’t pre-booked. All we could do was peer through the fog at the exterior walls and continue walking along the footpath that – amazingly – skirted the edge of another golf course.

Looking like a hobbit hole in the mist. But it’s actually a golf course bunker.

The official route went through the middle of the course, which was packed with golfers. How any of them could see where their golf balls even went, was beyond me. I would have asked but we were busy following another path that ran roughly parallel to the official route, but had the benefit of going along the edge of the dunes, well out of the way of flying golf balls.

By now we were storming on. Tired, achy, but determined. We may not get to our digs in Embleton by 5pm, but if we were late, it wouldn’t be by much. The golf course’s clubhouse invited us in for refreshments, but we were not to be deterred from our mission. We arrived at the edge of Embleton with mere minutes to spare.
Embleton isn’t a bad pitstop for walkers. It is only a short detour off the trail, and boasts two pubs, a large hotel, shop, and a petrol station. Everything we would need, surely?

But as we walked past one pub, our hearts sank. On a busy summer Sunday, its doors firmly bolted. A handwritten sign explained the owners were self-isolating due to COVID-19. The pub would be shut for two weeks.

Closed due to Covid-19.

A big problem for them. But also a problem for us as it meant our dining options were now sorely restricted. For this meant that both of Embleton’s pubs were shut.

We knew this to be true for we were staying in the other one. The Bluebell Inn housed a housed a B&B and a separately run bar-cum-Italian restaurant. The B&B side was welcoming guests. But the restaurant had yet to re-open following lockdowns earlier in the year. This left us with hotel, and no other options for food. Our delight in making it to Embleton in the nick of time, was fading away.

Sympathising with our plight, the B&B owner suggested all we could do is head to the hotel as soon as possible, and hope for the best. But on making a quick phone call, a rather unhelpful man declared they were fully booked and – whilst not using those exact words– basically told us “tough shit, you’re going to starve, mate.”

After 17 miles of walking, this was not what either of us wanted to hear. We both wanted food. We both wanted a nice drink. Embleton, it seemed, could offer us neither. Even the village shop was no help. It had closed its doors for the day around the same time we’d arrived.

Ever the optimist Tal suggested making do with the few snacks we had in our bags. I contemplated getting a taxi somewhere. But after a disconsolate five minutes staring into the abyss, contemplating an evening meal of three bourbons, and two fruit shortcake biscuits swiped from our hotel in Newcastle two nights earlier, there was a brain wave. Where there any takeaways that would deliver food to us?

The Blue Bell Inn, Embleton, where we stayed the night.

Which is how we found ourselves eating takeaway pizza on the outdoor tables outside of a closed Italian restaurant.

It wasn’t the best pizza in the world, but it wasn’t the worst. And it was better than a couple of biscuits.
Sometime later I went for a stroll round the village, Tal opting to remain behind to rest his feet. Walking round Embleton must have taken a whole 10 minutes. It wasn’t a big place. As I walked, I passed the hotel that was so busy it couldn’t accommodate any more people.

It had a sizeable outdoor area filled with benches. Most were empty. I peered through the windows. Most of the tables were empty. Big signs proclaimed food was served until 9pm. It was ten past eight.

They could easily have fitted in two weary walkers. People who would have waited and would supped a few pints beforehand to while away their time. But no.

The sign even said they did takeaway. Did they ever suggest that as an option? Of course not.

Well, tough shit, I thought. They’ve lost some trade by being thoroughly unhelpful. I wouldn’t have gone in if they’d paid me. And with that I headed back to our room at the Bluebell Inn, stretched out on the bed, and had an early night.

Next time: Castles and pubs, better weather, and worse weather.

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