Northumberland Coast Path Day 4 (Part 2) – Belford to Fenham

Published 16 January 2022

A very wet gate and cattle grid in Shiellow Wood

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. With a good friend, I walked the trail over five days. Day four started off with an exciting lighthouse, and the crossing of a railway. But what would the afternoon feature?

The afternoon went by in a blur of fields, tracks, and lanes. In good weather it would have been a nice change from the sand dunes and beaches. Something a little different. But with the rain bashing us, it became a case of head town, stare at the floor, try to get through it.

We went through Penny Heugh and through Swinhoe Farm, but I’ve little recollection of them. Just names on a map. “Virgin Hill”, the place that inspired Richard Branson to launch a record label and an airline, was a mere track seen running through some trees. I did get a glimpse of Swinhow Lake. There was a swan in it. But it was all I could do to quickly photograph it before my camera got too wet.

Swinhoe Lake – just about visible.

At Fawcett Hill the St Cuthbert’s Way joined us. It’s a 100km walk celebrating the life of St Cuthbert. Yes, he who had introduced one of the world’s earliest wildlife protection laws on the Farne Island. That one. Although he’s better known as a monk and a bishop than for his concern about sea birds.

Born in the mid 630s, 634AD, Cuthbert spent time in the military service, before joining the monastery at Melrose. Years of ministry work followed, with Cuthbert becoming an abbot in time. By 676 though, he’d decided to retire, moving to a reclusive life on Inner Farne Island. Which is obviously why he was then elected to be Bishop of Hexham eight years later. It was a role he was reluctant to fulfill, and only after numerous representations did he take up the role. Not at Hexham though. Cuthbert instead did a swap with a colleague and took up the role of Bishop of Lindesfarne instead.

But it’s what happened after his death a few years later that saw him head to sainthood. There were the numerous miracles accorded to him for starters. And when his sarcophagus was opened eleven years after his death, his body hadn’t decomposed at all. Well, that’s what they said and who are we to argue?

Saying hello to the St Cuthbert’s Way.

Undeniably though his greatest post-death achievement was to have a walking trail named after him. Starting in Melrose, the St Cuthbert’s Way visits many places associated with his life. And for a few miles it would share the same route as the Coast Path, before turning off for Lindesfarne. St Cuthbert’s Way is one of Scotland’s Great Trails. Which is a little confusing given half of it is in England.

Half a mile away from where it met up with us, sits St Cuthbert’s Cave. It’s a big cave where it’s claimed St Cuthbert’s remains rested after Lindesfarne was attacked by Vikings. They’re not there now. They were relocated to the grand and imposing building that is Durham Cathedral. But the cave is still there, and it’s an impressive sight. Well, so I understand looking at some photographs later. We missed it completely. It’s not on the bit of the Northumberland Coast Path that’s shared with the St Cuthbert’s Way. Instead, you have to detour off the former and walk half a mile down the latter. But it wasn’t signposted, and it was so wet that I hadn’t dared to get my map out of my picket. It was only when I saw a sign much later saying it was two miles away, did we even become aware of its existence. And by then, it was far too late.

A bedraggled Tal in the rain

With the St Cuthbert’s Way joining us, three trails were now running down the same route. St Oswalds Way had joined us at Warkworth Castle, and about half of its route is shared with the Coast Path. Although it wouldn’t be with us for that much longer. A few miles on and it would join those following the way of St Cuthbert over to Lindesfarne.

What the three trails got to enjoy together was a lot of trees. The rain wasn’t letting up, and Tal and myself walked quietly on through woodland and forest. Our chats about friends, life, politics, whatever, rather dwindled to a halt. It’s hard to have a conversation through the rustle of nylon waterproofs. Neither of us particularly had a problem with walking in the rain. At least, if we were equipped for it. But it was hardly conducive for a good natter.

Was it my imagination though, or did the rain start to ease as we arrived at the small village of Fenwick? True, It didn’t stop. No chance of that. But it felt like it was easing at least.

Approaching the village of Fenwick – the sea finally comes back into view.

“Do you want a coffee?” asked Tal, as we passed the village shop, adorned with a large sign outside proclaiming “we take our coffee very seriously.”

“Nah, I’m fine thanks,” came my reply and we kept on going. I was sure it was good coffee. Well, they took it very seriously. But the end of the day was in sight. A few more miles and we’d be at our accommodation.

And so it was that our longest chat for about three hours ended. Tal doesn’t drink coffee in case you’re wondering. He doesn’t sup tea for that matter. Hence me not asking him in return. It wasn’t rudeness. He’s an odd fellow at times.

The Granary at Fenham Farm B&B

We crossed the A1 for the second time that day, and wearily walked down a series of lanes towards Fenham Farm, where we were staying the night. A working farm, the owners had tastefully converted several buildings to provide accommodation. Our arrival there was most welcome for our weary legs. Even better they did evening meals for walkers, offered a bottle bar, had a drying room. As an added bonus, they managed to provide exactly the room we’d booked. There were no hassles about missing beds, or incorrect bookings.

Everything was spot on. Also, there were some homemade cupcakes. It was wonderful. And we soon began to despoil our beautiful surroundings by throwing our waterproofs off. The room’s stone floor soon filled with puddles.

It didn’t matter. The welcome was warm. There was excellent local beer, and comforting food in our stomachs, as we sat in the B&B’s lounge. The rain had stopped. The next day’s forecast was looking better. We’d got wet and now we were dry again. Everything was going to be okay.

Next time: the weather’s better as we head off on our final day of walking, and arrive in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Time to relax in the lounge at Fenham Farm B&B

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