Northumberland Coast Path Day 1 (Part 1) – Cresswell to Druridge

Published 24 October 2021.

At the edge of Cresswell, the start of 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. I walked it with a good friend in July 2021, and we set off on a Saturday morning in Cresswell.

It all started at Cresswell. Well actually it didn’t, for the bus didn’t stop at Cresswell. We’d alighted instead at Lynemouth two miles south. So let’s start again.

It all started at Lynemouth. Although if we’re going to be fair and accurate, we spent an hour on the X20 bus getting there. We’d woken up in the city of Newcastle, got on a bus and then alighted at Lynemouth.

Yeah. OK. Take three.

It all started in Newcastle.

Although…

Yeah, perhaps I’ll just stop there…


An old pit wheel marks Lynemouth’s coal mining heritage

I don’t know quite why the Northumberland Coast Path starts at Cresswell. It is a nice enough village. There’s a small mediaeval square tower off to the side. And a fantastic ice cream shop. But it’s hardly the start of Northumberland. That’s miles to the south, somewhere near a place with an attractive sounding name of Seaton Sluice. You can walk from there right now if you want. The partially completed England Coast Path National Trail goes up from there. Only for twenty miles or so. But that part of Northumberland isn’t on the Northumberland Coast Path. So the trail starts at Cresswell.

Cresswell isn’t even a convenient place to get to. The buses from Newcastle don’t serve it. The official guidebook tells you to get the bus to the village of Ellington and walk down the road for two miles to Cresswell. But I’d spotted another option. One the guidebook didn’t seem to think was a good one.

First glimpse of the North Sea

Looking at the map, I spotted there’s a coastal path from Lynemouth. We could alight there and follow the England Coast Path up to Cresswell. It was marked on the maps shown in the book, so why hadn’t the guidebook writers suggested starting there? It seemed a good idea to me when I looked at the map.

Perhaps the writer thought Ellington offered a more glamorous start than Lynemouth. One that didn’t offer a giant power station, and a treatment plant for cleaning water from old coal mines. Or fly-tipping on the dunes. An old sofa here, big piles of bricks there. Or maybe they didn’t think this part of the coast was that nice. Although the sandy dunes were covered with grass and wildflowers.

Whatever. We were doing it, and that was that.

Entering Cresswell on the Northumberland Coast Path

The path weaved its way along the dunes, staying a respectable distance from the sea. In fact, it took a took a while to even see it. A glimpse here, a snippet of you there. But as we approached Cresswell, the closer the path got to the water. With the sound of the waves crashing nearby and the taste of salt in the air, we both started developing a good feeling about what was ahead of us.

And then there we were, stood on the outskirts of a small but pretty village. A little further on, two miles into our walk, we arrived at the start of the trail. Which was also next to an ice cream shop. Cresswell Ices, purveyors of fine quality homemade ice cream.

Now at 10:45 in the morning, it was way too early in the day for an ice cream. Which was why there was a big queue outside. And why I only had two scoops of a chocolate and Oreo concoction. It was delicious. I almost went back for another.

Enjoying a pre-walk ice cream from the excellent Cresswell Ices

From Cresswell to Amble, there’s two ways you can walk the Northumberland Coast Path. On a path along the dunes, or alternatively, on the beach itself. Well. Who would go for the dunes on a day like this? Misty, muggy, cloudy, warm, and windy? Come on, it’s beach all the way. It’s so obvious that it hurts. So that’s what we did, enjoying that taste of salt in the air and those gentle crashing of the waves on the shore. Is it possible to grow tired of the sand and the sound of the waves? I doubt it, although we did have five days in which to find out.

That’s not to say the Northumberland Coast Path is all sea, sand and surf. As a trail it is not short of a few historical diversions, and the first came a couple of miles in north of Creswell. It’s not on the Northumberland Coast Path itself. But those willing to take a half mile detour can visit the remains of Low Chibburn preceptory.

It was established by the Knights Hospitallers, initially a religious order who cared for the poor and sick. Which is why they later established a military wing. Okay it was supposedly created to protect pilgrims on their pilgrimages. But let’s be honest here. Swords are far more exciting that bandages.

The ruins of Low Chibburn

First recorded in 1313, the manor at Low Chibburn was founded to raise revenue for the order, and to care for the sick. It was a role it performed for over two hundred years. And would have gone on even longer had Henry VIII not decided to turn his back on the Catholic Church. In that classic tale, the Dissolution of the Monasteries saw the Knights booted out. Their land was seized, and given to a local landowner, Sir John Widdrington. Sir John set upon reconstructing the site as a house, and anyone needing healthcare could go stuff themselves. Because that’s how it goes.

And so it remained until Low Chibburn was set alight during one of the country’s many wars with France. In 1691 a raid led by French naval hero Jean Bart saw him put Low Chibburn to the torch, and the place was never rebuilt.

With a backstory like it, it all sounded like it was worth a look, so we headed off the trail to check them out. It was an easy detour, heading along a path that turned out to go through a nature reserve. We didn’t see any signs for it, but passing an endless parade of people carrying big cameras gave a good clue. As did the large number of hides giving views of the wildlife living in large ponds. I peered through one of the slits in the hides, spotted a duck and contentedly walked on.

The march of weeds and more in Low Chibburn

The cows in the fields outside the preceptory were less interesting. No one turned up with a camera to look at them, and they knew it. We weren’t there for them either. What we wanted was on the other side of a half-broken stile. And there it was. Some ruins, surrounded by very overgrown weeds and nettles.

Battered, half illegible interpretation boards told us this was a nationally important historical site. This wasn’t obvious. It looked like no one cared for the place at all. Were it not for the vague trampled path round the edges of fence surrounding the preceptory, you’d think no one had been here for decades. Everything was overgrown. Wild plants were swamping one of the ruined walls. Bracken and nettles were everywhere.

The overgrowth made close inspection of the place sadly impossible. Unless you were prepared to battle thistles and nettles in order to get a closer look, you’re stuck. I had shorts on. There was no chance.

It all seemed rather a shame. All the place needed was someone to come up a couple of times a year to control the plants. But as it was, this site of major “historic interest” felt like it was being left to ruin.

With a sigh, we returned to the coast, and found a nice spot for lunch.

Next time: a visitor centre with no leaflets, it’s the wrong bed, and an unfortunate slippage.

Your Comments