Northumberland Coast Path Day 3 (Part 1) – Embleton to Seahouses

Published 5 December 2021

When it’s not foggy, the beaches of the Northumberland Coast Path offer some fine views.

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 third day walking the trail would feature lots of wildlife, some old lime kilns, a dilemma, and a good soaking.

I woke early, which was a bit of a nuisance given breakfast wasn’t served until 8:30. We weren’t in a hurry, but in recent years I have become somewhat of an early riser. Someone who would much rather get up and get going. Most B&Bs and smaller hotels offer breakfast from eight, and even that seems a little too late to me. Half eight? Well, I’m not a fan.

Still, at least we weren’t in a rush. A late breakfast whilst knowing a very long day awaits you is the worst. We had no such worries. Ahead of us was an easy eleven miles to walk to Bamburgh. We had plenty of time to do it, and after the previous day’s route march, we could relax and enjoy ourselves.

So I lay in bed, tried to drift off again, and immediately began to think about what disaster could befall us on this day. The walking We’d had problems on both of the first two days. The walking had been fine. Food and lodging less so. With two days of problems already banked, neither of us particularly felt confident the third day would go without issue.

The previous day, as we approached Embleton , Tal had started listing potential disaster scenarios. Things that could go wrong for us. Basic stuff like room has wrong beds. Or that breakfast would be unavailable. Even “room is not available as it’s been already given to somebody else called Andrew Bowden, who happened to turn up on the off chance” had been mooted. This seemed unlikely. On the other hand, Tal had failed to predict “unable to get food and ale in the evening.” Anything now seemed possible.

But it was hard to predict what else could now go wrong. We’d had the big two. No food in Embleton. Bedroom wrong in Amble. What else could happen? Bamburgh was big enough that food was bound to be available somewhere on a Monday night, surely? Hotel closed due to Covid-19 outbreak was the biggest disaster I could come up with. And that would be a right pig in Bamburgh as I had booked the last bedroom in town. Well, at least the last one with online availability anyway.

A tree trunk and a castle on the Northumberland Coast Path near Embleton.

Of course, there was the biggest of all worries. The problem that would be so big that everything would go belly up there and then. That one or both of us would come down with Covid-19, and we’d have to self-isolate.

I’d had both of my Covid-19 vaccine doses. Tal his first only. The risks felt low and manageable. But no vaccine is perfect. There was still a chance we come down with it. And then what? How would we get a test? Where would we isolate? How would we get home? How would we, well, do anything? It didn’t bear thinking about. I tried to push it out of my mind and focus on more important matters. Questions like whether we should walk on the beach or on the dunes.

But Britain was amidst a heavy 3rd wave of COVID-19, fuelled by the highly transmissible Delta variant. Given that, it was hard not to have at least a small concern about what lay ahead.

As it happened, for day three the problems wouldn’t be at the end of the day. Instead, they’d happen whilst we were walking.

Things looked promising as we left Embleton. The mist of the previous day had cleared. And it had rained overnight, leaving a welcome freshness to the air after two days of mugginess.

The main Northumberland Coast Path route continued along the dunes. We could have followed it. We thought about it. But we didn’t. We headed back to the beach, enjoying the fine views. And they were fine. Behind us stood Dunstanburgh Castle whose ruined walls dominated the skyline. Now that the fog had gone, we could see it in all its dramatic glory. In fact, everything looked beautiful. The woes of previous evening were behind us.

The chocolate box beauty of Low Newton-by-the-Sea

We came to Low Newton-by-the-Sea, a quaint village with a cluster of chocolate box cottages lined a grassy square. And then the path headed inland, and so did we. The beaches were no longer continuous. With no sand to walk on, the path meandered through wide grassy fields, until once more we could re-join the sand at Beadnell Bay.

Several sections of the beach were roped off. Signs warned dog walkers to keep animals on a short lead. We didn’t know it at first, but we’d arrived at a key breeding site for the UK’s second rarest seabird that breeds in the UK, the Little Tern.

Seabirds filling the sky near Beadnell.

Weighing no more than a tennis ball, the Little Tern is one of the UK’s smallest seabirds. And as a species, they’re in trouble. People using the beach have reduced the number of nesting sites available. And if the nests are disturbed – by humans, dogs or whatever – then the adult terns will leave it. The eggs can become cold, or be taken by predators. Between 2000 and 2015 the numbers of these adorable little birds, with their yellow bills and black caps, has fallen by 18%.

Established in 2014, initially with funding from the European Union, the Little Tern Project set off with a goal of helping the terns. At twenty locations around the UK, including here at Beadnell Bay, areas started to be roped off during the nesting season. Rangers were deployed to help keep people obeying the new rules. These simple efforts appear to be working. In 2019 54 little tern chicks fledged at the roped off area we now looked at – the most successful year since 1990. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but things are looking better.

Barrell jellyfish in the sand near Beadnell.

Was the beach busy because there was less space to walk? Or did the terns attract the bird watchers? It wasn’t clear. On the other hand, it was unlikely the crowds had come to see the numerous barrel jellyfish embedded in the sand. The name comes from their distinctive tops that looked like metal bin lids. Should anyone remember the world before wheely bins.

Their presence all over the beach almost put me off doing what I did next. But not quite.

After deciding we’ve been walking long enough, we heaved off our packs and plonked ourselves on the sand for a rest. My feet were getting far too hot and sweaty, and requested some refreshment. What the hell, I decided. I’d go for a paddle.

Beadnell Bay. A perfect spot for a paddle.

The water was freezing. Well, okay, it was warmer than freezing. But it still felt very cold. Once they had been suitably refreshed and revived, my feet demanded a swift-ish withdrawal.

Before leaving home I’d packed a pair of swimming trunks and a towel, thinking that there may be opportunities for a quick swim in the sea. It was an idea swiftly discounted. Not for nothing were the few people who were in the water all wearing a wet suit.

Besides, there was a suspiciously black cloud looming overhead. After a quick second paddle, we both heaved on the old packs and headed on our way. As we did, the rain began to fall.

Beadnell Harbour – home of lime kilns.

The most dominating feature of Beadnell’s small harbour is where they keep lobster pots and large plastic fish trays. They’re kept in some old lime kilns. When use of the kilns for making lime had ended, they’d been repurposed for fishing storage instead. Not all of them though. One had been adapted as a shelter with handy benches. Had we arrived there five minutes earlier, it may have saved us getting wet.

Now it had stopped, the key question was what to do about food. It was noon, and we’d need to get something to eat from somewhere. But there was a weather-related factor to consider. It was due to rain again. And in contrast to the showers we’d been through, this time it was due to be very heavy.

On my mobile phone, I have a weather app. I won’t name it, but when it’s loading up it shows the logo with a strapline of “superior accuracy”. Said app told me there would be heavy rain in 62 minutes (those two minutes clearly being very important) and would last for two hours.

A limekilln full of lobsterpots

Given that, we deduced we had two options. One was that we could buy something to eat at Beadwell in a café or pub. But if we did, we would likely finish our food about the time the heavens were due to open. There was a good chance we’d get very wet.

The other option was to push on to the next town along, Seahouses. It was only two miles away. If we didn’t dawdle, we’d get there about the time rain was due. We could head indoors whilst the rain fell. By the time it stopped, the weather would be okay again.

We agreed this sounded the more appealing option. And so the plan was put into practice. There was only one problem. The app was wrong. It started bucketing down fifty-seven minutes earlier than it had said it would.

Beadnell Lass is probably not very useful for fishing in any more.

At first it looked like a passing shower. So convinced of this was I, that I didn’t put any waterproofs on. Tal had had his jacket on for some time, but only when he stopped to put on his rucksack cover, did I finally relent and pull on my waterproof jacket.

Without doubt I had made a mistake. But we both made another. Neither of us put on our waterproof trousers. We were both ill-prepared for what was ahead.

Between Beadwell and Seahouses the Coast Path follows a bridleway next to the main road. It was mostly flooded. Whoever had built it, had done an excellent job on its water retention abilities. When the rain fell on it, it remained there. There was no way for it to drain, so it got deeper and deeper and deeper. And the road was wet too. Except it had a way of getting rid of the water. It got splashed onto us. Every time a vehicle went past, it splashed through the water and splashed it onto us.

Welcome to Seahouses – for all your wet tarmac needs.

By the time we reached the edge of Seahouses, where the Coast Path finally left the road to walk beside a golf course (bing!), we were completely soaked.

Our socks were sodden. When I later rung mine out, I caused a minor flood. Taking out my boots insoles out revealed a bucketful of water hiding underneath.

There isn’t a word in existence that can adequately describe how wet we were. This was without doubt the best time to head indoors and transfer some of that water onto the furniture of a local hostelry.

Seahouses Harbour – quite pleasant when not wet.

We stood outside the two pubs in Seahouses Harbour, plumping on the more upmarket one with a sign declaring “walkers welcome.” This was on the principle that they would be less worried about us making everywhere soaking wet. An assumption that proved correct. We headed indoors and collapsed at a table for drinks and food.

Then, just as I was thinking how wrong that weather app had been, the heavens opened once more. Somehow even more rain came from the heavens, even heavier than earlier. As it did, I quietly ordered a second pint.

Next time: the rain stops for a bit as the Northumberland Coast Path heads through fields and avoids seeing seabirds on its way to Bamburgh.

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