Northumberland Coast Path Day 5 (Part 1) – Fenham to Redshin Cove

Published 6 February 2022

Calling the signaller for permission to cross the railway – all part of a days walking 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. With a good friend, I walked the trail over five days. So Day 5 was our last. And it all started with another railway crossing…

“Hi, we’re at Fenham Hill, phoning to see if it’s safe to cross.”

We were old hands at this “crossing railway lines” now. When the signaller asked how long it would take for us to cross the pair of tracks in front of us, the answer came in a flash.

“Oh, less than a minute.”

Although even with that speed of crossing, we weren’t going anywhere yet.

“There’s a train due shortly, so it’s not safe to cross,” the signaller explained. “Ring again when it’s gone past and I’ll check if it’s safe then.”

A couple of minutes later, a train whooshed past, I picked up the receiver again, got the all clear, and on we went.

We hadn’t needed to come this way. From where we had stayed at Fenham Farm, there was a more direct route back to the Northumberland Coast Path. I hadn’t told Tal this though. After all, if we’d taken that, we wouldn’t have been able to cross at this level crossing. And who would want to miss out on that?

A glimpse of that Holy of Islands, Lindesfarne.

It was our final day on the Northumberland Coast Path. Eleven miles later and we’d be at the end of the trail in Berwick-upon-Tweed. All we had to do was get there for 5pm for Tal’s booked train back to London. Other than that, the day was our own.

We’d left Fenham Farm at 9am, bidding farewell to two Scottish women. They were walking the St Cuthbert’s Way, and we’d spend much of the previous evening chatting. I’d tell you all about it, but one of them specifically asked me not to. And my word is my bond.

From the level crossing, we walked towards the causeway for Lindesfarne. It’s known as Holy Island to some and the name’s not for nothing. At the behest of King – later Saint – Oswald, monastery was first built there in the 7th century. And from began its association with religion. The island became a large base for Christian evangelism. St Cuthbert ended up as a bishop there. Although it moved later, Cuthbert was originally laid to rest on the island after his death. Go figure then why both the St Cuthbert’s Way and the St Oswald’s Way both head over the sea, and finish up on the island.

Cars on the causeway to Lindesfarne.

They get there by using the island’s causeway. Although an island, Lindesfarne has a connection to the mainland for several hours a day. When the tide is low, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists can access it without a boat. And when it’s high, you’ve got no chance. Those travelling to the island need to be careful when they start to cross.

There are no barriers, no one on duty to stop you doing something stupid. Set out at the wrong time and you can get stuck, and you’ll only have yourself to blame. Two weeks before we were in the area, the occupants of a car had had to be rescued after rising tides had cut their car off. For those on foot, things can be even more difficult.

The crossing had only opened a short while before we arrived, and a steady stream of vehicles was now heading over the causeway to the island. We stood at the start of the causeway and watched them go. Lindesfarne may be part of Northumberland, but the coastal path only worries about the mainland. Our route required us only to cross the road, bid farewell to the followers of the saints, and head north. For the first point since Warkworth, the Coast Path was “alone” once more.

Anti-tank cubes – remnants of the second world war – fill this part of the coastline.

A series of large concrete cubes ran parallel to the path near the Causeway. They were another example of left over World War II defences that litter the coast. Two rows of anti-tank cubes, installed to make invasion difficult. If Adolf Hitler had sent some tanks to land in Britain using the Lindesfarne causeway, then the cubes would have impeded their progress.

The ground could have slowed them down too. The path was going through a stretch of bog and marsh. There was sand all around too – hey, the tide was out – but it had a feeling of quicksand about it. This wasn’t going to be the best stretch for walking next to the sea.

Only when we joined a bridleway did conditions improve; the track busy with cyclists. It also transpired we had been joined by another walking trail. The Forth to Farne is a 112km walk from North Berwick, going all the way down to Linsdesfarne. So much for solitude.

Cyclist on the bridleway near Beal.

There was a golf course. Of course there was. Whilst I don’t have any figures, the Northumberland Coast Path must score very highly on the ‘courses per mile’ metric. Definitely above the Pennine Way on that front. Given Northumberland is one of the least populated parts of the country, it must also score well on ‘courses per number of residents’.

Why sandy dunes are so attractive to golf course makers was beyond me. But then I have absolutely no interest or knowledge in the game. And for that matter, no intention of ever changing that situation.

This was Goswick. It was little more than some beautiful sand dunes, a golf club, a ruined concrete tower, and lots of big signs warning that the area is a former military firing range.

“Is that a ‘former military firing area’, or a ‘firing area for former military personnel’?” mused Tal in an attempt to make a joke that really is too awful and confusing to repeat here.

DANGER at a former Military Target Area.

The signs advised anyone spotting anything unusual to phone the coastguard. But there were no retired army captains with rifles, so we carried on.

In retaliation to Tal’s attempts at humour, I introduced my own tumbleweed moment not long after as we came to the golf course club house. There was a “Walkers Welcome” sign in the window, and I mused that we really should have done some sort of Good Clubhouse Guide for Walkers. The silence that came back in return, was deafening.

The trouble with the golf course was that it sat between the path we were walking on, and the beach. We both quite liked the idea of spending some time on the beach on our final day but there appeared to be no way to access it for quite some time. Multiple signs warned there was no access to it. There didn’t appear to be any logistical reasons you couldn’t go that way. Several paths seemed to head towards the sea. But there was no public right of way. Walkers were welcome in the club house, but no one appeared to want us to walk across the course. It wasn’t for a couple of miles that we reached the end of the golf course, before we could get access across the dunes and look at the sea.

No access to the beach due to golf.

Walking on the soft sand – for what would prove to be the very last time on the walk – was idyllic. Even if we did have to reach for our waterproofs whilst a short but very intense shower hit us.

We sat on the beach for a snack, chatting gently. Tal about his looming introduction to parenthood, me trying not to impart my eight years of “wisdom” on him. Well, there’s nothing quite like a parent pretending they know it all, is there?

The sands began to end. The seashore shifted to rocks, and once more we returned to the sand dunes, a respectable distance from the water’s edge. Checking the map revealed we were on the home straight, and it was barely lunchtime. We stalled ourselves as much as we could, taking an extended lunch break overlooking Redshin Cove. In the distance, seals frolicked in the sea. Well, they may have been seals. They were too far away to make out, and if I’m brutally honest, they could have been rocks for all we could tell.

Without a doubt, there are worse places to stop for an early lunch. That’s for sure.

Next time: to the beach and a triumphant arrival in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Cargie’s Plantation and Saltpan Rocks – fine views to sit and watch.

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