Northumberland Coast Path – Introduction

Published 17 October 2021.

The Northumberland Coast Path’s ‘N’ logo

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 this is how the story begins.

“So what we’re after is a five day walk.  About 70 miles or so.  One that’s quite easy, pretty remote, would be not too bad to get to.  And has space in B&Bs for the whole trip.  Oh, and the walk must be a complete walking trail.  Don’t want much do you?”

I said it with a mixture of a smirk on my face as I summed up what Tal had been asking for.  But at the same time, I was feeling just a little daunted by the task of organising a walk for two people that also had so many requirements.  Not that Tal could see any of this.  He was on the other end of a phone, 200 miles away. 

Tal is one of my closest friends.  For many years we’d lived just round the corner from each other in south west London.  Then one of us decided it would be a good idea to move to the north west of England.  I knew leaving London behind was a sensible move for many reasons.  But without doubt the hardest part of it was without a doubt leaving behind a group of good friends.  Tal included.

Although we probably spent most of our time setting the world to rights in pubs, Tal had been a willing accomplice on several walks.  He’d joined me on parts of the South Downs Way.  The Ridgeway, and several day walks.  Then in 2014 we took it up a level and spent six days walking the East Highland Way.  We both survived and in 2018 we did it again, walking the Yorkshire Wolds Way.

In 2020 we’d planned – with some other friends – to do the Speyside Way.  It was a bit like we were getting into a routine of meeting up every couple of years and doing a bit of a trip. It was a good thing. 

The Covid-19 pandemic meant I didn’t head to Scotland for the Speyside Way. But the following year I was keen to make up for it. And over a series of WhatsApp messages, Tal and myself began to form a plan.


Please ring the bell

It was a plan full of constraints. And we weren’t helped by the fact we had no idea what Covid-19 restrictions at the time of the walk. We were planning a trip during the UK’s third Covid-19 lockdown. A time when schools, pubs, and leisure centres were closed. A time when it was illegal for Tal and myself to even meet up indoors. We had no idea what the situation would be by the time the walk happened. We could only hope for the best.

But the bigger constraint was finding a time we were both free. Comparing diaries revealed only two short periods of time we’d both available at the same time. The end of April, or the beginning of July.

We agreed on the end of July, and then set about trying to work out where on earth we were actually going. And there was the challenge. Tal could only spare five days plus a little extra time at either end for travelling. So that meant a walk of around 70 miles. And as it turned out, such walks aren’t that common. It transpired many walking trails were about 100 miles long. The target audience appeared to be someone who wanted to spend a week walking. We could – of course – walk part of a trail. But Tal was keen on completing something.

After ages staring at websites, books and forums, I finally narrowed it down to three options. The Isle of Wight Coast Path; a walk that does exactly what it says on the tin in. It’s a path around the coast of the Isle of Wight after all. Then there was the mysterious but intriguing sounding Wild Edric’s Way. It goes through the wilds of Shropshire. The name came from an Anglo-Saxon landowner who led English resistance after the Norman Conquest. He burned the town of Shrewsbury, which may be why the trail that bears his name, doesn’t go there. And finally, there was the Northumberland Coast Path.

Wild Edric’s sounded fun. But it was logistically complex. It had very limited accommodation and would also need us to book taxis at various points. And left the two coastal trails.

Now given the shortlist had two of them, it may surprise you that I wasn’t feeling that keen on doing a coast path. Something in the back of my mind felt like it might be a bit dull or annoying. Everything wrong about coastal walks I’d done in the past bubbled into my brain. Steep cliff edge paths. Lots of pointless ups and downs as the shoreline raised and reduced in height. Lots of tedious detours as the coastline headed inland to cross a small stream.

Of course, not all coastal walks are like that. Hey, one of my favourite walks of all time is the Seven Sisters on the South Downs Way. It’s a majestic walk. Stunning scenery. Dramatic cliffs. But all the bad things kept knocking out of my mind. Still, I knew the Isle of Wight had a stunning coastline. And I’d heard some great things about Northumberland too. There was something about them both that did appeal.

The rocks and rockpools near Amble

Especially Northumberland. There was something too that appealed about the location. Northumberland. A quiet, remote part of the country. Peaceful. Tranquil. It was a time when we were being told to keep away from crowds. To keep away from people. So why not head to one of England’s least populated counties?

And that wasn’t all. Digging into the detail of the trail revealed we’d in a place that was a haven for wildlife, especially seabirds. There’d be castles. Kippers. Level crossings. And a glimpse of that holy of holy islands, Lindesfarne.

It sounded wonderful. I was becoming convinced. And so it was that we agreed. The Northumberland Coast Path it was. We’d walk 63 miles along the coast of this wonderful part of the world. We’d set off at its southern end in the village of Creswell. We’d head north and arrive in the mighty border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Dates were agreed. Hotels were booked. Train times were discussed. and we both sat there waiting, with impatience, for it all to begin.

The country came out of lockdown. The pubs and hotels flung open our doors. Tal and I could legally be indoors with each other again. With delight, we headed off to Northumberland. The adventure could begin.

Next time: ice creams in Creswell, an overgrown preceptory, and a slip on the rocks. It’s Day 1 on the Northumberland Coast Path.

Your Comments

Vic Flange

17 October 2021 at 10:39 am

Hi Andrew,
I’m really looking forward to reading your account in future posts, especially as it’s walk you’ve now made me think about doing (I’m concentrating on the National Trails first).

Yes, I was a bit surprised to hear you say…

…I wasn’t feeling that keen on doing a coast path…felt like it might be a bit dull or annoying…Steep cliff edge paths. Lots of pointless ups and downs as the shoreline raised and reduced in height. Lots of tedious detours as the coastline headed inline (sic) to cross a small stream.

Better not do the South West Coast Path then. For me, what you mention is all part of the rhythm of the walk, one of the plus points that comes with the variety you get, collectively, amongst British walks. Still, each to their own.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

17 October 2021 at 11:29 am

Yeah, I think reading about the South West Coast Path may have had a major influence on my views on coastal paths up until now! On the other hand, there is a part of me that would quite like to do that trail…

And thanks for mentioning the “inline”. I tried using Microsoft Word’s dictation feature in an attempt to save time typing up my handwritten notes and the amount of errors and mistakes I had to correct meant I definitely didn’t save time. Most I managed to correct but obviously that one slipped through.

Matt

21 October 2021 at 9:29 am

I’m really looking forward to reading about this walk. We had a family holiday up there a couple of years ago and it was a beautiful area. With a small child in tow we didn’t get to walk far although we did do the stretch between Banmburgh and Seahouses – albeit on the beach at low tide rather than the inland route.

Your Comments