Northumberland Coast Path Day 3 (Part 2) – Seahouses to Bamburgh

Published 12 December 2021

Black-headed gull enjoys the car park at Seahouses

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. The morning of our third day had featured lots of wildlife, some old lime kilns, a dilemma, and a good soaking. The afternoon would be far less eventful, but certainly no less intriguing.

A Northumberland Coast Path signpost appeared to direct us through a car park. On the map, the path looked more like it went along an old railway line, but the signpost pointed towards a car park. So through a car park we went. It seemed rather illogical a route. Why not go through the main High Street that ran parallel? It would have given trade to local businesses, and things. A mystery. But whatever. If the trail went through a car park, through a car park we would go.

Of course, the Coast Path didn’t leave Seahouses via the car park. It went down an old railway line behind the car park. But we didn’t realise we’d gone wrong until we reached the end of the car park. Round about the point we found ourselves on a main road next to a closed-down middle school in fact. It wasn’t the worst of detours. Neither was it the best. But a few minutes later, we re-found the trail. It was near an industrial estate. An estate that housed an establishment whose slogan was “Ultimate Control”. Oh, and a sandwich manufacturer called “Trotters.”

Had I looked at the guidebook before leaving the pub, I would have spotted that this section of the walk had a beach alternative. But I hadn’t, so that was that. Which was a shame as the main route didn’t go near the sea for quite a while. Instead we got to go through a field of cows, another of of wheat, and then along a series of deserted roads. Off in the distance, stood the Farne Islands. There are between 15 to 20 of them, which may sound illogical. But when the tide is low, some of the islands merge together.

I wonder where the path goes?

In the distant past, the main occupants of the islands were a small number of monks and hermits. Lighthouse keepers spent some time there too when two lighthouses were built. These days though the Farne Islands are best known as the home of wildlife. Thousands and thousands of puffins live in this remote spot, along with arctic terns, seals and many more. The earliest known bird protection laws in the world protected the islands. And they got introduced by a saint. St Cuthbert in fact, in 676 in order to protect eider ducks and other birds that nested on the island.

You can visit some of the islands by boat. And had we been closer to the sea we may have seen some of the seals swimming. But we were well away from it all to tell. The biggest excitement we got was passing lonely looking and that very unoccupied house. It was surrounded by vast amounts of uncut grass. Still, at least the sun was now out, drying us out after the earlier drenching.

The Gasmanager’s Cottage near Bamburgh

We came to a cluster of attractive houses named Red Barns. Apart from one of them having a slightly unusual design, that wouldn’t have been particularly noteworthy. But the owners had obviously fielded more than a few questions about it and had installed a small information board. Had it not been for that sign, we would never have learned it was called Gas Keepers cottage. Nor why. For this was the site of the former Bamburgh Gas Works, where they – presumably – used to produce town gas for the residents of Bamburgh. I say presumably. Researching later, I found revealed no further information about the place. If there was anything on the internet about it, it was well hidden behind the details of plumbers and gas fitters.

With a name like that, you may guess the cottage was once occupied by the keeper of the gas at Bamburgh gas works. And it had. After the gas works had closed, the site had been used as a bin lorry depot, before eventually becoming a private residence. The name was apt. The roof was red, and the building looked a bit like the kind of barn you’d find on a ranch on the Idaho planes in the USA.

Bamburgh Castle in the distance

It was a nice-looking cottage. But on impressive buildings, it was nearby Bamburgh Castle that drew the eye. There’s been a castle here since medieval times. It may even have once housed the capital for the 5th century Kingdom of Bernica; a land that once stretched over much of what is now North East England and the Scottish Borders.

The Normans built a new castle here replacing earlier fortifications. And then in the Victorian era, industrialist William Armstrong bought the place, and it’s been in the Armstrong family ever since. It’s now open to the public and based on the size of the car park, it’s a major visitor attraction.

We passed the castle and headed into the village to find our room for the night. The rain had stopped sometime earlier, we were less soggy, and Bamburgh had pubs. Things, dare I say it, looked positive.

The view from our room at the B&B in Bamburgh

The check-in process at our B&B turned out to be a case of receiving an email with a key box code, and then letting ourselves in. And after a touch of confusion when we found we only had one bed (the second turned out to be in an adjacent room), we set out sorting out our stuff.

It was without a doubt, good that the main room had lots of floor space. Belongings was soon littered everywhere. The sun may be shining brightly, the skies bright blue, but we’ve got an almighty drenching earlier and a lot of our belongings needed drying. I’d had a good rucksack liner so most of my stuff was fine, bar a few items of washing I had dumped at the bottom of the pack. Tal was far less fortunate. Pretty much everything was wet. He didn’t even have a dry pair of shoes to change weight. To save weight, he’d left his spares at home. Tal would spend much of the evening with rather damp feet.

With everything left out to dry, we headed out to see what Bamburgh had to offer. On a Monday night, I had assumed we’d have no problems getting food. But a lovely looking fish restaurant and an upmarket pub both declared themselves be fully booked. The pub also had signs up saying they were short staffed. That left us with a swanky but suspiciously deserted looking hotel, and another pub. And as the pub was the first we came to, we headed in.

It was heaving. And there was something noticeable. People were being asked to order food and drink at the bar.

Now, depending on when you are reading this, you may look at that statement and go “Well, yeah, so?” but at the time of this walk we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The other pub was short staffed because some of their staff were having to isolate at home – either because they themselves had tested positive for COVID, or had been in contact with someone who had.

And because of the pandemic, at this point in time, pubs and restaurants in England were required to serve customers at the table. Ordering and standing at the bar was forbidden. I’d been in other pubs where staff had quickly ushered people away from the bar with a panicked look in their eyes, lest someone from the council licensing department be hovering around. Yet here was a pub where staff were happily telling people to head to the bar.

The main street of Bamburgh with the castle in the background

Now, given the queuing in a coffee shop or a supermarket was perfectly legal, it never made that much sense to me to ban it in pubs. But I’m also sort of person who feels uncomfortable with fragrant rule breaking. And yet this was a busy pub that didn’t seem to be following the rules.

On the other hand, they did have a table free. With memories of the previous night’s food fiascos very much fresh in the mind, the stomach won out. Which turned out to be a wise thing, as later we popped into the bar of the swanky looking hotel for a drink. The bar was open, but their kitchen was “closed until Friday” for un–given reasons. But we can probably guess. Still, they had very nice beer to drink. Although there too, you had to order at the bar.

There may well have been a major fortification in town of Bamburgh for centuries. Somewhere where armies were based, lands controlled. Could it be that that influenced the Bamburgh psyche? Well, possible. From what we’d seen, Bamburgh did appear to have a rebellious streak.

Next time: rain. Lots and lots of rain.

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