Friday, July 07, 2006

Walk 135 -- Blackhall Rocks to Seaham

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 60 days. Rosemary was 61 years and 202 days.
Weather: Fine, warm, breezy and clear.
Location: Blackhall Rocks to Seaham.
Distance: 9½ miles.
Total distance: 1086½ miles.
Terrain: Mostly undulating cliff-top paths with some deep wooded clefts. Some beach walking on a clay layer. Concrete in Seaham.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.100 near the end of the Walk. (It had it’s gate missing so Colin said the kiss should be missing too, but I wouldn’t let him get away with that!)
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were camping at Hinderwell. We drove to Seaham and parked in a free car park on the seafront. It would have been a complicated and expensive journey to Blackhall Rocks by bus, so we took a taxi instead. (We couldn’t use the train because there is no station at Blackhall Rocks.) The taxi dropped us just off the main road, so we walked the quarter mile down a lane to the picnic site where we parked last time. Crossing that, we walked about a hundred yards to the clifftop and turned left.
At the end we walked directly to our car. After a cup of tea we drove back to our campsite at Hinderwell.

We came across an odd kind of sculpture on the clifftop which we think is supposed to depict the mining history of this part of County Durham. Literature we have read chronicling this bit of coastline, describe it as dark and depressing with pollutants all over the filthy beaches, even in the recent past. But we didn’t find it so, in fact we walked through long grass and came across a profusion of wild flowers. The pits have now been shut for sufficient time for nature to take over, and there has been some clearing up and landscaping.
We had clear views behind us all the way back to Hartlepool, and ahead of us along the cliff.
We were able to walk along the clifftop as far as the first ‘dene’ — which is the name given to deep wooded clefts in this part of the country — even though the official footpath took a more inland route. We had to walk inland at the dene, but we were pleased to find that the path stayed on a level and didn’t plunge us into the depths only to make us climb out again.
We returned to the clifftop on the other side of the dene and passed the site of Blackhall Colliery. No sign of it now — it closed in 1981 after being worked for approximately a hundred years. The workers used to live in huts on the beach in a kind of shanty town, and I expect the whole place was pretty horrible while the pit was working. We were walking parallel to the railway, we could see it crossing a viaduct away to our left.We caught up with a couple walking their dog. Despite being only little, it had picked up a heavy stone in its mouth and was determined to carry it home. Trouble was, the stone was too heavy for it to carry far, and every so often it would drop it. The couple were walking ahead oblivious to this little drama, and the dog was getting further and further behind. It would run up to the top of a little knoll just to reassure itself that they were still there, then return to its stone which it picked up with difficulty and trotted along for a few yards before it dropped it again. It must have repeated this about six times before we were too far on to see whether it finally gave up. We found it very amusing.
At Castle Eden Dene we had to climb down to the beach, we had no choice. But it was rather pretty and there was a car park in the woods.
Trouble was, there were also blackened spaces where burnt-out cars had been removed, and smashed windscreens on the ground. I wouldn’t have liked to leave my car there! This is a depressed area and there is a lot of unemployment — but is that really an excuse for such vandalism? We decided to stay on the beach as it was easy flat walking, the official path climbed up again and meandered along the undulating clifftop. We surmised that the clay layer we were walking on was originally slag from the mine workings, but it had been drying out for sufficient years to make it quite firm, and it wasn’t slimey at all. We were still paralleling the railway as it flew over numerous viaducts along this undulating coast.
The beach began to get rocky at Warren House Gill, so we climbed up again and ate our lunch sitting on the top. There was a profusion of wild flowers everywhere, including several different types of orchid, wild roses and honeysuckle. It was beautiful! Colin takes his photography very seriously, and got some fantastic shots of these blooms and their resident insects.
I don’t know why he is looking so grim in the picture — he takes far better pictures than my efforts, though he has got a better camera. I only take a small compact on these long walks because it is easier to carry.At times I got way ahead of him because of his constant stopping and attention to detail.
Fox Holes Dene is very deep, too steep to climb down though we got the impression that people had done it. We had to follow its edge inland as far as the railway, and even then we had to go down to stream level and up. However, we were impressed by the length of the ‘wheelchair’ path on the other side — nearly a mile along the clifftop with far-reaching views. It must be dreadful not to be able to walk — I think I would lose my reason for living if it ever happened to me.
As we continued there were more and more wild flowers — so many we even stopped photographing them in the end. We wondered how many local people in this so-called ‘depressed’ area even know they are there! The official path turned inland to pass along next to the railway, but we stayed along the clifftop for as long as we could. Eventually we had to conform because the cliff edge itself cut in to the railway, leaving just enough room for the footpath.At Hive Point there is another deep wooded cleft, Hawthorn Dene. The railway goes over a rather ornate viaduct (those Victorians really did know how to build with flair!) and the footpath dives underneath this structure. Still there were wild flowers in profusion!
The path goes right down to stream level where there is a footbridge, and there we came across a cave! It is only a hollow in the rockface really, but we suspected it had been artificially chiselled out and fires had been lit in there. There is quite a cliff at that point, alongside the stream.The path led us steeply up, then along the ‘wrong’ side of the railway — ‘wrong’ because the railway was between us and the sea. This was the way-marked Durham Coast footpath we were on, yet where it crosses the railway about two hundred yards further on there isn’t a proper crossing. We had to clamber over the rails, I went first (we did stop, look & listen) then Colin. He had only just made it over when a ‘silent’ train came speeding round the bend — it gave us quite a shock! Trains are not very noisy these days, so we didn’t hear it until it was almost upon us. No horn, no whistle, no warning of any kind — it just appeared. That ‘crossing’ is very dangerous!We were on the clifftop again — more wild flowers, good views and even a sandstone rock-stack. But not for long for we were approaching Seaham. We still kept at a height above the sea as the path led us through a picnic site and alongside a main road. No more flowers!What a dump Seaham is! The harbour was completely fenced off and looked very industrial. We couldn’t find a way down to it though a number of local fishermen seem to have done so. Not that we were sorry because we were quite tired and it meant we didn’t have to walk it. We passed a derelict site which had been partly flattened, and we also passed several burnt-out buildings — it reminded us of our approach to Middlesbrough. Then we came across an interesting modern sculpture of a mine-wheel. Underneath was buried a time capsule, so the blurb told us. I wonder if they came clean about the depressing nature of Seaham, and what future generations will think of the town when they eventually open it.
We passed a statue of some dignitary on a plinth and a Victorian clock tower which is a gem. Finally came to the seafront green where we had parked our car. We were past the harbour by then. On the green a group of boys had set up goalposts and were playing football. Good that they had set themselves up, but are they really so short of space in Seaham that they can’t provide decent playing fields for their youth? What interested us was that the boys, one of whom was repulsively obese, were speaking in broad Geordie accents — we are truly North! “Auf Wiedersehen, pet!”
That ended Walk no.135, we shall pick up Walk no.136 next time on the seafront green in Seaham. We were by our car, so we had our tea and biscuits. It took over an hour to drive back to the campsite at Hinderwell.

No comments: