Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Walk 138 -- North Shields, via Tynemouth & Whitley Bay, to Blyth

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 64 days. Rosemary was 61 years and 206 days.
Weather: Breezy with sunny periods. It was hot when the sun came out and cold when it went in.
Location: North Shields to Blyth, via Tynemouth and Whitley Bay.
Distance: 12½ miles.
Total distance: 1121½ miles.
Terrain: Concrete for a good bit of the way. Cliff paths, then a cycleway through dunes.
Tide: Coming in.
Rivers: No.60, Seaton Burn at Seaton Sluice.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: ‘Cumberland Arms’ at Tynemouth where we enjoyed Nethergate’s ‘Cross Borderer’ and Wychwood’s ‘England Ale’. Also ‘Briar Dene’ at Whitley Bay where Colin quaffed ‘Alma’s Brew’ and I had a soft drink because I was fed up with beer!
‘English Heritage’ properties: No.39, Tynemouth Priory and Castle.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were camping at Hinderwell. We drove to Blyth and parked for free in a seafront car park just to the south of the town. From there we caught a bus to Whitley Bay, and then a metro train to North Shields. We walked down to the ferry terminal.
At the end we reached the car at 8.40pm — but we had already eaten fish ’n’ chips two miles back at Seaton Sluice. We had a cup of tea, and then returned to our campsite at Hinderwell. The next day we packed up and returned to Bognor — it was a heck of a long way!

I reckon we have completed about a quarter of the total Walk!

Today it is our younger daughter’s 34th birthday. We adopted Annalise when she was just five weeks old. She was classed as a ‘difficult-to-place’ baby simply because of the colour of her skin. Her future would have been a childhood spent in a series of children’s homes and foster homes because she wasn’t a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) — such was the prejudice back in the 1970s. We thought it was unfair for a new-born baby to be so categorised, that is why we adopted her. She grew up to be an extremely attractive young lady with a colourful personality. Over the years she has led us a dance or two, but she is doing OK now with her job as a sales-person, selling nebulisers to hospitals. She has steadied down a lot since she married Mark three years ago, especially as she had to support Mark through major heart surgery within a year of their wedding. She has provided us with our only two grandchildren — Jamie now aged seventeen and Kelly, fifteen. Despite her youth, she has made a smashing Mum — she ain’t a bad kid!

It was fortunate that we pretended to cross the River Tyne by ferry yesterday, for today it was closed! The gates were shut, and a notice told us it was temporarily suspended due to a technical failure. While we were reading this notice, a man came rushing up, saw the closed gates and said, “Oh b****r!” before turning round and looking for the bus stop.We also turned round and walked towards the sea again, keeping as near to the river as we could. We passed several interesting shops, some selling fish (how much of it was local?) and one with a giant wooden doll outside. We also passed the old fish quays and market halls which gave the impression of being semi-derelict, despite their ornamental gates. We were amused by the ‘NO FISH BOXES’ notice alongside the ‘NO PARKING’ notice on the wall of the public toilets — I should think so too!We came on to a small beach where we were once more within sight of the harbour entrance. We climbed over a grassy mound, on top of which there was a statue of somebody, and fine views back towards Newcastle. (We had intended visiting the city centre, and in particular the ‘Blinking Eye’ footbridge across the Tyne, but in the event we just didn’t have time.) Back at the riverside a notice told us about the ‘Black Middens’. These are exposed rock formations which were once a notorious shipping hazard. In the blizzards of November 1864, they claimed five ships in three days! Passengers and crew perished within sight of the shore, we were told. As the tide was only half in, we could see the water was very shallow just beyond the railings. A few yards further on a much newer notice told us we were at the start — or the finish if you like — of the Hadrian’s Cycleway. This is part of the National Cycle Network.
We crossed a car park and came down to a sandy beach underneath the ruins of Tynemouth Castle and Priory, towering above us on an outcrop of sandstone. North Pier is not as long as South Pier but it has a matching lighthouse on the end.
Even though it was the middle of a working day, a group of fishermen were hanging about on the steps at the far end completely ignoring a notice claiming that area was closed to the public. Perhaps they were unemployed — or retired like us.We retraced our steps along North Pier and then visited Tynemouth Castle and Priory. We couldn’t find out much about it as we went round because there was no tape-tour and no explanatory boards. We were told by the ‘English Heritage’ warden that the lack of boards was due to vandalism, but a Council notice stuck on the outside railings didn’t seem to have suffered. This notice told us about the headland, Pen Bal Crag.
The headland of
“The place where now stands the
Monastery of Tynemouth was anciently
called by the Saxons Benebalcrag”-Leland
at the time of Henry VIII.
So began the history of Tynemouth - its
Priory, sacked by the Danes in 800, and
Castle Walls, started in 1095. Three kings
were buried within – Oswin, King of Deria
(651); Osred, King of Northumbria (792);
Malcolm III, King of Scotland (1093).
Three crowns still adorn the
North Tyneside coat of arms.
We had to look in the English Heritage handbook at a later date to find out what we had been looking at:—
“Here stood a 7th century Anglian monastery, burial place of Oswin, sainted king of Northumbria. After its destruction by Danish raiders, the present Benedictine priory was refounded on its site in c. 1090.
The towering east end of the priory church, built in c.1200 with slender lancet windows and soaring arches, still survives almost to its full height, dominating the headland. Beyond it stands a small but complete and exceptionally preserved chapel, with a rose window and an ornately-sculpted roof vault, built in the mid-15th century as a chantry for the souls of the powerful Percy family, Earls of Northumberland. Enclosing both the headland and monastery, and still surviving in part, were the strong walls which once made Tynemouth among the largest fortified areas in England, and an important bastion against the Scots. Probably begun by Edward I in 1296, they were strengthened and updated in the 15th century. Thus when the priory’s 19 monks surrendered Tynemouth to Henry VIII in 1539, it was immediately adopted as a royal castle. Thereafter the fortress-headland continued to play its centuries-old part in coastal defence, both against Napoleon and during the two World Wars.”
We noticed that the whole structure was built of the sandstone on which it stood, and we could clearly see erosion in the ‘bricks’. There was also a 16th century graveyard in the grounds.When we came out of there, Colin led me straight to one of his ‘real ale’ pubs in town. That was very nice, but time was getting on and we still had a lot of walking to do.
We returned to the castle entrance and continued on towards Whitley Bay. There are lovely sandy beaches on this part of the coast, but we noticed that there are always lifeguards in attendance. We may have a partly shingle beach in Bognor, but at least it is safe!
Talking of health & safety (were we?) we passed a sign warning us of unfenced paths — “Please take care”! I am finding such notices increasingly irritating, is that a sign that I am turning into a crotchety old woman? This warning referred to a wide and pleasant zigzag path down to the beach, whereas there was no warning about the cars whizzing past us noisily all the time as we walked along the narrow pavement. They were far more of a danger to us than the pleasant tarmacked sloping path. At the bottom of the path was a tidal swimming pool that looked as if it was no longer used — I do hope the ‘Health & Safety’ lot had not had a hand in closing it down. We have to take calculated risks in this life, otherwise we’d never get out of bed.
We passed Cullercoats Bay which looked very pretty, but we didn’t go down to it or walk along its stone piers. It was a dead end which we didn’t have to walk if we don’t want to, and we considered we were close enough to the sea up at the top. (That was our excuse because time was getting on and we still had a long way to go.) A notice gave us the history: —
Four hundred years ago the village of Cullercoats did not exist. A few isolated farmsteads worked the nearby land but the bay itself remained a peaceful haven. A hundred years later coal mining and salt panning began and the harbour was built to support these goods. Cullercoats was something of a boom town but within thirty years the coal mines were exhausted and the local economy collapsed.
Slowly the village recovered to become one of the most important fishing ports on the Northumbrian coast. About a hundred years ago the bay would be full of little boats or ‘cobles’ bobbing up and down on the water, their pretty red-brown sails creating a striking image with the clear blue water.
The women of the village baited hooks and mended nets and were a familiar sight selling fish on the streets of Tyneside, clad in their distinctive blue jackets, long skirts, large aprons and black straw bonnets.
The fishing industry is not what it was but a few boats still work from the harbour to catch salmon, lobsters and crabs and there are an ever increasing number of pleasure craft.
There was a clock on top of a column on the prom, and sculptures of sandcastles which were really seats. It all looked quite original and clever. Colin wanted to go to a second pub, but I didn’t because I’d had enough of beer for one day. Besides, we really didn’t have the time. But he was very insistent that this pub was special (aren’t they all?) and that he would never have the opportunity to go to this particular pub again (true!) In the end I gave in for the sake of World Peace, and we cut across the grass sward to it on the other side of the road. At least it gave me the chance of a sit-down. I just had a soft drink, but all the time I was itching to get going because I knew how much there was still to do. Time management is Colin’s biggest weakness.
At last he downed his last drop, and we returned to the seafront across the greensward. We veered away towards Curry’s Point which was much nicer to walk because the road turned inland and we no longer had cars whizzing past us all the time. A notice told us the grisly history of this headland: —On 4th September 1739, Michael Curry was executed for the murder of the landlord of the Three Horseshoes Inn, Hartley. His body was afterwards hung in chains from a gibbet at this point within sight of the scene of his crime.
Ever since that gruesome event this headland has been known as Curry’s Point.
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
Erected 4th September 1989 to mark the 250th anniversary.
At the end of Curry’s Point lies St Mary’s lighthouse which is only accessible by a causeway. It is open to the public when the tide is out, but the causeway was covered as we passed. It looked very romantic somehow, shining white in the evening sun with its reflection in the water.It seemed to take a long time to get from there to Seaton Sluice — perhaps we were tired, we were most certainly hungry. We were already well into the evening with still a couple of miles to go, so we asked a passing lady who looked as if she might be a local if there was a chip shop in the vicinity. She directed us to what she described as a ‘very good one’. She was absolutely spot on! We bought huge pieces of haddock, so big I couldn’t finish mine, which were full of flavour and the chips were crisp and crunchy — no grease! What is more, we got there just ahead of a large youth group who were being marched down from a local hostelry for their supper. Clutching our freshly cooked victuals, we hid ourselves in some nearby sand dunes to consume them whilst watching, from a distance, a group of youngsters pratting about on the beach.
The sun was already setting by then, so we turned the last two miles into a bit of a route march. We mainly followed a cycle path through the dunes, so the going was easy. Colin stopped to photograph a strange sculpture which looked as if it was in slats which hadn’t been put together. But I was in no mood to lose my momentum and just kept going until we reached the car parked at the southern end of Blyth. It was twenty to nine and quickly getting dark. Nearby was a notice warning us to leave seal pups alone if we saw them on the beach — but there weren’t any there.

That ended Walk no.138, we shall pick up Walk no.139 next time at the seafront car park to the south of Blyth. We had some tea to wash down our fish’n’chips, then drove back to our campsite at Hinderwell — that took us over an hour. It was well and truly dark by the time we arrived, but at least I didn’t have to cook because we had already eaten. The next day we packed up our tent and drove home to Bognor, it was a heck of a long way and really brought home to us how far we have walked.

We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last time we ever went camping in a tent. We were too busy doing other things to go camping again in the Summer of 2006. The next two Summers were unusually cold and wet, especially the Summer of 2007 when large areas of the British Isles seriously flooded and people wore their winter coats throughout August! We kept making plans, then having to abandon them because the weather was so awful. In 2009 we conceded to age and bought a caravan.

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