Sunday, October 01, 2006

Walk 139 -- Blyth to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 146 days. Rosemary was 61 years and 288 days.
Weather: Bright and breezy with occasional showers — we even had a rainbow! Warm.
Location: Blyth to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.
Distance: 12½ miles.
Total distance: 1134 miles.
Terrain: Mostly concrete / tarmac. Some beach walking, and we crossed two bridges illegally! Flat.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.61, the Blyth. No.62, Sleek Burn. No.63, the Wansbeck.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: ‘Queen’s Head’ in Newbiggin where we enjoyed Abbeydale’s ‘Moonshine’, Hadrian & Border’s ‘Farne Island Northumbrian Gold’, and John Smith’s ‘Magnet’.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove up from Bognor the day before (it took us nine hours!) to a very comfortable holiday flat in the village of Longhoughton, near Alnwick, which we had booked for a fortnight. That morning we drove to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and parked for free in a seafront car park on Newbiggin Point. There I used my mobile to phone a Blyth taxi firm, and we were soon transported in a minibus to the exact point south of Blyth where we finished the last Walk.
At the end we finished the Walk at the car. After a quick cup of tea (we had only just come out of the pub) we drove back to our flat in Longhoughton.

It felt so nice to be walking by the sea again after all the stresses of the past weeks. The situation with our house sale is this:— we ‘sacked’ the first agent because he didn’t get us any viewings at all in the twelve weeks we were on his books. Meanwhile we had been feverishly painting the outside of the house — a horrible job painting over pebble-dash and getting up under the eaves — and Colin successfully put a new beam over the garage door so he could replace the heavy stones which he took down years ago because the beam was rotten. I painted over it all, and it looks good.
The second agent suggested the house was over-priced, so reluctantly we lowered it a little. But we made it quite clear that we were not prepared to negotiate, we sell at the asking price or not at all. We didn’t spend thirty-five years paying off mortgages for someone to sail in, undercut us and make a quick buck! The second agent got us viewings all right, but only of the ‘virtual ruin’ type — by that I mean they come in, describe the house as a virtual ruin, then make a ridiculous offer on the basis of their insults! Then, at the end of August, a couple agreed to our price after hard negotiation (we got the feeling it is all a bit of a game to the agents). We were jubilant. They pulled out four days later! To say we were devastated was an understatement — six months trying to sell and we were still at square one.
A new agent has opened a shop nearby and has a ‘special offer’ that they will pay the VAT (a substantial amount of money) of their first customers. Thinking we had nothing to lose, I asked them round for a valuation. Two zany women turned up and had us laughing fit to bust for about an hour. But underneath all this jocularity I had the gut feeling that they really did know what they were talking about. We are still under contract to the second agent for a few more weeks, so I told both agents that if we don’t have a sale by the end of the contract we will move to the third agent. Then a woman from London agreed to our price, but again only after hard negotiations. She was supposed to come round for a second viewing yesterday, after we had left for Northumberland, so we had to leave the house in a pristine state. We have no faith in this offer — we have been there before. I wonder if she turned up.
Selling a house is a very stressful experience. We have also been turning out boxes and boxes of absolute rubbish — why did we keep so much? Mind you, Colin has managed to sell a lot of it through ‘Friday-ads’ and I have started selling stuff on e-bay. Mounds have gone to charity shops — we asked them to call round specially.
Meanwhile our daughter-in-law had a miscarriage and we were all desolate — I cried for days. She is now pregnant again, so we are holding our breath. Maria gave herself a black eye putting up a tent, and the next day someone ran into the back of her car causing it to be a write-off. Fortunately she wasn’t hurt, but when she emerged from the wreckage with her large bruiser it gave everyone a shock! In August I put my back out seriously and it was extremely painful. I couldn’t do anything for a couple of weeks, but Maria’s treatment eventually put it to rights. I tend to get very depressed when I can’t function properly.
It has been a difficult Summer, but on the positive side, we entertained yet another Canadian cousin for a few days, then her daughter on her way back to Canada after two years teaching in a grotty school in Yorkshire. We also celebrated my friend, Cecilia’s, 70th birthday with great aplomb. Despite these events it was a relief to be back on the Round-Britain-Walk, our troubles put on the back burner for a couple of weeks.
We stopped to take a few deep breaths and absorb the negative ions made by the moving water which are supposed to make ‘happy’ hormones (I read that in a scientific journal somewhere, and believe it to be true). I certainly always feel better when near waves, bubbling streams or waterfalls. The builders are still making a recreation centre at the car park where we started so it was a bit of a mess. A new wooden seat in the finished area bore the legend:
It was a lovely day, sunny with a light breeze, so we took these words on board and felt good.
We walked along the prom, but soon had to turn off and walk by the road. Bad enough, but there was dog’s s**t everywhere which was disgusting. I have never known a town so bad, we had to walk along staring at the pavement and darting from side to side in order to keep our boots clean. We came to a park, so we walked through hoping it would be a short cut back to the sea. There were several children’s playgrounds, each suited to a different age group. With slides off the sides of little hills and umbrella-type roundabouts (I used to love the one on Cove Green in Farnborough as a child) we were very impressed. There were also two bowling greens, but the grass in the park was poor. We got the impression that the park had only recently been refurbished, and perhaps the grass has not had time to mature.
We emerged from the other side of the park past the entrance to Blyth Harbour on to new wooden jetties. Amongst the houses behind us was a redundant lighthouse, so Colin went over to the street to photograph it. It now seems to be a very tall house. There were fishermen on the jetty hoping for a catch from the river, for we were now on the bank of the River Blyth and would have to go inland to find a bridge. On the other bank of the river were a number of modern windmills.There were numerous information boards along the jetty charting the history of Blyth from salt, through coal to the present day with nothing very much doing. But it was all so wordy we couldn’t be bothered to read half of it.
We were more impressed with the numerous pictures, based on children’s drawings, etched in metal like silhouettes. Dozens of them with a seaside theme, we loved them!
There was also a huge sculpture which was very impressive, but we didn’t understand what it was supposed to portray. Just a lot of spikes sticking up and twisting round, some of them with messy metal boxes on top. Explanation please, sculptor!What we did think was this:— Blyth is a depressed area with plenty of unemployment, yet a lot of money has been spent doing up the park and the jetties to make it a pleasant place for the local populace to be. Bognor is not a depressed area, supposedly. Yet it is a dump! Bognor Council does nothing except argue at the taxpayers expense, even taking each other to court. If Blyth can do it, why not Bognor? Thank goodness we are getting out — when we can sell our house that is!
The jetties came to an end at a tall blue-painted fence with a seafaring picture silhouetted into it — it was fantastic, well done Blyth!But after that we really saw the depressed and derelict port that has so recently been refurbished. We passed a old warehouse, and yet more fishermen staring across the river at two ships berthed by oil or liquid gas containers.The peninsula on the other side of the river looked entirely industrial so we breathed a sigh of relief that we won’t have to walk it. We couldn’t get any further, so had to turn back into the town past R.A.S.C.A.L.S. nursery. The building had prison bars across the entrance door, presumably to guard against vandalism.We were amused to see that the gas works had a pretty dado painted round the top, and a factory we passed had troughs of flowers outside and freshly painted notices which brightened the place up considerably.
Blyth really does seem to have made an effort very recently to reinvent itself. Still some work to do, but we were very impressed with what has already been achieved.
Soon we could get back to the riverside by the ‘Golden Fleece’, a completely ‘dead’ pub. But it was no good — this time our way was blocked by industrial jetties. We retreated, and walked along a bank which was once a railway line. We met a man with a Doberman pinscher, so we treated them with great respect. The man was very chatty and the dog seemed to be all soppy, but we learned it was a police ‘drug’ dog and when working it could bite your hand off! But as a pet it was as friendly as anything — so it’s owner declared. We still treated it with great respect! The man told us how to get back to the river, by crossing a bridge over a redundant railway and entering an area of mining pools which has been turned into an open space the public can use for recreation.
Wordy notices told us that coal had been mined in the area since Roman times. The last mine closed in 1986, and this meant all minewater pumping ceased in the area. Water levels began to rise, and if left unchecked it would have polluted the Rivers Blyth and Wansbeck, and flooded the low-lying area where they had just built a large industrial estate. So an area of wasteland was chosen for treatment. The polluted water is pumped from the former mineshaft, air is introduced via a cascade, it is then settled in ponds and ‘polished’ in reedbeds. Finally it is discharged into the estuary free of all pollutants — so they reckon. I hope they are right!
We met the man with the Doberman pinscher again, the dog still being all soppy with his games. We had a long chat about the pros and cons of keeping such a dog, and about the felling of the power station chimneys of Blyth which used to be a feature of the skyline around here. Now it is giant windmills — such is progress. There were seats and picnic tables dotted around the orange ponds, so we sat at one to eat our pasties. Immediately it started to rain! But it didn’t last long, and we were treated to a lovely rainbow.We walked along the river, then had to walk along a side-creek. At the end we came to a big notice on a road telling us we were entering the RED ZONE — we didn’t know whether we ought to be alarmed or not, it made us think of ‘Star Trek’ when they had a RED ALERT just as they were about to be attacked by aliens! Perhaps I would have been safe in my red fleece, but we daren’t risk it and we ‘escaped’ down the other side of the creek!
At the road bridge the path went underneath and continued inland. We scrambled up a 45º slope and climbed over a fence — then we could cross the bridge! We noted it was called the ‘Kitty Brewster’ Bridge (who’s she?) and was opened in April 1961. (I was still at school then!)
On the other side of the river we couldn’t find a way down, nor a way to get on to the path we wanted to. So we followed a loopy road down, noted some rather good graffiti in the underpass, cut through a corner of a field, then along a short track across Sleek Burn into the village of East Sleekburn. It was all very confusing, and we were proud of our navigation — a bit too proud as it turned out.
We noticed a fairy ring on the roadside verge (but didn’t see any pixies or anything!) and two girls on horseback happily riding through the village. We should have followed them, but we thought the road into the village was a dead end. So we by-passed it and went out on to a much busier road. Further along the two girls emerged from the other end of the village on a perfectly walkable track. Closer inspection of the map (with a magnifying glass when we got back) showed us that this track had been masked by the village name — so much for my navigational skills!
We got back to the sea, at last! But there my navigational skills came a cropper once again because what I had interpreted as a prom turned out to be a railway line! We couldn’t cross it because there were workmen all over it at that point. So we followed an ice cream van along a parallel road, and within a few yards espied a muddy track going through a low bridge under the railway. We were on the beach at last, so we sat on the dunes and ate our sarnies. Then we saw the girls on horses coming along the beach from the south. How they had crossed the railway we had no idea, they certainly didn’t come through the same track that we did. Yes, we should have followed them all through!
We walked on the dunes for a bit, and when they got too soft we walked on the beach. A helicopter flew over us, quite low. It started to rain hard, so we struggled on with over-trousers. Then it stopped and got too hot, so off they came again. We had discussed wading across the River Wansbeck as it was low tide, but in the end decided not to risk it.
There was no riverside path up to the bridge marked on the map, so we turned off early on to a road to reach the bridge. Just before the main road we turned on to a parallel track because that kept at ground level and the road bridge went up on stilts. When we got to the river we discovered there was a riverside path after all — we found this mildly annoying.
Under the road bridge, we were making for a ‘FB’ marked on the map. To us that meant a footbridge we could use to cross the river, but when we got there we found a gate across and a notice ‘NO PUBLIC ACCESS’. Why? We couldn’t get on to the road bridge because it was up on stilts, and the next road bridge was more than a mile up-river. So we ignored the notice, climbed over the low gate and crossed. We weren’t the only ones — half way across we came upon the remains of a party that had been enjoyed there fairly recently.
Colin got very excited because he saw a kingfisher, but it had flown before I was able to focus my eyes on it. Other birds we observed during this Walk were eider ducks, a cormorant, oystercatchers, curlews, redshanks, starlings, jackdaws and the ubiquitous gulls. At the further side of the river there was a fish ladder, but no leaping fish. We climbed over the gate and went back under the road bridge and along the northern bank towards the sea, having caused no damage whatsoever to their precious ‘FB’ which we weren’t supposed to cross.We crossed the dunes to the beach, and there we came across the aftermath of a huge party which had obviously been ‘enjoyed’ there the night before. What a mess! And the fires were still smouldering, that’s how we knew it was so recent. I wonder how much noise they made, and how much alcohol was consumed. Drugs taken?We sat on the dunes to eat our chocolate before progressing along the beach. There we found coal again in large quantities but only small grains.
The beach sand got soft so we clambered up to the adjacent caravan site. The official path was between the caravan site fence and the cliff edge, but the concrete walls were falling down and there was so much erosion the going became quite tricky. So we climbed over the fence for easier walking.
We came across yet another bunch of dried out flowers tied to the fence still wrapped in their original polythene. They looked so awful — I felt sad for the people who feel they have to leave them like this.
We were getting tired, but there was a pub promised in Newbiggin so that kept us going. It was quite pleasant walking along the tops of the low cliffs, knowing we were nearing the end of yet another successful Walk. We passed some horses in a field who looked at us with idle curiosity.
As we entered Newbiggin we found we were walking on newly tarmacked paths. A notice told us that the promenade was originally built between 1929 and 1932 to protect and enhance the bay, it cost £27000 and had three attractive shelters. We went down to the lowest level and walked along until we were directly in line with the chosen pub. Then we went up to it between the buildings. It was called the ‘Queen’s Head’ and there was a lovely etched picture of Queen Victoria in the glass door.
When we came out of the pub Colin found a warty toad on the pavement there! We went down between the buildings to the exact spot where we had left it before our refreshment break, and continued the hundred yards or so to the car park where our velocipede was awaiting us. The entrance to the car park was flanked by metal puffins on posts — but we didn’t see any real puffins. (Wrong time of year, even if they are prolific in this area.)

That ended Walk no.139, we shall pick up Walk no.140 next time at the seafront car park in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. We had a quick cup of tea, then returned to our cosy flat in Longhoughton before it got dark.

1 comment:

Jon Combe said...

Hello from a fellow coastal walker. I am enjoying very much reading your blog and have been working through it. I did this walk last year (2015) and had similar issues. The path around Sleekburn Grange Farm did not seem to exist, I ended up having to climb over the hedge! Not ideal. I made the same mistake you did with regards to navigation in East Sleekburn too in missing the track under the village name. They should really re-organise the map a bit, as it is not clear. I did however manage (eventually) to find the path (not marked on the map) over the south side of the river Wansbeck. Rather than climb onto the footbridge I found a path up to the road bridge and crossed that, there was a cycle path back down to the lower path on the other side. Like you I followed that "dangerous" path alongside the caravan park, it does not seem to have changed since you walked it and made it to Newbiggin. Sorry to here you've had to delay your walk but I admire your spirit and hope you can make it to the end!