Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Walk 141 -- Hadston Links to Alnmouth

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 149 days. Rosemary was 61 years and 291 days.
Weather: Gloriously sunny until mid-afternoon. Then a sudden shower followed by a perfect rainbow! After that we endured an hour of heavy rain/hail(?) which stopped as we reached the car.
Location: Hadston Links to Alnmouth.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 1156 miles.
Terrain: Mostly sandy beach. Some tarmac and a little dune walking. Mostly flat.
Tide: Going out, coming in later.
Rivers: No.64, the Coquet at Warkworth. No.65, the Aln, at Alnmouth.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.102 and 103 on Amble Dunes.
Pubs: The ‘Red Lion’ in Alnmouth which we visited on two of our ‘rest’ days to have a pub lunch. Beers we enjoyed included High House Farm’s ‘Nell’s Best’ and Houston’s ‘Peter’s Well’.
'English Heritage’ properties: No.40, Warkworth Castle.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.41 at Alnmouth. It was impossible to ford the River Aln even at the lowest tide though this was marked as both a public footpath and a public bridleway on the map. We had to walk nearly two miles extra to cross the river on a bridge.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday flat in Longhoughton. We drove to Alnmouth where we parked for free overlooking the supposed ford across the River Aln. We caught a bus as far as Amble, but the bus route then went inland. So I used my mobile phone to ring the same taxi firm we used two days ago. Very soon a pleasant young man transported us to Hadston Links, and it cost a lot less because we had used the bus for most of the journey.
At the end we finished the Walk at the car, soaking wet because it had been raining really heavily for about an hour. After a quick cup of tea we drove back to our flat in Longhoughton — it wasn’t far, and we were able to dry off in the warm.

A phone call to our house agent yesterday elicited the information that the supposed purchaser for our house did turn up for her second viewing on Saturday and says she still wants to buy. But she has so far failed to pass on her solicitor’s details, so things can’t get started. We never really believed in her in the first place, so we gave an ultimatum to the agent that she either co-operates by Friday or the deal is off — and we will move to another agent. We have now had our house on the market for seven months!
We started today’s Walk in glorious sunshine on a beach with firm sand and rolling surf. It was brilliant, and we felt very light-hearted as we stomped along. There was hardly anyone else about, just a few local people walking their dogs and a group of pensioners playing boules. There were wonderful reflections and lighting effects, interesting rocks to look at and lots of birds. It was sheer heaven! Coquet Island lies just off the coast. This is a bird sanctuary, and the only building on it is a lighthouse.The tide was coming in fast, so we had to resort to the dunes before we reached the rocks which blocked off the beach. When we got to Amble we realised that today’s tide was exceptionally high. After climbing the dunes, we sat on top to eat our pasties.We could see clouds of starlings wheeling round in the sky. As we descended the dunes down to the official path on the landward side, we saw the starlings lining up on telephone wires and half covering the roof of a house. I bet the noise inside the house was phenomenal — I felt very glad I didn’t live there! It is difficult to believe that starlings are in decline when we see them in numbers like that.We passed a caravan site and walked round a cemetery. We could see (and hear) a school playground nearby, and when I heard a bell ring followed by children lining up, it brought back memories of my days as a teacher. With relief I thought, “I’m retired now and none of them are my responsibility — I can do what I like!” It is now nearly three years since I gave up supply teaching in November 2003. I was getting pretty fed up with the children’s behaviour and lack of respect, especially towards temporary staff such as myself. Every so often I had a good day with happy and enthusiastic classes — when I came home feeling I had done a good job, enjoyed myself, interacted with some fantastic children and been paid into the bargain. But such days were becoming fewer and further between. Much more often I came home feeling like a squeezed out rag after a constant battle against unruly behaviour and plain rudeness. My very last lesson — after thirty-seven years in the teaching profession — was Maths in a local primary school where I had been called in for the usual reason, the teacher was off with a stress-related illness. A nine-year-old girl jumped up on the table scattering the Maths apparatus right left and centre, and refused to come down. “She’s always like this!” sighed the other children, “she doesn’t like new people!” I sent for a senior teacher and said I couldn’t teach the class because of this behaviour, and wouldn’t continue to teach them until she was removed. This they did very reluctantly, but only because they realised that I was serious when I said I would walk out if they didn’t. I got the distinct impression that I was supposed to put up with this child’s behaviour because she was ‘hyper-active’ and ‘couldn’t help it’! That was the last straw, and as I walked home at the end of the day I said to myself, “This is it! I am never going to enter a classroom again!”
And I haven’t. It was a year earlier than I had intended retiring for good, and money was a bit tight until I got my state pension thirteen months later. But it was not the first time we have had to cope with a low income, and we got through. Since that date, the improvement in my health and general well-being confirmed that I made absolutely the right decision. Now, every time I see a group of school-children, I can’t help a quiet smirk.The whole atmosphere seemed to be very exciting as we approached Amble, and this was because the tide was coming in apace with huge waves. They were crashing over the walkways, and at first we thought it would be too dangerous to cross. But then we saw some people do it so we thought we’d have a go.I put my Gore-tex coat on, we sized up the waves and then we ran the gauntlet!It was great fun — and neither of us got wet.We stood for ages on the South Jetty near the lighthouse watching the waves, it was quite mesmerising.At last we tore ourselves away and walked along to the fish quay. We watched a couple of fishing boats come in with their catch, which was mostly prawns. All was whisked away very quickly in vans — got to sell it while it is still fresh. We couldn’t help noticing how small the catch was, hardly enough to make a living. We sat on a nearby seat and ate our lunch whilst watching the comings and goings of the harbour.We passed a memorial bench which was covered in fresh flowers — perhaps it was an anniversary or something. Further along the harbour we came across some birds having a bath in a large puddle. It was quite like a bird spa!
There is no crossing point over the River Coquet at Amble, we had to walk a mile or more inland to Warkworth for the first bridge. Our way led us out to the road, and there was a huge contraption being turned round very slowly, completely blocking the road. It was some kind of boat hoist, and it was ENORMOUS! We went round the back of the marina to the yacht club, and that is where we saw a seal! It really was the cream on the cake to see this wonderful animal playing in the harbour, though we didn’t manage to get a photograph of it.
Our way led on to a busy road which we had to follow all the way into Warkworth. Walking on roads doesn’t normally please us much, but after the seal we saw a heron, and then a flash of blue — a kingfisher! It was a good day for wildlife, we had also passed a lot of swans and ducks. The castle at Warkworth loomed up, it dominates the ancient town.
Warkworth Castle
We visited Warkworth castle, and the local church, the day before to save time on the Walk. When we arrived in the morning, we found a school party was just about to take part in a ‘battle’ — all legitimate and above-board, that is how children learn history these days. But we decided we would be more comfortable postponing our visit to later in the day, and walked through this lovely town to the church.There was also a school party in there — we couldn’t get away from them! But these teenagers were polite and well-behaved, treating their teachers with respect and listening to what they had to say. It must have been a very good school. Just goes to show it can be done, it all depends on how good the Head Teacher is, one that encourages pupils and backs up the teachers so they can get the best out of the children. So we stayed in the church which is very ancient and has some interesting stained glass windows.Then we drove to Alnmouth to have a very nice lunch in a ‘real ale’ pub. Returning to Warkworth, we sat in the car drinking tea while the rain lashed outside.When it stopped, the school-children had all left and we had the castle practically to ourselves.The rain held off while we did the full audio-tour, which was very interesting because so much of the castle is still there. One of the best ruins we have ever visited! The blurb in the guidebook says:
The magnificent cross-shaped keep of Warkworth, crowning a hilltop rising steeply above the River Coquet, dominates one of the largest, strongest and most impressive fortresses in northern England. The castle’s most famous owners were the Percy family, whose lion badge can be seen carved on many parts of their stronghold. Wielding almost kingly power in the north, their influence reached its apogee under the first Earl of Northumberland and his son ‘Harry Hotspur’, hero of many Border ballads as the bane of Scots raiders and a dominant character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Having helped to depose Richard II, these turbulent ‘kingmakers’ both fell victim to Henry IV. The next three Percy Earls likewise died violent deaths.
Still roofed and almost complete, the uniquely planned keep dates mainly from the end of the 14th century. It presides over the extensive remains of a great hall, chapel, fine gatehouse and a virtually intact circuit of towered walls.The rain caught us as we walked back to the car along the river, but we did see a couple of herons so we didn’t really mind.As we approached Warkworth we were able to turn off the main road and go down through some trees to the riverside again. We passed an old school house on which was the legend:

In Year 1736

Mr George Law∫on of Glo∫ter Hill

Buil this hou∫e and gave it to the

Town for a School Hou∫e

An early benefactor, when education for the masses was not generally considered important. In fact the date was about 150 years before schooling became compulsory for children, so George Lawson must have been a very forward-thinking man. On a grass sward by the river we got chatting to a woman who was walking several dogs, one of which was very old. In the end she decided to take the old one home — he could hardly walk, poor old thing — so she could take the younger ones out for a proper run.
At last we crossed the River Coquet — on the new bridge since it was nearest the sea, but it was right next to the old one which is now pedestrianised and leads through an arch. A notice in the brickwork told us that the old bridge was built in the 14th century and before that there was a stone arched bridge on the same site. The new bridge, built for modern-day traffic, opened in 1965.
We turned immediately right on to a narrow lane which led us back to the beach. A sandy path took us over the dunes. There we could have turned right on to a path leading back to the mouth of the river, but it was a dead end which we didn’t have to take if we didn’t want to — so we didn’t.
We turned left and before us was two miles of beautiful sandy beach with grassy low cliffs to our left and rolling surf to our right — perfect! The tide was going out by then and the sun was shining brightly, but it wasn’t to last. Clouds were scudding over as we came to some rocks blocking the beach. The tide wasn’t far enough out so we had to climb the cliffs into a caravan site in order to get past. This wasn’t difficult, but I stung my hand struggling up — and then it started to rain. Rain always puts Colin into a bad mood because he has cheap and inadequate wet-weather clothes for hiking, so he finds it difficult to cope. I cannot persuade him to spend out on some decent gear, so I put my new ‘Gortex’ coat on and tried to ignore him.
I wouldn’t have liked to stay on that caravan site in windy weather — several of the vans were parked right on the edge of the cliff, which was quite soft, and one of them was even strapped down! We found a path to take us back to the beach beyond the rocks, so we didn’t have to struggle. It had stopped raining by then, and we were treated to the most perfect rainbow we have ever seen! It was over the sea, both ends dipped into the water, and there was the shadow of a second rainbow behind it. We were awe-struck! It really lifted our spirits.They needed lifting because soon it started raining again with a vengeance. It was honking down and kept on for about an hour. We trudged on, but took the official path behind the dunes instead of continuing along the beach. It falsely gave us the sense that we were more sheltered.
We were approaching the mouth of the River Aln. Our map told us that the footpath went straight across it into Alnmouth. We had looked at this supposed crossing at low tide but failed to see how we could get over without having to swim. And the tide was only partially out on the day we were walking it. I even looked up what Spud Talbot-Ponsonby had done in “Two Feet, Four Paws” — she had waded across at the lowest of low tides and got her knickers wet! The odds were definitely against us, so we took the two-mile detour on tracks and a cycleway to cross by the road bridge. The rain was coming down so hard we were convinced it was hail at times. It was running in rivers down the path.
It stopped raining at last, just before we got to the bridge, so we leant on a fence and ate our chocolate. Then it started again as we continued over the bridge trying to avoid large puddles. The sun didn’t quite manage to peep through the broken cloud, but the evening light on the river was fantastic despite the heavy showers. We saw a silhouette of a heron in the shallows.Immediately over the bridge we turned right on to a footpath called ‘Lovers Walk’. It was very wet and quite slippery after all that rain, but it took us round to the end of the town of Alnmouth next to the river. The official path turned left into the town before the end, but we saw a woman with a dog ahead of us climb over a low wall. We followed suit, and continued by the riverside to our car parked overlooking the supposed ford. We were so wet we thought we might as well have waded across!

That ended Walk no.141, we shall pick up Walk no.142 next time in Alnmouth at the end of the town overlooking the river (where it is impossible to cross despite what the map says!) It stopped raining properly as soon as we got there. We had our tea, then returned as quickly as we could to our cosy flat in Longhoughton — not far and we were soon able to change into dry clothes. (Colin was far wetter than me because of his naff gear. When will he learn?)

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