Sunday 22 June 2014

Northumberland coast path

Up at the ridiculous time of three thirty a.m on the Monday morning. An early train to Newcastle. This was followed by a quick dash to catch connecting buses to Cresswell. A surly bus driver who wore lead boots and had delusions of being on a grand prix track did not help. A monosyllabic grunt to indicate that I was at the required stop. Unfortunately it was not the required stop. No harm done though, it was only a five minute walk down the hill to meet up with Mike.

A welcome cup of tea and a bite to eat at the local cafe. By early afternoon we set off to head up the beach of Druridge Bay. The bay is immense, superlatives, such as vast, big skies and mile upon mile of of golden sands, hardly do it justice. The few folk out on the sands where just tiny specks upon the landscape.

A brisk, northerly breeze kept the temperature down a fair bit. However the walking was excellent. We even paddled a few times.  Mike had already walked down from the visitor centre and it was here we parted. Many thanks Mike for your company.

My way on now was to Amble. Fish and chips bought in the village. Not the best. Finding a spot to camp was forefront on my mind. Water also was a concern. There is little to be had on this coastal route. Two litres picked up at the marina was added to my pack. 

Pushing on, the route led over to Warkworth. There is a cycle path that separates walkers and cyclists from the busy main road. Not pleasant though, especially when tired. The pubs certainly looked busy with many people sitting out enjoying the evening sunshine.

Finally, once over the bridge spanning the river Coquet, the way on turned away from the main  road.The path skirted the golf course. Unfortunately the dunes where a mix of dense bracken and gorse. It was just beyond Birling Carrs when I finally stopped. Note, the static caravans on the headland have a couple of water taps. A long day and a late finish.

Tuesday morning broke to overcast skies and a spot of mist. It was an early start, always best when stealth camping.  The way on lead over to Alnmouth. Once more the route followed a purpose built cycle track. Hard going on the feet.

It was still early when I arrived in the village, however, I fancied a cuppa and a slice of cake and lingered until the coffee shop opened.

For easier going I took to the beach up to Seaton House. From there on to Boulmer. Some fine coastal walking lead over to Craster. The village was busy and, after picking up a couple of litres of water at the lifeboat station, I moved on.

The good weather certainly had brought out the crowds. Many heading over to the castle. A woman having mild hysterics because she had inadvertently stepped in a cow pat. Screaming kids being pacified with promises of ice cream. An elderly gent sweltering in his tweed jacket, twill trousers and cap.


By now I was thinking of finding a spot to camp.not an easy proposition. It was close to Low Newton By The Sea, before I tucked the tent in among the dunes. Anyone needing water, there are a few beach bungalows in the dunes and a couple of outside taps.

On the Wednesday it was once again, an early start. The aches and pains I had been experiencing where now easing. Also, I was finally starting to settle down a bit and get in to something of a steady rhythm.

Beadnell to Seahouses involved a stretch of main road walking.  Metronome walking, the brain switches over to auto pilot , the body functioning automatically, legs maintaining a steady pace, the mind taking flights of fancy/

Coastal path hazards.

Seahouses was becoming busy and I stayed only long enough for a cup of tea and a bite to eat.

The day was a hot one and for a time I walked in just shorts and a halter top, only slipping on a tee shirt before entering Bamburgh.

Bamburgh was busy, Coach loads of folks, queues at the tea rooms and ice cream shop. Crowds I am uncomfortable with and thus I hurried on.

Up the hill by the golf links, I spotted a hose by the golf course club house. Hot and needing water I decided to go for it. Unfortunately I was promptly spotted. A very irate chappy came barrelling across, "I say, you are trespassing, this is private property, club members only. You must stay with the allocated path at all times!" He quivered with righteous indignation. Waterless, I was escorted back on to the path and admonished once more to strictly follow the blue painted posts which indicated the right of way. Ok, so I am of the hoi polloi and common with it, tough! but to deny someone the decency of a drink of water is pretty mean.

A pity that, if I had picked up water, there where spots further on in the dunes where it would been possible to camp. As it was I pushed on with the coast path to the commercial campsite at Waren  Mill, A huge area of static caravans, allocated areas for touring caravans, another for camper vans and fortunately a separate area for tents. At least the tent field was not busy, only a dozen or so tents. At ten pounds for the night not exactly cheap.

It was a fairly early start Thursday morning.The coastal path at this point swings inland, a  total change of scenery. It looked as if I could be in for a long day though. Although the trail was well marked the path at times could prove to be a tad obscure. A close eye on the map was always helpful. Approaching Belford The way ahead leads over a pedestrian crossing on the main east coast rail line. Large notices warn of trains frequently travelling this stretch of line at one hundred miles per hour. Phoning the signal box and requesting permission to cross was a legal requirement, and quite rightly so. The next hazard was crossing the busy A1! Now that was scary, I scurried across in double quick time in the first available gap! 

Belford seems a quiet place now. At one time though it was very different. A tannery, wool mill and a few other industries where all part of the town. Agriculture was prominent too, with weekly markets. Also it was on the main  London, Edinburgh stage coach route.

Bought a pasty for a second breakfast, certainly not cornish, more a mongrel of uncertain parentage! Paths led over to Swinhoe Farm and then through woods and tracks to Fenwick.

From Fenwick it was another hazardous dash across the A1. Not pleasant at all. Over and down, across another pedestrian rail crossing. Ring the signalman. "Permission to cross please"He asks how many of there are and how long it will take to get across. I assure him two minutes at best. Once across it is back on to the coast. Traffic is heading across the causeway to Holy island. For me though, another time, another trip that is in the back of my mind. 

Through marshland and back on to the dunes, my goal is the small campsite at Goswick. Unfortunately it was closed. What to do? I wanted to, no, I needed to stop. There was no sign of anyone, just horses grazing in a paddock. Ignoring a 'private' sign, I went and knocked on doors, no response. A glance around the stable area, there was a tap. With water bladders filled I back tracked a mile or so.


A hazard of wild camping!

The sign says it all, metal tent pegs and things that go bang do not mix. Hence my trepidation and backtracking . The payoff was a delightful little grassy spot. There was a view far out over the sands and the muted roar of the surf breaking, blissful.

Friday was my last day and overall it was a straight forward walk on to Berwick on Tweed. The path around the edge of Goswick golf course proved tricky. It was waist high in thick grass, thistles and nettles.  Noticing a lady walking her dog by the edge of the driving range, I took the same course of action. Once beyond that it was a cycle path all the way to Berwick.

Making friends with a local lady's huge great mongrel dog, she advised me to head for the youth hostel in the old granary and provided instructions on how to find it. When I first approached the place I could not apprehend that I was actually looking at the hostel itself. On the ground floor was a bustling, laid back bistro area. Hesitantly I approached the serving counter and asked the lass where the hostel was. She gave a great grin and assured me it was all part of the hostel. Better still, they had a spare bed and I quickly booked in. The hostel is impressive, very much so. All very modern but with a friendly atmosphere, I would recommend it.

In the morning, it was a relaxed stroll up to the station and the official end of the Northumberland coast path. Something of an anti climax though. Little to indicate the start or finish of the path. Overall, I have somewhat struggled at times with my fitness levels. However, sixty four miles in four and a half days is not too bad.

Sunday 1 June 2014


Travelling up on a bank holiday was always going to prove a wee bit tricky. Instead of Birmingham, my change of trains was at Crewe. With the train running late I had a word with the conductor. Ten minutes later he was back with a plan. Basically I had two minutes to change trains. The train I required was on the next platform. Thus, if I walked the length of the train down to first class, this would put me directly in line with the connecting service. The guard on that train would keep an eye out for me. It worked too, out of the door, across the platform in double quick time and on to the Welsh train. The conductor was a most peasant chap too. "There's nice now, now you can sit back and enjoy your journey."

It was a coach from Harlech due to the estuary bridge still being out. Unfortunately that also meant all road traffic was diverted. Thus it was around four when we reached Porthmadog. Not wanting to waste time, I headed straight out. Across to Tremadog and then it was a long steady pull up through the woods toward Fach Goch, now a climbing club hut. The area is evidently a  popular location  for the climbing fraternity with some lovely rock climbing on offer. 

My aim was for Llyn Cwmystradllyn reservoir. The walk up had been in a tee shirt but the temperature was dropping as the evening wore on.

Found a pleasant spot to camp, glad to stop.

During the night I was sick, unsure as to why? Early morning it began raining and seemed set in for the morning. It was an easy call, Tuesday was nominated aa a slack pack day. The rain eased early afternoon and I went for a lazy stroll.

Wednesday saw a fairly late start. There was no great rush. Rather than take the path that led directly up by the disused Gorseddau quarry, I headed more or less directly uphill to take in a couple of minor tops.Very wet, boggy ground. A steep descent threading my way round rocky outcrops saw me on the high ground above the old quarry. An ideal spot to camp.The one problem was decent water. Eventually I descended down to the bowels of the quarry and drew water from a freshet issuing down the wall. Heading back to the tent, a military helicopter cam low over the crest of the hill. Spotting me, it changed direction to pass directly overhead, hovered for a moment and then went on its way, interesting? With low cloud settling on Moel Hebog, I opted for a smaller top, Yr Ogof, steep but fun.

Thursday dawned to a chilly morning with low cloud and mist. This was going to be a long day and I was away early. It was down through boggy ground, with a careful eye on the map. Nantmor, minor roads, paths and tracks, saw me working my way across country. Heading up toward  Bwlch Bach, the sky a purple bruised hue, with thick mist descending. Soon visibility was nil, a nuisance. The intention was to leave the path I was on, descend down to Llyn Stwlan, pick up another path and continue on down to the Tanygrisiau reservoir. Casting about I eventually eased down the old quarry gravity incline. That was daunting, hairy. The whole slope was covered in slabs of discarded slate. It was like descending a steeply pitched roof with all the slates on the loose.

Coming around by some old ruined barrack blocks. It gave pause for reflection. In a lot of the more remote quarries quarrymen would be housed in barracks such as these. often arriving early Monday morning and staying until the following Saturday midday. Conditions where primitive, squalid even. There was no health and safety. The average life span of a quarryman was forty four years at best. They worked long and hard for little return and with most basic of tools.

The wail of a train whistle from the Ffestiniog railway, sad, mournful! Now a popular tourist attraction, I wonder if folk ever consider the original purpose of the railway. The thousands of tons of slate it carried out to the ports. The immensity of the labour involved, the sheer cost of human endeavour?

Steep gravity inclines, one after another, ruler straight and true, led on downwards. Oh my, oh so hard on the knees. It was a relief to be finally down and to find a camping spot. The day had been a long one. Not a great mileage, some twelve, thirteen miles, quite possibly a tad more, but I was wearied.

Friday was to be another cross country day. Once more it had to be an early start. The morning was a fine one, there was even a wee bit of sun. Following a track that ran alongside the railway, I was heading down to the valley. The track plunged downward through ancient woodland. A battered sign said something about it being a private road. Difficult to read with my poor eyesight! It led me though directly to where I wanted to go. A path, sign posted, led me across a field. One problem, the exit was barricaded. A tangle of sheep fencing, barbed wire and thorn. Hot, bothered and bloodied, I finally broke through. A quick scuttle across the main road and then began the long ascent out of  the Vale of Ffestiniog. A pleasant bridleway, despite some terrible muddy spots, suddenly did a vanishing act. Some careful map checking and the other end of the bridleway was found. Onwards led me over to Llyn Trawsfynydd. The reservoir was surprisingly low. To my surprise the bridleway marked on the map is now a specially constructed cycle path. To be honest I have mixed feelings about it.

The way on led me up and over Cym Moch. On the map, a bridleway and signposted thus. It is odd then to see access gates chained and padlocked. How does one get a horse over a ladder style? The path was obscure in places, often disappearing in wet bog. It was a steady plod onward and I was feeling the pace a wee bit. It was something of a relief when I came by Bryn  Cader Faner. The way on was familiar to me and I could relax a wee bit.

The camp site at Merthyr farm was fortunately not too busy and I was glad to find a quiet corner to pitch the tent. What simple pleasure, what bliss to luxuriate in a hot shower, washing away the travel stains and easing weary bones.  Clean fresh clothes afterwards. The day had been long, the mileage much the same as the previous day, possibly a bit more .A good week though.