Northumbrian Coast Path – 1 Berwick on Tweed to Lindisfarne

This was planned as a gentle walk taking in magnificent, empty, sandy beaches and dominating ancient castles. It was a “non-purist walker” approach and used buses when we wanted. We mostly walked North to South, started in Berwick, and took in Amble but finished the trip with a weekend in Alnwick. It was my first visit to the area and I was very impressed by the scenery but less so by our weather. The whole trip took 8 days. I would recommend this Coast Path to others but warn that the official route often deviates quite a way inland, through nice but not distinctive countryside. I think it better to do what we did; take an OS map and use the buses so you maximise seeing the attractive coastal scenes.

We arrived in Berwick by train around 5pm and walked a short distance, in the rain, to our B&B. We were pleased to arrive and get off the train. One, because it was severely delayed by a suicide on the line and two, because for the majority of the journey from London we were sat opposite a large lady who occupied two seats. During the journey she indulged herself in a lot of messy eating interspersed with toiletry that involved extensive hair brushing and teeth flossing! In my opinion these are essentially private occupations and  we certainly did not want to share them, but had no choice.

Berwick-upon Tweed is an interesting town and, after settling in to our B&B, we had a chance to explore a bit. The rain had eased off but it was still quite damp. Berwick apparently changed hands between Scotland and England 13 times prior to 1482 when the English regained it and built town walls that were later improved in the 16th century. The walls are still mostly extant and provide a pleasant way to walk round the town and take in good views of three bridges over the river Tweed, the grandest of which is undoubtedly the Royal Border railway bridge built by Robert Stephenson 1847-50, no doubt assisted by dozens of labourers.IMG_20150914_180213075

The two others are road bridges. The oldest was built in the 17th century and is still used by one-way traffic and pedestrians. The other dates from 1925 when it had the longest concrete span in the world. The old one can just be seen peeping above the newer one in this picture.IMG_20150914_180205327

During our walk round the walls we passed the now disused town barracks.IMG_20150914_181429276_HDR

We ate an adequate but not inspiring meal at the Castle Hotel, accompanied by some good blond summer ale.

Next morning, after a full cooked breakfast and a chat with a trainee doctor also at breakfast, we caught an X15 bus from outside Berwick train station to a bus stop near Haggerston Castle. From there we walked to Holy Island, Lindisfarne. We started the walk heading for the Castle, which turned out to be something of a disappointment. It was a semi-ruined pair of buildings surrounded by a vast caravan park and golf course. The castle is believed to have its origins in the 11th century. Its first owner (the de Hagardestons family) arrived in Britain with William the Conqueror.

We walked through this caravan park, a little disorientated by the roads not seeming to correspond with our map, and onto the golf course until we arrived at a track running alongside the railway line. By this time it was raining steadily and it continued like this until we arrived at our hotel on Lindisfarne. We joined a road, crossed the railway at a level crossing and walked through Beal. Shortly after we had a wonderful view of a rather grey Lindisfarne and the causeway. Cars crossing the causeway showed up as small pin-pricks of red and white light.

The walk across to Lindisfarne was not that brilliant because of the weather. We were walking by the side of, or on, the road. There was quite a bit of traffic and some large roadside puddles in places. We saw some brave souls walking along a line of tall posts out on the mud. It was clearly quite a wet route because some were carrying their boots! This is the route followed by St Cuthberts’ Way and is the original walking path to the island. The causeway road was opened in 1954 but it was not until 1965 that it had a paved surface all the way. Prior to that the last part of the route to the island was over the sand.

We reached the island just before 1pm and, despite the weather, it was buzzing with visitors. We went to our hotel and had a hot drink and a bite to eat while we waited for our room to be ready. The rain had eased a little by then but our gear was fairly wet. We went up to our room which had a four poster bed and a splendid view across the island over the harbour and toward the Castle. IMG_20150915_132409962We spread our things out to dry, left our rucksacks and went out to explore. We headed straight for the Castle which was due to close shortly.

Lindisfarne Castle is situated on the top of a rock outcrop (in the middle of the picture above).  It dates from 1542 and was fortified during Elizabeth 1’s reign. It is now owned by the National Trust having previously been a private residence of the publisher of Country Life magazine, Edward Hudson. Hudson employed his friend and architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to refurbish and decorate the property. We managed to get in just 20 minutes before closing

The approach to Lindisfarne Castle

The approach to Lindisfarne Castle

and were impressed by the “arts & crafts”-inspired decor and the fascinating conjunction of a military fort with a second home family retreat. I thought it well worth the visit.

By the time we left the castle the Causeway was being closed by the incoming tide. There are tide tables with Causeway opening times and warning notices all over the place but people still seem to think they know better. In 2011, for example, 24 cars had to be abandoned on the Causeway, trapped by the incoming tide. There is an elevated “garden shed” described as a pedestrian refuge, with steps up at the most vulnerable point. It becomes very quiet on the island when the causeway is impassable, and all the shops shut.

The rain had stopped by the time we came out of the castle. I took a walk around the island and watched scores of eider duck off shore and saw lots of grass of Parnassus in flower. We went for an early evening drink at the Crown &Anchor to sample some Newcastle Blond then returned to our hotel for a fish and chip supper.

The next morning was glorious with bright sun and lots of swallows tweeting outside our window. Before breakfast, we took a stroll around the small harbour and saw some of the famous upturned boat-sheds IMG_20150916_091513223

and the quite original turnstiles near the ruined Priory. IMG_20150916_085909690

I had a massive smoked haddock for breakfast; so big I could not finish it – not a common occurrence. Then we checked out and had a further look around before we took a bus off the island. We did not fancy the walk back along the causeway road. During our wait we had another walk around and watched crowds arriving and flocking to the castle.Crowds walking to Castle on LindisfarneLater, walking along the coast, we listened to many seals “singing” as they basked on the sand banks in the large natural harbour between Lindisfarne and the mainland. Then caught our bus off the island.



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