Beach Combing - Boulmer
Mon 7th January 2013
Beachcombing from Boulmer Sunday 6th January 2013
This walk was originally scheduled for Sunday 25th November but had to be postponed because of the atrocious weather; strong winds and heavy rain. We were much more successful this time; the weather being unseasonably mild and calm.
The underlying theme of the day was looking at and registering aspects of the landscape that would normally go unnoticed. The sky comprising fifty percent of our field of view was our starting point. With the low angle sun over the sea the cloudscape was both colourful and complex, the gaps revealing contrails of the transatlantic jets. The multiple cloud decks even allowed patchy sunshine creating vivid sunbursts stretching across the flat calm sea towards us. Most of the time we were treated to the Tupperware sky typical of mid-level altostratus cloud with occasional bursts of sunshine one of which illuminated Dunstanburgh Castle on the prominent east dipping Whin Sill to our north. This tied-in nicely with our progress along Howdiemont and Sugar Sands bays where we were looking at massive boulders of Whin Sill dolerite stranded on the wave-cut platform and also where they had been used to reinforce and protect the base of the weak boulder-clay cliffs. Needless to say, nature was slowly but surely winning the battle.
On the bridge over the Howick Burn looking out towards Iron Scars we referred the legacy of the Grey family and the attractions of the adjacent Howick Hall Gardens. Walking north uphill we could just see the location of the, as yet unexcavated, Iron Age camp, signed hillfort from our path, above the north slope of the burn. Our increasingly muddy path soon led to an enclosure protecting the excavation of Northumberland’s oldest known settlement which has been carbon-dated to 7,800 BC. This site is very accessible but frequently missed and it is well worth visiting the website at ncl.ac.uk/howick to find out much more than the two interpretation panels at the site have to say. A little further-on is Rumbling Churn and just beyond that the Bathing House built by the Grey family but now a restored, and unique, holiday rental. It was getting towards lunchtime so we backtracked along the cliff-top parallel to our outward beach journey towards Boulmer with a hazy sun in our faces. Throughout the morning we had been constantly accompanied by the Search and Rescue Seaking from RAF Boulmer doing its air test and various exercises so with this, and the abundance of seabirds, ducks and waders plus the changing skyscape we had achieved our aim of noticing different features of the environment even if we ignore those aspects of both the farming and coastal landscapes we looked at along the way.
Relatively few walks afford the opportunity for a pub lunch but this one is different and several of our number enjoyed fish and chips and “a swift half” at the Fishing Boat Inn. The hard part was getting people to abandon the attractions of an open fire and get going again. The afternoon’s walking was a contrast with the hard rock coastline of the morning. Walking south towards Alnmouth even the sand on the beach became progressively finer as we walked towards the Aln estuary. The closer we got to the village the busier the beach became. The light had changed and although we could clearly make out Coquet Island we couldn’t see its lighthouse which had been so obvious in the morning light. It was good to stretch our legs after an uncharacteristically lazy lunch.
A quick loop around Alnmouth allowed us to see how the old granary buildings had been converted into residential accommodation following the collapse of Alnmouth’s port function. This was a direct result of the silting-up of the harbour following the Christmas Eve storm of 1806 that completely remodelled the Aln estuary. The golf fanatics discussed the nine-hole links course whilst everyone else visited the public conveniences next door. The golf course dates form 1869 and is the second oldest links course in England. Earlier, on our way south to Alnmouth we past the separate “Foxton” course, their website claim it to be the fourth oldest club in England.
The return journey was easy on firm sand, low tide would coincide with our arrival back at Boulmer car park and the gentle breeze was now from behind us too. A quarter of an hour into the return journey we largely had the increasingly broad beach to ourselves and we were far enough out from the boulder-clay cliffs to get good views of the clusters of caravans and beach huts towards Seaton Point. It was surprising how much new “stuff” we saw on the return journey compared to the outbound one. Collapsed coastal sea defences, Second World War pillboxes and distinctive outcrops of rocks were among sizeable features not seen or mentioned on the outward journey. It was easy to appreciate the role of changing light and shadow characteristics on what is noticed. The day passed quickly and the contrast in the scenery between the morning headlands and bays stroll and more energetic afternoon walk towards the Aln estuary highlighted this. All of that and a chance for everyone to mix and have a good chat too – a good day, more than the sum of its parts, I enjoyed it and I hope you did too?
Now the bad news, despite the good weather and favourable conditions the walk took place 24 hours too soon for you to completely enjoy it. Why? Today I have completely lost my voice and you can’t benefit from it, better luck next time!
Monday, 07 January 2013