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Tue 14th January 2014

North Shields Fish Quay to St Marys Island

North Shields Fish Quay to St Marys Island

Walk Blog: Sunday 12th January 2014-01-13

North Shields Fish Quay to St Mary’s Island returning via Monkseaton Metro Station

Sorry Martyn but we did keep a look-out for your arrival but it wasn’t to be.  Jon rang me about 10.30 to confirm that you wouldn’t be attending and at the time we were still in sight of the car park near Knott’s Flats, better luck next time.

It was nice to see all of the regulars again for the first walk of the New Year and although the breeze blowing down the River Tyne was a bit chilly at least we were starting-off in dry, bright conditions.  Having watched the large vehicle carrier entering port escorted by three tugs we set-off along the promenade heading for Tynemouth.  Along the way we had a quick look at Knott’s Flats, an innovative development when it was built in the 1930’s.  The Black Middens reef just below the flats has claimed many a ship and was the inspiration for establishing the Tynemouth Voluntary Life Brigade.  The Black Middens was the site of one of two early lifeboat stations near the mouth of the Tyne (before the building of the Tyne piers) which opened in 1865 and closed in 1905.  The other one was in Priors Haven where the sailing and rowing clubs are located today, opened 1862 and also closed in 1905.  The views to the south were good, Souter lighthouse and the sea-stacks and arches showing-up well in the weak sunshine.

Up to Collingwood’s Monument and using the shelter of its north side revealed Castle Tynemouth and Priory from an unusual angle.  From here it was easy to appreciate the defensive site on the headland that has definitely been used since at least Anglo-Saxons times.  It didn’t always prove a secure site however, it was sacked by the Danes in 800 AD and repeatedly throughout the ninth century and finally destroyed by the Vikings in 875.  The former religious site was not refounded until 1085 by the Benedictines.  Three kings were initially buried here (one is thought to have been reinterred elsewhere at a later date) and accounts for the three crowns included in the North Tyneside coat-of-arms today.  Some of those present will be very amazed to know that I didn’t have time to tell you lots of things like the fact that there used to be a lighthouse on the Priory headland, constructed of Priory stone (parallels with Hadrian’s Wall) in 1775 which operated until 1895 when St Mary’s Lighthouse replaced it.  The former was demolished in 1898.   From our vantage point it was easy to see and appreciate the various defences of the Tyne entrance over time from Clifford’s Fort dating from 1625 up to and including the guns and searchlights protecting the entrance to the river, the shipyards and docks in the First and Second World Wars.  Even the land that Knott’s Flats were built on was originally a barracks and the cellars of the complex functioned as air raid shelters in the Second World War.  We could even see one of the guns in-situ within the Priory grounds not far from the now mothballed former Coastguard Station.  Even the car park overlooking Prior’s Haven had military associations, it is known as Spanish Battery allegedly after the Spanish mercenaries who manned the guns commanding the approaches to the Tyne in the 16th century.

From her we could also see the North Shields lifeboat out on exercise but really there as support and customer care for our clients!  Next stop was Longsands Bay via King Edward’s Bay where the main road is cantilevered out over the former cliff.  Here we saw the tension gashes in the paths leading down to the promenade, proof the slopes are still moving.  I found it really interesting but people kept patting me on the head and seemed more interested in the elevenses I’d promised them at Crusoe’s a little furtheron.  We walked purposefully north along Longsands taking-in the surfers, people in shorts and T-shirts (it was about 3°C with a cold wind), the Sunday beach soccer matches, dogs, children and much to Julie’s amusement, Nordic walkers who weren’t i.e. had completely the wrong technique!  Coffee and ice creams consumed there was fortunately a “comfort stop facility” at the Cullercoats end of Longsands – sorry, I’ve obviously taken too many American’s along the Wall in the last year.  We couldn’t get into Cullercoats Bay due to the tide but saw the Dove Marine Laboratory (Newcastle University) and the Inshore Lifeboat Station – we take our clients safety very seriously as you will see from the accompanying photographs.

On past the oldest house in Cullercoats (1774) and the former Brown’s Point Radio Station now converted to a private home.  Down into Brown’s Bay using the promenade where some of our number insisted on skidding on the ice despite the warnings and all we’d done to keep them safe – there was even a Royal Navy ship cruising offshore as back-up.

Table Rocks and the former sea bathing pool, site of the proposed 270 m Whitley Bay Pier at the end of Esplanade, first proposed in 1908 and finally abandoned in 1935, flashed by as we approached Spanish City which like several other places we passed en-route (e.g. Collingwood’s Monument, St George’s Church, Cullercoats) are Grade II listed buildings.  This area is still a reconstruction site and some of our number had contrasting opinions about whether or not it should have been conserved never mind the time and cost involved.  I thought I’d better not go on (what me?) about the 1980 Dire Straits hit “Tunnel of Love” which was set here.  Anyway I have no idea how some of our clients might react coming as  some of them do from south of the River Tyne and even Western Australia, people can be unpredictable!  Yet more trips to the adjacent “comfort stop facility” before exploring The Links, site of former bell pits for both coal and iron-ore also the original site of Whitley Bay Golf Course.  Lunchtime was looming and the pressure was on to find a suitable place to sit out of the wind.  This meant that we raced past the Rendezvous Cafe, except for Ian who went to try and purchase chips, no luck but there is a happy ending later.  I was going to read the Newcastle playwright and fiction writer’s Julia Darling’s (1956 – 2005) poem Rendezvous Cafe here but apparently hunger trumps culture (kulture?).  Below is a taste of what you missed:

 “I would like us to meet

where the Horlicks is sweet

I could tell you a story

With a nickerbocker glory”

After lunch we were on the final leg to St Mary’s Island along a rapidly diminishing beach, it was now high tide.  I thought the boulder clay cliffs were really interesting with evidence of several ice advances, the team were very patient.  Almost up to the steps for the final few hundred metres to St Mary’s Island and a big puddle, an inlet of the North Sea, cut us off from them.  I was volunteered as a sacrifice so that the clients could walk over me and remain dry!  I offered other alternatives and went into consultation mode.  In the meantime Christine made an independent executive decision and went off up some other steps without even so much as a dynamic environmental risk assessment, extraordinary, I felt usurped.  We tracked along the side of the dangerous putting green (danger of rolling golf balls) and went to inspect the site of the recent incident when someone went down the slope, over the grass, through the promenade railings and onto the beach in what had been a perfectly good car.  Further access to a handy “comfort stop facility” at Curry’s Point by the lighthouse the derivation of which I had explained earlier – if anyone was listening?Success, Ian got some chips at the “catering facility” whilst the others in what used to be my team purchased various hot beverages and watched sanderlings feeding up and down the beach between waves.  Here we met the Coastguard patrol previously arranged to ensure client safety.  Time for the last leg of the walk now cross-country to Monkseaton Metro Station and a unique end to our walk by train back to North Shields – if you can walk by train that is?  On the road section between St Mary’s Island and the golf course we were passed by an emergency ambulance, also laid-on “just in case” but thankfully not required.

Then came the muddy bit, it certainly had a high squelch factor and reminded us of the person we’d seen almost a year previously in the same place waiting for an ambulance due to slipping in the mud – somebody should do something about it.  The last bit to the Metro Station was easy and there are photos of the now reconstituted team actually smiling on the Metro.  Some of us, unfortunately not all but you can’t have everything, even remained standing on the Metro all the way to North Shields as this was supposed to be a walk.  Iain and do I try hard to set a good example.  Once off the Metro and out of the station it was all literally downhill (in more ways than one) and hard to keep up with the “team” as they sensed peace and quiet, the car heater, an absent guide etc.  I always enjoy being put in my place (I think?), and my wife would love it.  Lovely to see everyone again and hope to see you all soon once you come out of therapy.


Tue 24th December 2013

Christmas guided walk - Simonside

Christmas guided walk - Simonside

All through Saturday it had rained and rained so on Sunday it was a little break in the weather even with the biting wind blowing from the west.

We all met at the Shepherds Walks base in Rothbury and after a slight delay we were off, following the River Coquet upstream from Rothbury. The evidence of the overnight flooding of the River Coquet was clear to see with the path flooded in a few places. But this did not deter the hardy folk on the walk.

After crossing the River Coquet and Lady’s Bridge we gradually climbed up to Great Tosson and had a well-deserved rest next to Tosson Tower.

We then climbed up to and again rested near to the hllfort. The hillfort at Tosson Burgh is located in ay defended site overlooking the Coquet valley to the north, west and east.

There are no traces of habitation within the ramparts, the fort is unexcavated, and such features will more than likely survive below ground level. It is thought that construction of this hillfort would have been sometime after 600 BC, in the Early Iron Age.

From here we climbed up through the forest and sheltered from the wind we had our lunch just before leaving the forest.

After lunch we continued to climb to just under the famous sandstone crags of Simonside.
With the wind being very strong at this point (even though the sun was shining) it was decided to skirt below Simonside itself and instead climb up into Dove Crag for our Christmas surprise. This we did and as we reached the summit the famous decorated Christmas tree was waiting to greet us. It made for a great photo opportunity on this festive walk.

I think Dove Crag is one of the best vantage points in this area of Northumberland with Fontburn Reservoir to the South and Rothbury nested down below. Today Cragside House could be clearly picked out in the trees and the effects from the River Coquet birstling its banks overnight were very clear to see on the lower lying ground.

From here we descended to the Beacon and again down to Lordenshaws car park before following St Oswald’s Way all the way back to Rothbury.

We just had one short shower all day and everybody was in high spirits after they had battled against the wind on this a truly great start to Christmas 2013.

I hope you all have a very Merry and a Happy New Year, from all at Shepherds Walks.

Mon 2nd December 2013

Bamburgh and Budle Bay

Bamburgh and Budle Bay

Bamburgh and Budle Bay guided walk
Sunday 1st December 2013

I’ve have never had a December Shepherds Walk like this one.  The weather was superb, calm, clear blue anticyclonic skies all day and almost no wind made the experience delightful, and it goes without saying, all who attended.  

The fact that we started the walk with eighteen people and ended it with sixteen due to a twisted knee earlier in the week was the only negative note.  Hopefully our efforts to assist with this turned even that disappointment into a positive.  By getting as far as Lonsdales Hill at the edge of the golf course to be picked-up by car the individual concerned, hereinafter referred to as “The Knee” enjoyed the most scenic section of the walk and had a picnic lunch in the sun on the dunes overlooking Budle Bay at high tide.  Incidentally, wearing my Mountain Rescue hat it is worth recommending the value of carrying a pair of walking poles (even if you prefer not to use them) just in case of minor lower limb injuries, it can make the difference between a painful hobble and more secure, steady and comfortable progress – “comfortable” being a relative term of course.

It was nice to see the regulars again, sorry that I couldn’t be with you for the November walk last month above the Glen Valley.  Similarly it was just as enjoyable to meet some new faces who didn’t know what they were in for; the light hearted banter while everyone was getting ready in the car park was a clue!  As the whole route was only approximately 8 miles (13 kilometres) long and the weather so favourable we were able to have a very relaxed walk – we were still approaching the lighthouse at Blackrocks Point after an hour and it is only 1.25 kilometres for the car park in a straight-line.  On the way we’d mentioned the iconic castle, the prevailing weather and use of aircraft contrails in short-term weather forecasting, the intrusion of the Whin Sill, formation of sand dunes and wave-cut platforms etc - it’s a wonder I hadn’t put myself to sleep!  Martyn, a well-known troublemaker who shall be nameless, missed a lot of the interpretation throughout the day because he was invariably not paying attention and must try harder in future.  Ian and John, my carers for the day, were happily snapping away with their cameras (I do realise that it is much more technical than that gentlemen).  The challenge had been set earlier by “The Guide” that he didn’t want to see any more “Boyhood of Raleigh” shots of him (or it, he’s usually an it) pointing into the middle and far distance, we shall see when the blog and photos are combined.

An early lunch was taken in the dunes west of Budle Point overlooking the bay as we hadn’t had time for elevenses.  Clear sky, sunshine and no wind, lovely and an unexpected bonus for December 1st it really doesn’t get any better than this.  Except that it does because Ian and I went to find a suitable way out of the dunes and up onto the golf course for “The Knee” so everyone had time to moan, grown and sympathise about the hopeless guide without causing offence.  John didn’t mention anything about providing me with transcripts of those conversations at the end of the walk, he’s far too professional.  The views we got of this iconic area north over Budle Bay towards Lindisfarne and towards the Lammermuir’s north of the Border inland were unexpectedly sharp and clear.  Similarly the views south towards Dunstanburgh (the classic tourist board brochure publicity shot) and out towards the sun-drenched Farne Islands archipelago where as good and anyone could expect at any time of the year.  It was so bright that it was sometimes difficult to spot the flashes of the Longstone lighthouse.  Following our picnic lunch we swung inland away from the coast to complete the country part of this walk.  It involved walking initially south and then east along footpaths and bridleways down lanes and crossing fields that exemplified the mixed farming nature of the North Northumberland Coast Plain.  As we left Ingram Lane a large cloud-bank of altostratus blanked out the rapidly sinking sun and the whole aspect of the day altered and became noticeably chillier.  As we walked north-west through the fields north of Fowberry towards Bamburgh the whole of the western sky was a brilliant orange-pink as the cloud was illuminated from below by the setting sun with just a narrow band of bright red sky beneath the clouds on the western horizon creating a silhouette of Cheviot and Hedgehope.  

I have to say I was a little surprised that nobody took me up on the offer of a seminar on the landscape character, physical and cultural influences, buildings, settlement and land use of the area of our walk when we returned to the car park, perhaps next time?  The next walk is very different and involves a coastal walk from North Shields Fish Quay (easy access and parking) north along the coast to St Mary’s Island.  We will be passing several cafes en-route both at the Tynemouth and Whitley Bay ends so it will be civilised.  Once we reach St Mary’s Island we will walk via Brier Dene Farm to the disused railway track between Whitley Bay and Blyth and follow it south to Monkseaton Metro Station for the ride back to North Shields.  

Have a pleasant Christmas and New Year and I hope to see everyone again in January for the “I must lose some of this weight” (and feel virtuous) New Year’s Resolution exercise regime aided by the North Shields to St Mary’s Island Coffee and Tea Drinking Mini-Marathon.

Monday, 02 December 2013