The Coastal Footpath
is an 11 mile walking route down the coast of County Durham, north to south. I was initially surprised that the coast of a reasonable sized county should yield so short a path, and then rationalised it: the historic county lost large chunks of its coastline to the metropolitan areas, Sunderland to the north and Teesside to the south. After yesterday's explorations I can add that the path does not start at the county boundary, in the north at least.
We, however, did. We parked on Ryhope Green, just into Sunderland, by a plaque informing us that the history of Ryhope Village could be traced back to 930AD, when it was recaptured from the Scots, and that it was "once popular with the Bishops of Durham for sea bathing." I picture a row of bishops, their purple robes kilted up out of the foam, holding hands and treading carefully so as not to lose their mitres... You wouldn't want to paddle there now, though. That word "heritage" in the name of the path? Durham's coastal heritage is the residue of its industrial past
, unnatural and spectacular, and that was what we found when we made our way down to the coast
: rusting railings, crumbling concrete and a sign warning us off the unstable cliff edges. So we retraced our steps to a path set well back from danger, which took us as far as the first of a series of denes, steep river valleys which punctuate the coast. Back to the main road, then, until we were within sight of Seaham, and a track led towards the sea, skirting a large and bustling car boot sale. At the far end of the track, we reached the next dene, and backtracked again, taking the road into the car park where the walk officially begins.
The first official part of the walk ran through Seaham, technically along the Promenade all the way, though we diverted onto the lower walk along the beach. The old part of the town was interesting, but we were soon back on the main road, at first diverted by views down to the harbour then just grimly along, wondering why the pavement ran between the crash barrier and the highway.
We came at length to Dawdon, where the path leaves the road, at a further car park with interpretative boards, art works and interpretative art works
. As usual, the high profile artwork (Alec Finlay's Sky-field, a cluster of windsocks in shades of blue and white) appealed to me less than the nameless arrangement of dry stone wall and timber, half sculpture, half something to which to attach plates bearing - poems? descriptions? acrostics? well, words, certainly. (There will, as usual, be more of my pictures in due course; in the interim, here are some rather better ones
) Beyond Dawdon, the path runs above Blast Beach, with its discoloured stones resting in strange dark sands the colour of coffee that's stewed too long, pounded by cappuccino breakers. Up above, the path is bordered by a riot of wild flowers (distinctive flora of the Magnesian limestone, apparently): meadowsweet, bloody cranesbill, scabious, lousewort... A kestrels - and then another - hovered briefly over the cliff edge, silhouetted against the dark sea, barely higher than our heads, before disappearing.
Down into Hawthorn Dene, and - after a few wrong turns - we found the path as it headed out the other side under the railway viaduct, through the fields and past Beacon Hill, not even tempted to divert up to the summit, thankfully into Easington Colliery.
The day was showers and sunshine mixed; the morning mild, grey and showery, the afternoon full of contrasts - the sun shining on the far end of blast beach was the sign that another shower was coming, then, as we grew weary towards the end of the walk, the sun beat down in true August fashion. The only really heavy shower came when we were on the bus back to our starting point, rattling off the windows then passing over, leaving a rainbow arched over the invisible sea.