For our next coastal foray, Julie decided that we should walk up the coast from Blyth to Cambois.
So, on a sunny but chilly Thursday in very early February she drove us to Cambois. It is clearly a very popular place because the beach car park was already very busy when we arrived, but Julie was lucky enough to get the last parking space. There were so many dogs and their humans milling about, and all of them were heading down the slipway to the beach – but not us!
You can imagine how surprised – and perplexed – Bruno and I were to walk in the opposite direction towards a bus stop!
It wasn’t long before the 434 bus came trundling around the corner, and we hopped on board. The bus took us to Bedlington where we waited to catch another bus to Blyth. This bus was much busier than the first bus, and Julie struck up a conversation with a lady, called Pat, who used to live in Cambois.
Pat told us that most of her family had lived in Cambois and worked at the colliery until it closed down in 1968. It was eight years later that she and her husband moved to Bedlington and here, they had their first ever proper bathroom. When she had lived in Cambois, bath time meant a tin tubin front of a fire!
It was quite a bumpy ride for us dogs, but I suppose our discomfort was made up for by the fuss that the other passengers made of us, and Bruno was positively beaming. I just hid under the seat! We were both glad to get off the bus at Blyth bus station and start our walk.
There were certainly lots of humans about today and we wove our way through them, walking past shops and superstores, businesses, and homes. Large warehouses dominated the skyline overlooking the river.
Once Northumberland dominated the world in the production of coal, and there were many huge collieries hugging the coastline – Now, with all of the human concerns about the changes in our climate, the production of coal is frowned upon, and the town of Blyth is at the forefront in finding alternative forms of clean renewable energy. In fact, out in the bay we could see nine tall white wind turbines, all spinning in the wind, and producing 41.5 MW of electricity – enough to supply over 750,000 homes! – Wow!!
It was very busy and noisy at the quayside, and Bruno and I were glad to follow the coastal path which led us away from the sheds and the cranes and the orange hi-vis jacketed humans, right down to the banks of the river.
It was much quieter down here but there were still many dogs and their humans about enjoying their walks.
When we reached the river, the tide was on its way out. Large expanses of mud had formed islands, and these were populated with an assortment of birds of all shapes, sizes, and behaviours. The opposite riverbank was teaming with birdlife too and as we watched a large curfew of curlews took off – bubbling and babbling their way up to the sky.
As we watched them, we became aware of another two curlew that were probing their long-curved beaks deep into the thick black mud right in front of us.
Once upon a time, these birds were a very common sight - you could even buy them, as a tasty treat, from the local butchers!
Now sadly, like so many other birds and animals, their numbers have plummeted, and this is directly due to human activities which have robbed them of their habitat.
Curlews have their own patron saint called Saint Beuno, an abbot who lived in North Wales during the seventh century. St Beuno used to regularly walk across the muds of the Menai Straits to give his sermons in a tiny church on Anglesey. One day when making his customary journey, he dropped his book of sermons into the mud. Naturally, he was extremely upset. However, when he got back to shore, he was amazed to find his precious manuscripts perched on top of a rock, well out of the reach of the tide, and guarded by a rather pious curlew. St Beuno was so grateful that he prayed for the protection of all curlews and so, the anniversary of his death on 21st April is said to be ‘Curlew Day.’
Like so many other wading birds, curlew love mud – they have long probing beaks, the tip of which they use like a pair of tweezers to probe for all of the small animals living within the mud.
At low tide the mud provides a sumptuous buffet for an enormous number of birds, and it is especially welcome for those migratory birds that have travelled such a long way to spend their winters here. No wonder that the shoreline is protected as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest)
Today, on a chilly February day, the mudflats were teaming with gulls, terns, ducks, and geese as well as all of the waders.
The riverbanks were festooned in frill-fronded bladder wrack (seaweed) with their tiny air-filled bladders to keep them afloat when the tide returned.
A startled flock of crested lapwing erupted from a field, wheeled in the air, and returned to the ground.
And yet, despite this wealth of wildlife, the roar of the traffic was never far away, and, above our heads, a concrete bridge escorted a steady stream of traffic across the river – and the humans in their little metal boxes raced along, quite oblivious to the amazing wildlife below them.
At one point in our walk, we had to cross over the river ourselves. We had no choice but to walk up to, and over the bridge, it was a real shock to the system having two lanes of noisy smelly cars and trucks charging past us – we were so glad to get down to the river again and follow it towards Cambois.
Here the path was soft and springy to our tired paws. A thicket partially blocked our view of the river, but we could still hear the cries of the birds. There were prickly gorse bushes resplendent in bright yellow flowers, whilst honeysuckle and ivy scrambled over the still sleeping trees. A few brown rabbits nonchalantly chewed the grass at the edge of the field.
Spring is definitely around the corner.
As we approached Mount Pleasant Farm, we turned away from the river which meandered, twisted, and turned on its journey to the sea.
We strode cross a few heavily ploughed fields where the path was not clearly defined, and I found it difficult to jump across the furrows. Bruno, of course, took it all in his stride.
The walk back into Cambois along the road was quite hard to our paws after our walk by the river but very soon we were able to walk under the small railway bridge and find our way down on to the beach.
It was so lovely walking on the cool soft sand again. The tide was a long way out, and in several places, large expanses of shiny black coal chippings were exposed reminding us that below our paws there were still seams of coal stretching far out beneath the North Sea.
We bathed our tired paws in the cold refreshing sea water although I am always very anxious when the tongues of water chase me up the beach – Bruno of course is ‘game for anything’ but even he doesn’t like the tide catching him out.
We headed for the last car park along the beach where Julie had parked the car – the wind was blowing and the sun was bathing the beach in cool afternoon light.
We were ready to get back in the car and head for home.