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  • Julie Muller

HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT! - Walking Between Warkworth and Alnmouth

Updated: Jun 6

Two happy dogs sit amongst the tall grasses in the dunes. Blue sky and the beach dark blue sea in the background
Bruno and Shep enjoy their walk through Warkworth Dunes

It seems so long since I have put paw to print - life has been so hectic. However, there is no greater tonic to a busy life than a canter across the sand, and we have spent many a happy hour playing on the beach.


Bruno and I never mind where we go – but over the last few weeks, Julie has parked at Warkworth, and we have either headed south towards Amble and the estuary of the River Coquet or headed north up towards Alnmouth and the river Aln estuary.


Although we have made many repeat visits to the same stretch of beach, we can honestly say that our walks have never been the same. There has always been something new to see, feel, hear, or smell dependent on the state of tide, the wind, and the weather.


Water stretching like a mirror in the sunshine - a narrow strip of bright green grass separates the lagoon from a ditch which is full to overflowing
The inlet at Warkworth - completely flooded with high spring tide water

On one sunny afternoon, we arrived at Warkworth to find that the lagoon behind the sand dunes was brimmed to overflowing, and the sea water was trickling into the ditch beside the path at an alarming rate.  There was no sign of the reed bed whatsoever, and the lagoon shone like a vast mirror in the early afternoon sun.


We were not surprised to discover that the incoming tide had left no beach on which to play and so, we all scrambled up on to the soft sand dune ridge. It was disappointing not to be able to walk on the beach, but we were not worried. It was just as much fun to weave in and out of the tall, untidy clumps of marram grass which had been bleached white by the sun.


Bruno and I are very good at sticking to the paths, but no matter how careful we are, it is all too easy to disturb wildlife and today, as we trundled through the dunes, a small perfectly round nest rolled on to the path right in front of us. Our humans rescued it and placed it very carefully out of harm’s way! I do hope its occupant finds its home again soon!


A red and white dog sits in front of windblown bleached grasses with the deep blue sea behind him
A windblown Bruno sits in the dunes

These amazing dunes make up the Warkworth Dunes and Saltmarsh SSSI - there are lots of dune systems that hug the Northumberland coast, but this dune system is particularly special as it boasts an exceptional number and diversity of plants and animals.


The dunes occupy a kilometre long spit of land separating the lagoon from the sea and so there is a real mix of habitat here, including sandy dry dunes, muddy salt marsh and brackish lagoon. These different habitats boast a rich and diverse plant community which in turn attracts an enormous array of invertebrates which supply the dietary needs of many birds and other animals.


And yet, all of this wildlife is mostly invisible to our humans unless they ‘look’ for it.

As dogs, and being so much closer to the ground, we are much more aware of what is beneath our paws.

As we snaked our way through the dunes, our legs were frequently grazed by short spiky inconspicuous clumps of burnet rose which were just beginning to unfurl their tiny fresh green leaves. In only a few weeks, these bushes will become smothered in delicate white blossom – and later in the year they will hang with dark purple hips – and the rose will no longer be ‘invisible’ – I am told that these rose hips make excellent rose hip syrup.

In other places, small hawthorn trees, sculpted by the wind, were also preparing to break bud and at our paws, swathes of bright yellow cowslips carpeted the sandy soil.


As we approached the mouth of the river Coquet, we headed back towards the. car. There was still no beach available to walk on, but as the dunes are so vast, we didn’t have to retrace our paws at all. We trotted up, over and between the tussocks of grass.


Two magenta coloured orchids amongst the bright green grasses in the sand dunes
Purple orchids in the dunes

The sand beneath our paws was soft and cool. In places tiny snails clustered together – elsewhere drifts of purple flowered orchids adorned the dune slopes. Bees buzzed above our heads, grasshoppers stridulated – that is they rubbed their back legs together and the air was full of birdsong - It was incredible.


As usual, we were sad to get back to the car and leave this beautiful place behind us.


But just a matter of days later, we were back on the beach – and this time heading up towards Alnmouth.


It was yet another sunny but breezy day and the wind was blowing storms of sand across the beach, picking  up the sea spray and flinging  it into the air.


There was not another living thing on the beach, so we raced across the sand with the wind behind us – such fun!  


Two dogs stand on a sandy beach which is streaked with black coal dust and granules - a gentle tide is sweeping in  with multiple small waves  coming into shore
Shep and Bruno play on the beach which is streaked with coal dust and granules

In places the vast sandy beach was interrupted by sandstone and coal pavements which fingered their way seawards and, as the tide was quite high, we were forced to clamber our way over them. They were green with seaweed and riddled with rock pools, but we didn’t linger – these places are a safe refuge for the shore birds at this state of tide. However, today, we could see no sign of any of them.


In other places the sand was punctuated with huge chunks of coal, worn smooth by the sea – or carpeted with shiny jet-black coal granules.


Above our heads a small group of adrenaline-junky gulls - wheeled, dipped and dived as they battled the wind.


We walked up the beach right up to the River Aln. A group of pied wagtails were strutting along its mouth, picking over the debris washed up by the tide.


Two dogs walk along a pale coloured soft sandy path between tall stands of untidy marram grass through the sand dunes
Bruno and step wander through the dunes at Alnmouth

We decided to walk through the dunes for the first stage of our journey back, but the call of the sea was just too strong and also, it looked like there was some kind of commotion just off the shore – what was going on?


As we watched, we could see a number of black-headed, small white birds repeatedly sky-diving down into the sea. Time and time again they plunged into the water, exiting with beaks full of long, silvery fish.  Julie soon realised that these birds were actually Arctic Terns and that it was likely that they had just arrived here, having travelled all the way from Antarctica – that is a journey of over 25,000 miles.  Every year, Arctic Terns, also called sea swallows, make this epic journey to meet up with their lifetime partner and raise a family on the Northumberland coast. They are the world’s longest distance globetrotters - so they must be very hungry!!


Today though, the terns were not having an easy time of it – their fishing activities had drawn the attention of the gulls who had now abandoned their dance with the wind to play another game – a waiting game!  They sat on the water, watching and waiting for the slightest chance to swoop and snatch the fish right out of the beaks of the hungry terns.

But, sadly for the gulls, Arctic Terns can be very aggressive – especially during the breeding season, and they were more than prepared to fight for their fish!


A beautiful sandy beach - the sun shining on  the sea as the tide came in - the are white fluffy clouds low on the horizon against a bright blue sky
Bruno and Shep walk across the beach back towards the car - and home!

It was fascinating watching the antics of the birds - but it was soon time to go home and so we headed back towards the car – and home!

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