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  • Julie Muller

Northumberland By the Sea (Seaton Sluice to Tynemouth)



A dog sits on a sandy beach looking out towards the sea  - grey cloudy sky - a few people walking on the beach behind
Bruno sits on the beach at Seaton Sluice

The Northumberland coast is famous for its magnificent vast sandy beaches, and Bruno, and I are always so excited when we realise that we are heading there.

 

We are very lucky to have so many beaches on our doorstep to explore - the Northumberland coastline stretches over 80 miles from Tynemouth in the South right up to Berwick Upon Tweed. The whole area is protected as the Northumberland Shore SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) because of the wealth of wildlife that it nurtures.

 

There is certainly a lot more to the coast than meets the eye and so Julie, Bruno and I decided to walk along its entirety to discover its secrets.

 

It was quite a grey day when we set off on our first coastal foray. We were heading for the beach at Seaton Sluice and the plan was for us to walk along the coast down to Tynemouth.

We left the car at Seaton Delaval Hall, a property which is owned by the National Trust, although Julie chose not to visit the house today.

 

A short walk down quite a busy road took us down to the beach. By the time we felt the soft cool sand on our paws, we were desperate to be free and so, we raced off towards the water where the wind was thrusting the waves towards us and crashing them on to the beach. It felt so good to be free.

We gazed out to sea where two large container ships were moored and a cluster of wind turbines stood tall, pivoting their huge blades to capture the wind.

 

Having let off some of our pent-up energy, we began our walk down towards Tynemouth.

Very soon our beach walk was halted by a small inlet running into the sea. There were several small fishing boats – their bottoms were wedged in the soft squidgy mud whilst they waited for the next tide. There was a road above us, and we could hear the cars thundering overhead, but the inlet itself seemed peaceful and untouched by the fast pace of modern times.

We crossed over a small bridge and followed the path up to a steep flight of steps, on to the road and past a row of houses.

 

We could see the sandy beach down below us. It was punctuated with rocky crags and huge boulders. A few lucky dogs were playing with their humans on an increasingly narrowing stretch of beach – the tide was obviously on its way in.

I guess we should have checked the tide tables!

 

Very soon, we found our way back onto the coastal path which was now wide and firm and suitable for walkers and cyclists alike, and fringed with tall leggy unkempt grass.

 

We could hear the sea crashing on to the boulders and rocky platforms beneath us and we all strained our eyes to see if we could see any grey seals ‘basking’ on them.

 

The grey seal is one of two species of seal that live in British waters, and 40% of the entire world’s population of grey seals live here – a staggering 120,000 of them! This is a huge increase from the beginning of the twentieth century when there were only 500.

 

Most of the seals’ time is spent out at sea feeding, but they do come ashore to rest and digest their food, and this is when they are most vulnerable – especially to us dogs – and our humans! It is really important for us to keep well away from them especially when the mums have their pups – this is normally between October and January.

 

We continued along the path past St Mary’s lighthouse which sits on a tiny island off the coast. This stretch of the coast is extremely hazardous to shipping and over the centuries there have been over 300 shipwrecks. Although the light house wasn’t built until 1898, the island itself had been used to warn sailors for hundreds of years before. Sadly, it flashed its last warning in November 1984.

 

Leaving the lighthouse behind us, we trotted along a promenade furnished with benches overlooking a rocky beach that was alive with birds.

 

There were long billed curlew, jet black shags, red legged redshank and squadrons of turnstone busily turning over the damp seaweed. There were large groups of sanderlings too, and, as they haven’t got a hind toe, these scuttled over the rocks like mechanical toys.

 

As we watched, the curlew launched itself into the air bubbling the first notes of its song as if to make sure that we knew who it was.

 

Many of the birds that we saw on the beach don’t live here all year round and have flown huge distances, often from inside the Arctic Circle, to spend their winters in Northumberland. This is so that they can escape the worst of the weather from where they come. Mind you, it was a perishingly cold day for us today – but maybe that is just home from home for them?

The Northumberland coasts welcomes so many migrants in the winter and this is the main reason why it is a SSSI - there are all sorts of rich pickings on the beach for every visitor, and, having travelled such a long way, they all need lots to eat.

 

So, when we dogs visit the beach, our humans need to make sure that we don’t unwittingly disturb all of these amazing globe trotters!

 



A dog standing on a wide sandy beach with a wall of rocks, boulders and pebbles behind him
A windswept Shep pauses for a rest

We resumed our walk on the beach as soon as we could, and we relished the feel of the soft cool sand on our paws after the hard cold pavements. The beach was strewn with brown fronds of seaweed that had been snapped off their ‘holdfasts’ probably by the violent storms at sea.

The seas seem to have been particularly rough recently and I have felt far too scared to dip just one paw in the water and, even Bruno has been known to abandon his ball in the surf much to Julie’s annoyance!

 

Most of the seaweed that we found on the beach were wracks which are a type of brown alga. Despite the fact that these algae can grow to massive proportions, they are very simple organisms with neither roots or shoots, and they use their brown pigmentation to trap any available light for photosynthesis.

 

 

In places there were vast carpets of seaweed, which were teeming with all sorts of animals – including swarms of wrack flies which lay their eggs in the warm decomposing seaweed and legions of catapulting sand hoppers. What a feast for the local birds!

 

Ahead of us the sand stretched out and there were lots of other canines and their humans enjoying the beach too - some digging, some playing with their balls, or some just running in and out of the water and of course, Bruno had to play in the water too!

 

In some places the soft golden sand was littered with flakes of jet-black grit, and there were also large numbers of small rounded black stones that looked like coal. Of course, It is no surprise that these are here – Northumberland is famous for its coal mines which played a significant part in driving the wheels of the Industrial Revolution.

Early records show that coal was mined on this section of the coast from as early as the thirteenth century and thick seams of coal stretched all of the way to the coast.

By reading the rocks, geologists have discovered that the coal seams were formed at a much higher altitude here, were much further inland and contained fossils that did not come from the sea. This very special geology is protected as a SSSI in its own right.

 

As we walked further down the coast, the beach became increasingly busy and above us the brightly coloured frontages of Whitley Bay gazed down on us.

 

Sadly, we had to climb off the beach again onto the promenade. The wind had become much stronger and was flinging waves and spray high over the metal railings and our fur was being whipped against our faces.

 

The tide was coming in fast and there were fewer and fewer opportunities to walk by the sea.  We gazed wistfully at other canines and their humans playing on the beach below us, but we were now against the clock – we had a bus to catch from Tynemouth back to Seaton Delaval.

Julie gazed even more wistfully at some humans who were enjoying a plunge in the sea at Cullercoats. It looked such fun – but maybe a little cold!

But by now, our paws were tired, and we were desperate to feel soft sand under them again.



Two dogs sit on a firm wide track above a beach. the tide is in. There are two benches looking out to sea and a castle perched on the hill behind them
A very tired ship and Bruno rest by Tynemouth Castle before heading for the bus

Finally, with the remains of Tynemouth Castle peering down on us, we dipped back down again on to the soft sand of Long Sands beach for a last paddle and play.

 

We had had a fantastic walk – and now all we had to do was to find a bus to take us back to the car. 

 



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