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  • Julie Muller

PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE - A Walk From Cresswell To Newbiggin By the Sea




A black and white dog waits on a vast sandy beach with the sea coming upon the beach behind him
Birthday Boy Shep posing on Cresswell Beach

It was my birthday weekend and so we set off for a walk along yet another spectacular Northumberland beach– Druridge Bay.  This beach is actually seven miles long and I was a bit worried how far we were going to walk today – but I needn’t have worried.

 

 It was a stunningly beautiful morning and when we parked our car, it was clear that lots of other humans had had the same idea as us. We wandered through the sand dunes expecting to see hordes of dogs and their humans on the other side but, amazingly, the beach was as vast, sandy, and relatively empty as ever! – I don’t know where all of the other humans went to.

 

We didn’t complain – the tide was a long way out and we padded across the cool damp sand down towards the water’ edge where the waves were lapping on to the shore.

 

A couple of turnstones were patrolling the tideline. They paddled in the shallow water picking methodically over the wet seaweed just as their name suggests. A curfew of curlew took off and swept above our heads, but they were unusually silent today.

A flurry of stocky bodied, white chested, knot foraged close by too – we gave them a wide berth and they ignored us too.

 

The ebbing tide had left behind multiple sinuous snakes of sand, and jet-black coal dust had collected in the furrows between them. Elsewhere large expanses of coal granules fanned out towards the sea and two sizeable boulders of coal sat in the water.

 

Coal was once such an important part of human life here – but times have changed.

 

However, the wildlife has always been here, and, over the years it has adjusted to all the human activities, as they have come and gone away. So, this part of the coast is managed as a Nature Reserve by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust  because of the  immense  wealth of marine wildlife living here.

 



A red and white dog sands on a rocky pavement which is covered in bright green mats of seaweed . He had a blue ball by him. There are rock pools behind.
Bruno prefers to play ball than exploring the rock pools!

As we trundled further along the beach towards Cresswell, the beach became much rockier with rock platforms and boulders encircling rock pools and puddles. All of the rocks were smothered in bright green – and rather slippery – seaweed, and frilly brown, green bladderwracks cascaded over them into the warmer water within. Another pink seaweed was especially slippery to our paws – you don’t expect to slip when you have four-paw drive!

 

It was great fun splashing through the pools of water, but we were very careful not to disturb them too much. There are five different species of crab living here, including the rare and delicate porcelain crab which isn’t really a crab at all - and there could well be butterfish or blennies hiding in the nooks and crannies. Much of the drier rocks were also coated in wall-to-wall barnacles, interspersed with cone shaped cockles and clusters of dark brown periwinkles huddled together beneath the cascades of seaweed.

 

In places very thick layers of coal granules crunched beneath our paws as we walked.

 

The rocky outcrop stretched far out to sea and as the boulders and rocks were so smothered in seaweed, we decided to make a safe retreat to the sand. Small waves crashed against the furthermost rocks and countless birds called out, but they were completely hidden from our view.

 



A black and white dog stands on a path through sand dunes - the grass is waving in the wind. Behind him is an electricity generating power station and you can see the sandy beach below him
Shep looks back towards Lynemouth Power Station

We continued along the coastal path and Lynemouth Power station loomed into view. The throb of the machinery intensified as we got closer to it, so we decided to return to the beach. Two anglers, rods in hand, stood on the furthermost rocky outcrop silhouetted against the sky.

When we got down on to the beach, we were horrified to see loads of rubbish strewn around us at the base of the cliffs. Where could it have come from? This wasn’t litter.

 

For many years, humans used the cliffs above as a burial site for all of their household rubbish thinking that it was sufficiently far away from the sea. But they were wrong.  Over time, the cliffs have been eroded further and further inland and now, at every spring tide, the once buried waste is plucked out of the cliff and dumped on the beach below.

We trotted further onto the beach which was once again a collection of golden sand strewn with boulders and rock pavements stretching out to sea. We had hoped that we could walk all the way along the beach, but we were stopped in our tracks by a very fast flowing river outlet. The water looked cool and refreshing but it was scarily rapid, so I was happy to retreat back on to the coastal path.

The power station loomed tall and imposing ahead of us. On its landward side, a cluster of wind turbines turned their blades to capture every single breath of wind.

To our horror an alarm rang out as we trotted past the power station. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on-end.

When Lynemouth Power Station was first built, it generated electricity by burning locally sourced coal but since the mid 2010’s it has converted to using biomass pellets instead and these are both clean and renewable. Today it  generates enough electricity to supply 450,000 homes.

 

As we turned away from the power station, we caught a glimpse of Newbiggin in the distance. The beach below us looked inviting but sadly we couldn’t get down to it – the cliffs were just too high.

 

 

The rocks and soils beneath our paws comprise the all-important seams of coal that played such an important part in the economic growth of Northumberland. These layers of coal were formed during the Carboniferous period - a time when the surface of the land was covered with forest and swamp, sharks dominated the oceans, giant dragonflies with wingspans of up 75 cm patrolled the skies and, on the ground, amphibians ruled the roost. That was over 359 million years ago! Since then the earth has been subjected to earth movements and glaciation and this has left a very special geology behind here in the cliffs between here and Newbiggin – yet another site of special scientific interest – perhaps a bit too complicated for me to explain – ha-ha!

 

As we walked towards Newbiggin, a long arm of water separated us from the beach and sea – we would have loved to go for a paddle but sadly, no.

 

Onwards we trotted, through the sand-dunes, and up towards Newbiggin golf course where we saw a diverse collection of humans clutching clubs, whacking balls and carting around a whole arsenal of golfing implements. In places, our path passed very close to the cliff edge and my heart was in my mouth as Bruno perched on the edge completely oblivious to  the danger. In others we passed closer to the greens where we ran the gauntlet of low flying golf balls.

I wonder how many golf balls have been lost out to sea.

A large contingent of orange legged, black and white oyster catchers occupied a green all to themselves. They looked as if they were on military parade as they stood, heads down, all facing in the same direction. Occasionally one or other of them would shout a command to the rest.

By now we were near the end of the walk, and we were very tired.

Julie decided that it would be best for us to catch a bus back to the car, and we didn’t disagree. We hadn’t banked on having to catch three buses though – the X21, the X20 and the number 1.  The bus drivers were all very friendly and ready to help us find our way back to Cresswell, but we never find bus journeys particularly relaxing – unless someone makes a fuss of us!



Two dogs stand together on the top of a sand dune - the marram grass is blowing in the wind. the dogs are looking behind them
A tired Shep and Bruno stand on the Cresswell dunes

 We were glad to alight at Cresswell. The wind was blowing through the sand dunes – the sun was shining, albeit weakly, and a curlew welcomed us back to the car.  It was nice to rest our tired paws and head for home.


a map to show the directions - drawn in red - from Cresswell to Newbiggin By The Sea
The walk from Cresswell to Newbiggin By the Sea


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