Country: A sheep on the beach

Matthew Brace walks the Northumbrian coast, from Beadnell to Craster
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The Independent Travel
Northumbria has 65 miles of coastline, from the Scottish border at Berwick-upon-Tweed to Blyth. Almost this entire length of coast has been classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. One of the most picturesque stretches is that between the two fishing villages of Beadnell and Craster.

Leave your car in Craster to tumble into when you finish your walk, and let Northumbria Buses take you from the bus stop opposite the cottages by the pretty horseshoe harbour, up to Beadnell.

The 20-minute ride follows the road just inland, and gives you a glimpse of what to expect on the walk: a shimmering sea, wild winds and a vast sky.

Beadnell, with its west-facing harbour - caused by a rock spit curling around the headland - was once a thriving fishing village but has now lost almost all its trade. The last Beadnell fisherman, John Dixon, plans to retire this year.

Setting out on foot from the bus stop, follow the main road south through the village, along the sea wall, where even on a relatively calm day the waves can pound so hard they throw spray on to the road. The road bears right through a small estate of new houses and leads to a caravan park by the dunes.

Here you have three options: either to climb the dunes and walk along their ridge, which affords fantastic views of the sweep of Beadnell Bay, or to walk along the brilliant white beach itself (like most Northumbrian beaches, it is likely to be deserted save for you and the birds), or to leave the bracing sea blasts for later and stroll through the bird sanctuary behind the dunes. It is worth carrying an Ordnance Survey map in your rucksack, for the paths are not signposted here. All three routes bring you to a wooden bridge across Brunton Burn as it empties into the Bay at a narrow estuary called Long Nanny, half-way along the beach's crescent.

From the southern end of the bridge, follow a signposted path across Newton Links, a stretch of National Trust coastline, listening for the mournful cries of oystercatchers.

To knock some sand out of your shoes, on reaching the car park by Newton Links House take the road inland a little, to High Newton-by-the-Sea and then Low Newton-by-the-Sea, where you can rejoin the beach.

At low tide along this beach - Embleton Bay - you may well meet a local shepherd herding his sheep in a neat, tight flock along the beach, their hooves leaving a wake of churned sand behind them.

From the rocks known as Jenny Bells Carr, the daunting silhouetted ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle loom on the horizon. Dunstanburgh was built by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, in 1313. After his execution for treason in 1322, it became a stronghold for English kings against the Scots. During the Wars of the Roses, it was a Lancastrian base, until the Yorkists captured it in 1462.

Enough remains of Dunstanburgh to make it worth stopping for a look, even if this is just an excuse to get out the tea flask and admire the view from the castle walls.

From there to Craster, the path hugs the stony coast, a flat stretch popular on weekends with strollers from the village out for an afternoon blow along the sea.

Close by Craster's harbour is an oak-smoked kipper plant, now in its 90th year. This marks journey's end. Conveniently situated across the road is The Jolly Fisherman, a friendly pub with arguably the best views of any bar in the country.

From the lounge bar you can gaze back along the wild sweep of coast you have just walked, or south to the rock of Longhoughton Steel. Gulls the size of small eagles wheel above the waves, and the rocks are covered with black cormorants drying their wings in the sun.

The landlord, Billy Silk, delivers to the table a pint of Thorne bitter, a bowl of crab soup (laced with cream and whisky) and a plate of kipper pate, and everything seems right in the world.

Craster is signposted from the B1340 and B1339, off the A1. Northumbria Buses will take you to Beadnell (about pounds 3 one way). Timetables from tourist office (0191-375 3000).

l From Beadnell walk south towards caravan park through new housing estate. Go through caravan park and either veer left for the dunes or straight on through the bird sanctuary (following a fence for part of the way).

l If you take the beach, on reaching the stream that crosses the sands, turn inland 200 yards to footbridge. The sanctuary route leads you directly to the bridge.

l Cross the bridge and head across Newton Links dunes path to car park, then take the road to High Newton-by-the-Sea.

l At village green, turn left and follow road for about a mile to Low Newton-by-the-Sea and rejoin the beach.

l Follow shoreline for one-and-a-half miles, watch.

l Where the sand gives way to slippery black rocks, head up through a gully in the dunes to the National Trust coastal path and turn left.

l Follow the path to Dunstanburgh, skirting round the base of the castle's rock pedestal and entering from the south side.

l From Dunstanburgh head south along the coast path to Craster, and welcome kippers.

Total distance: about 8 miles

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