The tide is turning on the coast of coal

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Walk Of The Month: Seaham, County Durham - The Durham mines once dumped their bleak waste on to this shoreline but Nature's beauty is fighting back. Mark Rowe reports

Turn east off the A1 in County Durham and you will stumble upon one of England's forgotten corners. This is a stark post-industrial landscape, yet infinitely varied and drably beautiful. Coal was once king here, but no more.

The Durham coalfields under the North Sea have closed, but they left a legacy: for 150 years, coal waste was simply dumped on the beaches, smothering the sand to a depth of 30ft in places. This brutalised shoreline was subsequently employed by sci-fi film directors in search of alien landscapes.

The sea has slowly washed away that mining waste and a huge community regeneration project, Turning the Tide, has transformed the area's superb coastline into a virtue – revealing the charms that made Lord Byron and Lewis Carroll linger here (Byron married the landowner's daughter in 1815 ... it didn't last) – and establishing a superb coastal route from Seaham to the edge of Hartlepool.

Seaham, once a Roman signal station buttressing the flanks of Hadrian's Wall, has also benefited from this regeneration, with new housing built on the site of the old Vane Tempest Colliery. Its lease on life is epitomised by the unexpected spectacle of a brilliant 1950s ice-cream parlour, Lickety Split, which even has a vintage Coca-Cola bottle dispenser. Seaham's church, St Mary's, is worth visiting, too, and is regarded as one of the 20 oldest surviving churches in the UK.

Grabbing an ice cream from Lickety Split, I headed south out of Seaham towards the giant windsocks at Nose's Point, where the legacy of all this environmental abuse is still apparent. Below was the burnished brown spectacle of Blast Beach, named for local pig iron blast furnaces, and once totally blackened by spoil from the mines.

The pit, which broke all European and national production records, closed in 1991 but oil and slag still discolour the rocks, although thanks to the efforts of local conservation groups and the inexorable rise and fall of the tide, things are clearly improving.

As you walk along the cliff there are a couple of easy paths down to the beach that make for a fascinating detour – but it's not a place to lay down a beach towel.

The cliffs here are formed from rare magnesian limestone – which is incredibly good for wildlife such as the northern brown argus butterfly – and the clean-up operation has helped the ecosystem to bounce back even more quickly than could ever have been hoped for. The area enjoys the status of one of Natural England's Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and the drama is enhanced by marooned sea stacks just offshore. Divers now regularly take to the waters, and have reported seeing octopus, velvet crabs, wrasse and lobsters, because the water's visibility, once zero, is now clear.

Back along the clifftop, the path skipped over the railway line and dived into the secluded ash and blackthorn woodlands of Hawthorn Dene, one of several glacial valleys cut into this coastline before passing underneath a striking railway viaduct. I emerged above Shippersea Bay with a backdrop of rolling hills, farmland and a mournful, solitary pit cage from the former Easington Colliery for company. Around Fox Holes Dene there were rows of classic terraced mining houses and superb coastal views north and south.

I climbed up steep Blackhills Gill then dropped down Limekiln Gill along a paved road to sea level. Heading south I crossed a footbridge at Denemouth, the head of Castle Eden Dene. It's a serene, haunting spot, the cliffs opening up and rivulets nudging here and there on their ambling journey to the North Sea, and the valley marshland framed by another spectacular railway viaduct. Castle Eden Dene is the largest of the denes along the coast and well worth visiting, either as a detour now, or, better, returning on a separate trip to spot the peregrine falcons that zip back and forth along the cliff edges.

One last hike took me up high on to the clifftop path, now overlooking Blackhall Rocks, the setting for the violent conclusion to the Michael Caine film Get Carter, which was filmed here 40 years ago. The film shows the beach blackened with coal spoilings, almost all of which have now been removed along with the mine's conveyor system and an unlamented concrete tower.

At Blue House Gill, I found myself walking over the filled-in shallow topsoil of Blackhall Colliery and encountered a colony of rare little terns, an encouraging sign that perhaps nature is winning the battle against the industrial legacy of pollution. I finished the walk, strangely, by threading my way – correctly – through a caravan site at Crimdon. Hartlepool loomed ahead, but beyond was the unmistakable ridge-like outline of the North York Moors.

Directions

Distance: 10 miles (17km).

Time: Five hours.

Maps: Explorer 308, Durham & Sunderland & Explorer 306, Middlesbrough & Hartlepool

Directions

Start: Seaham seafront

Finish: Crimdon Caravan park

From Seaham, head south past a roundabout to Nose's Point to pick up the footpath. The coastal route is clear enough from north to south, but involves several short detours inland to navigate around the denes or valleys. After the last of these, Blue House Gill, keep close to the coastline, passing a V-stile (grid ref: 474384). Follow the cliff contours and walk through successive V-stiles and then go left down and up steps to pass a substation (475382) and pass Crimdon caravan site on its coastal side to the car park (483373).

Compact Facts

How to get there

Seaham rail station is on the Durham coast line, with services from Newcastle and Sunderland. Services to Newcastle and Durham with East Coast Trains (08457 225225; eastcoast.co.uk). From Crimdon caravan site car park, take the No 25 bus to Hartlepool or to Durham/ Seaham via Peterlee (travelinenorth east.info). A taxi back to Seaham costs £10 to £15 with Red Stripe Taxis (0191-518 1111). A twin room at Seaham Hall (0191-516 1400; seaham-hall.co.uk) costs from £200 per night, including breakfast and entry to the hotel's Serenity Spa.

Further information

Visit County Durham (thisisdurham.com).

News
Amazon's drones were unveiled last year.
business
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Life and Style
Worth shelling out for: Atlantic lobsters are especially meaty
food + drink
News
i100
Sport
Gareth Bale
footballPaul Scholes on how Real Madrid's Welsh winger would be a perfect fit at Old Trafford if he leaves Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Lily James in ‘Cinderella’
film
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss