The rare wild flowers and birds, alluring beaches, easy links from the coast to the nearby villages and an attractive location for a scenic, if often refreshingly bracing, maritime hike: a general description that could be applied to much of Britain’s shoreline. But now it describes the Durham Heritage Coast, winners of the UK Landscape Award in 2010. And to anyone familiar with this stretch of coastline, say, two decades ago, the transformation of this area is little short of a miracle.
Gone are the blackened beaches, ugly slag heaps and functional industrial structures. With the closure of the local pits – including the largest coal mine in Europe – the abuse of the coast through the dumping of colliery waste stopped.
Thanks to an ambitious community project, and paid for with lottery funding, the devastated shoreline has gradually been reclaimed as an amenity for locals and visitors alike, and is a flourishing habitat for the abundance of wildlife which has returned to the area. Such has been the change to the Durham Coast, which stretches from Sunderland in the north to Hartlepool in the south, that it has been granted heritage status in recognition of the high quality of the landscape. The central stretch, between Seaham and Crimdon, has been designated as the Durham Coastal Footpath, a 12-mile trail that is well worth exploring. The nearby church of St Mary the Virgin, whose origins date back to the seventh century, is one of the oldest churches in the country.
Heading south from here, past the 19th century harbour built to service the coal industry, the coast is an appealing mix of limestone cliffs, dramatic headlands and attractive beaches. Highlights include Nose’s Point, a finger of limestone jutting up out of the North Sea, of special interest for its geology and its ecology. Further south still, cutting inland at right-angles to the Coast is Castle Eden Dene, a 550-acre nature reserve with a maze of walks through a stunning wooded valley. And before the path reaches its end at Crimdon are the Blackhall Rocks, a nature reserve and picnic spot with magnificent sea views.
Now that it has been brought back to life, this award-winning stretch of coastline will now be preserved and enhanced. The rare wild plants, and butterflies like the Durham Argus which had all but disappeared completely from the area, can now flourish once again, and future generations will have a new coastal area to enjoy.
Where to stay in Durham
Durham has a host of accommodation options which provide facilities for cyclists and walkers. Click here are a few highlights.
To discover more of Durham’s great outdoors, visit thisisdurham.com/outdoors