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Walk of the Month: Bamburgh, Northumberland - a thousand tales lurk among these dramatic cliffs and crags

There’s plenty of history to discover on this dramatic walk along the Northumberland coast, says Mark Rowe

Pick a spot, any spot, along Northumberland’s coast and you’ll be left floating on air for days. The further north you go, the wilder and more exhilarating things get, with fractured volcanic cliffs that rise and swoop down to wide, curving beaches, often overlooked by brooding  grumpy-looking castles.

That’s the scene for Bamburgh, but as I set off from the village green, I briefly encounter another world. I’m on a 10-mile hike that I intend to make last all day, but I bump into a coachload of slightly bewildered Japanese tourists on a 350-mile day trip that also takes in Berwick, Lindisfarne and the Scottish borders before returning to Edinburgh.

Like me, they’re gawping at Bamburgh Castle, one of the most iconic landmarks in the county: this is a tough-looking castle and it’s hard not to pause and try to take on board its scale and striking sandstone walls, gateways and towers, punctuated with medieval arrow slits. Perched on a lump of volcanic rock 160 feet above the North Sea, Bamburgh oozes history; the first royal palace was built here in the 7th century and was later a base for William the Conqueror’s forays into Scotland.

I move on, edging away from the village across muddy fields and passing farm buildings, following long lines of hedgerows and stone walls. Over to the south-east, the Farne Islands lurch out of the sea, decorated by a lighthouse and thousands of birds. To the west, the Cheviot Hills loom large out of the landscape, their giant headframes marching north to mark the end of the Pennine range. The fields are flat but this adds a sense of scale to the walk, allowing me to take in the big skies and emptiness that is such a characteristic of Northumberland.

Heading away from the coast, I pass more lonely farms and spot several deer before turning north. In front of a caravan park, I drop down into a small, slumping pass between the miniature hills that make up Laidley Worm’s trough, which rise abruptly out of these flatlands. The fetching name comes from a local ballad about a king’s daughter turned into a loathsome serpent by a cruel stepmother. The trough sits beneath the Spindlestone Heughs, or crags, whose strikingly rough rocky outcrops make this a delightful spot.

Reaching a bend and a brow on a small lane, I stumble on another highlight of this walk – Budle Bay. Cutting inland behind Bamburgh Castle, Budle Bay is horseshoe-shaped  and utterly enchanting, fringed  with reeds at its dark peaty edge.  The tide here is fast, draining the bay as if down a plughole, and it’s a sanctuary for wildlife. Budle Bay is part of a National Nature Reserve where you are likely to see oystercatchers with their distinctive red beaks, pink-footed geese and curlew sticking their curved beaks into the mud in search of food.

To the north you can pick out the island of Lindisfarne and its castle, and the walk begins to take in some overlapping historical threads. Lindisfarne’s history is intertwined with that of Bamburgh, for it was in the dark ages of the 8th century that King Oswald of Northumbria invited the abbot of Iona in the Hebrides to send a bishop to convert his people to Christianity. Aidan arrived and was given land to build a monastery on Lindisfarne, in full view of the royal citadel at Bamburgh.

I cross some bumpy fields and drop down by a small holiday complex to the beaches and a small pier. I’ve arrived just after high tide, and it’s like being in a time-lapse documentary, with the sea pulling back to reveal newly formed dunes just shaped by the currents and eddies. It’s pretty windy and the sand quickly dries and begins to whistle over my boots. Black-headed gulls are enjoying something of a feeding frenzy, only to burst into jumpy flight as the waves crash down.

As the tide retreats I follow the beach further around beneath Black Rock and Budle Point. Then I clamber up the sides of the sloping, grassy cliffs – a route that is part path, part rabbit track. Back on top, Bamburgh Castle, perched on its rocky plateau, seems surprisingly distant, and it’s a pleasant 20-minute walk along the edge of a golf course and a lane to return to Seahouses.


Getting there

Take a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed, served by East Coast Trains from London, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh, and by Cross Country from a wide range of stations (08457 484 950;nationalrail.co.uk).

Staying there

Mark Rowe stayed at Sandpiper Cottage, Newton-by-the-Sea (01665 830783; northumbria-cottages.co.uk). Weekly rental from £710 in summer.

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