Monday, 24 February 2014
Marit and Rona: Turas
The highlight of last year's Solas Festival for me came in two languages that I don't speak: an account of an argument between two old men in Gaelic, melded with pre-feminist Swedish advice for young women. I'd not seen Marit Fält and Rona Wilkie's main set earlier in the day, and their two-song set at the Festival Club made me realise what a mistake it had been to miss them.
Today Marit and Rona released their debut album Turas (Swedish for "to take turns"; Gaelic for "journey" or "occasion"). It weaves together traditional music from the Scottish Highlands and lands beyond the horizon in Scandinavia.
I may not speak a single word of the languages represented, but the music itself is beautiful and infectious.
- Bodach — the track I remembered from the Solas Festival Club
- Tobar, Tobar — anything that showcases "mouth-music" always wins me over
- Tha Bò Dhubh Agam — a lullaby from Nova Scotia that closes out the album
Thursday, 20 February 2014
The next fifteen years
Time to put circle another date in the diary: Tuesday 20 February 2029. I will be fifty-seven years old. It will be thirty years since my first coast walk.
Sometime before then we hope to complete our walk round the perimeter of this island, celebrating with a group to join up the whole circuit in Gretna.
Before then, there are two to three thousand miles of walking to be done.
Highlights will include:
- Connecting with our other segments in Leith and Corpach
- The Elie chain walk
- Raising a glass to Michael Marra in Dundee's Tay Bridge Bar
- Turning our backs on Trump's folly on the Menie Links
- Remembering Local Hero in Penan
- Finishing Lands' End to John O'Groats the long way
- Visiting the island's most northerly and most westerly points
- Turning the final corner at desolate Cape Wrath
- Popping in on the remote community of Scoraig
- Keeping a safe distance from Gruinard ("Anthrax") Island
- Walking barefoot on the white sands of Arisaig
- Learning to love the back-and-forth of sea lochs on the west coast
- Figuring out the Electric Brae
- Catching our first glimpse of England again across the Solway Firth
We'd be delighted for company on some of it — please get in touch, whether you fancy walking for a mile or a whole week!
Wednesday, 19 February 2014
The past fifteen years
Whenever someone learns about the coast walk, the first question is inevitable: "What are the best bits?" Often people are hoping you'll mention the parts of the coast that are meaningful to them. It's always tricky when you give the wrong answer.
Here are a few highlights of our walk so far, in England and Wales:
- Starting to take the walking seriously: setting off south from the border (March 2004)
- Solway Sunsets (January 2005)
- Completing the first thousand miles (March 2004)
- Isolation at Sunderland Point (March 2005)
- Walking under the river (July 2005)
- Memories of childhood holidays (April 2011)
- R.S. Thomas (May 2011)
- Planning my proposal on the train home (February 2006)
- The first walk with Emma (September 2004)
- The very first walk (February 1999)
- Completing Wales (January 2012)
- Meeting a fellow coast walker (October 2013)
- Finishing the South-West Coast path (October 2012)
- A honeymoon walk (October 2006)
- Fording the Erme (August 2012)
- The Train Beach (February 2001)
- My last walk with Dad (March 2000)
- A lightning strike (December 1999)
- The Thames (January 2011)
- Constructive graffiti (June 2000)
- Walking home from the sea (July 2004)
- Seahenge (September 1999)
- Sunk Island (June 2013)
- Crossing the Meridian for the final time (June 2013)
- Reaching Scotland again (February 2014)
I'm torn about those I've missed off; how could it ever be possible to pick just one favourite bit?
Saturday, 15 February 2014
Berwick-upon-Tweed → The Border (Marshall Meadows)
Fàilte gu Alba
« Holy Island Causeway | Not walked »
We did it!
Just under fifteen years after starting to walk the coastline of our island, and a little over two years since we finished walking the Welsh coast we've now completed the second of the three countries that make up this land. England is done; just Scotland to go!
All week it's been anyone's guess as to whether the weather would co-operate today. In the end it wasn't bad: a little light drizzle, but by the time we all met up there was the faintest hint of sun.
The path from Berwick is relatively straightforward, though incredibly slippery after recent rain. At Marshall Meadows things improve considerably, with a tarmac road through the caravan site, then a well tended path to the border.
It's worth pausing at Marshall Meadows. Hidden between a couple of caravans at NT 982 567 is a hollow with an ominous "Enter at own risk" sign. If you pass through the gap in the fence and scramble to the base of the hollow you'll find a stone retaining wall, then a stone arch beyond which is a steeply inclined tunnel that eventually emerges halfway up the cliff. From further to the north the cliff entrance can be seen: it's what looks like a trapezium-shaped cave above a rickety-looking staircase. Quite what this tunnel was originally built for I don't know, but it no doubt provides thrilling access to the beach for holidaymakers.
Beyond the caravans, we caught sight of a tantalising flash of blue and white: the border. It's marked by a kissing gate onto which is affixed a stylised Saltire sign of the type that appears on road border crossings. We crossed and walked inland to the railway line where a more ornate sign is erected for the benefit of passengers.
It doesn't matter how you measure this walk so far — the three hundred and twenty-one write-ups, the fifteen years, the three thousand four hundred and sixty-seven miles, the four pairs of boots, the ninety-six maps — however measured I've had a wonderful time and can honestly say I've enjoyed every single walk (yes, even the Black Path).
What next? Do you really need to ask? Fàilte gu Alba: Welcome to Scotland.
Monday, 10 February 2014
Holy Island Causeway → Berwick-upon-Tweed
Our original plans had us including a circuit of Holy Island in the coast walk, but tides and lack of out-of-season bus services caused us to rethink. Consequently we had a shorter walk than expected today, and it's been the best walk of the week so far.
Two thirds of the way along the walk we passed within metres of the cottage where we've been staying, but decided that rather than stop we'd continue going until we'd crossed the River Tweed.
Berwick soon came into view, defended from the river by towering ramparts. It looked formidable from the southern side of the river, the town's history of switching back and forth between Scottish, English and independent affiliation ever so believable.
We have a few days off now: we'll be joined by family on Saturday for the final walk although with the end in sight it's tempting to just get out again tomorrow before the weather turns for the worse again.
Sunday, 9 February 2014
Bamburgh → Holy Island Causeway
We ended up walking many miles on minor roads, crossed the mainline railway twice, and took to the verge of the A1 for half a mile. With an ever-present threat of rain, a howling wind and biting cold it wasn't the best of days.
Just north-west of Bamburgh, at Blackrocks Point where there's a white stag painted on the rocks, we saw a couple of groups of people with telephoto lenses trained on the sea. We stopped and looked, then excitedly nodded as we saw twenty or so seals swimming close to the lighthouse. It's a good job we didn't enter into conversation with our friends: after examining at the photographs we took we see now that all of the "seals" were in fact ducks.
Notes for future walkers:
- Diverge from the Coast Path at NU 161 358: instead of turning south on the footpath, continue south-west on the bridleway to Heather Cottages, then turn right on the footpath from the phone box at NU 160 356 to Budle.
- Follow the road west from Budle to Waren Mill, then Easington, Easington Grange and Elwick.
- At NU 100 377 take the bridleway north then north-west to Fenham-le-Moor, then turn south-west on the road over the railway at Lowmoor Crossing to the A1 just south of Buckton.
- Follow north-west to NU 082 386 where a poorly-signed footpath runs north to Fenwick Stead, crossing the railway before reaching Fenham.
- From Fenham, pick up the footpath towards Granary point; after turning west-north-west and crossing scrubland this eventually rejoins the Northumberland Coast Path about half a mile shy of the Holy Island causeway at NU 078 419.
Saturday, 8 February 2014
Craster → Bamburgh
A mile or so north of Craster is Dunstanburgh Castle. Its toothy form has been visible on the horizon for a few walks now, so we were pleased to see it close-up at last. Its scale intimidates, even in its ruinous state. Feeling pushed for time we decided to postpone looking around inside but this is definitely somewhere to revisit.
It would be easy to omit walking down to the harbour at Beadnell, but we strongly recommend you take time to visit it. This tiny haven is backed by large lime kilns which were stacked high with lobster pots, providing an atmospheric (and sheltered) lunch spot.
To the east the Farne Islands lay low on the horizon all day. Even now, in early February, one kiosk in Seahouses was selling tickets for a boat tour of the rocks but the biting wind and choppy seas deemed the prospect highly unlikely.
Between Seahouses and Bamburgh the Northumberland Coast Path's official route runs about half a mile inland from the shore but we stayed on the sands. It was easy walking with only one minor challenge: clambering up and across the sand dunes beneath the impressive Bamburgh Castle.
Friday, 7 February 2014
Alnmouth → Craster
The final push begins here. We're back on the coast, with a short week of walking ahead, hopefully culminating with the completion of England's coastline next Saturday. With only fifty miles or so to go, can anything go wrong now?
The weather looks set to do its best to trip us up. A series of heavy storms have battered the country since late December, and they've not let up yet. That being said, we've had a remarkably dry day today, enabling us to complete this short warm-up walk as a prelude to the rest of the week.
On the other hand, one might consider this walk to be very representative of Northumberland's coastline: the odd golf course and caravan site interspersed with sandy beaches and secluded coves (Iron Scars near Howick was particularly beautiful).
At Craster our nostrils were filled with a sweet scent reminiscent of pancakes and maple syrup. In fact it was Robson & Sons' Smokehouse, where kippers are a speciality. Clouds of smoke billowed out of the shutters at the top of the building, meaning a purchase was inevitable, even though we plumped for salmon rather than the classic kippers.
Monday, 3 February 2014
Middlesbrough → Port Clarence
There was a gap. This needed rectifying. I could've chosen to brush it under the carpet, claim that it doesn't count. But under my rules that would've been cheating. And before this month is out I want to be able to look you in the eye and say I've walked England's entire coastline, so I had to head north today.
Back in September we'd hoped to walk from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool, starting with a flight across the iconic Tees Transporter Bridge. En route we discovered that the bridge had closed just a few days before, for four weeks' painting. "Never mind," I thought, "we can slot that bit in on our way up to Northumberland in the New Year." In December the local council (who operate the bridge) finally admitted that four weeks was a little optimistic, and the bridge would finally re-open late in the Spring.
So today I've travelled all day to walk upstream to the next bridge, in order to complete a walk that finished just a few hundred metres across the water from its start.
A short distance upstream from the Transporter on the south bank is Teesosaurus Park: an area of open land which has been visited by large steel dinosaur figures. It seems fitting: this area used to be packed with ironworks, but they're all gone now, leaving only occasional relics such as the bridges.
The Transporter isn't Middlesbrough's only curious bridge. I crossed the Tees on the Newport Bridge, an iron girder design whose entire central span could be lifted high into the air by counterweights dangling from huge chains and cables to let ships pass. Its lifting mechanism has been retired now, leaving another iron fossil with its feet in the river.
The north bank is full of industry. Mainly chemical works now, but it's still possible to see the silted up docks where ships were once built. They construct offshore wind turbines here now: dinosaurs of the future maybe.
Towards the end of the walk I reached residential streets again. High Clarence and Port Clarence have suffered badly. The first row of houses I saw had a v-shaped gap where two had been burnt out recently. Every terrace had at least one boarded up property, and on one street every house was shuttered. Houses here are auctioned with incredibly low starting prices: less than £10,000 at times. With industry largely absent, and the main link to Middlesbrough being the unreliable Transporter it's perhaps no surprise.
I'm no longer shocked at the sight of horses abandoned on the verges, and grimy, derelict land. These things aren't representative of the North-East, but I've come to expect them. This last year walking up from Skegness has shown me a face of England that I'd never known before.
Thursday, 23 January 2014
The date is set
Exciting news: we will cross the border very soon. We've set a date, so this is your last opportunity to let me know if you're going to join our small band of walkers on the final coast walk in England.
Please join us — it'd be so much better with you there.