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At the river’s mouth

Alnmouth

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Marram grass, dunes

In a county famed for its wide open sandy beaches, Alnmouth boasts one of the best. It also boasts the smallest museum in the country (probably) and one of the oldest golf courses.

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Pub sign

This attractive village lies on the beautiful Northumberland coast, about halfway between Newcastle upon Tyne and the Scottish border, just a few miles east of Alnwick. Once a bustling port exporting grain, it has today a more relaxed atmosphere where boating for fun has taken the place of trade, and families come to enjoy a seaside holiday away from the crowds of the bigger resorts.

This would be a good place to base yourself if you want a relaxing holiday exploring the beauties of Northumberland and enjoying the wonderful coast. While sun and heat cannot be guaranteed in these parts, on a nice day the scenery is hard to beat, and even in bad weather the sea and dunes provide a backdrop for a bracing walk, before holing up in one of the village’s several cosy traditional pubs.

Choose your beach carefully

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Warning sign

Alnmouth has a wonderful beach and on a sunny day (which in these parts can’t be guaranteed) it is a lovely spot for bathing, paddling and beach fun of all kinds. But at the southern end where it borders on the river estuary, it is not safe for any water activities, as this sign makes clear, due to the strong and highly dangerous rip tides. If you just want to walk and enjoy the views, this is a beautiful spot, but if you want to go in the sea, even for just a paddle (or as the locals would say, a ‘plodge’) you should go further away from the river. Obey the signs and you’ll be safe.

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Beach and estuary

But you may not be very warm! This is after all the North Sea and even on a sunny day the water will be cool if not cold. You need to be reasonable hardy to fancy a dip here, though a barefoot walk through the waves can be refreshing on a warm day.

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View of Coquet Island from the beach

The River Aln

As the name suggests, Alnmouth sits at the mouth of the River Aln, the same river that lends its name to Alnwick too, a few miles upstream. The village lies on the north bank of the estuary at a point where it curves almost 180 degrees to spill into the sea across the wide sands of Alnmouth Bay. But it hasn’t always followed this course. The village once had a large harbour and was a busy port exporting grain (and with a fair amount of smuggling going on too!). But on Christmas Day in 1806 a violent storm changed the course of the river, causing it to cut off the southernmost part of the village, Church Hill, and cut through the dunes to the sea. The old channel silted up and sand dunes gradually sealed off the old estuary and port. Despite this the shipping trade continued for a while at least. By the mid 19th century however ships were getting larger and were being made from iron and steel rather than wood. They could no longer use the new shallower channel, nor moor on the sandy beach, and trade declined. The grain export business dried up and the old granaries were turned to other uses – one became a chapel, others were converted into houses, many of which can still be seen today.

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River Aln estuary

The river meanwhile ensured that Alnmouth still had a future, but as a place for leisure rather than trade. The nearby railway station brought day trippers and holiday-makers, and wealthy people from Newcastle and elsewhere in Northumberland had holiday homes here.

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A 'boaty' community

Today the estuary is full of small boats whose owners appreciate the shelter provided by the dunes and the community of like-minded ‘boaty people’.

Church Hill

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Church Hill

When the Christmas storm of 1806 cut off Alnmouth’s southernmost point from the rest of the village, it also destroyed the old Anglo Saxon church that sat on the hill and gave it its name. Even before then though the church had suffered a lot of erosion from the river undercutting the hill and it was already in a state of collapse. The storm was just the last straw. It would not be until 1876 that a new church, St John the Baptist, would be built on Northumberland Street. Meanwhile the Duke of Northumberland (whose seat is at nearby Alnwick Castle) took pity on the villagers and bought former granary which he had converted into a temporary church. This is now the Hindmarsh Village Hall, near the lower end of Northumberland Street.

Church Hill is topped with a cross known as St Cuthbert’s Cross. It marks the spot where it is believed that the Synod of Twyford took place. The Northumbrian monk, Bede, recorded that in AD 684, a church meeting was held at the place with two fords at the mouth of the river Aln, fitting the description of this spot. It was at this meeting that St Cuthbert was made Bishop of Lindisfarne.

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St. Cuthbert's Cross

Two fragments of an Anglo Saxon cross were found here in 1789, dating from the 9th or 10th century, further proof of the religious significance of this spot. For some time after the loss of the church the site continued to be used as a graveyard and various vestiges remain – a couple of gravestones, the ruins of a mortuary chapel and the concrete remains of a house built for the sexton in 1879 (a very early use of the material for a house). In the latter part of the 19th century the occupant also doubled up as ferryman, transporting woodworkers from their homes in Alnmouth to the sawmill at Waterside on the other bank of the Aln.

Today Church Hill and its cross form a distinctive back-drop to photos of the river estuary, but if you want to visit it you will need to access it from the south bank of the Aln where apparently a track leads from the main road, the A1068, down to the sea and an almost deserted beach. We will try to find it some time ...

The Ferry Hut

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The Ferry Hut

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Looking out from the Ferry Hut

If you follow Riverside Road that leads along the estuary of the Aln you will come across this picturesque old wooden shack. This is the Ferry Hut, which was erected to provide shelter for the ferryman who used to row passengers across the river (a service that was unfortunately discontinued in the 1960s).

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Flowers in the dunes

The hut has been restored and now houses what is thought to be the smallest museum in Northumberland, and probably in the whole country. Its tiny space is filled with old photos and local memorabilia. Entry is free and it stands open every day. Both hut and collection are looked after, paid for, and maintained by a dedicated local resident. Do go inside for a look around and while there, sign the visitors’ book so there’s a record of your visit.

Posted by ToonSarah 09:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged beaches boats history village river museum Comments (8)

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