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Entries about river

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)

Villages by the Coquet

Warkworth and Amble

Warkworth

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Warkworth

I think Warkworth is one of the most attractive villages in Northumberland, with its long main street dominated at one end by an impressive castle and at the other crossing the pretty River Coquet in the shadow of the spire of St Lawrence. There are traditional pubs and tea-shops, some interesting shops and a pleasant walk to the sea.

The village is almost completely contained within a loop of the river – it is almost like being on an island. Built in the local honey-coloured stone it is a pretty sight as you look down from the top (near the castle), although parked cars somewhat mar the view.

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The River Coquet in Warkworth

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The medieval bridge gatehouse

At the foot of the main street the river is crossed by an ancient bridge with a fortified gateway. A plaque on the bridge reads:

‘This XIV century fortified bridge over the River Coquet has carried all traffic for almost 600 years and replaced an earlier stone arched bridge on the same site. The bridge and the tower are scheduled as ancient monuments.

The new bridge was built by Northumberland County Council and opened on the 8th May 1965 by Alderman D Dawson O.B.E., chairman of the Highways Committee’

The new bridge mentioned in the plaque today carries all road traffic, but it’s still possible to walk across the old bridge. From here you can get some lovely views of the river and the village beyond.

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View from the bridge

Nearby is the village church, dedicated to St Lawrence, which you can see in my photo of the view from the bridge, below.

This dates back to Norman times, having been built in the 12th century on the site of an earlier wooden Anglo Saxon church which is thought to have been destroyed by Viking raids in 875 AD. Perhaps partly because of this the Normans built their church to serve not only as a place of worship but also of shelter, providing sanctuary for the villagers in times of danger. It has very thick walls, with very narrow high windows to keep out the enemy.

Sadly, however, this didn’t prevent the deaths of 300 inhabitants who took refuge here when Donnchad II, Earl of Fife entered Warkworth in 1174 and set fire to the town.

The spire and belfry below it were added in the 14th century and the porch in the 15th.

Warkworth Castle

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Warkworth Castle gatehouse

The origins of Warkworth Castle are a little uncertain. Traditionally its construction has been ascribed to Prince Henry of Scotland in the mid 12th century, but it may have been built by King Henry II of England when he took control of England's northern counties a little later in the same century. In the 14th century it came into the hands of the eminent local family, the Percys, at first Barons and later Earls of Northumberland. It was the first Earl who commissioned the building of the castle keep.

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The castle wall

The castle has played its part in English history. During the Wars of the Roses the Percys supported the Lancastrian cause and for a while, under King Edward IV, Warkworth was confiscated, although he later relented and restored it to them. The castle formed the backdrop for several scenes in William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2. Later it came under royal control again, under Elizabeth I, because of the part the Catholic Percys played in the northern rebellion against her. Again it was restored to the family, but after the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605, the 9th Earl was imprisoned for his connection with Thomas Percy, one of the plotters. With the unification of England and Scotland under a single ruler, James I, the Earls of Northumberland had no need for two great castles near the border and maintained Alnwick at the expense of Warkworth, which gradually fell into ruin.

The last Percy Earl died in 1670. In the mid 18th century Hugh Smithson married the indirect Percy heiress. He adopted the name ‘Percy’ and founded the dynasty of the Dukes of Northumberland, through whom possession of the castle descended. But it was never fully restored, despite some efforts to repair the keep. Today the castle is under the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.

Beach near Warkworth

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Chapel by the path to the sea

If you cross the Coquet at the foot of the main street (whether by car on the new bridge or on foot via the old one) you will see a lane leading off to the right. A short drive along here is the car park for the beach, but it’s just as easy to walk from the village. You will pass the attractive cemetery chapel which dates from the mid 19th century and reminded me of Welsh chapels – I later read that its roof is of Welsh slate. Just beyond this is the long stay car park and from here you need to continue on foot unless you are heading for the caravan park that lies behind the dunes or the golf course.

If on foot it will take you about 15 minutes to reach the sea from the bridge. The lane dwindles to a path which leads over the sandy dunes to a wide beach from which you have views across to Coquet Island with its lighthouse. This island is protected as a bird reserve and can’t be visited, although boat trips from Amble encircle the shore and are popular especially during the puffins’ nesting season.

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Path through the dunes

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Dune landscape

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Warkworth beach, looking south
(you can see Coquet Island on the horizon)

Amble

Just downstream from Warkworth, at the mouth of the River Coquet, lies Amble. This is the base for boat trips to Coquet Island (although as I mentioned above, you aren’t able to land on the island). It has a fair-sized marina tucked into the shelter provided by the river’s estuary so is popular with the boating fraternity.

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Harbour scenes

In the past Amble served as a port for the export of coal from nearby collieries but its harbour was never large enough to compete with rivals along the coast. Sea-fishing and shop-building or repairs also supported the local economy, and both of these continue to some extent today, although the main focus is on boating and tourism.

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The Coquet estuary in Amble

It’s a nice place to stop for a walk if driving in these parts, with fine views of the river and Warkworth Castle beyond, several pubs offering refreshment and local award-winning ice cream makers Spurelli.

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The estuary with Warkworth Castle in the background

Posted by ToonSarah 03:53 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged beaches bridges boats castles history ruins views village river Comments (9)

Stephenson's birthplace

Wylam

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The River Tyne at Wylam

Wylam sits on the north bank of the River Tyne and was the birthplace of one of Northumberland’s most famous sons, George Stephenson, one of the early railway pioneers and inventor of the Rocket. Although it was once an industrial village, with several collieries and an ironworks, it is now mainly residential. It makes a nice day out from Newcastle as it offers pretty walks by the river, a couple of pubs, and a visit to Stephenson’s Cottage. The latter is operated by the National Trust and has a good tea room with a pretty garden.

By the River Tyne

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Flowers by the Tyne

A footpath and cycle path leading east out of the village, known as the Wylam Waggonway, follows the river bank for some distance.

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Information board

There are meadows leading down to the water, perfect for a picnic in fine weather and with benches so you can sit and watch the water flow past – very restful. These meadows are a protected site as they constitute relatively rare Calaminarian grassland. A sign along the path explains that such grasslands are only found where the soil is rich in heavy metals. These are the legacy of the mining industry, when mining spoil was washed away and deposited by the Tyne and Allen rivers. Normally environments rich in toxic metals (like lead, cadmium, copper) would not support thriving plant communities but Calaminarian grasslands have been populated by metal-loving plants known as metallophiles, such as mountain pansy, spring sandwort and alpine penny-cress. Other plants such as thyme and bladder campion have also adapted to the conditions and grow here. Only 93 hectares of Calaminarian grassland can be found in the whole of the UK, so this is a rather special spot.

Stephenson’s Cottage

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Stephenson's Cottage

Stephenson’s Cottage lies about three quarters of a mile east of the village, along the river path. This is where he was born, in June 1781, and where he lived for the first eight years of his life. It is now owned by the National Trust but currently (2017) closed while they evaluate its future – sadly it seems it has been receiving too few visitors and they need to rethink how they operate it. Unfortunately, this means that the tea room and pretty garden, where we had lunch on our latest visit to Wylam, are also currently closed. Hopefully this will not be permanent.

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At Stephenson's Cottage

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At Stephenson's Cottage

George Stephenson’s father, Robert, was the fireman for Wylam Colliery pumping engine and illiterate. George had little schooling and as a child was also illiterate, but when he started work himself, as an engineman at Water Row Pit in Newburn, he paid to study at night school to learn reading, writing and arithmetic. Despite this, and despite his considerable success in developing early locomotives he was always regarded with suspicion by the scientific elite of his time, mainly due to his broad Northumbrian dialect. He invented a safety lamp for miners, rivalling that of Humphrey Davy, but never received the credit he deserved.

Incidentally, one theory behind the nickname Geordie used for people from Newcastle is that the miners in the north east, who used Stephenson’s lamp rather than Davy’s, called it a Geordie Lamp after its inventor (Geordie being a popular diminutive for George) and the name spread to mean first of all any local miner and later any local.

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In the garden of Stephenson's Cottage

Later George was inspired the work of Richard Trevithick, a Cornishman who is credited with the first realistic design for a steam locomotive in 1802 and who later designed an engine for a north east mine owner. He designed his first locomotive in 1814, a travelling engine designed for hauling coal on the Killingworth wagonway. He went on to build the 8 mile (13 km) Hetton colliery railway, which was the first railway to use no animal power and opened in 1822, and to set up a company in Newcastle to manufacture locomotives. This company produced the famous engine known as Locomotion, for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which although designed to haul coal became the first engine to pull passenger cars. The gauge Stephenson chose for this line, 4 feet 8.5 inches (1,435 mm) was subsequently adopted as the standard gauge for railways, not only in Britain, but throughout the world.

But his most famous achievement was the invention of the locomotive Rocket, which won a contest to build engines for the first steam passenger railway, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Stephenson became famous and went on to build more engines, design railways and bridges, and to become the first president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1847. A far cry from his modest beginnings here in Wylam!

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Farmland near Stephenson's Cottage

Posted by ToonSarah 06:24 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged landscapes flowers history views village river garden Comments (8)

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