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Entries about seaside

A castle by the sea

Bamburgh

Bamburgh Castle

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Bamburgh Castle from the south

One of the grandest sights on the Northumbrian coastline is that of Bamburgh Castle. It is a view that I never tire of.

The castle stands on a massive outcrop of rock and towers over the sands below. Unlike many castles on this coast, it is still a family home, and thus far more complete than the ruins elsewhere. It is truly an impressive sight.

There has been a castle at Bamburgh since the sixth century, when the site was chosen as the Royal capital by the kings of Northumbria. And it is easy to see why this site would be chosen. It has commanding views over the coast – a coast that was vulnerable to attack from Vikings and others. And the basalt outcrop on which the successive castles have stood is one of the most prominent landmarks along that coast.

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Bamburgh Castle from the dunes

Talking though of the Vikings, in 993 they succeeded in destroying the original fort. The Normans built a new castle on the same site, which forms the core of the present one. It was a royal possession for centuries, and an important element in the defence of England against the Scots, with the border just a few miles to the north. In 1464, during the Wars of the Roses, it was the first castle in England to be defeated by artillery, at the end of a nine-month siege by the Earl of Warwick.

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Views of the castle from the beach

For 400 years the castle remained in royal hands, with the local Forster family serving as governors. Eventually the castle was made over to them. But in 1700 the then owner, Sir William Forster, died bankrupt and the castle, along with all his other possessions, was handed over to the Bishop of Durham as settlement of his debts. The castle fell into disrepair but was restored by various owners during the following centuries, and was finally bought by the Victorian industrialist William Armstrong, who completed the restoration. It still belongs to the Armstrong family, who maintain it and open it for the public to view. Its grandeur makes it much in demand as a film location, and it has featured in films such as Ivanhoe (1952), El Cid (1961), Mary, Queen of Scots (1972), and Elizabeth (1998).

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Bamburgh Castle from the village

If you like your castles to be romantically ruined, this is maybe not the one for you. But if you like to see a building largely intact and strong, still standing proudly above the coast it once defended so effectively, Bamburgh is indeed an impressive sight.

A walk on the beach

But there is more to Bamburgh than its castle, dominant though that is. There are wonderful beaches that even on the sunniest of summer days are relatively uncrowded, and in winter are almost deserted.

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Bamburgh Castle from the beach

This has to be one of the most glorious beaches in England! A wide expanse of sand over which the castle watches protectively as it has done for centuries. There are dunes to provide shelter from the sometimes chilly winds off the North Sea, a few rock pools to explore, great views of distant Holy Island and the slightly nearer Farne Islands, and enough sand to build sandcastles to rival the “real” stone one!

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Lindisfarne Castle from Bamburgh beach

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Inner Farne viewed from the dunes

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Castle and old mill from the dunes

And it is never crowded. When we visited most recently on a warm August weekday, there was a sprinkling of families in the area nearest to the castle, but even here there was more than enough space for everyone. And if you’re prepared to walk along the sands a little, you could easily find a large section to call your own. Off-season, the beach is popular with walkers, but again, by popular I mean that there will always be a handful here, whatever the weather, and maybe on a bright sunny day you will encounter a dozen or more on your walk across the sand.

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Seaweed on the beach

South of the village is another fine stretch of sand, with (I think) the two connected at low tide. Here there is a convenient car park so the beach gets a little busier, but is still quiet compared with other parts of the country. The reason? The North Sea is very chilly, and only the braver beach-goers will swim there, though small children seem happy to ignore the chill and splash happily in the shallows. And a cold plunge is perhaps a small price to pay for a day on such a glorious beach!

In the village

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Village street with Copper Kettle tea-rooms

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In the Copper Kettle

In addition to the castle there is an excellent museum in the village devoted to local heroine, Grace Darling. Add some quaint old cottages and a sprinkling of tea shops (our favourite is the Copper Kettle), pubs and gift-shops, and you can see that it is a great place to spend a day. It's also an excellent base for a holiday in this lovely region of England, with the beautiful and rather mystical Holy Island within easy reach, as well as other castles such as Alnwick and several pretty coastal towns and villages.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:53 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged landscapes beaches castles history views village seaside Comments (11)

By the sea

Beadnell

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By the sea in Beadnell

The small village of Beadnell lies on the Northumberland coast three miles south of better-known Seahouses. The village grew up based on local industries of coal and lime (and smuggling!), and later small-scale fishing. While the harbour still operates, today the main economy is tourism, and, perhaps unfortunately, nearly every house in the village is holiday accommodation or a second home for ‘townies’ from Newcastle or beyond. This means that in winter it is almost deserted, with only a few year-round residents, while in summer the population swells, helped too by the large caravan park nearby.

Around the harbour

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The harbour

Beadnell’s harbour is located about half a mile south of the main village and has an unusual claim to fame – it is the only west-facing harbour on the east coast of England (look at a map if you’re struggling to visualise this!) The large structures above the harbour, seen in the background of my photo above, are 18th century lime kilns – Beadnell’s industrial heritage is in coal and lime (and smuggling – in 1762 a famous smuggling haul here captured 2,700 gallons of illegal brandy!)

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The lime kilns

Limestone was quarried in various parts of northern Northumberland and brought to the coast along with coal. Here the limestone and coal were fed into the tops of the kilns at a ratio of five parts limestone to one part coal. After burning at temperatures over 1,000 degrees centigrade the lime would fall to the base of the kiln from where it could be raked out once cooled and loaded on to boats in the harbour. But by 1827 the coal and lime industry began to decline and the lime-kilns fell into decay. Small-scale fishing took over, and although this too has since declined some boats still go out from this harbour, which was gifted to local fishermen in 1947 by the owner, Sir John Craster.

Beadnell Bay

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Beadnell Bay

South of the harbour lies the long sweep of Beadnell Bay, lined with sand dunes and with wonderful views south towards the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. This is a popular spot for water-sports – boating, kite surfing, kayaking, wind surfing and wake boarding. It is also a great beach for holidaying families, who can set up for the day in the shelter of the dunes with lots of space where children can run around, play ball games and build sandcastles. The North Sea is never warm but on a hot day a dip is welcome.

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Dunstanburgh Castle from Beadnell Bay

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In the dunes

The middle part of the bay is an important nesting site for birds – Little Terns, Arctic Terns and Ringed Plovers. For the three months from May onwards the site is fenced off and National Trust rangers maintain a 24 hour watch for the nesting birds, protecting them from predators such as badgers and foxes, and monitoring their progress. Visitors are welcome but have to stay behind the fences – there is a viewing platform erected so you can see what is happening, and the rangers will tell you all about the birds. We’ve not yet visited at this time of year but I’d love to do so one day.

The bay hit the headlines in 2010 when sadly a sperm whale was beached here and died, having to be guarded to prevent people from stealing its ivory teeth (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/tyne/8481898.stm).

There’s a car park at the northern end of the beach, near the caravan park. I’ve read online that there’s a fee for parking, but when we were there a sign clearly said, ‘free all day’.

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Gypsy caravan at Beadnell Bay

Beadnell Beach

In addition to the wide expanse of Beadnell Bay, there is another accessible from the northern part of the village which stretches from there north to Seahouses. This is a great spot for rock-pooling, and there are wonderful views north to the Farne Islands and to Bamburgh Castle beyond.

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Farne view with (barely visible) puffins!

There are lots of sea-birds here – we even spotted a couple of puffins, although it was rather late in the season. We found the rock formations and colourful seaweeds made for some great photo opps, and if you want to bring a picnic it’s only yards from the small village shop.

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Rock formations and seaweeds on Beadnell Beach

Beadnell village

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Scallops and octopus
at the Saltwater Café

The village itself is split into two parts – one clustered around the harbour and the other a little to the north nearer the main road. The latter part seems to have most of the available accommodation (we stayed in a great B&B, Haven House) and some good options for dining out. I especially liked the Saltwater Café, which was newly opened at the time of our visit (2016) and served excellent seafood and local meat.

The only building of significant historical interest in this part of the village is the church, St Ebba’s. This dates from the mid 18th century and has some interesting gargoyles. It is dedicated to the sister of King (later Saint) Oswald, who ruled Northumbria in the 7th century. Like her brother she was a convert to Christianity and later became a nun, founding a convent on the site of an old Roman fort at Ebchester, as well as one to the south south of St Abbs Head, which is also named after her. Though this is now in Scotland, at the time it was in an area that was very much part of Northumbria.

The church is thought to have been built as a replacement for a 12th century chapel dedicated to St Ebba which stood on a promontory called Ebb's Nook near Beadnell Harbour. It occupies a prominent spot at the western end of the village (furthest from the sea), with the main village street weaving around it. It is also near here that you'll find the several restaurants I mentioned.

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St Ebba's church

Posted by ToonSarah 06:59 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged beaches birds castles restaurant history views church village seaside seas seabirds Comments (8)

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