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Wet and wild near the city

Druridge Bay

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Panorama from the dunes - Druridge Bay

With a beach that stretches for seven miles, Druridge Bay feels wild and remote – until you look at the horizon to the south and see the signs of industry that remind you that you are only a few miles from urbanised Tyneside.

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Blyth from Druridge Bay

But although you will see signs of industry close to here, on the beach itself you will feel pleasantly cut off from the modern world. There are rock pools to explore and some great views along the coast. It’s an excellent place for kite flying as it is nearly always windy, and when the sun shines, winter or summer, it makes for a wonderful walk, whether you just stroll a few hundred yards or walk the whole seven miles.

On the beach

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Druridge Bay, looking north

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And south

This is not a conventional seaside resort. There are no amusements, no restaurants or cafés, no deck-chairs for hire, etc. But the caravan sites at the bay's northern and southern ends, and a variety of B&B and self-catering accommodation in the area, make it a reasonably popular place for summer holidays. Visitors then can enjoy surfing as well as the traditional beach activities of ball games, kite-flying and of course building sandcastles. You need to be a bit hardy to venture into the chilly North Sea, but on a hot day many do so.

But we prefer to visit in the winter. This is the perfect spot to go for a long walk, maybe on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day, to clear the head and enjoy some fresh air and wonderful sea views. You can walk just a few yards, or do the whole seven miles (if you don’t mind walking another seven back to your car!) The light will almost certainly be lovely, whatever the weather, and while you won’t have the beach to yourself you will certainly have plenty of room should you want to warm up with a ball game or to fly a kite. It’s also popular with dog walkers as their pets are allowed to run free here (but please make sure you clean up after them and note that there are restrictions on the dunes during bird-nesting season).

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Winter walks

This is a great time for photography too. The light as I’ve said is lovely, the views are extensive, but there are also lots of details in the plant life, rock pools (most only exposed at low tide) and among the dunes. I always come home with some images that really please me.

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Low tide at Druridge

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Rock pool detail

War-time defences

The bay is backed by a line of dunes. When you first cross these and arrive on the beach you’ll probably notice these large concrete blocks half-buried in the sand, parallel to the dunes. These are anti-tank blocks which were placed here during the Second World War when this was considered a probable spot for the feared German invasion.

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Wartime defences

There’s an interesting photo in the visitor centre which shows how locals used to graffiti the blocks with messages such as ‘STOP!’ and ‘Hitler’s Christmas Box’ (with an image of a coffin!) Other defences included pillboxes (disguised as little huts and some still standing) and behind the dunes, minefields and an anti-tank ditch.

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Pillbox in the dunes

Behind the dunes

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Winter scene in the dunes

Behind the dunes is a series of lakes, the relicts of the former extensive open-cast mining that was once prevalent here. These attract a large number of sea-birds and waders and have hides for bird-watching.

The mining is long gone, and Druridge today is protected through a country park at its northern end and several nature reserves. Part of the beach is also under National Trust ownership, which affords the area a degree of protection.

Druridge is well-known for its birdlife and is a very popular spot for serious birdwatchers as well as those, like ourselves, who just enjoy seeing and photographing birds without really knowing a lot about them! There is a good variety of habitats, from woodland and scrubby to freshwater ponds, reed-beds and of course the beach and dunes.

Druridge Pools

About halfway up the bay is a nature reserve centred around a couple of the ponds formed in the former open-cast mining pits known as Druridge Pools (there are also pools further south, near Cresswell). The site consists of a deep lake to the north of the footpath and two wet fields to the south.

You can park on the road here and follow the path which leads beside the water to a couple of hides. Only the one that overlooks the fields was open when we were last here (December 2014) but it was enough to afford some cover and shelter from the wind while taking photos of the nearest pool, although we didn’t see much in the way of birdlife during what was, admittedly, a fairly short visit – just a flock of geese flying overhead and a cute stonechat who flew away before I could catch him properly on camera.

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At Druridge Pools

If you’re able to gain access, the other hide appears to be larger and looks towards the lake. The Wildlife Trust website describes the bird-life as follows:

‘The lake supports large flocks of wintering wildfowl, mostly wigeon and teal but including goldeneye; wading birds feed along the shores. The two adjacent wet fields are very good feeding sites, especially for snipe, redshank and teal, along with occasional rarities such as pectoral sandpiper and black-winged stilt.’

Even if you don't see many birds this is an excellent place for photography, especially on a bright winter's day.

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Plant life at Druridge Pools, December

Druridge Country Park

At the northern end of the bay lies a country park (incidentally, the only part of Druridge where you have to pay for parking your car). It has a small visitor centre which provides information about the area in the form of quite simple display boards and a good range of leaflets. There are local interest books for sale, some child-friendly gift items and a friendly but far from fancy café, Cuddy’s.

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Visitor centre, inside and out

There are also the essential toilets, and plenty of picnic tables, some with views of the nearby lake, where you can take out items from the café or bring your own supplies to enjoy an al fresco meal or snack. Note though that the café and shop are only open at weekends and during school holidays, while the toilets and information area are open daily from 9.30am to 4.30pm. The visitor centre is wheelchair accessible, apart from the upper viewing floor which promises extensive views of the park but which we found disappointing.

Ladyburn Lake

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By Ladyburn Lake

Also in the country park is what I believe to be the largest of the string of lakes that lie just behind Druridge Bay, all formed from what were once open cast mining pits. This is Ladyburn Lake – not suitable for swimming but popular for boating (windsurfers and non-motorised boats only, for which permits are required, available at the visitor centre). Sailing, windsurfing and canoeing courses are held here in summer. No watersports are allowed in the autumn and winter to protect the birds.

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Black-headed gull (winter plumage)

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Swan, and Black-headed gull

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Moorhen

You can walk right round the lake (approximately 2km or 1.5 miles). We haven’t done this yet (we ran out of time on our visit to this part of Druridge) but hope to do so soon. But we did spend some time down by the water photographing the very many birds which tend to congregate near the jetty, where they have learned to expect that visitors may feed them. On our visit here we saw swans; black-headed gulls (in their winter plumage so without the black heads that give them their name); coots; moorhens; mallards; Canada and white geese (and one Greylag); and wigeon.

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Cygnet

Posted by ToonSarah 06:04 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged lakes beaches birds wildlife views weather photography seas seabirds Comments (13)

Of kippers and castles

Craster and Dunstanburgh

Craster

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Sign on the old smoke house in Craster

Were it not for one thing there would be little to distinguish Craster from several other pretty Northumberland coastal villages. It has a small harbour with strong walls to shelter the boats from the North Sea, stone cottages clustered around, a pub, a couple of cafés … But as soon as you park in the car park on the edge of the village (which lies in a disused quarry by the way) and take the footpath between the houses to reach the centre, you can smell the distinctive Craster scent of smoking fish. For Craster is the home of the kipper, or smoked herring. The Robson family have been curing herrings here for over a hundred years, and still do so in the original 1856 smokehouse. You can taste this delicacy in their restaurant, as well as in other establishments around the village, but they are also exported around the country and beyond.

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In a Craster garden

The Robsons’ website explains the process:

‘First, the herring are split on a machine capable of splitting 500kg per hour, this replaces the numerous “herring girls” that used to split the herring by hand. Then the herring are placed in a brine solution of plain salt and water for a predetermined length of time depending on their size and, lastly, they are hung on tenter hooks and placed in the cavernous smokehouses. Fires are placed under the rows of herring made of whitewood shavings and oak sawdust and these smoulder away for up to 16 hours before the kippers are ready.’

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Art gallery

If you like fish, do try a kipper when in Craster, but even if you don’t the village is worth a visit. The harbour is very picturesque, there’s an art gallery selling very good local works (I bought a hand-made silver necklace there quite recently) and it is also the starting point for a lovely coastal walk, easy enough to be managed by almost anyone, although wheelchair users and those pushing buggies/strollers would struggle. This is the one mile walk through the fields to Dunstanburgh Castle – more of that shortly.

Craster is named after the Craster family who owned this estate from 1272 to 1965. The harbour was built to commemorate the death of a member of the family who died in 1904, while serving in the army in Tibet. You can see his memorial on the harbour wall. The much taller structure at the end of the harbour was used to lift stone from the nearby quarry on to boats in the harbour to be shipped to London where it was used for kerb stones. The quarry was shut down in 1939 and, as well as being in part used for the car park, it is also now a nature reserve. There is a footpath through the woods here but we are yet to follow it, as our favourite walk is the one to the castle.

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The harbour

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View of Dunstanburgh Castle from the harbour

The walk to Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle lies one mile north of Craster and is only accessible on foot, via an easy walk through a few sheep-filled fields along the coast. Even without a castle at the end of it this would be a lovely walk, with the waves of the North Sea lapping (or crashing on to, depending on weather and season) the pebble shore and rocks to your right, and the gentle folds of the fields to your left.

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On the walk to Dunstanburgh Castle

Part way along, last time we made the walk, people have created a group of small cairns. Some may frown upon this human rearrangement of nature, others feel moved to add to it. I simply found it an interesting photographic stop along the way.

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Little cairns and stone patterns near Craster

On this occasion there was a sea fret (mist) and the castle was invisible from Craster, although normally you can see your destination clearly as you walk (the photo higher up this page was taken on a previous, less misty day).

But today the ruins emerged only slowly, and atmospherically, from the mist.

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Dunstanburgh Castle in the mist

Dunstanburgh Castle

If you prefer your castles in picturesque ruins, rather than the almost intact state of, say, Bamburgh, you will like Dunstanburgh. It was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster between 1313 and 1322 on the site of a former Iron Age Fort. He was leading a rebellion against the king, Edward II, and needed a place of refuge should things turn nasty. And turn nasty they did, when he was captured at the Battle of Boroughbridge without ever being able to reach Dunstanburgh. The castle become the property of the crown and later passed to John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, who expanded it to serve as a possible defence against attack from Scotland. It changed hands several times during the Wars of the Roses and was damaged during a succession of sieges, so by the 16th century was already in a state of decay. The ruins attracted artists, most notably Turner and Thomas Girtin.

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The gatehouse, Dunstanburgh Castle

The most notable structure is the great Gatehouse, three storeys high and still impressive despite its ruined state. It give some sense of the grandeur of the castle, which was the largest in Northumberland.

The castle is today owned by the National Trust, who of course charge for admission (£6 for adults, 2018 price). On this recent visit we decided against going in, and unfortunately I have no photos from past visits (way back in pre-digital days), so for now these misty exterior shots will have to suffice to illustrate this entry.

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Wall to the right of the gatehouse, with the Constable Tower

Posted by ToonSarah 03:42 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged castles food fish harbour coast hiking history village weather Comments (12)

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