A shrinking coastline

Rest Day, 11th October: Filey

With Sue and Diesy heading off after their second full week of looking after me, I was truly in their debt….well maybe not so much Diesy’s debt. He had a great week with miles of great walks, plenty of canine friends to sniff and more than a few bonus treats.

So for a genuine change, I had quite a relaxing day as Kate was already on board and took over mothering me by doing many of the chores I had become accustomed to doing myself on changeover days. It even gave us time to nip into Filey for the evening and treat ourselves to a chinese and a good one at that.

Stage 199, 12th October: Filey to Bridlington

With another heavy dew accompanied by a low hanging mist it was down to Hummanby Sands for a brief and chilly beach stroll before dipping inland to follow the only accessible OS marked route across farmland for the villages of Reighton and Speeton. The long grass liberally soaked my lower legs and feet and my first steps through the cobwebs draped silk around my walking pole and calves like fine flowing tassels.

The sun quickly burnt the early mist away as I made my way back to the coast joining the Headland Way and a walk across the top of Bempton Cliffs, reportedly home to the largest colony of gannets on the UK mainland. Twitchers and walkers now outnumbered the birds and only increased in number as I approached Flamborough Head which added Sunday strollers and anglers to the bright Sunday afternoon throng. The sheer number of anglers was a surprise and they gathered in droves on the rocks and in small inshore boats all dangling a hopeful line into the water, though I didn’t see one pull anything in. I love sea fishing too, but for me the pleasure is in fishing alone and without someone commenting upon my ineptitude or taking to bait advice. I like to learn by my own mistakes.

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The walk along the cliff edge down into Bridlington slowly shallowed out until I was on the promenade with its diesel-powered land train, noisy fun fair and late afternoon ambling families. One overheard conversation between a young couple made me smile.
“Have you ever been on the Spotty Boat in London?” he asked as they watched a power boat twisting and turning a few yards offshore.
“I’ve never been to London.” she replied.
“Never?” he queried.
“No, you’ve only ever taken me to seaside towns.” she sniped.
“You’ve been to Manchester.” he snapped as a riposte.
“Only to the airport.” she said with finality.

I met up with Kate at the harbour and we indulged ourselves with a 99 cone, a rare treat with the season closing in. I wondered if hot pies and pasties would be more likely from here on.

Stage 200, 13th October: Bridlington to Aldbrough

The wind had got up significantly overnight and the sky had a threatening murk. Nonetheless, it was dry to start and I made my way through the regiments of static caravans to rejoin the beach. I was hoping for a personal record-breaking beach walk all the way to Aldbrough today, but the tide was only just turning to go out and it was a high spring tide.

With no option, I dipped inland and crossed farmland again to round another static caravan park. By the time I returned to the cliff I was now in a land suffering from serious coastal erosion. Once a seaside road, not any more. Once a garden, now on the beach. Once a house? Some pessimistically say that they can expect to lose up to ten metres of land a year to the sea. In truth I think the figure is closer to two metres, but either way it’s still a fair chunk of land and very tough for some people who have lived on this part of the coast all of their life to see nature slowly but very surely take what they thought was theirs. They must dread each storm and high tide and another one was very imminent.

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I found a few homemade steps taking me down the muddy cliff  and onto a mixed shingle and sand beach which looked very bleak and rarely walked. The rain finally decided to break free from the heavy clouds and washed in over my left shoulder with a gusting wind picking up speed by the minute to push me forwards at pace down the beach. It was a beach rich with pebbles and a few fossils, but it wasn’t the weather to linger. Fortunately the MOD range I had planned to divert around was open, so I stayed on the beach all the way to Aldbrough. A steep slippery climb up a muddy cliff took me to Kate waiting in Snickers and feeling decidedly sea-sick at the violent buffeting it was taking from the gale now battering in. I suspected that we might be in for a restless night so we moved Snickers to the leeward side of a building to give some shelter from the onslaught that began as the evening drew in.

Stage 201, 14th October: Aldbrough to Kilnsea

My suspicions were well founded as the night had brought torrential rain and a wind that I hadn’t experienced since Bertha struck back on the West of Scotland. A few of the nearby static caravans, which had temporarily been moved away from the cliff edge, had made a break for freedom but none had suffered any damage. The same couldn’t be said for the cliffs.

I returned to the cliff edge for an inspection. The wind was still raging but the rain had mercifully abated and only sea spray made me keep my waterproofs on as I briefly stuck to the cliff top. There was no chance of walking back on the beach for a while as the tide was still far too high and the waves were literally washing chunks of cliff face away before my eyes. With no coast path to follow I took to farmland again and a diversion inland around the village of Grimston.

As I regretfully approached a road junction I heard jogging footsteps behind and a voice called out my name. I had been emailed a few days before by Flora who had very kindly offered bed and board at her place nearby. A fellow long distance walker, she had completed LEJOG last year and had through some convoluted friend of a friend method found out about my journey. She took me back up the lane and also took control of my route for a while as her local knowledge guided me through uncharted paths and private land. It also took me past her front door and that meant that a cup of tea and a Tunnock’s Tea Cake just couldn’t be refused. I had only turned down her kind offer of accommodation as we had already arranged last night’s stopover at Aldbrough, but on meeting Flora and her husband Ian, plus the heavy battering of the overnight storm, I rather wish I hadn’t.

Flora walked with me back to my planned route before turning for home. I had enjoyed my brief time in Flora and Ian’s company and meetings like this have been a highlight of my trip. I think she would have liked to join me for a full day of walking and her company and easy conversation would have made a great change.  It’s always nice to compare notes, experiences and geeky kit reviews.

Back on the cliff top path, the wind had now eased and the tide was receding nicely. I was soon back on the shingle beach and heading towards Withernsea. For the rest of the day I was afforded the sight of coastal erosion in action as I came across muddy boulder after muddy boulder scattered across the beach. At one point a small cliff collapse and landslide came to halt barely a few steps away from me. One fossil hunting man near Withernsea told me that the beach we were standing on was all sand yesterday. Now it was boulders, mudslides and shingle. He was happy sifting through the debris for newly exposed fossils, but I suspect the land owners up above the cliff were less so.

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After a brief walk along the short promenade at Withernsea my afternoon continued as the morning had finished and I was back on the beach all the way to Kilnsea and the North end of Spurn Head to meet a less wind-battered Kate. In doing so I passed on the seaward side of Holmpton and Easington with its huge high security gas terminal barely visible above the low cliffs. As I walked, the storm debris was tempting me into a bit of treasure hunting too and I spent much of the walk with my head down looking for fossils, pretty rocks and pebbles. The glacial deposited boulder clays and till are very soft and with the nature of such unconsolidated rocks come many erratics.  These erratics give collectors a dream ticket to find a huge variety of fossils, rocks and minerals. I was a happy bunny as my rucksack slowly gained weight with various fossil fragments, pretty pebbles and a nice heavy handful of haematite. My day was complete when I found one very nice ammonite to take home.

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The Tyne, The Wear, The Tees

Stage 193, 5th October: Blyth to Whitburn

With Woody having accompanied me most mornings last week it was now Sue and Diesy’s turn to join me for a few miles down the sands around Seaton Sluice and on towards Whitley Bay. In doing so we ran the gauntlet of literally hundreds of other dog owners all out for their Sunday morning beach stroll in the autumn sunshine. I had never seen so many poo-bag carriers in my life and a level based computer game idea (based on attempting to get a dog safely from one end of the beach to the other without any mishap ©peterhill) became a strange topic to discuss as we strode towards the Tyne.

Back on my own again, Whitley Bay merged into Cullercoats and thence to Tynemouth where I bumped into Phil (a prospective coast walker and blog follower) for a quick hello and a chat. Those sort of meetings have always been great for my morale and I have found any enthusiasm for my bizarre quest a great boost when things aren’t so great. Tiredness had certainly been creeping up on me over the last few weeks.

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I then turned briefly inland for a sanitised walk up the Tyne. North Shields was now populated with cafes, bistros and miscellaneous but popular eateries, rather than the rough run-down old docks I would have expected. As I crossed over by ferry to South Shields a similar story unfolded as I was greeted by flashy dockside apartment blocks and quiet residential cul-de-sacs. It was a little disappointing not to find the docks I remembered from 30 years ago, but clearly the outskirts of Newcastle and Tyneside had moved on from the three brief years I spent up here with the luxury of a free university education and a student grant.

A low cliff top walk took me around to Whitburn. It was all rather pleasant with so many out enjoying the Sunday sun, whether it be a beach stroll, a promenade amble or a roam along the cliff top. This had been a people heavy day, though communication had been very light or non-existent. Only my strange hikers attire had raised any reaction and it was barely more than a raised eye-brow or a mistrusting sideways glance.

Stage 194, 6th October: Whitburn to Crimdon

Kate’s weather forecast from home had become quite predictable over the last few weeks. After my very wet August came a very dry September and something was bound to break eventually. Today Kate broke the news as gently as she could but the weather broke big time. Not only was it persistent heavy rain but strong blustery winds were buffeting my face and slowing every forward step. It would have been lovely to see what was around me but most of the time I had my hood up and my head down to watch one foot in front of the other.

A very brief respite from the wind was offered as I made my way up the Wear estuary into Sunderland but the rain didn’t abate and I suspected that Sunderland missed out on a photo opportunity or two as what I could see looked more interesting than I had expected. Nonetheless I was quickly back out onto the exposed cliffs with all my hatches battened down with the occasional peer up to check that I was following the now very welcome and very new brown England Coast Path signs. It might be an incomplete project, but it certainly eased my navigational conundrum for the day.

After Seaham the old collieries around Easington took me along a supposed Heritage Trail. Unfortunately the heritage was lost on me beyond the appearance of the slowly recovering black beaches somewhere down below. Nature, of sorts, was slowly returning. Possibly not the nature that was originally there, but it was nature nonetheless and though it hadn’t completely obscured the grim industrial presence of the past, it was clearly trying. Sue and Diesy met up with me at Denemouth looking decidedly bedraggled and we headed for camp at Crimdon like a small pack of drowned rats.

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Stage 195, 7th October: Crimdon to Redcar

I was expecting a few industrial views today and to my relief the weather brightened considerably and I didn’t have to suffer the chemical and steel works of Teeside with the added bonus of rain sheets. So I set out along the cliff top to Hartlepool missing a perfectly good beach and instead followed the official marked trail to walk across Hartlepool Golf Course and the flattened wasteland that was once North Sands Works.

Hartlepool had a big harbour museum and marina with plenty of new development work in various states of completion nearby. It was clearly trying to reinvent itself and the project was still in progress. I can’t say I was impressed but I can’t say that I was disappointed either. I had seen plenty of dock and harbour improvements on this trip and the fashion for such waterside improvements doesn’t seem to have lost momentum. I had probably just become accustomed to them and maybe become a little blase.

From Hartlepool the works of Seal Sands and Teeside loomed ever closer. I crossed Seaton Sands and circled another golf course before dipping inland for the Tees estuary, heavy industry and bland pathless roads. I briefly stopped for lunch by a bridge over a small tributary and some mud flats. Wildlife came to the rescue as a small colony of seals basked on a muddy bank nearby and a sparrowhawk, whom I suspected might be injured, fluttered to rest in a gateway.

I returned to the road and looked forward to a crossing of the famous Transporter Bridge. It was closed for painting work and my chance to complete my pair of crossing transporter bridges with that of Newport in South Wales was thwarted. The irony of having an extra four mile diversion up river to cross the Tees via the Newport Bridge wasn’t lost on me.

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Having recovered my tracks I then took to the bizarre and extraordinary Teesdale Way. This OS marked trail took me straight through heavy industry, alongside huge pipe-tracks and even between rail tracks. The path was liberally covered with litter, industrial debris and edged with imposing but rotting high fences. It also became overgrown in places and even blocked by temporary security fencing. With nowhere else to go, I just scaled the obstacle course and followed the trail. The only wildlife I came across was the occasional rat, a few tethered traveller’s horses, a goat and surprisingly two roe deer who pranced away the moment they saw the lunatic who had decided to walk along this path. Why anybody would want to walk this part of the Teesdale Way was a bit of a mystery to me and indeed it seemed as if local industry didn’t want anyone to walk it either and though I felt uncomfortable and a little intimidated using it, I thoroughly enjoyed following it all the way to Redcar.

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