As a popped into an art gallery and café near the station in Berwick-Upon-Tweed to kill time while I waited for a train to take me north and home, the owner looked me up and down in my muddy boots and sizeable rucksack and asked incredulously “why on earth would you want to go walking at this time of year?” Well, I guess there’s the ethereal light, the quiet paths and beaches, the plentiful accommodation (most offering special deals) and the chance to soak up plenty of mood-boosting daylight at the darkest time of the year while working off some of the Christmas excesses. Or, as I replied to the gentleman in the café, your husband and son decided to go and stay with granny for a few days at short notice and you’ve got to seize every opportunity you can get.
That is how I found myself just over a week ago planning a last minute walk 50 miles along the Northumberland Coast Path. For a day I toyed with where to walk, considering the West Highland Way (not enough time), the Allerdale Ramble in the Lake District (too difficult for me to reach by public transport), the Cateran Trail in Perth and Angus (would require winter walking equipment and more organisation) and St Cuthbert’s Way (I’d already promised to walk it with a friend later in the year). Although I’m more of a rugged cliffs than gentle dunes kind of girl, walking the Northumberland Coast Path would be easy to organise, offers plenty of accommodation, is easy access by bus and train and I wouldn’t need to equip myself with an ice axe or crampons. I also already had a guidebook and map that covered the path, which coincides with part of the St Oswald’s Way, the first half of which I walked a couple of years ago.
Apart from one day of walking where the route directs you inland around Budle Bay and the Fenham Flats it’s mostly gentle walking at low altitude so I expected it to be an easy stroll. But then I hadn’t expected a gale to hit from the north west that made my progress depressingly slow (I was headed north west). It did give my cheeks a warm rosy red glow though and I worked up quite a sweat despite the cold temperatures.
If I was seeking peace, quiet and solitude, I certainly got it. Apart from dog walkers on the most accessible beaches and when passing through towns and villages, I barely saw a soul. On day 3, which took me inland from Bamburgh and over moorland before descending back to the coast at Holy Island I didn’t meet a single person in 15 miles, except for when I passed through the town of Belford. In my first night’s accommodation in a small village inland of Craster I was the only person in residence, and aside from the alcoholic brother of the landlady, the only person drinking in the bar (just a half pint mind). As for the scenery, the wide, sweeping coastal vistas, which I mostly had to myself didn’t disappoint, nor the imposing silhouettes of castles brooding on the headlands.
Apart from the very windy conditions and a moment of excitement near the town of Bedford, where I had to use a special phone to call the railway signalman to check it was safe to cross the East Coast Mainline, the walk was fairly uneventful. But if I was seeking to blow away the post-Christmas blues, I can’t imagine a better way to do so, quite literally!