It was a bit of a first night. I always have an unsettled first night due to it being a strange bed, though holiday beds always seem cosier and more comfortable than your own bed, so why I struggle I don’t know. I finally nodded off and slept to 6am.
We got up slowly, making a cup of tea and relaxing. After a shower and breakfast we decided to head out in the car and aimed for a little town of Warkworth near the coast. A few months ago we had visited the same friend and we had whizzed through this charming town on the way to somewhere else and felt it warranted more of our attention, rather than a blur from a car window. Also we owed The Dog big style after she had holidayed with our daughter and we dog sat a friend’s dog. The Dog was not impressed to come home to find the scent of a strange dog everywhere and had worn a peeved expression ever since . So to make it up to her we promised her a beach.
So The Hubby jumped into the passenger seat and declared himself the navigator for the day which frankly is disturbing at the best of times as he has a habit of finding the narrowest roads possible to send me down, usually with a crop of grass running down the middle. Today, he had dug out a 20 year old+ OS map and decided he was going to navigate his way to Warkworth by this method rather than by satnav. Almost immediately he plunged me down a single track road, which rose up to a ruined tower at Crawley Farm, a rather grand edifice with a splendid viewpoint, overlooking misty valleys and high hills, so he was kind of let off the hook. We continued with lots of lefts and rights, weaving around deep potholes and hoping that we wouldn’t meet a farmer and his tractor, though Hubby found me a ford to traverse in my little car. It was at this point I wondered where my air intake was located before I gunned it. It wasn’t deep (thanks to a roadside depth stick) and we crossed it with ease – but a little bit of excitement! It was a lovely route – we saw hares darting into the hedgerows and unnerving passings of pheasants, an unpredictable bird who has a tendency to dither whether to fly into the safety of adjacent field or play chicken and do a last minute dash across your path. Not fancying a large pheasant embedded into my car’s grille, I crept past them and thankfully, all of them chose the more sensible option. There were signs for red squirrels too, these elusive natives of our islands, warning drivers to take care. It’s on my bucket list to see one of these creatures in the wild. We carried on down uncategorised back lanes, finally reaching Alnwick, a delightful little town full of independent shops. We didn’t stop – that was another day’s adventure – and popped out the other side. After a brief and unexpected visit to the A1 finding ourselves heading inadvertently towards Scotland, we got back on track at the next exit and finally reached the outskirts of Warkworth with its impressive castle sitting high on top of a hill at the end of the village. We pulled off down a single track lane heading towards the golf course and the beach. A large gravelly car park with free toilets and free parking greeted us. We piled out, got organised and headed down the path. A sea mist which had enveloped us for the last 5/6 miles of our trip, remained persistent and as the path turned into sand, seeped between the dunes.
Finally the beach opened up. The mist was thick here – you could hear the sea, but couldn’t see it. We unleashed The Dog and suddenly the 14 year old hound who had walked slowly with us, gambolled across the sands like a puppy, the biggest smile on her face. She is at her happiest on the beach and her face showed her delight. We just laughed at her antics – I think we are forgiven. We walked along as the sun tried its hardest to poke its head through the mist and burn it off. The mist lifted letting us see the sand dunes on one side and the surf on the other. Other people were on the beach too, every one accompanied by a hound of some description. It was Dog City. The beach was wonderful – you cannot beat a Northumbrian beach – wide with beautiful soft sand scattered with shells, stones and lumps of coal. We strolled for about a kilometre before turning around and retracing our steps, the mist dropping back down again. We decided to walk into town, leaving the car in the car park and walking along a footpath. We bobbed out by the main road and the River Coquet, crossed over the bridge and started the long pull uphill, along the main street up to the Castle, keeping a beady eye for a cafe. Warkworth is a handsome little town, full of stone cottages huddled in a small valley and quite delightful. There was a small cluster of shops which we peered into as we walked up to the Castle, perched high on the hill, overlooking miles of surrounding countryside. Its quite imposing. We wandered around the periphery – it’s in the ownership of English Heritage – as we weren’t in the mood for going inside. A group of children were egg rolling down the hill, it being Eastertime, screaming in delight. We admired the castle surrounded by a mass of daffodils (oh for a sunny spring day to really bring out the colours) as we went round and headed back to the High Road and waddled back down. Cars were parked on either side of the street and there was a constant stream of traffic roaring through, spoiling the beautiful stone weathered cottages lining the street. It was a real shame. It’s so full of character.
We started earnestly looking for a coffee, and found Bertrams in a handsome building. We sat down, The Dog settling under the table and ordered coffees, an Egg Royale, a bacon sarnie and an extra sausage for The Dog, like you do. It was very busy, we had to wait for a table, but it was very ambient inside and we enjoyed our brunch. We decided to head to Amble down the road, where on our last visit we had enjoyed a splendid evening meal at a fish restaurant. We fancied some fresh fish for tea. So we wandered back to the car, stopping briefly at a viewpoint overlooking the town, its lovely houses huddled together, a jumble of roofs and chimneys in between the river and a wooded hillside. We drove through Warkworth’s decidedly busy main street, weaving in and out of cars, heading to Amble just a few miles down the road.
Amble hugs the coastline, a sizeable community with a docks, a harbour with a sea wall and a large industrial area. As we found our way to the docks, we passed street after street of long terraces of stone cottages, a reminder of Amble’s history of hardworking fishermen. Unsympathetic town planning had burdened Amble with ugly and cheap looking buildings that now looked shabby and even uglier and it looked like a town down on its luck, another seaside community struggling like so many others. But as we arrived by the docks, it was bustling with people wandering around. We joined the throngs and strolled past fishing boats unloading and sorting out their nets.. We walked past the The Fish Shack, a well known restaurant that was featured on The Hairy Bikers TV programme and was now heaving with people tucking into various dishes. Fancy new buildings were dotted around. We found a fishmonger’s and bought a bag of mussels and some crab before looking at their large containers full of water a few feet from the fish counter, one full of live lobsters and the other with tiny tiny infant lobsters. I felt quite sorry for them – their lives and ultimately their destiny. I don’t know how these people can go up to a tank full of crustaceans or fish to point and say “I’ll have that one” and find the marked creature lying on their plate 20 minutes later (though I am a pescatarian and happily orders fish from my local fishmonger’s, I just can’t pick them out individually knowing their fate and then spending my entire meal apologising and feeling guilty). We carried on investigating this area, a mixture of upmarket eating places and little wooden cabins selling upmarket gifts and street food, sitting easily beside the nitty gritty environment of a shrunken fishing industry. We found the restaurant we visited a few months ago, where we enjoyed a splendid fish platter which was reasonably expensive and that was full of people too. Tall trendy clapboarded apartment buildings lined the edge giving the docks a gentrified feel, smart cafes in their basements, but again, abutting little neglected tatty areas. We wandered to the town centre and main shopping centre, the street lined on both sides with shops which looked interesting. We walked down one side and up the other and again it was a town at odds with itself. It was busy. There were smart independent shops sitting alongside tattoo studios, betting shops and charity shops. Some shops were empty and boarded up, paint peeling and looking shabby, a bit of a blot while others looking like they hadn’t seen a paintbrush in the last twenty years. There seemed to be an inordinate amount of hairdressers, nail bars and outlets for the high maintenance woman, but with a background air of economic hardship. Apart from a small Tescos and a Co-op at each end of the street, every shop was an independent which was brilliant. Our friend had told us that Amble was up and coming and you could see that happening with the new buildings in the dock area and the trendy and tasteful shop fronts on the High Street. We hoped that the transformation continued, Amble certainly needed an upturn on its fortunes, but not to the detriment of the locals, their little self sufficient town turned into a tourist trap. It was just lovely to see it bustling and being supported. I love finding little places like this, ordinary, a little down at heel, but are actually thriving communities and bucking the trends. We happily did our own bit of supporting by visiting the local greengrocer and bakery and sauntered back, past the town square with fancy cobbles, herring bone brickwork and embellished stones. We watched a trawler upload and discovered a small beach by the harbour before finding the car again.
We were also on a mission today. We had a coffee and cake voucher for the Running Fox bakery and were determined to try them out. There are apparently four branches scattered around the area, so we chose the Shilbottle premises and with Hubby using his trusted paper map, we threaded our way through Amble’s many endless streets of terraced housing, past those ugly corporation buildings that begged for a stick of dynamite, managed to avoid the horrendous tail back we past on the way in and headed out into the country. The mist had lifted, but cloud had taken over and it was overcast. We pondered Amble’s history and existence and wondered if coal mining was a factor too – did coalmining come this far north? To answer our question, we passed a couple of communities with the word “coal” in their names and we decided that coal, fishing and docks were intrinsically linked. We drove over Northumbria’s gentle rolling hills, past woodlands, stately homes and little hamlets. We despaired at horrible little housing estates stuck unceremoniously on the end of charming villages with no effort to blend the carbuncles with the existing cottages (no chimneys to start with – one of my bug bears) and the devastation of woodlands after Storm Arwen late last year. The sun made another attempt to poke its head out as we arrived in Shilbottle and we found the Running Fox. We parked in the car park at the rear and waddled to the front where there were picnic tables, but nobody was sitting outside. We toyed with the idea of sitting outside too and so I was sent in, clutching the voucher and with an order of coffee and a scone. Well, I went in and was greeted with a chill cabinet full of the most delicious looking cakes and bakes. I just stopped and stared, and possibly dribbled, knowing that Hubby would divorce me if I ordered just a scone and not show him this venerable display of gooeyness. So I explained that I had to drag Hubby in, but we had a dog, but they happily invited us all in and offered us a table for two. So I called in both man and dog and Hubby’s eyes lit up when he saw so many flapjacks, sponges and cakes – we spent many minutes agonising which cake to order. Finally, we sat a high table with coffee, our chosen slab of deliciousness and made very satisfied noises as we sank our teeth into rather large slices of desserts. Even The Dog was looked after with a bowl of water and a chew. We were very happy and even happier knowing that the voucher allowed us a second visit – we would recover from this one first though!
Feeling rather podgy, but immensely satisfied (hell, we’re on holiday) we waddled back to the car and snaked our way cross country back to our little cottage. It’s very rural around here with a scattering of small villages and tiny hamlets. We dropped down back into Powburn, realising how dinky this community was and happily slumped on the sofa, lit the wood burning fire and snuggled down with our mussels, crab and bread we had bought in Amble and a glass of wine. The Dog curled up in the dog basket and slept soundly, after gobbling up her dinner. Tomorrow there were more adventures to look forward to!