A UK Coastal Trip – Aldeburgh

Dunwich

The village flourished as a port until, in 1286, a huge storm threw sand/shingle across the harbour diverting the river and destroying trade. By 1677 the sea had reached the market place and Dunwich had become an estate village.

Sizewell

Sizewell itself is a small fishing village and a few small boats still operate from the beach. Two nuclear power stations have been built outside the village. Sizewell A is in the process of being decommissioned and Sizewell B is still in production. There are plans to build a third on the site, to start producing electricity in 2031. Offshore there are two platforms. These are no longer in use but were there to service the intake and discharge tunnels used to run sea water through the cooling system. The cold water inlet was the farthest platform and the hot water outlet was the nearest platform.

Thorpeness

This unique holiday village is centred on a shallow man-made lake. Built in the early 1900s houses vary in style, including Tudor, Jacobean & traditional 18th century East Anglian weatherboard. Shingle beaches stretch north and south.

Aldeburgh

A main street of Georgian houses and older cottages provides a historic backdrop to a wide shingle beach where fishing boats rest up in a long line and numerous fisherman’s huts sell the daily catch of fish and shellfish. By 1600 the town was a prosperous port and fishing centre and in the 19th century it became a popular resort. But things have changed over the years. The half-timbered Tudor Moot Hall, the Town Hall, is now almost on the shore and the three roads that originally separated it from the sea have been washed away over time.

Felixstowe

A sedate Edwardian resort stretches around a long, gently curving bay, rubbing shoulders with one of Europe’s busiest container ports.

In the resort part of town a paved promenade is backed by well-tended gardens. Beyond the Spa Pavilion beach huts take the place of the gardens and follow the sand and shingle shore. The pleasure pier opened in 1905, 800 metres in length, making it, at one time, the longest in the UK. It had its own station and steamers operated from the seaward end which was demolished after WWII. The shore end was rebuilt and re-opened in 2017.

A UK Coastal Trip – Southwold

Gorlestone-on-Sea

In days gone by, hundreds of fishing boats from the herring fleet would sail from Gorlestone’s harbour, watched by locals sheltering from the breeze in the cozies on the pier. This all ended in 1904 and the red brick lighthouse nowadays mainly guides gas rig supply vessels in and out. Located as it is, at one of the two entrances into the Broads, the town has become a popular tourist centre with its own huge bay and riverside and a stunning sandy beach stretching into the distance below cliff gardens and a grand promenade. Summer Sundays in Gorleston are a chilled-out affair, with bands playing in the bandstand surrounded by deckchairs, as visitors and passers-by watch the Sunday yacht race streaming past below in the bay.

From the cliffs there is a good view of the flat, sandy beach that extends in both directions. Slightly isolated on the long promenade, Jay’s Café proudly boasts of being in the UK’s Top 10 Cafes. Down from the town, families and couples, old & young, wander around the stalls & arcades. Children buzz about on scooters, dogs pull on leads and older men play with their remote-controlled boats in the small boating pool.

Lowestoft

The huge, concrete sea defences stand well above the caravans that clutter the coast at this point. Groynes & the remains of wooden piers jut out into the sea giving a reminder of a past closely linked to the sea. The town’s fortunes were founded on the trawling grounds of Dogger Bank where herring was caught & smoked & sent to London & the Midlands. The port is still important in supplying off-shore gas & oil operations. South of Lake Lothing, a narrow strip of water that divides the town, is South Beach Pier, erected to improve the harbour & dating from 1846.

Further south down the beach, Claremont Pier was built in 1902/3 as a mooring for Belle steamers.

Pakefield

South along the coast, the Pakefield Caravan Park spreads along the clifftop. Access to the beach is by steep steps down the cliff from the bungalows and chalets of Kirkley & Pakeland.

Kessingland

The shore is growing here and the sea receding. The long sand & shingle beach is backed by low cliffs. Cafes & a caravan park run along the seafront.

Southwold

This popular, small, seaside town still retains its charm. Redbrick & flint cottages and colour-washed houses cluster around numerous greens which were created after a fire devastated the town in 1659. Behind the brightly coloured beach huts that line the promenade, is the unique sight of the Victorian lighthouse which stands tall and proud amongst the seaside terraces that cluster around it in admiration of its curves & elegance. Along the pebbly beach the pier reaches out into the sea, providing a constant reminder to visitors of the town’s class and pedigree.

 

A UK Coastal Trip – Great Yarmouth

This stretch of coast has amazing variety – tidal creeks, salt marshes, dunes, shingle spits, harbours, rolling cliffs and huge expanses of unspoilt beach, all beneath big, big skies. But it is a constantly changing picture. Over the centuries, land has been lost to the sea, eroded away and beaten and drifted along the coast to new positions. With the help of numerous coastal defence schemes to protect the coast, villages still cling on to their historic sites. At the same time as this battle rages, holidaymakers capture the clifftops in cohorts of mobile homes, holiday camps, caravan parks and camp sites, for the time being anyway.

 

(from the Happisburgh village website)

Overstrand

This old clifftop crab-fishing village is now a popular holiday resort with some rather classy homes. It has a wide, sandy beach reached by steep steps or a long zigzag of a slipway.

Mundesley

This tranquil, family resort with a wide, sandy beach is backed by low cliffs. It dates back to the Domesday Book. The railway, which no longer exists, was built in 1889 to bring in visitors.

Keswick, Walcott, Ostend

The villages of Keswick, Walcott and Ostend, along with a number of holiday camps, stand behind a sturdy sea wall and a long beach of soft sand & groynes.

Happisburgh

What is going at Happisburgh is a good example of what is going on along this entire section of the coast. Although now a coastal village, Happisburgh was once some distance from the sea, parted from the coast by the parish of Whimpwell, long since eroded away. Historic records indicate that over 250 metres of land were lost between 1600 and 1850. Coastal defences have slowed down the rate of retreat. However, large sections are now in disrepair. Sea-level rise and climate change, including increased storminess, could also increase the rate of erosion. Agriculture and tourism contribute significantly to the local economy and this is threatened by the receding cliff line that, prior to the construction of a rock embankment at the northern end, has claimed at least one property per year plus significant quantities of agricultural land. Erosion is winning here. Homes & fences cling on as the cliff falls into the sea. The lighthouse, built in 1790, stands well back from the edge. Further south, there is little evidence of Eccles-on-Sea, an ancient fishing village that is now virtually all swept into the North Sea.

Sea Palling

This is a quiet village with a beach that is ideal for children with safe waters calmed by man-made coastal defence reefs. Sea Palling has a rich history dominated by sea flooding, ship wrecks and heroism on the waves. There have been several breaches of the dunes by the sea over the centuries causing death and damage. Only in the 20th century have real efforts been made to keep the sea back by extending the sea wall, building up huge dunes and constructing offshore barrier reefs to protect land & homes.

Winterton-on-Sea

Built between 1415 and 1430, the church’s soaring tower dominates the landscape and at 40 metres remains a landmark for sailors to this day. A carpark in the dunes provides access to the large sand/shingle beach and holds a cluster of wooden storage units at one end and Jane’s Café at the other.

Hemsby


The village itself is situated a distance from the beach surrounded by caravans, chalets and mobile homes and a strip of fairground rides, arcades, pubs, cafes, even a tattoo parlour. An entire 1960s holiday camp, boarded up and deserted, is for sale. The concrete remains of WWII defences lie scattered on the beach.

Scratby


Chalets and mobile homes now give way to permanent housing, spreading away from the clifftop. The streets of bungalows do look very similar. The empty beach lies below the cliffs.

California

Yes, this is the real deal. Along the cliff road stretch holiday park, bungalows and holiday homes, rows of chalets and caravans and more mobile homes. This is California! A steep path leads down to the empty beach.

Caistor-on-Sea


Once a thriving port, the village is now a holiday destination with a caravan park on the coast. Concrete sea defences and metal gates, guarded by stone lions, stand strong against any incursions by the sea.

Great Yarmouth


This medieval fishing village grew into a seaside resort from 1760. The Pleasure Beach, which opened in 1909, is a tangle of rails & ramps, of rides & amusements, of faces & slopes, of things that go up and things that go around & over & down & up again.The usual seaside attractions & amusements include donkey rides & deckchairs for hire. Two piers share the beach. Britannia Pier opened in 1858.

Wellington Pier opened in 1854.

A UK Coastal Trip – Cromer

Snettisham

The village of Snettisham looks across the square-mouthed estuary of the Wash. The Snettisham RSPB reserve lies on the coast some 3.2 km to the west of the village.

Heacham


Sturdy, stepped sea defences rise to protect beach huts and caravan parks from any incursion by the sea. The beach is long & flat and the water is shallow & sheltered and so popular with holidaymakers in the numerous holiday centres around here. The town itself is further inland. The Victorians came here in numbers when the railway from King’s Lynn was built in the 1860s. Heacham is at the heart of Norfolk’s lavender growing industry.

Hunstanton


The town was established in 1846 as a place where workers could relax by the sea. It is the only coastal town in East Anglia to face west. Horizontally striped cliffs, now partly eroded into a litter of boulders and stones on the sandy beach, stretch southwards. The grassy clifftop, 18 metres above the shore, is dominated by a disused lighthouse and the 13th century ruins of St Edmunds Chapel. Old Hunstanton with its bungalows & chalets and amusements & rides lies to the north.

Holkham Gap

Holkham Gap is a vast expanse of low-tide sands and mudflats. An avenue of trees, with carparking on either side, stretches seaward from the grand estate of Holkham Hall to a café, from where a boardwalk leads through pine trees and dunes to the beach.

Wells-next-the-Sea

Wells-next-the-Sea is an old port at the head of the East Fleet estuary. Once a manufacturing and fishing town, several crabbers and other angling vessels still operate from the quayside. The large granary building processed malt for sale to London & Dutch breweries and is now converted into apartments.

A path and a road run parallel to the sea defences along the estuary, down past the lifeboat station and the beach café, to an absolutely glorious beach of soft, golden, sand backed by dunes & pine trees. In front of the trees a long line of very classy, stilted beach huts keep an eye on the activities taking place below them.

Morston & Blakeney

Both settlements were thriving ports until the 16th century. Since then silting has left only narrow channels to the sea which can only be used by small craft at high tide. Paths and walkways lead through the saltwater marshes, home to numerous species of birds. Boats can be hired to observe basking seals out on Blakeney Point.

Cley next the Sea

Cley’s claim to fame is its 18th century windmill, now a guesthouse, which looks out to sea across the reed beds of the nature reserve . The narrow streets of the village itself are lined with small shops including a tea shop, a pub & a pottery.

Salthouse

This village of flint cottages, once a port, is now cut off from the sea. Narrow lanes lead across the marsh to the shingle beach, ideal for walking, spotting wildlife and fishing.

Weybourne


The village is home to pretty flint cottages. On the wild shingle beach a pair of rusting Track Marshalls remember better days when they led the sad collection of boats to the water’s edge.

Sheringham


Once a fishing village, this traditional seaside town boasts a Blue Flag beach. Along the back of the sea wall is a frieze telling the story of its long association with the sea.

Cromer


Cromer has called itself the ‘gem of the Norfolk coast’ since the 18th century. It stands on a low, crumbling cliff fronted by a long promenade with beach huts at each end. The town had grown up as a fishing station over the centuries. Boats still rest up at the top of the beach, each with their own ancient, blue tractor to reverse them into & out of the water. Crabs and lobsters are still landed in the summer and placed on the menu of local restaurants and fish shops. Tourism developed in the town during the Victorian period. Visitors are still attracted by its sandy beaches, its winding streets and old flint cottages around the 14th century church and the many small local independent shops and hotels.


There have been a number of piers here since the first, wooden jetty in 1391. The present structure was completed in 1902. The sea end consisted of glass-screened shelters and a bandstand. These were roofed over in 1905 to form a pavilion and the bandstand was later replaced with a stage. The pier is also home to Cromer Lifeboat Station.

A UK Coastal Trip – Skegness

Mablethorpe

This is an area of caravans, holiday parks & chalets and Mablethorpe does its best to provide entertainment for the many visitors. This takes the form of casinos, bingo halls, amusement arcades, tea rooms and fast food kiosks. At the entrance to the long, sandy beach four donkeys wait stoically for riders. Their keeper stands as bored as they are, checking his phone, at the lack of any punters.

Trusthorpe

Still surrounded by holiday parks with names like Seaside Holiday Park, Holiday Estates & Caravan Park, Leisure Park, the village itself has a line of rather glamorous, windowed beach huts running along the top of the concrete sea defences. The soft, sandy beach is divided in two by a large block of apartments and flats build on a low rocky outcrop. The ever-present arcades and seaside amusements shelter down below the raised promenade which provides protection from the weather and the tides.

Sutton on Sea

Like Miami Beach (yes, believe it!) to the south, this coastal village does not have funfairs or arcades, but it does have the attraction of a long, soft-sandy beach and a quiet, peaceful feel to it.

Anderby Creek

This is a peaceful, tranquil place, away from noise & distraction. A car park gives access to the beach through the dunes. There are a number of caravan parks in the immediate locality

Chapel St Leonards

Beach huts line the curve of Chapel Point which was part of major coastal defences during WWII. Renovations have taken place and it is now a bright, modern village of brick villas and chalets with a traditional seaside feel around the centre. The sandy beach stretches for miles in both directions. Along the coast, south of the village, are numerous holiday parks which are home to hundreds of static caravans.

Ingoldmells

Ingoldmells is a village, although you would never believe it, with a church that dates back to 1200. the village has the largest concentration of static caravans in Europe. In 1936 the UK’s first holiday camp was built here by Billy Butlin. A large Amusement Park opened up in 1995 to cater for the large numbers that came to holiday here and has since built up a variety of rides, attractions and entertainments. The Jubilee Odyssey, the world’s largest roller coaster of its type, dominates the area and can be seen from miles away. Acres of low caravans surround the goddess (female??) of holiday rides and her attendants, paying homage to the screams of excitement that emanate from this complex of amusements and stalls and holiday homes.

Skegness

Skegness was built on the end a long stretch of coast characterised by soft sandy beaches and sea-facing caravan parks which have spread over low, eroding cliffs. Sea defences have been built to protect this traditional seaside resort from the weather that bash it from the east. The ‘old Skegness’ was swallowed by the sea in the 1500s following storms and floods and has now been located about half a-mile out to sea. Only when the railway reached Skegness in 1873 did visitors begin to arrive in large numbers. They were the new day trippers from the working classes, but all there was for them were four hotels, two or three refreshment rooms, the sea and sands and several bathing machines. Work began to build wide, tree-lined streets, promenades and gardens, a park and a pier, as well as a new main shopping street, a church and lots of new houses. In the twenty years between the World Wars, basic amenities were built to establish the town as we see today.

Out to sea the flailing arms of 150 odd wind turbines warn off invaders and wave in welcome to any visitors approaching from that direction. On the land side a tangle of well-used rides, helters & skelters, arcades and neon provide satisfaction for the desire for amusement. Formal gardens with a boating lake line the seafront, which overlooks a 6 km stretch of firm, sandy beach. Each year this slowly increases in size as the sea continues to have an impact on the land.

A UK Coastal Trip – Cleethorpes

Hornsea

This rather ordinary resort town expanded in Victorian times with the coming of the railways. Groynes are set along the beach which is separated from the road & terraces by a pleasant promenade.

Withernsea

An impressive castellated structure is the rather grand entrance to the town’s long, soft sandy beach. Peeping above the terraced houses that look onto the seafront is the lighthouse, now home to a museum.

Easington

This small village at the base of Spurn Head used to share the coastline with several other settlements. All of these have now been lost to the encroaching sea. Now a caravan park at the edge of the village, clings on to solid ground as the sea nibbles away at its feet.

The long, flat piece of sand which is Spurn Head Nature Reserve curves around across the mouth of the River Humber with the North Sea on one side and the river estuary on the other.

Barton-upon-Humber

The magnificent Humber Bridge, crosses the river a few miles upstream, hitting the south bank at Barton-upon-Humber. When it opened in 1981 it was the longest single span suspension bridge in the world. In 2020 it is the eleventh longest.

Along the both banks of the estuary, industry rules.

Grimsby

Grimsby has a proud history of being one of the greatest fishing ports in the world. Until the mid-1970s, 200 or so deep-sea trawlers sailed from here to northern waters. Whilst not as large as in the past, there is still a commercial life to the town. Fish is still landed here and sold in the dockside fish market. In amongst the disused factories and the modern yacht marinas, some of the old curing companies and fish packers still exist to process the catch. Empty factories and warehouses, window spaces gaping, are cluttered by small hills of bricks and tangles of metal.

Vehicles for export are collected in vast dockside carparks and await loading into the bowels of their mother ship. New industry, business initiatives and commercial centres back onto the sea, presenting their smart frontage to the town. A container port now operates from the quayside.

Cleethorpes

The town really became popular as a holiday resort with the coming of the railway in the late 19th century. Lined with amusements and arcades, the promenade runs along the beach for 4km or so. The town is full of fish & chip shops competing with each other for the accolade of ’the best in town’. One advertises a ‘Victorian experience’ matching the many buildings of the same era. The sea goes out almost a mile over the soft sands and visitors should take care as there are fast incoming tides. At dawn the beach is given a daily makeover, manicured, by a tractor-mounted rake. The result is a flat, even surface, gradually disturbed by the footprints of dogs and walkers.

The pier was first opened in 1873. A pier-head concert hall was built in 1888 but destroyed by fire in 1903. A new pavilion was built near the shore in 1905 with a cafe and shops on the site of the original building. During WWII, the council, who then owned it, demolished part of it and created a gap in the structure to act as a defence measure in the event of a German invasion. After the war the isolated seaward section was demolished and the pier now measured 100 metres compared to its original 365 metres.

A UK Coastal Trip – Bridlington

I did not know which of two large Yorkshire resort towns to include in the title of this section as both Scarborough and Bridlington have their own charming and individual features. I chose Bridlington in the end because, being smaller, less well-known and less hectic, I picked up a warm, homely feel about the place that created images in my mind of happy, family holidays and hard-working fishermen battling the weather, casting their nets and laying their pots and landing their catch.

Scarborough

Scarborough originated from a 10th century Viking fishing settlement in the shelter of a craggy sandstone headland, where there had earlier been a Roman signal station. In the 12th century a Norman castle was built on the headland. Ruins of Henry II’s castle stand on a knob of land high above the town. It retains high, buttressed walls and an impressive keep. During the 17th century the town declined as a fortress town. With the improvement in transportation and with the advent of the railways in particular, Scarborough reinvented itself as a spa resort. Later sea bathing, which, it is said, first began here, contributed to the town’s growth as a fashionable 18th-century resort. Overlooking the bay, terraces of elegant building were built to cater for the new holiday makers of Georgian & Victorian times, with grand hotels dotted freely amongst them.

The resort has everything required for a traditional seaside holiday experience. Along the seafront are traditional amusement arcades, ice cream parlours, shellfish stalls, deckchair sheds and beach huts, even donkey rides on the beach. It is a tribute to the seaside splendour of yesteryear. Elements include South Cliff Italian Gardens, the derelict Sun Bathing Pavilion, the Vernacular Railway, tea and dancing in the Spa Centre, the splendour of the Grand Hotel and a small funfair on the quay between the two beaches. The glare from the glitter & the neon of the arcades & fairground hide the old alleys and steps that lead up into the old town and the castle. Shops selling gems and fossils compete for space with the bright shops selling sweet rock, candy floss or Kiss Me Quick hats. Fishing vessels berth in the inner harbour, with pleasure boats in the outer, are a reminder to visitors of the town’s long association with the sea.

Filey

Small amusements, Crazy Golf, a kiddies’ roundabout, a rock shop and a café with those square, aluminium tables and chairs outside, share the space with fishing paraphernalia – nets, pots, buoys, crates. A few fishing boats, along with their tractors, wait at the top of the cobbled slipway, poised for a Le Mans style dash to the beach and the sea.

North Landing

Two rusty tractors and 3/4 cobles are a reminder that, in the past, 50 or so boats used to go fishing for cod & crabs from this pretty cove. A track leads down to a small sand & pebble beach

Flamborough

The Old Tower lighthouse, built in 1674, is a reminder of a fishing tradition going back to the 9th century. The 1806 lighthouse is on the headland above steep steps leading to a chalk beach.

Bridlington

The town was originally two settlements that merged over time – the Old Town, with its fishermen’s cottages and narrow streets was about a mile inland and the Quay area was where the modern harbour now lies. In 1837, the old wooden piers of the port were replaced with two new stone ones to create the quay. Working boats still land their catch here, leaving nets, pots and crates on the quay. Bridlington is known for its shellfish. The Gansey Girl is a sculpture, situated on the North Pier, to bid farewell to fishermen as they leave the harbour and welcoming them back as they return. She depicts a young woman sitting on a plinth knitting a gansey, a traditional jumper that contains a rich pattern of symbolism passed down through generations of fishing families around the coast of Britain.

As well as landing fish, it was used to transport corn. The 1826 Corn Exchange can still be seen in the market place. There used to be mills in the town for grinding, which led to local breweries starting up, but like most industry, these petered out by the latter part of the 20th century.

Bridlington’s first hotel opened in 1805 and it soon became a popular holiday resort for industrial workers from the West Riding of Yorkshire. A new railway station was opened in 1846, between the Quay and the historic town and the two settlements merged together. The harbour divides North and South Parades, each with a mile-long, soft ,sandy beach. The two promenades run along the top of each beach with gift shops, tea & burger bars, seaside goods, spreading out onto the pavement.

A UK Coastal Trip – Robin Hood’s Bay

Runswick Bay

The village has changed little over the years. Red-roofed, fishermen’s cottages nestle up against the cliffs. The beach is popular for rock pooling and fossil hunting.

Sansend

It is a magnificent walk along the beach, with miles of soft sand to enjoy, between the old fishing village of Sandsend and the hustle and the bustle of the fishing and tourist town of Whitby.

Whitby

The ruins of Whitby Abbey stand high on the headland overlooking this great holiday destination with its Blue Flag beaches, its historic connections to the sea, the energy of a major fishing port and some of the best, or so the locals say, fish & chips around. It attracts visitors from all over as the crowds swarm around the quaysides and the cliff paths quaffing tea & scones in grand and not so grand tea rooms, consuming fast and slow food, visiting gem shops, searching for that special piece of local jet, and fossil shops and signing up for trips on land and sea.  Lines of yachts and sailing boats moor up in the estuary of the River Eske mixing it up with large North Sea trawlers and smaller inshore cobles . Every type of housing, from many centuries, line the estuary, spreading up the surrounding headlands and hills – guest houses, holiday lets, hotels, grand Victorian edifices alongside stately terraces of Georgian grandeur, pubs and restaurants and snack bars. The two stone-built light houses guarding the entrance to the harbour are a very obvious reminder of the working heritage of this town.

Robin Hood’s Bay

Now I do like Robin Hood’s Bay, a picturesque old fishing village with a family-friendly sandy beach. The car has to be parked at the top of the valley and further progress has to be made on foot. Wandering through its narrow, twisting cobbled streets and alleyways, are the ghosts of sailors and fishermen, smugglers and press gangs that walked here hundreds of years ago. Today it is a vibrant village, with a wide range of cafes, pubs, restaurants, small shops and places to explore. Deliveries to the pub have to be made on sack trolleys. Stone cottages with red roofs hug the steep slopes overlooking the bay. It feels like the village is built for hobbits with small gates, small gardens, small doors & small windows. Progress down the stone steps alongside the main route down fills the visitor with slight apprehension in the knowledge that this same journey has to be made in reverse. The cobbled slipway leads out onto the beach where, at low tide, families in wellies prod about in the pools that form in the rocks. The sea defences stand hugely powerful above the sandy beach, protecting the village from all the elements can throw at it.

A UK Coastal Trip – Staithes

As we head south, the estuary of the River Tees lies ahead of us. The first crossing point over the water is the magnificent Tees Transporter Bridge at Middlesbrough.

Tees Transporter Bridge, Middlesbrough

This iconic symbol of the industrial heritage of Teesside was built in 1911 to transport workers to and from the steel works, industry and shipyards in the town. It is a transporter bridge, carrying a travelling ‘car’, or ‘gondola’, suspended underneath, across the river in 90 seconds. The gondola can carry 200 people, 9 cars, or 6 cars and one minibus. This motorised, hanging bridge is still in operation with vehicles paying for the number of bays they occupy. A journey across takes just a few minutes.

Redcar

Redcar originated as a fishing town in the 14th century. It became a resort in the mid-17th century with the coming of the railways. Two piers were built at Coatham and Redcar but both suffered damage following collisions with shipping and neither remain today. Local iron-ore was processed here but the furnaces were eventually closed down in 2015. There is a small inshore fishing fleet and in bad weather, the locals have permission to draw up their boats onto the esplanade fronting the arcades and cafes.

Marske-by-the-Sea

The town is first mentioned in the Domesday Book. Most people work outside the village in the larger towns. A small number of cobles still operate from a sheltered part of the beach, fishing lobster and crab in the inshore waters. Beach House on the clifftops was built in the 19th century by the Pease family, major shareholders in the Stockton & Darlington Railway. This was extended to Redcar in the 1840s and to Marske and Saltburn in the 1860s, bringing day-trippers and visitors to the seaside resorts.

Saltburn-by-the-Sea

Originally a small fishing hamlet, Saltburn became a Victorian holiday resort with the advent of the railways. The town was laid out to take advantage of its clifftop location, the tranquillity of the ‘glens’ and valleys and the views over the sea. The pier was built in 1869. The steep gradient of the cliff deterred people walking from the town down to the pier and so the water-powered Saltburn Cliff Lift began operation in 1884.

Skinnigrove

Down at the bottom of Steel Valley, beyond the Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum and behind the steel works, lies the village of Skinnigrove. Originally the local economy was based in agriculture and fishing. Industry arrived in 1848 when ironworks were opened locally, followed by the railway. Iron smelting began in 1874 and a jetty was built, allowing seagoing vessels to carry heavy cargoes from the area.

Staithes

Now I like Staithes, even if it does feel a bit like it comes from the top of a biscuit tin. The descent down the winding, cobbled streets opens up around the beach. A random arrangement of tastefully decorated guest houses, holiday lets, cafes, pubs and craft shops line the narrow lanes, giving the village a nostalgic, quaint feeling. A path leads off between the old fisherman’s houses, and crosses the Staithe Beck, the brook that runs down to the sea. When the tide is in, fishing boats bob at anchor. When it is out, they lie drunkenly at an angle in the silt. The sheltered harbour, bounded by high cliffs and two long breakwaters, allowed the village to become one of the largest fishing ports on the North East coast. In the mid-1740s, 50 full-time fishing boats put out from here. Only a few part-time fisher men remain and the population has dwindled – nearly half the houses have been purchased as second homes or holiday lets. Staines is a popular base for walking the cliff top paths and discovering the delights of rock pooling and fossil hunting on the beach.

A UK Coastal Trip – Hartlepool

Hendon

The Durham Heritage Coast runs south from Sunderland. Hendon is a mixture of heavy industry, Victorian streets and modern housing. The small, rocky beach can be accessed from the narrow lane under the railway line.

Ryhope

Ryhope was once part of the Durham Coalfield and followed the path of many other villages in the area, by abandoning agriculture as the main employee in favour of coal. In 1859 a colliery was opened and railway lines were introduced to the area, linking Ryhope to Sunderland, Seaham and other Durham Coalfield mining villages. Now only a single railway line runs through the village, although there is no longer a station. The colliery was closed in 1966.

Seaham

High up on the clifftop, overlooking a wide sandy beach, lies Seaham, an attractive town built around the harbour down below. The town grew from the late 19th century onwards as a result of investments in the harbour and in the local coal mines. A promenade runs along the open ground at the top where mixed terraces of smart houses, craft shops, boutiques and independent coffee providers rub shoulders with each other. Fine beaches and excellent transport links attract visitors to the town.

The harbour consists of a series of interconnected locks rather than the more typical two wall construction. The first harbour was built in 1828 to transport local goods, and when the first mine was opened in 1845, coal in particular. When it could no longer deal with the millions of tonnes of coal, a new dock was constructed from reclaimed land, with a pier-head light at the end, which was opened in 1905. The harbour is still a busy place with working fishing vessels tied up alongside dockside chandlers and warehouses.

 

Hartlepool

A village was founded here in the 7th century around Hartlepool Abbey. It grew in size from medieval times and expanded even further in the 19th century as a centre for shipbuilding. With the laying of a railway link to the local coal mines, the town became a shipper of coal, requiring a new port to be built. Hartlepool’s old docks are now a marina with new apartment blocks built around the edge and include a collection of historic ships.


Seaton Carew

A splendid promenade and miles of glorious, soft sandy beaches connect the marina with the popular resort of Seaton Carew. The resort, originally a fishing village, grew as a seaside holiday resort for wealthy Quaker families from Darlington. Many stayed in the rows of stucco houses and hotels built along the seafront and elsewhere in the town. Since the 16th century visitors have arrived here by horse and carriage, stagecoach and then by railway.

Graythorp

Graythorp heralds the approach of the mouth of the River Tees and the industry of Middlesbrough. The graveyard of numerous, now defunct, North Sea oil rigs, lies on the north bank of the estuary, their partly dismantled skeletons rusting on scrubland amongst the refineries, the power stations and the steel works.

A UK Coastal Trip – Sunderland

A path runs along the open clifftop from South Shields, south to the mouth of the River Wear at Roker. Old mining communities, now presenting more of a 20th century face, stand back from the edge where the occasional cliff stack grows, like a giant crystal, out of the soft, sandy beaches below, attracting nesting birds in huge colonies.

The Leas

The Leas is a stretch of open cliffs, covered in grass and wild flowers, which runs south along the top of the cliff. Limestone cliff formations dominate the coast here and isolated stacks provide refuge for seabirds. Marsden Grotto Public House, seen here, is just that, an eating place, set within a cave in the cliff face. It can be reached by a lift from the cliff top or by the zigzagging stairs down the side. In 1782 a lead miner called Jack ’Blaster’ Bates came to work in the limestone quarries at Marsden blasted a rent-free home from one of the caves in the cliff for his family. Over the years he developed it into an inn which still operates today.

Whitburn

The main road runs parallel to, but is set well back, from the coast along here, connecting the old mining communities that existed here. Westoe Colliery, now part of South Shields, was one of the last deep-under-sea pits of the region. It closed in 1993.

Marsden Colliery operated close to the lighthouse, built by Souter in 1871 and the first to be powered by electricity. When the colliery closed in 1968 the whole village was demolished and its residents moved to Whitburn. The open cliff top around the lighthouse is designated as a recreational area for mine workers and their families. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1988 and is now run as a visitors’ centre by the National Trust.

Seaburn

The cliffs here overlook the wide crescent of Seaburn’s wide, flat, sandy beaches. A promenade runs alongside the beach and there are hotels, shops and plenty of places to eat on the other side of the road that runs alongside it. In the 1960/70’s the artist LS Lowry was a frequent visitor to the town to the extent that a road was named after him.

The White Lighthouse was originally built in 1856 on Sunderland’s South Pier. In 1983 it was dismantled to allow for harbour improvements, and then re-erected in Roker Cliff Park, between Seaburn and Roker.

Sunderland

Sunderland grew as a port, trading coal and salt. Ships began to be built on the river in the 14th century. By the 19th century, the port of Sunderland had absorbed local settlements, owing to the growing economic importance of the shipbuilding docks. Following the decline of the city’s traditional industries in the late 20th century, the area grew into a commercial centre for the automotive industry, science and technology and the service sector. Roker is a tourist area at the southern end of Seaburn’s golden sands and an affluent part of Sunderland.

The New North Pier, Roker Pier, built between 1885 & 1903, is 600m of exposed stonework leading out to the lighthouse at the end. A huge crane, its gas engines supplied by pipes running in a specially designed tunnel, was used to manoeuvre the stones into place. This tunnel was used by the keeper to reach the lighthouse in rough weather and can still be used today in the event of anyone becoming trapped on the pier for any reason.

A UK Coastal Trip – North and South Shields

The coastal settlements of Tynemouth, North Shields and South Shields lie on the north and south bank of the estuary of the River Tyne. North Shields is slightly further down from Tynemouth and connected to its namesake on the other side by a passenger ferry. The towns’ name derives from the Middle English word ‘schele’ meaning ‘temporary sheds or huts used by fishermen’.

North Shields

A settlement was first recorded here in 1225 when the Prior of Tynemouth decided to build wooden quays here to land fish to send up to feed the priory. The priory, seen here from the south side of the estuary, also owned local collieries and used the port to send out coal.

As the population increased business men and merchants built houses on the plateau above the old, overcrowded, insanitary dwellings along the river. The businesses on which the town depended like fishing, ship building and marine engineering continued to be based down here. Sadly, none remain. In 1870 the Fish Quay was built near the fish market to provide shelter for the moored boats. This whole area has been transformed with the building of luxury apartments and streets alive with the buzz of classy fish restaurants and bars. Fishermen still unload their catch at the Quay.

South Shields

South Shields is on the south side of the mouth of the Tyne and faces the North Sea. Its coastal and riverside walks provide excellent views over the waters to Tynemouth and to North Shields. The town was founded in 1245 and grew as a fishing port. Over the centuries other industries in the town included ship building, fishing, coal mining and glass manufacturing. These provided employment, attracting workers from the countryside, and created wealth in the town. Sadly, none of these industries remain in present times. Today the local economy revolves around port-related activities, ship repair work, manufacturing and, increasingly, tourism.

New multi-million projects along the beach have created a wide promenade and a network of walkways, Ocean Beach Pleasure Park with fairground rides and arcades and a wide, family-friendly beach with golden sands and easy, safe bathing, all of which look across the estuary to the ruins of Tynemouth Priory & Castle on the far side.

North and South Tyne Piers

North and South Tyne Piers were between 1854 and 1895. The original plan was for each pier to curve out from below the priory to the north and from the end of the beach to the south, creating a set of callipers to protect shipping as vessels entered and left the River Tyne.
The North Pier, hidden at the back, was supposed to match its southern partner in shape. But the central part was breached on several occasions after a series of heavy storms. A new pier with a straighter line replaced it and in 1909 a lighthouse was built at the sea end.

The South Pier had no such issues. It was never breached and maintained its original shape and structure. It is 1.5km in length and curves out to sea. It also has a lighthouse at the far end. It is accessible from South Shields’ seafront and is open to the public if the weather is set fair.
A third lighthouse stands slightly further upstream on a site between North Shields and South Shields to warn shipping about sand banks in the river. The Herd Groyne lighthouse, painted red, has an upper part of corrugated iron and wood which sits on 12 cylindrical steel legs.

 

A UK Coastal Trip – Tynemouth

Blyth

The busy, port town of Blyth anchors the northern end of a long stretch of golden sandy beach. There has been a settlement here since the 12th century but it was in the early part of the 18th century that real developments took place with the rise of coal mining, ship building, the railway and modern fishing methods. The port handles more than 1.5m tonnes of cargo each year. On the edge of the town the coast road passes a marine engineering business where huge wheels of cable can be seen through the railings, along with the rising skeletons of deep-sea drilling rigs.

Seaton Sluice

 

The southern end of this magnificent beach is anchored by the village of Seaton Sluice. All the way along grassy dunes run behind the golden sands. The village with pubs, shops and cafes, is at the mouth of the Seaton Burn and has a small harbour, created in1660, to export coal & salt.


The coastline from Blyth down to Tynemouth consists of wide beaches of glorious soft sand, backed by imposing dunes in places, but more often by low cliffs which provide more sturdy foundations for resort towns to grow up catering for Newcastle’s working population and an increasing number of visitors.

St Mary’s Lighthouse

St Mary’s Lighthouse was built on a small rocky island on the site of an 11th century monastic chapel. It is reached by a causeway at low tide. The monks maintained a lantern on the tower to warn passing ships of the danger of the rocks. It was completed in 1898 but went out of operation in 1984. The lighthouse, and the former keepers’ cottages, are now open to the public with great views for those prepared to climb the 137 spiral steps to the top. The island contains rockpools, clifftop grassland and a beach.

Whitley Bay

All along here the shore reveals evidence of a long history of coal mining, many seams dug far out under the sea. The decline of coal mining coincided with the emergence of several seaside holiday resorts. Whitley Bay was one of these. The North Tyne Loop railway was opened in 1882 and connected a number of coastal villages to Newcastle. Today’s metro system follows the same line and it is not uncommon to see folk travelling out from the centre of the city in their beachwear and flipflops. The areas around Spanish City and the promenade have been redeveloped and the town has a lively night scene, particularly at weekends.

Cullercoats

Cullercoats was founded in 1539 as a fishing harbour. As a port, salt and coal were exported from here. However, the salt industry declined and the growth of the railways led to coal going elsewhere. The last salt pans moved to Blyth in 1726. In the 19th century, piers were built on either side of the harbour to provide shelter for the many open top fishing vessels, called cobles. At the same time, they created a safe beach making it popular for families and young people alike. Dove Marine Laboratory is a research centre for Newcastle University.

Tynemouth

The ruins of Tynemouth priory and castle stand on a rocky headland at the mouth of the River Tyne. In the 7th century a monastery was built here and later fortified. During troubles with Scotland, English kings and queens stayed in the castle and priory. Villagers settled in the shelter of this fortified priory. Around 1325 the priory built a port for fishing and trading.

From the foot of the priory cliff a huge, long breakwater stretches out to sea, forming the northern half of the sea defences to the mouth of the River Tyne. The centre part of its original curved design, completed in 1895, was destroyed by a storm. A new pier with a straighter line replaced it and in 1909 a lighthouse was built at the sea end. A broad walkway on the top allows locals and visitors to stroll along its length when the weather is clement.

The main part of the town stands back from the cliffs, its many popular bars and restaurants and coffee-shops make it an attractive destination for holiday makers from all over. Historic buildings and grand houses share the sky-line above the award-winning beaches which attract many visitors. Georgian terraces are around the corner from Victorian ship-owners’ houses and executive homes from more modern times.

A UK Coastal Trip – Newbiggin-by-the-Sea

Alnmouth

Alnmouth is a lovely village of colourful cottages and old houses, best known for its wide expanse of golden, sandy beaches. There is a good variety of restaurants, pubs, tea shops, gift shops and a golf course. It used to be an important grain port until, in 1806, a huge storm altered the course of the river and its estuary where it entered the sea, silting up the harbour. It is easy to get to by local bus and train, being on the East Coast Mainline.

Amble

Amble is a town at the mouth of the River Coquet. There are numerous cafes, bars, restaurants and fish & chip shops to satisfy the appetite of its many visitors. Its history stems from the sea and it still has a fishing industry, with marine repairs also carried out focussing on yachts and pleasure craft.


A mile up the River Coquet is Warkworth Castle, where the powerful Percy family lived from the 14th century.

Here you can act as king or queen for the day or be rowed across the river by the boatmen of Warkworth Hermitage. Only accessible by boat, this 14th century chapel is hewn from the rock face. It was here that monks prayed for the souls of the Dukes of Northumberland. Today you might catch sight of seals and otters swimming up to this curious cave-like chapel.

Cresswell

Two holiday caravan parks line the main road through the village, facing the open sea. The gentle slope of the beach is backed by extensive sand dunes. There is an ice-cream shop and a café down on the shore.

Newbiggin-by-the-Sea

Lining a vast sandy beach, with black streaks of coal that have risen to the surface in tendrils of darkness reaching out to sea, is a wide promenade atop a massive sea wall. The town bunkers down behind it. Half a million tonnes of sand from Skegness was used to rebuild the beach in 2007, along with the construction of a breakwater, decorated with a 12.5m high sculpture by Sean Henry called The Couple.

Newbiggin was an important port in the Middle Ages, only Hull and London shipped more grain. As a result of its wealth, the town was granted a weekly market and a yearly fair by Henry III. It was a coal mining town and had a small fishing industry. By the 19th century visitors started arriving, attracted to its sandy beaches, and hotels, guesthouses and bathing facilities grew up to serve these holidaymakers. The Maritime Centre stands at the end of the promenade and features exhibits on local history and the town’s maritime heritage. It also tells the story of the development of the telegraph. In 1868 a telegraph cable was laid from Cable House in Newbiggin to Jutland in Denmark. In the nearby village of Woodhorn is the Colliery Museum which uses the original pit buildings to depict the lives of mine workers.

A UK Coastal Trip – Dunstanburgh Castle

Low Newton-by-the-Sea

From the top of the hill on the approach to the village of Low Newton, there is a good view of the entire settlement nestling on the beach and dunes. In the past the locals made a living from fishing. The village pub at the bottom provides a clue.  An open-ended square of cream-washed cottages, in the centre of which The Ship Inn, originally known as the Smack Inn, looks directly out onto the glorious sandy beach. In the far distance the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle can be seen on the other side of Embleton Bay.

Craster

A smoking shed and a ring of houses overlook Craster’s small harbour. The village and estate have been owned by the Craster family since 1272. The harbour, built in 1904, was used to load local stone into boats which was then shipped to London and used as kerb stones. Today it is used by leisure boats and a few cobles that fish for lobster and crab. Craster is famous for producing kippers (cured herring) which are served in several establishments in the village which is a good base for coastal walking and fishing

Dunstanburgh Castle

From Craster it is a magnificent walk northwards along the cliffs for a mile or so to the stark ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle.

These stand on a rocky promontory sticking out into the North Sea. Work began on the castle in 1313. Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, who had inherited the Barony of Embleton, was a man of immense power and great wealth. He chose this spot as the place to build the ultimate status symbol of the day. Thomas commissioned the renowned mason, Master Elias, to build his castle. To impress folk, he gave instructions to build a ‘gatehouse 80ft high with a tower on either side’. In 1362, the castle came into the possession of John of Gaunt, the younger son of Edward III who turned it into a proper fort by strengthening its defences. These were needed for the first time in 1461 during the Wars of the Roses, when it was held by Sir Ralph Percy for the Lancastrians against Yorkist forces. Dunstanburgh then became a real backwater, so much so that by 1470 its garrison had turned to piracy to supplement their income. By the early 1500s it had fallen into ruin.

 Boulmer

The hamlet of Boulmer is a fishing community with a long stretch of low houses and bungalows along a flat, empty beach. Above the high tide mark the dry sand is littered with tatty, fishing paraphernalia and the occasional fishing coble is drawn up here when it is not moored off the beach. In the 18th/19th centuries Boulmer was notorious for its involvement in smuggling and piracy.  Crews came from up & down the coast, and from as far away as Scotland, to deal their ill-gotten gains. This included spirits from the Netherlands, salt and tobacco. The Village pub, The Fishing Boat Inn, was at the centre of this smuggling activity.

A UK Coastal Trip – Bamburgh Castle

Waren Mill

Further down the coast road from Beal, with Lindisfarne clearly in sight across the water, we come to the hamlet of Waren Mill on the edge of Budle Bay. At low tide the bay consists of weed-covered mud flats in front of soft sand dunes. It the far distance a ridge of sand almost cuts it off from the sea. It can be dangerous to venture out too far because of fast incoming tides. It is part of Lindisfarne Nature Reserve, popular with birdwatchers. As its name suggests a corn mill is first mentioned here in 1187. The present building dates from 1780 and was still working as a maltings in the early 1920s. Unused from 1978, it was eventually converted into holiday flats despite the objections of Lindisfarne Nature Reserve. The place has an industrial past. In the 13th Century it was a busy port although the harbour has now disappeared beneath rising silt.

Bamburgh

The village of Bamburgh lies on the main road with its pubs and guest houses and the small RNLI Grace Darling Museum.


Bamburgh Castle itself occupies a strong defensive position on a volcanic crag outside the village directly overlooking the beach.

There has been a fortified settlement here since Anglo-Saxon times when it was capital of Northumbria. Vikings destroyed it in 993. The Normans built the first proper castle on the site and its keep, 3 metres thick in places, still stands proud within its walls. The union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603 ended its role as a border fortress. It changed ownership a few times and, in 1704, Nathaniel Crewe, Bishop of Durham, bought it. Under his Trustees it housed a school and a hospital. It was the centre of its own mini ‘welfare state’. In 1874 it was purchased by a wealthy industrialist, Sir William Armstrong, who completed the renovations, turning it into the Victorian ideal of what a medieval castle should be like. His family still own it today and it is open to the public.

Seahouses

Terraces of grey-stoned houses overlook this little port. The working quay is covered in ropes, nets, crab pots, fish boxes and clusters of marker buoys.

Shuttered shacks advertise sea fishing trips and boats out to the Farne Islands.

Beadnell

The sea has nibbled its way into the land to create a hard, stony beach with fingers of concrete and rock strata crossing it in a diagonal direction. A minor road sweeps around the bay protecting the crescent of homes from the elements.

A UK Coastal Trip – The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

A narrow lane descends down through the hamlet of Beal to the shore. At low tide a causeway is revealed which allows vehicles to cross the muddy-mixed sands to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a place that oozes history, religion and past spirits.

But beware – twice a day the tide comes in and covers this whole stretch, between the island and the mainland. Wooden poles mark out the pedestrian routes and high refuge boxes have been constructed along the way, just in case any of the many visitors are caught out by the tide.

The car park is large, the tea rooms plentiful and the atmosphere wild and intriguing.


St Aiden came from Scotland to convert Northumberland to Christianity. He founded the Lindisfarne Priory in around 634 AD. It eventually fell into disuse, leaving the extensive ruins that can be seen today. The island is still a place of pilgrimage and it is the final destination on the long-distance walking route of Saint Cuthbert’s Way.


Rising from the sheer rock face at the tip of the island is Lindisfarne Castle. Built in 1550 using stone from the abandoned priory buildings, it defended the harbour against attack from Scots and Norsemen. In 1901 Edward Hudson bought Lindisfarne Castle and gave it a luxurious makeover, turning it into a comfortable but quirky holiday home. In 2017 the castle underwent extensive renovation and is managed by the National Trust. My photograph shows this work taking place under its protective tent.

from http://www.visitnorthumberland.com

The castle is open to the public, as are the nearby lime kilns at Castle Point. Lime was used in constructing the homes and to enrich the soil. Numerous pubs, hotels, tea rooms and guest houses service the thousands of visitors who come to the island to immerse themselves in its history, to appreciate its wildlife or to enjoy its fine beaches.

A UK Coastal Trip – Berwick-upon-Tweed

Hi Everyone,

Well, here we all are stuck in our little bubbles hoping the world will stay away and not burst through to harm us, our loved ones or those out there least able to deal with such adversity. We are all out of sorts and unsettled, unsure for how long the present crisis will last. At some time in the future we will get our lives back. Let’s hope our world will not have changed too much by then and we can return to whatever it is that gives us our happiness, our harmony and our value.

So, what to do in the meantime? As you know over the years I have been sharing a blog of images and words, reflecting my travels and my passion for new places and cultures. So, I thought: use my catalogue of experiences and images to show what a wondrous world still exists out there and provide inspiration for planning visits and travel once life returns to some normality.

Firstly, I am going to share with you my journey around the coast of the United Kingdom. It is incomplete at this juncture. I had planned to cover the last regions (the West Country, the North West and, maybe, Scotland) in the coming months but the present situation has put a kibosh on that. However, the internet is a powerful tool, so where I lack my own material, I will draw on information put up by local tourist boards.

This project started 6 or so years ago as an attempt to visit the many places of the UK that I had never visited before. I decided to visit every settlement, every hamlet, village, town and city, that is sited on our coastline and take an image of the shore or from the shore. I started in the North East, purely because most of the east coast was largely a mystery to me, and moved clockwise around the UK.

Our journey starts –

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Berwick is a town full of history and memorials from a turbulent past and just 3 miles from the Scottish border. In medieval times it passed backwards and forwards between the Scots and the English. It was captured and sacked13 times before finally falling into English hands in 1482. It still retains close connections with Scotland as demonstrated by the fact that the town’s football team plays in the Scottish League. The town is on the north bank of the River Tweed. Three bridges cross the estuary at this point.

The first, seen here, is the Jacobean Berwick Bridge, built of stone between 1611 & 1635 which now takes one-way traffic from east to west. Behind that is the four-arched Royal Tweed Bridge, built in concrete, which takes the A1 main road around the town. The third, the Royal Border Bridge was built by RL Stephenson in 1847 to take the main line railway over the estuary.

Berwick’s walls and ramparts were built in Elizabethan times to protect the town from the invading Scots. These defences, wide and extensive, can still be clearly seen. The road to the golf club, the cliffs and the town’s small beach cuts through the thick stonework in a narrow tunnel.

Tweedmouth

On the southern bank of the River Tweed, Tweedmouth is part of the suburban overflow of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

King John attempted to fortify Tweedmouth against the Scots in 1203, but building the defences were interrupted twice, and his half-finished castle was finally destroyed when William the Lion of Scotland occupied Berwick. In an annual ceremony dating back to 1292, Tweedmouth schools elect a Salmon Queen to mark the start of Salmon Week, a traditional celebration which dates to medieval times.

Spittal

 

The small resort town of Spittal lies further along the south bank. Its lovely, soft sandy beach can be seen beyond the RNLI Station. It is backed by a Victorian promenade and ‘Venetian’ pavilion, built in 1928. Berwick’s Lighthouse can be seen far away on the far side of the estuary.

Goswick

A single-track road runs through the fairways of Goswick Golf Club, parallel to the dunes and between the railway line and the sea. It acts as an artery for the homes and the smallholdings that form this hamlet.

2 days in classy San Sebastian

San Sebastian is in the Basque country of  northern Spain, close to the French border. What a delightful place it is. The sun was shining brightly on the Sunday afternoon as we got off the bus that bought us from Bilbao airport. So the first stop had to be the wonderfully soft sands of what must be the best town beach in the whole of Spain, and that is saying something.

100 San Sebastian Playa de la Concha 111

The beach stretches around the bay in an almost perfect crescent, pulled between the two rocky hills which anchor its ends where the sea first broke through to the softer rock. Tall elegant apartment blocks and a wide promenade look down to the sands through a intricately patterned wrought iron balistrade. Families and friends lie out on a mosaic of towels absorbing the warm autumn rays and enjoying the cool waters of the Bay of Biscay.

100 San Sebastian Playa de la Concha 114

The Old Town is a grid of narrow streets which hide San Sebastian’s signature hot spots – eateries. Flash Michelin Star restaurants play neighbours to so many pintxos bars of all shapes and ages which provide a feasting experience for locals and visitors alike. Pintxos is the Basque word for tapas. They are a great way to sample some of the most fantastic cuisines in the world, cheaply and risk-free. Portions are small, prices low, and service quick. Many bars have food on the bar-top that you can either help yourself to or point to purchase. 101 Pintxos in the Old Town 3

And the best thing? It is all washed down with red Rioja at 1.85 Euros a glass. Heaven.

Days are spent window shopping in the elegant shopping streets or finding something more local in some of the smaller alleys of the old town. It was reassuring to still find specialist shops flourishing like chandellors or hat shops or the ‘bedtime shop’ which sold pjamas, dressing gowns, bras and hats (hmmmm).  Old churches can still be found in numbers around the backstreets which lead to the harbour.

103 Basílica de Santa María del Coro110 Harbour 1105 Church of San Sebastian

Squares and open spaces provide a relief from the heat of the summer and the storms of the winter and provide the town with a feeling of culture and elegance. Constitution Square is one example.

106 Constitution Square 2106 Constitution Square 5

All in all, San Sebastian has a feel of class and elegence and grace, both its buildings, its boulevards, its atmosphere and the dress and attire of its inhabitants, particularly the older generation. There are things going on which contribute to this cosmipolitan feel – theatre, music, street art. I loved it.

Georgia – where east meets west and west meets east

Georgia is a beautiful country, especially at this time of year in the early stages of autumn.

Much of it lies in the Caucasus Mountains. Rivers have cut down through the rock to create deep valleys, the sides and ridges covered in mixed deciduous woodland and pine forest.

These valleys control all the major road routes through Georgia and dictate where people live and work.

At the same time the country’s recent history has a huge impact on the landscape.

You can be driving in late, shadowy sunshine, winding a colourful road surrounded by the oranges and yellows and greens of woods and forests and orchards and then you come into a large town. When the Soviet Union collapsed the local economies collapsed at the same time. Suddenly local industry could not get parts and raw materials and more distant markets in Russia disappeared. So now factories lie rusting and the people who worked in them have to scratch a living by selling produce from the road side like honey

or sweet bread or homemade liquor or making home-deliveries on a simple trolley. Maybe the birth of Amazon!

Homes in the countryside tend to be single-storey and quite basic, set amongst mature fruit trees against a backdrop of turning autumn.

In the towns ghastly, tired, cement-built apartment blocks, constructed in the 50s in the Soviet era, house the people and the workforce. These sentinels stand out above the bungalows and detached homes of the more affluent suburbs.

Tbilisi is an attractive, modern, cosmopolitan city. There is bit of a buzz about the place with the beat of music clubs mixing it with the clatter of glitzy restaurants and local eateries and bars. The centre is dotted with historic sites and churches alongside modern government buildings constructed with glass to signify the new climate of openness.

Outside the capital life is hard. Little has changed since the Soviet era. But progress is being made. New building is taking place in the mountains to develop the infant ski industry. A new motorway is being constructed to the west of Tbilisi. Tourism may well be the way forward for many.

Georgia is good place to visit, particularly Tbilisi.. Hotels are good, food is hearty and tasty, eating out is cheap, beer and wine are excellent and inexpensive. People are unused to foreign visitors and can appear suspicious, but they do crack into smiles and laughter if approached and engaged.

The air is clean, the scenery magnificent and it is what it says on the tin – the place where east meets west, where Asia meets Europe. Well worth a visit.

Georgia – the cradle of wine

I have left the best until last and that is Georgia’s ancient wine industry. In Tbilisi every street has a wine shop where you can sample wine, taste wine, buy wine. Outside the capital there are signs everywhere for vineyards, wine cellars, wine producers, wine routes.

The wine region of Kakheti lies in the fertile lands in the eastern part of Georgia. 70% of Georgia’s vines are grown here.

It was 6000 BC when the first grapes were found in Georgia which is why they proudly boast to be the cradle of wine. They produce 520 varieties of wine in the country. Alexander Chavchavadze bought European methods of wine production to Georgia in the early 19th century. The cellar at his summer pad still sells wines and chacha using local grapes.

We stop for lunch with a local family who have their own vineyard and produce their own wine – dry red and dry white, the latter more like amber.

The white is…..well, a bit iffy for my palette. The red is great from the start. And it was the start of a great meal, in the sunshine, in the shade of fruit-laden vines. Great fresh food and copious amounts of the family’s very drinkable plonk.

A bit of methodology for you….. The grapes in the fields are harvested. The harvest is thrown through the hatch of the 150 year old wine cellar and into the trough where feet trample and squish the grapes. The liquid drains into one of the three underground vats, which, once filled, is sealed.

Fermentation takes place. When ready the wine is removed with the help of a clay jug and allowed to settle in large jars before being bottled.

A further step is to create chacha. The grape leftovers are mushed together and placed into large clay pots where fermentation continues. The vessels are sealed. After 6 months or so it is filtered and decanted into smaller vessels. Repeat filtration creates a stronger spirit called chacha, rated 50%+ on the Richter scale of spirits.

What a great lunch. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the day.

 

 

Mtskheta, Georgia’s former capital

A drive back to Tbilisi today, by way of Mtskheta, the former capital of Georgia.

The 11th century Sveti-Tskhoveli Cathedral is the largest functioning cathedral in Georgia.

Jvari church is perched high up on a hill overlooking the valley. It is the spot where St. Nino set up her cross in the 4th century which converted the town from paganism to Christianity.

To contrast with this ancient place I attach some images from the drive back into Tblisi. Modern history is just as poignant.

 

Moving about the provincial towns of Georgia

These three days spent out of Tbilisi give a real insight into everyday life in Georgia. Wherever the destination it requires a long drive along one of the country’s few major roads. The number of motorways can be counted on one hand. I must share this image of the gents’ toilet in one service station.

The mountain regions present their own transport problems besides the normal steep, winding roads and that is convoys of those huge 18 wheeled lorries that slave it up the inclines and then race it down the other side. These single lane mountain highways are not built for overtaking, particularly by the trucks. But they take ownership of the road. They are just as forceful as the cars, thundering past other transport and forcing their way in before the approaching calamity just misses their front wing. Sometimes there are three of these juggernauts belting along in opposite directs but ending up side by side with inches between each of them.

Uplistsikhe is a large pre-Chrjstian cave town, now with a more recent church built at the top. Ancient temples and theatres can still be seen and water was collected from the river by way of an underground tunnel.

Gori is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. There, that is Gori. Not a lot else to say.

Kutaisi is a pleasant city with a wonderful fountain at its centre. A large park provides shade and opportunities to wander, relax and appreciate statues of national figures. It has an Opera House and a theatre…. and a Macdonalds!.

Blocks of traditional buildings stand next to modern constructions. I got caught up with the locals. I found my two brothers amongst the taxi drivers.

This lovely lady worked in the cafe under the tree.

These guys were simply passing the time of day. So chilled….and pleased to be asked to have their photo taken.

The 11th century Bagrati Cathedral stands in a prominent position above the river. It suffers the indignation of being one of those few sites to have its UNECO World Heritage in Danger status withdrawn due to a very unsympathetic, modern renovation at the side.

The frescoes within the buildings that form the Academy & Monastry, founded in the 12th century by King David the Builder zf Gelati, are magnificent. The main church and the smaller chapels are covered in images from the life and death of Christ, dating from the 16th century. Awesome.

I should at this point share with you the fact that Georgia and England both share their same patron saint, as will as the same flag – a red cross on a white background. Needless to say, the Georgians got there first. English crusaders heard about this legendary figure in the Holy Land and decided to adopt him as their own – the dragon representing the infidel.

An awesome drive up the Georgian Military Highway

Georgia are playing Uruguay in the 2019 Rugby World Cup today. So the day has to start in a bar in the old town. The idea of going to a bar to watch sport has not reached Georgia. There was a dozen or so expats and a handful of very passionate locals. Still, at least they opened early and were showing it…..and Georgia won.

So then I had to play a bit of catch up.

The drive north out of Tbilisi on the Georgian Military Highway is awesome. We follow the river out of the city and soon start to wind our way through the Caucasus Mountains. It is wide at this point, maybe 500 metres across. Well into the mountains a reservoir has been formed behind a large dam, creating the energy to generate hydro-electric power. Behind it the river bubbles along in a shallow channel lacking any real force until the spring snows melt.

The rest of the width of the valley is taken up by rusty excavating machinery collecting gravel and sand. Inflatables lie in clusters waiting for the white water and the tourists. We pass the occasional village looking idyllic, faded houses hiding amongst old established fruit trees and mounds of hay.

The valley sides, and the slopes behind, have a dense fuzz of low deciduous trees displaying a blanket of turning autumn colours.

The valley becomes narrower and the road starts to climb into the mountains. The sides close in, the gradient increases, the slopes loose their tree cover and bare rock dominates. These are Georgia’s ski slopes and a fair bit of development is going on.

The road was built after the Soviet invasion of Georgia and is the main artery from Russia south. It is used by convoys of heavy lorries which trundle up and over the pass, maneuvering around the mountains bends with great difficulty.

Stephantsminda is a mountain village with one main attraction – Holy Trinity Church. The church stands high above the settlement.

There are two ways to reach it – walk or ride in a jeep. Sorry folks, I took the easy option. The landscape at the top is truly special, especially with the backdrop of autumn yellow in the trees and grasses.

As the sun slopes off, the temperature drops like a stone and cloud starts to whisp in around the houses down in the village, creating layered patterns of bonfire-like haze.

The delight that is Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia

We cross over the border into Georgia and it immediately feels like the different country it is. New language, new alphabet. The place where wine was first produced and where European Man first lived. The world’s first thread was found here, and also honey, thousands of years before Christ. Saint Nino is one of Georgia’s most iconic saints.

And St George is one of the country’s patron saints. Yep, the same as England. Have a look at the Georgian flag. Maybe we’re related.

Georgia has a population of 3.7 million and 1.1 million live in Tbilisi, the capital.

Tbilisi is true to its history. Old and new stand shoulder to shoulder, each contributing to the atmosphere and character of the capital.

The lemon squeezer towers of the cathedral and 12th century churches and the fortifications standing up on the high ground, overlook the shiny edifices of 21st century architecture. A smart cable car system links the two and making a clear statement that Georgia has arrived.

Most locals live in the many, large estates of 7/8 storey Soviet apartment blocks that cluster around the approaches to the city. The old town is home to many.

Locals are happy to sit and chat on the pavements and squares.

Tbilisi is a bright, vibrant place. Vehicles are modern and buses are bright and clean. Even the Hop On/Off buses look at home and are evidence of a booming tourist scene. Traffic moves freely through the wide tree-lined avenues, not always keeping to the speed limit.

Large parks and open squares combine to give the city its green credentials and a feeling of calm and freshness. The river adds to the feeling of peace and tranquility as it winds its way to the Black Sea.

Initially, Tblisis feels like any other European city. But as you delve deeper the influences of east and west & of ancient and modern are clear to see, giving the city a unique feel. The bathhouse complex, still operating, is one example.

Georgia was on the Silk Route and this is one of the many caravanserai in the cathedral, converted from a resting place for merchants and soldiers into a cultural center.

Elegant, modern architecture stands next to glass-roofed government buildings and then to cultural attractions like the puppet theatre, here, with its extravagent@y unique ticket office.

Tbilisi is well worth a visit.

What is the way ahead for Armenia?

I don’t really know what to make of Armenia. I’ve really enjoyed travelling around this country where everything is so very different. First impression from Yerevan is that it is a cosmopolitan, cultured place with a very western feel.

As one moves further away from the capital the mountains increasingly dominate.

Whether you live high up on the high ridges or down on the valley farmlands or in the concrete and steel of the towns and cities, life is hard, really hard. There is little money, winters are long and raw, industry and the infrastructure is painfully run down. The beauty of the landscape cannot hide the fact that with the collapse of the Soviet Union the country has been in a time warp for fifty odd years and it will require a superhuman effort to overcome the legacy of the past.

I can visit spiritual places and medieval monasteries and beautiful forests and eat juicy tomatoes and drink wonderful wine. I can interact with the locals in gardens and bars and share a laugh and shake a hand.

 

But then I pass through Alaverdi and any optimism hits rock bottom. This city used to have a copper factory. No longer. It now feels like a war zone with empty, wrecked buildings and a feeling of desolation and hopelessness.


From the 16th century Eastern Armenia came under the influence of Iran and Western Armenia became part of the Ottoman Empire. By 1800s the former was occupied by Russia and the western part, the vast proportion of the Armenian ancestral lands, remained in Turkey.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the Turks began the process of genocide against the western Armenian territories. In 1894/6 villages were razed to ground and 1000s killed. East Armenia sided with Russia in WWI. In 1915 the Turks began the ‘Turkification’ of the Armenian population. The men were treated as virtual slaves and labourers. Their families were sent into desert where they suffered enormously. Of a population of 2 million Armenians in 1915, only 388,000 remained in 1922.

This is the main reason why the population of present-day Armenia is 2.5 million and over 10 million ethnic Armenians live elsewhere in the world. The fact is that only 10% of Armenia’s ancestral land lies in the present-day republic. 90% of it lies in Turkey.

There is still much evidence of the Soviet Union throughout Armenia. The Russians are popular with many. They came to the aid of Armenia against foreign aggression throughout recent history and they still guard the border between Armenia and Turkey today.

The job ahead is huge. But the people are focussed on creating a fair society where people from different backgrounds can live together in harmony, reflecting the strength of their history and the nature of their geography. Good luck to them.

Armenia

Lake Sevan is hugely important as a provider of energy, a resort area for locals and visitors and as the source of irrigation for the orchards and farms of the hinterland. Fish from the lake, particularly trout, are an important source of food. 28 rivers flow in, only one flows out. There are 6 hydro electric power stations which use the waters of the lake to produce energy.

The monastery at Sevanavank holds a commanding position over the lake and the resort that has grown on the shore near the President’s summer residence.

Lake Sevan is Armenia’s seaside. The resort is full of reminders of what Soviet summer fun must have been like. Bleached walkways lead to the water, rusty metal umbrellas cover flaking seats, tired bamboo shield picnic tables from the wind off the lake. Leather-skinned men, with cigarettes glued to their lips, offer boat rides.

The hawkers are here selling cheap jewellery, precious stones and local produce.

Then it is a drive into the Caucasus Mountains proper. The landscape changes completely. This feels like mountains. Tall deciduous forest grows up the side of canyons and gorges and through their turning foliage the highest ridges are bare and exposed. Streams provide a harmonious accompaniment of trickles and hushes on their descent through the trees. The road winds through this natural cathedral where sky and rock and flora combine to lift the spirit. Haghartsin Monastery is hidden away in the forest.

Dilijan is a small town nestling in a valley.

We pass through a Molokan village and drop into a home for tea. They are a sect of Russian Old Believers who live in their own communities and lead a very simple, rural life. Tea is very simple- tea, potato doughnuts, lavash (thin, floppy pancake-type pitta breads) with home made apricot jam.

One last night in Armenia.

The Wings of Tatev

Today we fly with eagles. We are taking the Wings of Tatev, the world’s longest reversible aerial tramway running 5,752 metres from the terminal down to Tatev Monastery. The journey takes 12 minutes. Two cable cars cross the valley,  suspended from two sets of cables running between 4 huge pylons. Below, the sharp faces of the Voratan Canyon are starting to display their autumn foliage.

At one point a relay of three golden eagles ride the thermals around the cable car.

The monastery consists of numerous churches, a university, a library and a refectory and dates from the 10th/13th centuries.

Now it’s time to head northwards across the mountains to Lake Sevan.

The Silk Road is not a single route. Numerous routes crisscrossed the area moving goods between the markets of Europe and Asia. Different routes travelled across this dry, dusty landscape – north-south and east-west. Caravanserai were overnight halts, or inns, where traders and merchants could rest up and replenish themselves and their animals before moving on. Selim was one such caravanserai, originally built in 1332.

Different spaces had specific uses: the central area was for the animals; the sides were to store the goods being carried; there were biars at the edge for fodder for the animals; troughs carried running water for man & beast. They were secure and offered protection to travellers on their long journey between China and the markets of Europe.

200 km to Goris in the southern Caucasus

Today we head south. The road crosses the flat, barren plain outdide Yerevan sandwiched between parallel lines of well maintained orchards of fruit – apricots, apples, plums, all displayed on the road-side stalls of the farmers. At one point rectangular lakes of water appear on one side. Strangely this is a big fish farming area and the signs over the stalls depict a range of similar looking fish.

We divert to spend time at Khor Virap Monastery. This was built in 1662 around the remains of a 6th century chapel where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 14 years.

You can climb down a set of scary steps to visit the cave where he was imprisoned…as long as claustrophobia is not one of your conditions. The hole is 40cms in diameter!

The further south we go is like heading further back in time. The strip of orchards continues on either side, only its character changes. Soon we are in the wine producing area. Very good reds. Whites are a bit sweet. Irrigation pipes have been constructed alongside the road, like complicated, open Marble-Run systems running all the way from Lake Sevan.

The roads are very basic. In places only they are just passable and in places construction crews are laying new tarmac. The vehicles are also varied. New Mercedes lorries and coaches share the road with rusty trucks, Ladas and old Opel, many held together with wire and a smile. Ask your parents what a Lada is.The road starts to climb out of the valley and into the high rolling landscape of the mountains. It realy is layers of mountains, in front of layers of mountains against a backdrop of layers of mountains. Not the peaks of Europe but a more gentle, grass covered landscape of rolling bands of ridges and undulating folds of expansive green-tufted blankets and rugged rugs.


Meandering around the lines of valleys & high ranges, the road enters passes and climbs gorges and descends high canyons. Noravank Monastery, built in the 13th century, is set at the head of one of these gorges.

The road twists and turns following the tight contours of the land, up and down the curves and courses of the peaks and troughs. It goes on for miles upon miles with the only changes in the roll of the gradient and the changing lines of different types of electricity pylons.

Occasionally the road descends into a village where underground springs nourish summer trees or some basic crops on which to feed a few cattle and sheep and goats. It might provide a bit of energy to produce cement or other building materials. With no timber out clay in evidence corrugated iron takes its place as an essential pay of the building process. The motorway services….

Goris is our overnight stop.

Magical moments at Gehard Monastery

Armenia is so intriguing. It is only day two but I am already fascinated by this ancient country. There is some pretty nasty historical stuff which I will share with you at a later date but I want to give you a flavour of the place today as I find it, unpicking its many different layers to get to its core.

So, some images to extend your understanding of life in Yerevan. The wide, tree-lined boulevards give the city its cosmopolitan feel. But people need somewhere to live and work and the city expanded outwards in the 1960’s with tall blocks standing functional and strong to catch for the needs of ordinary people.

Today we drive out of town into the mountains. Armenia is made up of rocks and stones and mountains, with mountains behind mountains, hiding behind even more mountains. Once out of the city this becomes obvious.

These guys were singing in a small arched gateway looking out over the rolling hills. Awesome.

Gerhard Monastery is our destination, where caves in the hillside housed monastic cells and cluster around a collection of churches. The main cathedral was built in 1215. Let me take you on a magical journey. First we go up past the locals selling breads, sweets and dried fruits.

Through the gateway into the courtyard, the main buildings can be seen on the left. You know you are somewhere special when you are surrounded by ancient carvings and stonework.

It gets really special when you get inside a number of these worshipping spaces.

I am drawn to one. I think it’s the cathedral. It is dark and only lit by a central hole high above.

Three groups of singers come into my space and take me somewhere I’ve never been to before. Surrounded by dusty ancient pillars and carvings, their voices chant and hum and exist around me releasing emotion and releasing tears of wonder from my eyes. Wow!

So, you see, in one day you get Armenia – ancient and modern.

 

Adventures in Armenia

OK. After several years of playing my travelling very safe I decided it was time to push back my horizons and try a new adventure to somewhere a bit out of the ordinary and where I have never travelled to before. So I am off to the former Soviet republics of Armenia and Georgia, travelling northwards through one to the other. New language. New alphabets. New cultures. New environments. These countries between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea straddle the Caucasus Mountains. The caravans of the Silk Route started and ended their journeys around here and criss-crossed the area on their way to and from Europe and Asia.

The adventure starts in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia from way back in 180AD when Christianity was first adopted by the Armenian people. How about this for the view out of my window on the first morning.

Yes, that’s snow on that peak reflecting the rays of the morning sun. I learnt, as the day progressed, that views of Mount Ararat, the place where Noah set down his ark, would accompany us all the time we were in the city.The place has really developed since the turn of the 20th century. Grand 9/10 storey apartment buildings line wide leafy boulevards. It has the feel of a cosmopolitan Paris. Statues of writers, leaders, artists, soldiers (even Armenia’s favourite son – Charles Asnavor) peer through the spreading branches of columns of plane trees on every street.

It’s Sunday. So it seems appropriate to go to church…..well, 2 churches and 2 cathedrals to be precise. First stop is the ancient church of Hripsime.

The next stop is the church of Gayane, covered with its 21st century shell of scaffolding.

The artist managed to capture is grace and form using his imagination. These guys are only too pleased to have their photos taken in the shaded peace of the gardens.

The service was in full flow in the cathedral of Echmiadzin with a packed congregation and tag teams of clergymen preaching in all four corners before heading away from the chants, the singing and the haze of incense into the fresh air outside. Bearded clergy stand around discussing theology and putting the world to right, and maybe heaven.

The 7th-century ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral kindles images of those first days of the bible and the birth of Christianity, especially as the silhouette of Mt Ararat holds firm between the pillars.

What an amazing first day in Armenia.

Sartene is Corsica in a nutshell

So, the last day before a return to the UK and time to share one last place with you. Sartene could be Corsica in a nutshell, set in the ancient hills of this mountainous island.

The town’s pride in its culture and history is reflected in the evenings performance of local, traditional choral pieces in the church. Sartene is well known for its wine along with having a long history of piracy, banditry and gangsters.

The evening sun gives the tall buildings, built in the same rock as the steep hill on which they stand, a sunny glaze, allowing them to be absorbed by the surrounding landscape of rock and wooded mountain peaks and ridges.

Having had a break in one of the cafes of the Place Porta, it’s time ťo track back in time into the fascinating old town of Santa Anna which spreads down the hill within ancient walls.

Its narrow streets are crammed with a incredible medley of tall ancient houses, linked by arches, arcades and alleys, and sometimes blocked by unexpected rocks and stairwells.

Life in medieval times had not changed one bit. You can feel the cramped, squalid living conditions and imagine wonderfully gnarled and evil characters and celebrate that one lives in the 21st century and not the 15th.

I’ve enjoyed Corsica. Never easy to get anywhere on its appendix of roads but always worth it when you do.

The journey is always as good as the destination. It’s scenery of tall peaks and grand forests, of soft-sanded bays and craggy coastlines, of ragged rocks and granite outcrops, the wild Corsica is never far away. This is balanced out with ancient, historic harbours, a proud history symbolised by the Corsican flag of a headscarfed pirate, classy hotels and chic residences for the rich and famous, traditional dishes from the land and the sea and local wines and customs that celebrate an independent and unique culture.

The charm of Port Vecchio

A few days have been spent enjoying the sun, admiring the views, counting the layers as the sun sets behind the rows of hills that lead to the sea, cosying into warm, soft sand on local beaches and only coming up for light refreshment and a cooling off in the gentle waters of the Med. The nearest beach is 20 minutes away.

ou can see the line of the surf from the terrace. Driving the roads here is like driving through the wiggles of a long appendix. Monotonous maybe but it’s easy. Nothing can overtake, everything goes at 40 mph. At this time of year parking has been easy and eateries and beach bars serve easily and quickly.

Still the holiday marches on and full advantage must be taken. The delights of Porto Vecchio, on the south-east coast are an hour or so away. So an early start means we set off and arrive for coffee. The old town walls overlook the approach to the harbour.

The old town is delightful. It’s not huge – a little square with tidy houses around the edge and a quaint, little roundabout for small kiddies.

Cafes abound with everyone trying to find some shade under umbrellas or up narrow streets.

From the church at the highest point cobbled streets leaf down to gateways through which the harbour seen and the salt flats on the far side.

Shops are classy and expensive, restaurants are of good quality. It is a cosmopolitan place with its own charm and warmth.

Worth a visit.

Taking the rough with the smooth in south-west Corsica

Having spent at enjoyable day in Bodifacio full of dusty history with flavours of the rich and famous, I assumed that I was getting to get more of the same when I visited the beaches and ports and harbours of the south west. Wrong!

First is Propriano. It looks great from a distance.

There is a suggestion of an old harbour with a few oldish buildings lining the quayside behind the cabins offering boat trips and fishing excursions. An evening night market of tat and restaurants offers pizzas and moules to the flotilla of sails that have assembled on the pontoons. Nothing jumps out saying ‘eat me, eat me’. All is very tame and unexciting.

Porto Pollo is the nearest beach to the house.

It takes about 25 minutes in the car and the bay has the softest sand. It is easy to park on the road at this time of year and cut through the small passages, past purple and pink flowering tall shrubs, to a sparsely crowded bay of empty towels and uninhabited umbrellas. And supervised by a team of lifeguards. All very civilised.

At the far end, a harbour of small, gleaming boats preens itself in the setting sun.

And then the capital, Ajaccio.

Oh dear. Two cruise liners were in town. One was so large – at least 10 decks. It was a monstrosity. The passenger contents had unloaded and blue- stickered groups were led through the tat streets by paddle numbers held high in the air, searching for souvenirs and anything of interest. There was very little of this. No old town, no old streets, no old harbour. I missed the citadel and the cathedral was closed. So no great shakes there. And everywhere was teaming and steaming, stocked with hot, squeezing people, shoving and elbowing to the few bits of shade offered by buildings. I took a few images but really could not get excited.

Napoleon was born in Ajaccio. The Napolean Museum is up a narrow street. We didn’t go in but had a drink outside, listened to the bawdy, recorded singing and watched the progress of the tourist parties as they promenaded behind their guide in their limited time ashore.

It was so good to escape to the winding roads back home.

The rich and famous, and lots of ordinary folk, in Bonifacio

As the sun took a day off today it was time to go exploring in the car. Roads follow the coast and wind through the contours that mark the mountains and ravines. It takes forever to travel any distances and the sat nav shows why. The routes are shown as a long, tight snakes lassooing its way through scrubby green terrain. Following the coast road south, these images are typical of the glorious open space that is Corse.

Our destination is Bonifacio, right at the south of the island. Strategically the town was at the crossroads of the early trading routes between Italy and Spain and north Africa. Pisa was the first country to govern here until the end of the 12th century. It’s position bought wealth and revenues to the town through fishing and trade. Initially the port was simply a beach where fishing boats were drawn. After 1900 the marina was build up and the quayside cafes and eateries established, making it a docking place for the yachts and boats of the rich and famous, many dwarfing the dusty, faded buildings.

A long terrace of classy table layouts and extortionate menus pull well-heeled owners from their gin palaces to pose for the rest of us as we shuffle along at our visitors’ pace like groups of penguins in awe of another species.


Overlooking the harbour scene from its position on the tall limestone cliffs is the old town, guarded by the massive, medieval citadel, built in the 9th century. It is in its narrow streets that the full force of the tourist can be felt. Trails of cars move into town to squeeze every space from the car parks, releasing families and groups to zig-zag their way up cobbled steps and inclines to the massive gates and shops, built to keep seafaring enemies away and not cash-touting visitors.

The cobbled streets, particularly around the Church of St Marie Majeure, the oldest building here, are squashed between tall buildings linked by lines of flying buttresses. These are evident throughout the old town and are not required to support the buildings but are gutters which distribute rainwater around the settlement and into water tanks. Substitute pirates and merchants and fishermen and capes and gowns for the skimpy shorts and the strappy tops and the buggies and the carriers and the streets ooze history and times past. Romeo art thou there?

Base camp in Sollacaro

The base for this trip is the small village of Sallacaro on the edge of the mountains on the south west corner of Corsica. The house has amazing views from its terrace. To the left a dart of caramel-coloured houses stands out of the fluffy, scrubby trees that cover the hillside.

The arrow-head points to the coast in the distance straight ahead. A broken mirror of water shines as the sun sets over it in the west. To the right, tree-covered peaks and slopes run down in diagonal lines, heading directly towards the small bays of sand and flat agricultural land that lines each one for a short distance inland.

Sallacaro is a small, friendly village. About 50 houses line the road as it meanders down the hillside. There are two stores, epiceries, two restaurants, two bars, one that serves pizzas, a church and an elementary school with a post office sharing the same building.

The centre is the sharp curve of a band at the far end, marked by the tallest house, all four storeys of it. This is the social centre of the village with all four eating & drinking places next door out opposite each other. There’s no need to go any where out of the village!

From the terrace of the house the weather presents itself. If it’s feeling mischievous then the sun sets, dropping its core gently behind the bumps and lumps of the distant layers, creating a devil’s palette of oranges and reds. Sometimes the weather sends over mackerel clouds to remind us that nothing should be taken for granted. As the day passes and the heat grows these build in intensity and the atmosphere gets heavier. Gradually dark slabs of uniform darkness spreads over from the mountains. Watching clouds build and feeling the atmosphere intensifying sets up the rain dance at different tempos – gentle, short, swathes, deluge, storm, cracking. Wagner comes to mind. One thing is perpetual – it always ends, it moves off, it leaves an empty sky and then builds for another performance a few days/weeks later, also to be witnessed from the same terrace.

Courting Corte, the old capital of Corsica

An evening out in Bastia gives a real flavour of what is to come on Corsica. The island is a fusion of Italian roots, French history, a hard mountainous spine and the coastal romance of the sea. Music, menus, culture, sport, place names reflect both Italy and France.

The town’s petanque competition brings locals out in their droves. Held over several days on the wide open square by the modern port, all ages and genders, from 7 to 70 perform in their teams and leagues to win the top prizes.

From Bastia it is a long drive through forested peaks across the spine of the island to the south west. From the 11th to 13th centuries Corsica was ruled by the Italian city-state of Pisa, superseded in 1284 by Genoa. To prevent seaborne raids, mainly from North Africa, a massive defence system was constructed that included citadels, coastal watchtowers and inland forts.

An hour out is the old capital of Corsica – Corte. In 1755, after 25 years of sporadic warfare against the Genoese, Corsicans declared their independence, led by Pasquale Paoli (1725–1807), under whose rule they established a National Assembly and adopted the most democratic constitution in Europe. They made the inland mountain town of Corte their capital, outlawed blood vendettas, founded schools and established a university. But the island’s independence was short-lived. In 1768 the Genoese ceded Corsica to the French king Louis XV, whose troops crushed Paoli’s army in 1769 and the island has since been part of France except for a period (1794–96) when it was under English domination, and during the German and Italian occupation of 1940–4.

The steep, narrow, frequently cobbled streets and tight squares still remember those days of local patriots and pride in Corsican values.The many statues of Paoli always points the way for each following generation.

Where next – of course it’s Corsica

Hi everyone. Well, you may have wondered where I’ve been. Since last blogging to you I have been on a trip to Barcelona. It was a real adventure. I joined Chloe, Alexa & Toby on the first leg of their railway adventures around Spain. On the first evening I had a run-in with a bag-snatcher. He was not content to simply pick my pocket. No, I stupidly placed temptation right in front of him, or her, and he/she swiped the whole bag, camera and all, from the back of my chair in a restaurant and no-one saw a thing. Hence no photos and no blog.

Three weeks further on I have replaced my kit and I am back on my adventures. You find me in Corsica, that small island off the coast of France which was the birthplace of Napoleon. We fly into Bastia, in the north of the island, and the next day is spent exploring this historic port, through which most of Corsica’s trade and goods arrive on and leave the island. Established by the Genoese in 1487 the narrow, dusty streets ooze history.

There are three main areas to this historic town. The old town around the cathedral & square of St Jean-Baptiste.

The old port.

The citadel.

 

Anglesey come rain or shine

I crossed over to the island of Anglesey on the Menai Bridge, built to take stagecoaches in 1826 by Telford. Not much has changed, only the vehicles using it.

I decide to go anticlockwise around the coast of the island.The island is a poor neighbour compared with the grandeur of neighbouring Snowdonia but it can piggy back on the peaks in the distance which overlook the Straits, so narrow in parts and include them as part of their own. The landscape is more mellow but striking has a unique feel with low rolling fields and open land playing host to grazing animals.

The weather is breaking. I am aware that rain is forecast later in the day. You’ll see from the images where I have to play hide and seek with the drizzly showers. But not in Beaumaris, my first stop. In the fading sun the magnificence of the scene is amplified. It boasts a pier. However this structure would not push anywhere in the UK Pier of the Year competition. It may be the best, well only, pier in Anglesey. However it could be top in the Best Spot for a Pier league. Look around and see what you think.

Red Dwarf Bay is such a cool name for a settlement. And the Ship Inn makes the most of its position on the edge of the bay.

Moetfre is absolutely charming.

In the past the area around Amlwich was the largest copper mine in the world. Cooper was used to line ship’s bottoms and to mint coins of the realm. The port was a bustling centre where copper was sent off around the world. It still has a certain atmosphere with an outer harbour used by modern fishing vessels and an inner harbour with evidence of its historic past.

Cemaes has a lovely little harbour.

I cross to Holy Island. Holyhead is the largest town on the island and the departure point for ferries to Ireland. It seems like a town that the world has forgotten. Everyone seems to pass through it and be on the way somewhere else. Its streets are full of tired buildings and shops I have never heard of advertising cheap goods from faded window displays. Locals are hanging around nursing cups of tea in cafes with 1950’s decor. I found the harbour as the drizzle hardened. It seemed appropriate somehow.

Here are the last few coastal settlements on the western side of Holy Island and across to Anglesey.


Rhoscolyn

Rhosneigr

Aberffraw is on an estuary but such a lovely spot that I’ve included it…and you can see the dunes that line this part of the beach.