A Balmy Walk on the South Northumberland Coast

by Finn Walsh

We like to keep our route notes up to date at Contours, so I volunteered to walk the South Northumberland Coast in November 2023 to ensure all the information was still correct. 39 miles from Sunderland to Cresswell along the coast seemed like a fantastic opportunity, so I took it by the horns!

An enormous red cargo ship floats off the shores of the Northumberland Coast.

This was my first time going on a “holiday” alone and I have found a new love for it. Going at my own pace and being alone with my thoughts on the trail with nothing but the sound of the sea and winter weather which was very spiritually cleansing (mostly, as you will read below).

A brisk November hike

On the first walking day of the trail between Sunderland and South Shields, I managed to time things perfectly to spend the entire day walking during Storm Ciarán. The rain became torrential and turned the footpath into a new river, with all the water flowing against me and down the cliff edges.

A view down to a stone arch and headland through the storm haze shrouding the South Northumberland Coast Path.
Rainwater gushes over craggy coastal cliffs and down to the sea.

Luckily, the views of the rock formations and the sights of the stormy seas crashing against the cliffs made the waterlogged shoes worth it. This amazing experience really showed the power that storms can have on this island and its everchanging coastal regions.

A lonely lighthouse in the lashing rain.

Unfortunately, I could only handle so much of this weather before I needed to seek shelter. As the clouds grew darker and darker, I wrapped my map and electronics safely in plastic inside my bag and decided to rest at the next pub or café I came across on the trail. I eventually turned inland to get out of the blistering winds and finally found a very friendly pub that offered me a towel and a seat near the radiator to dry off the worst of the rain.

Recovering from Storm Ciarán

After finally gathering myself and warming up my hands enough to use my phone and map, I discovered that I was only 0.8 miles from my accommodation for the night. I put my wet coat back on and packed up to trudge the last leg of the journey, to be greeted by lovely warm accommodation and a comfy bed where I was able to have a much-needed kip.

The next day, I headed out into the town of South Shields to find a PROPER raincoat, since my old one had proved to be about as waterproof as kitchen roll. I needn’t have taken this precaution — as the sun shone every day from then!

A sunny day lights up a rain-soaked beach on the South Northumberland Coast Path.
A bright and sunny day on a walking path threading through green fields beside a sandy coastline.

Though the stormy weather had been very dramatic and beautiful with the views and sounds, in the calmer weather I was able to fully take my time and appreciate all the views along the coast, parking myself on a bench with a chippy or pasty which were available at every town and village I passed.

I also witnessed some of the damage caused by the recent storms, which had brought all sorts of debris onto the promenades and beaches. I was reassured by the number of workers and volunteers helping to clean up the pathways and restore these areas to their natural beauty.

An unforgettable time on the South Northumberland Coast Path

I was glad for the easy-to-follow route as I usually have a knack for getting ahead of myself and veering off pathways. I was able to stick to this route and even take small detours to see the historical sites along the way with ease.

A selfie of Finn, triumphant at the end of his walk near Cresswell Ices.
Birds fill the air over the ocean in a murmurration.

Upon reaching Cresswell (after slipping into a small puddle right at the end of the path) I felt elated! 39 miles without any injuries or needing mountain rescue, dining alone for the first time ever, communicating in British Sign Language with a couple of strangers on the pathway: this had been more than just a walking holiday, it was a huge accomplishment for me personally. I cannot wait to get out onto the trail again and see more of the beautiful countryside the UK has to offer!

Contours Holidays pride ourselves on our expert knowledge of the UK’s trails. We regularly set out to check our routes and directions and to make improvements on the holidays we offer. You can find several write-ups of staff expeditions in our Trail Diaries.

Interested in walking the South Northumberland Coast Path?

Contours Holidays offer flexible walking holiday itineraries along this varied route. Find your holiday here:

Originally published 12/04/24

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