Trails and trials of the writer who walks
Despite this being the busiest two weeks of the summer season (I’m frequently told), the boot prints of someone preceding me on the Northumberland Coastal Way are as lonely in the sand as Man Friday’s were to Crusoe. Screwing my eyes to focus on distant dunes, I can see a family settled between two grassy humps and conclude this is one of the spots where free parking meets the endless golden beach.
When my route takes me to the inland side of the ridge of dunes, largely National Trust managed nature reserve, the perfume of white clover is heavy in the air. My head goes dreamy, into a euphoria of sunshine and wild flowers and luscious salty solitude. I’m wondering where on earth else could a family want to be in the summer school holidays.
The North East coast does, of course, have its tourist honeypots enjoying non-stop ker-ching, but, as in the Lake District, you can switch from crowd-funding to private pursuits within half a mile of the Costa queue. My hopes for a quiet beer at the pretty harbour village of Low Newton-by-the-Sea evaporate when I see the Ship Inn customers forming a line that spills out of the pub front door and on to the village green.
I set aside an entire day for Holy Island, although it’s not part of the coastal path. Vehicles queue for a good hour before the tide is low enough to cross the causeway safely, and then it’s a mad dash for car parking spaces , a human tide that rises swiftly to inundate Lindisfarne village and castle. I walk across and decide to circum-perambulate the island clockwise, finding it quite empty everywhere else. Seals are basking on the Snipe Point rocks. I can lay on the dunes with closed eyes, allowing the sounds of surf and gulls to displace whatever thoughts were in my head.
Nearing Lindisfarne village at the end of my circuit, and from a high point in the dunes, I can see an uninterrupted two-way flow of little humans traversing the quarter mile or so betwixt village and castle. I imagine them each with an extra two arms holding aloft a sugar grain or a breadcrumb.
In the streets, there’s a queue for everything: toilet, beer, pie, coffee, ice-cream. Some of those Disney World placards would be useful: ‘you are now 30 minutes from your pee’.
Fortunately, the shortest queue is for the bus. Seasonal extra services bring quite an advantage to school holiday travelling and it never seems to occur to car owners to use them. Being pretty well-seasoned myself, my bus travel is free, and I find I can base myself in Belford for three days, using the bus to get to and from start and end points of the day’s walk – no need to carry the tent.
The Blue Bell Farm campsite at Belford is rather surreal. I’m not sure if I’ve stumbled into the opening scene of Doctor Dolittle, or if Noah is going to appear and tell the pair of swans to get in line behind the flop-eared rabbits because Ark-boarding will commence in 27 minutes.
Is that rabbit down there being a bit ‘sniffy’ about my boots?
The next trip will be very different from this cosy be-castled coast: the rugged Highlands from Fort William to Scotland’s most northerly mainland point, Cape Wrath. This unmarked remote trail has been taunting me ever since I completed the Pennine Way, as in, ‘Think that one’s tough? Try me!’. It will be my first attempt, but if it fails, it won’t be the last.