Leader : Elaine Anderson. Distance : 8 miles.
Until the early years of the 19th century, Seaham was a small rural agricultural farming community whose only real claim to fame was that the local landowner’s daughter was married to Lord Byron in Seaham Hall on 2nd January 1815.
In more recent times the economy, like so many of its sister villages in the area, relied on mining. In 1928, production started at the last town colliery to be opened, Vane Tempest, but by 1992 all the mines had closed, a process accelerated by the British miner’s strike and cheap coal imports from Eastern Europe. The pit closures hit the local economy extremely hard, and Seaham sank into a depressed state.
But a town which hosts such geographical oddities as Nose’s Point and Featherbed Rocks must have lots to offer so here we were to enjoy our day by the sea.
And indeed we did begin our tramp on the cliff tops with magnificent vistas over the North Sea close to the aforementioned proboscis promontory. We set off almost due north along the cliff edge until with the famous harbour, now reduced to shipping scrap metal, on our right we turned inland for a short stroll through suburbia until we happened upon yet another of those disused railway tracks, symbols of times past, but reinvented as pleasant recreational tracks for walkers and cyclists alike. Imperceptibly climbing as we went along we reached the high spot of our day just after running the gauntlet of visitor traffic as we crossed the busy A182. This was in reality a bit of a false dawn as things were to go downhill – and indeed uphill later in the day.
Shortly after our road crossing we began a gentle descent over grassy fields into Hawthorn Dene that cuts through the magnesian limestone layer of the coastal area and with the burn that shares its name babbling along below. After crossing the burn on a footbridge that had certainly seen better days we embarked on our first test of the day in the form of a steep climb up an irregular series of steps until we surmounted the Dene edge and commenced the third leg of what was in effect a quadrilateral ‘route of the day’. With the sea in our vision again and the sea breeze in our faces we headed due east past Beacon Hill from where we once again began a descent that could only promise an equal climb back somewhere on the way. From Beacon Hill we dropped some 200ft passing under the massive brick viaduct arches that carry the local railway high above and eventually found ourselves on the beach (and at sea level for a change). There were signs left by previous travellers written in pebbles on the damp sand apparently pleading for help but we had no time to investigate as we were given peremptory orders to move along and as we passed under a tree formed arch just kissing the edge of the Dene once more the reason behind the urgency became apparent. The dreaded sting in the tail- again. On this occasion we were confronted by another almost vertical set of slightly dodgy steps that eventually took us huffing and puffing the 110ft climb back to the cliff top. Why do we do this?
By now we were on the final side of the square and after a short pause to allow the geriatrics amongst us to regain our equilibrium we were off again hugging the cliff edge and admiring the magnificent heritage coastal views until passing Nose’s Point we reached Home Base and our thoughts turned to a post walk aperitif.
However we were not quite done as we could not leave the area without visiting and paying homage to ‘Tommy’ the wonderful raw and truly iconic metal sculpture, by local artist Ray Lonsdale, that dominates the promenade and serves in graphic detail to remind us of terrible times gone by.
Oh we do like to be beside the seaside.