The Northumberland coast path
Next in our My Favourite Hike series, Advnture contributor and former Country Walking editor Jonathan Manning shares a walk along the fabulous Northumberland coastline.
Asked to select his favourite walk in Britain for an episode of BBC Radio 4’s Ramblings, this is where Jonathan guided Clare Balding. He has walked this route once or twice a year for the past 30 years and makes a beeline for it each time he returns to England’s border county.
“Like meeting up with an old friend, the instant I set foot along this trail everything feels blissfully familiar – the smells, the freshness of the North Sea air, the dramatic ruins, the arc of sand, and even the pint in the pub with its own micro-brewery at the end!” he says.
“I was introduced to it by my parents, walked it with my girlfriend (now wife), and since then have walked it with my own children, first in baby papooses, then on my shoulders, and now they’re old enough to buy a round at the end!”
- Start/finish: Craster harbour
- Distance: 7.7 miles/12.3 km
- Elevation gain: 131 feet/40 metres
- Difficulty level: Moderate
- Duration: 3-4 hours
If there’s a stellar advantage to this amazing walk it’s the fact that once you’ve found the start point in the achingly characterful village of Craster, you can put your map away – just keep the sea on your right on the outward leg and on your left on the way back. Wet feet would indicate a troubling lack of navigational nous!
That said, it is exposed to the wind, and the tide does come in and out, so the middle section of the walk, along Embleton Bay to Low Newton, can be squeezed between waves and dunes.
The Northumberland coast path: why I love it
Living in an island nation, I’ve become increasingly convinced there’s a force pushing us outwards towards the frontier of land and sea (I’d like to call it a centrifugal force, but I know I’ll be scolded by physics teachers). I love mountains, but forced to choose, it’s always the coastline’s call that I heed. Maybe it’s the endless horizon and limitless space, or how sunlight sparkles on the waves like the window of Tiffany’s, or the white noise of waves rolling onto sand? Or perhaps it’s something deeper in all of our DNA, evidence that humans evolved from sea creatures and feel most comfortable by the brine – a glimpse at the prices of houses with sea views would seem to support this.
Whatever the truth, the moment I step foot in Craster, catch a whiff of L Robson & Sons’ smokehouse curing kippers or glimpse the harbour walls wrapping their arms around the small fishing boats like a protective mother, there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.
Heading north along a grassy path, with the sea to the right, the haunting ruins of 14th-century Dunstanburgh Castle cut a dramatic silhouette ahead, and provide a photogenic stop for Insta fans.
Just beyond, the route offers two options: if the tide is out there’s the magnificent sandy sweep of Embleton Beach where waves roll in; if the tide is in there’s a path through the low-level dunes where a smorgasbord of wildflowers and plants, such as bloody cranesbill, wild thyme and vetch, bring dots of colour.
At the end of the beach, the Ship Inn hunkers down in a three-sided quad of ancient fishermen’s cottages, sheltering from the wrecking ball gales that sometimes blow off the sea. It’s a perfect spot for a pint and a bite to eat, before retracing steps along Embleton beach – voted the UK’s best beach by readers of Countryfile magazine in 2017.
Just because it’s loved doesn’t mean it’s busy – it’s never like Brighton on a bank holiday, and mid-week or out of season the troubling question is where is everyone. An idyll like this, with its blond sand and a castle as an exclamation mark at its end, deserves to be famous. But please only tell people who will truly appreciate its unique charms.
Highlight: Dunstanburgh castle ruins
Saving the best to last (well, second half), the return leg of this route starts with the gorgeous arc of Embleton Beach, capped at the top by the outline of Dunstanburgh Castle’s crumbling walls. If you’re lucky, the sea will be a tropical blue and the wash of the waves on the blond sand will reflect the castle in a shimmering mirror image.
Personally, I prefer walking alongside angry, steel grey waves and white-capped spray for the visceral thrill of a seaside hike.
- Crab sandwiches at The Jolly Fisherman, Craster
- Dunstanburgh Castle
- Dolphins (occasionally)
- Embleton Beach
- The Ship Inn, Low Newton-by-the-Sea
My Favourite Hike Collection
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After spending a decade as editor of Country Walking, the UK’s biggest-selling walking magazine, Jonathan moved to edit Outdoor Fitness magazine, adding adrenaline to his adventures and expeditions. He has hiked stages or completed all of the UK's national trails, but was once overtaken by three Smurfs, a cross-dressing Little Bo Peep, and a pair of Teletubbies on an ascent of Snowdon. (Turns out they were soldiers on a fundraising mission.)