The coastline between South Shields and Sunderland consists of cliffs of magnesian limestone, looking on to bird-covered sea stacks. This rocky stretch was branded the most dangerous section of Britain’s coastline – in one year alone (1860) there were 20 shipwrecks.
Souter Lighthouse, built in 1871, was the first in the world to be lit by AC electricity. Immediately inland is the gentle rise of the Cleadon Hills, from which there are extensive views over the Tyne-Wear conurbation, west to the Pennines, south to the Cleveland Hills and back east to the coast.
Take the tarred footpath from the car park to a gateway in the fence, leading from the lighthouse to the coastal cliffs. Go through this and follow a metal barrier along the cliff edge, north to the
next car park. Continue along the line of Marsden Bay, which is dotted by sea stacks, the largest of which is the stunning Marsden Rock. Owned by the National Trust, the rock was changed forever in 1996 when erosion caused its natural arch to collapse.
1. THREE QUARTERS OF A MILE
At the Marsden Grotto car park, cross the road and follow the bridleway south of the caravan site, running between it and the golf course. Cross the next road into Marsden Old Quarry Nature Reserve and follow the main footpath through this to an opening in the wall that bounds the quarry’s western end. Head through the opening in the wall, turn downhill to the right and curve round to the left, past a smaller quarry adorned with the painting of a white horse. This dates from the 1880s, and there are at least six competing legends as to the horse's origin.
Go uphill to join another track, turn right on to this and continue down the slope into a small wood. Where the track branches, take the left fork uphill to a wall and an opening on to the golf course. Cross the golf course, following a line of wooden marker posts, heading to the left of a tall water tower. Leave the golf course through a gate and follow the next wall past a metal sculpture into Cleadon Hills Nature Reserve and on to the windmill.
2. TWO MILES
Continue along the wall. Where it turns to the left, follow the footpath past a small overgrown quarry, over a stile and around the edge of a cultivated field. The track leads over more stiles and along field edges until you reach a more prominent track that runs east, past a farm into Whitburn.
3, THREE AND A QUARTER MILES
On reaching the houses, go left to join a path that runs east alongside a caravan site. At the next road, turn right, then first left through the housing estate to meet the A183 road.
Cross the road and walk north, past another old windmill and a field to a bus stop. Turn right on to a footpath, which runs between the field and houses, and past a shooting range to bring you back to the top of the cliffs, north of Souter Point.
4. FOUR AND A QUARTER MILES
Turn left and follow the cliff footpath, with more views of sea stacks, past a birdwatching hide at the corner of a small wetland nature reserve, and on to the Souter Lighthouse car park to return to the start of the walk.
Mainly grassy footpaths, with short sections on pavements.
HOW TO GET THERE
Follow the A19 until just south of Jarrow. Turn east onto the A1300 and follow this to a roundabout junction with the A1018. Go across the roundabout to Marsden, turn right on to the A183 coast road and continue on this for a mile to Souter Lighthouse.
By public transport:
Frequent buses – Stagecoach E1 – run between South Shields and Sunderland, along the A183.
Coast Road, South Shields NE34 7BS,
☎ 0191 4556060
Coast Road, Whitburn, Sunderland SR6 7NH
☎ 0191 5293161
Open 14 Mar-1 Nov, Sat-Thur, 11-5. Adults £4.85, children £3.15, family £12.65
Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 88
Grid ref: NZ 408 640
North East England