Ask anyone in Easington village (of Billy Elliot fame) what Durham’s coast looked like 30 years ago and they will describe the colliery waste routinely dumped on the beaches and the sight of locals collecting discarded coal. In short, it wasn’t a bucket and spade kind of a seaside.
But that was last century. Following the closure of the pits in the 1990s, a massive clean-up operation has brought the beaches and wildflower meadows back to life. As you head north on the well-marked cliff-top trail from Crimdon to Seaham, you will enjoy tremendous views of the rugged coastline and the North Sea. Durham’s coast is open!
In the 1920s, beach huts perched on the sloping dunes at Crimdon. The huts have long since gone, but the sandy beach is still enjoyed by daytrippers and locals alike.
For most of the 20th century, the sea around here was filthy and you wouldn’t have dared walk down to the shores of Blackhall Rocks, the next bay along from Crimdon.
Today, clear water rushes over the shingle beach and the only reminders of the area’s industrial heritage are fragments of wood, coal and brick poking out of the sand. I found several bricks marked with the names of old colliery brickworks, such as Eldon.
Back on the coastal path, the joyful sound of skylarks (and the occasional cock-a-doodle-doo from nearby allotments) will accompany you through wildflower grasslands to Horden. The path descends to a saltmarsh in front of an awesome railway viaduct.
A diversion to Castle Eden Dene – a four-mile long gorge – is highly recommended for its ancient yew woodland and towering limestone walls draped in ferns. Alternatively, continue up the embankment on the other side of the inlet. It’s a steep climb but a leisurely onward amble towards Easington.
Nowhere else in England will you find magnesian limestone grassland by the coast. This rare habitat is famed for its flowering plants and you may spot bloody cranesbill, orchids and rockrose. The meadows around Hawthorn are particularly stunning.
Blast Beach is an appropriate name for the final rocky bay, which has a long history of heavy industry but is now enjoying a new lease of life. Enjoy a final blast of wind, sunshine and big sky views as you skirt Dawdon and press on to Seaham, for fine sandy beaches and a well-earned icecream sundae.
HOW TO GET THERE
There is parking at the start and end. Buses connect Crimdon and Seaham (change at Peterlee or Dalton Park). Or, take the train from Seaham to Hartlepool, then hop on a bus to Crimdon.
FIND OUT MORE
Durham Heritage Coast
MAPs and access
OS Explorer maps 306 & 308
Start point: NZ 482 372
Distance: 11 MILES (17km) Time: 5 hours
Seaham seafront, Noses Point, the first 1km at Crimdon and circular routes from Easington Colliery and Blackhall Rocks are accessible for wheelchairs.
Bradley’s Fish Shop & Restaurant
Coast Road, Blackhall Colliery
Just close enough to the coastal path to grab a take-away before you head back to the sea front.
Seaham Hall Hotel
Lord Byronís Walk, Seaham SR7 7AG
Luxurious spa hotel set on a cliff top in beautiful grounds. Try its tasty North Sea mackerel.
Easington & Blackhall Colliery
Rows of red brick terraces, huge pit wheels and friendly locals welcome walkers.