Seaton and the Delavals
At Seaton Sluice, up the coast from Whitley Bay we have officially entered the county of Northumberland (Whitley Bay, Cullercoats and North Shields, though historically in Northumberland are now in the Borough of North Tyneside).
Seaton Sluice is notable for its small harbour, drained by means of a 900 feet long cut. Fifty two feet deep and thirty feet wide, the cut was made in the 1770s by a member of the Delaval family.
Not far inland, to the east of Seaton Sluice, is Seaton Delaval Hall built by Vanbrugh in 1720. It is recognised as one of the finest old houses in North East England, though much is now an empty shell. The hall is associated with the Delaval family who can trace their origins back to Norman times when a certain Guy De La Val came over to Britain with William the Conqueror.
The most notorious members of this family were the practical joking brothers Lord Delaval and Sir Francis Blake Delaval, who lived here in the eighteenth century. Their pranks included placing trapdoors under the beds of house guests who haplessly dropped through the floor into huge tanks of water in the middle of the night.
On one other occasion after retiring for the evening, unfortunate guests found themselves exposed to each other after undressing and dewigging in their bedrooms. The Delavals had fitted sliding walls to the rooms, which were pulled up into the ceiling by means of a pulley.
Coalport on the Blyth
This most south easterly portion of Nothumberland’s coast encompasses the county’s coalfield and most of the towns in the area are former coal mining settlements.
Today Northumberland’s only colliery is at Ellington near the mouth of the River Lyne. Blyth, a coalport on the River Blyth, is the site of a large imposing power station which is located at Cambois on the northern side of the river. Cambois (pronounced Cammus) seems a rather exotic name for the site of a power station.
Its name derives from an old Celtic word meaning `bay’. The River Blyth separated the Northumberland County district of Blyth valley from Wansbeck district, which takes its name from another local river.
Wansbeck has been described as the only beck in Northumberland, but is in fact not a beck at all as the `Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names’ says Wansbeck derives from the Anglo-Saxon `Waeganspick’. A `spick’ was a bridge made from tree trunks and a Waegan was a wagon so Wansbeck litterally means `Wagon Bridge’ – a reference to a river crossing.
Bedlington and Bedlingtonshire
Much of the area on the coast between the Wansbeck and the Blyth once formed a district called Bedlingtonshire which until 1844 formed part of the County Palatine of Durham, belonging to the Prince Bishops. Bedlington town was the capital of the shire which had been created because of an association with St Cuthbert. The saint’s coffin had been brought here for a short period, at the time of the Norman Conquest.
For centuries Bedlingtonshire was administerred separately from the rest of Northumberland and had its own justices, sherriffs and coroner. The larger districts of Islandshire and Norhamshire, in North Northumberland, also belonged to the Prince Bishops and collectively, the three areas, were long known as `North Durham’. In 1183 Bedlingtonshire was surveyed in Bishop Pudsey’s `Boldon Buke’ ; the Domesday Book of County Durham.
Bedlington is of course noted for giving its name to a famous breed of dog, the Bedlington Terrier, which was originally bred by the miners of the area to hunt vermin in the mines. The name came into use around 1825. Before that time it was called the Rothbury Terrier from another Northumberland town.
Above: A Bedlington Terrier
Ashington Coal Mining Origins
Ashington, situated on the northern bank of the River Wansbeck was once described as the world’s largest pit village, but no longer has a colliery. The town is mainly a product of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Followers of English soccer, know Ashington as the place that produced three famous footballing sons, namely the legendary Jackie Milburn, known to fans of Newcastle United as ‘Wor Jackie’ and his nephews, the footballing brothers Bob and Jack Charlton who represented England in the World Cup winning team of 1966. A mile north of Ashington near Newbiggin by the Sea, is the Anglo-Saxon church of St Mary the Virgin, it is reputedly the oldest in Northumberland.
Druridge Bay, Amble and Coquet Island
To the north of Newbiggin and Ashington are Lynemouth, Ellington and the village of Cresswell at the southern edge of the seven mile long Druridge Bay. This is undoubtedly the best known strand of the North Eastern coast.
Typically of Northumbrian beaches it is backed by long stretches of dunes but also by a number of small lakes and ponds which form nature reserves for wildfowl and sea birds.
At the northern edge of Druridge Bay, are the villages of Hauxley, Amble, Warkworth.
The little seaport of Amble – a place with Celtic name – at the mouth of the River Coquet is an appealing little place with a tiny harbour and is a popular place for a day out to the coast. Once a coal port, the place has seen a regeneration in recent times.
One notable attraction are 15 attractive ‘retail pods’ in the Harbour Village selling crafts, accessories food and drink. There are good views across the mouth of the River Coquet to nearby Warkworth Castle.
A mile out at sea from Amble is Coquet Island. The island was the site of a Benedictine monastery in Anglo-Saxon times and was the place where Elfleda the abbess of Whitby and sister of the King of Northumbria, persuaded St Cuthbert to become a Bishop.
Many centuries later during the Civil War, the island was the home of a Royalist garrison which surrendered to the Scots in 1643.Today there is no public access to Coquet Island, which is protected as a nature resderve for sea birds. Its main residents are rabbits, gulls, puffins and eider duck which are known in the North East as Cuddy’s Ducks because of their association with St Cuthbert.
Coquet Island takes its name from the River Coquet which enters the sea on the shore opposite Amble by the Sea. “The Coquet forever the Coquet for aye! The Coquet the king o’ the stream and the brae; From his high mountain throne, to his bed in the sea, Oh! where shall we see such a river as he?
Then blessings be on him, and lang may he glide, The fisherman’s home and thehe fishermen’s pride; From Harden’s green hill to old Warkworth sae grey, The Coquet forever the Coquet for aye! “