THE COASTAL WALK
St. Mary`s Island seen from the south
1.In 1739, a certain Michael Curry murdered the landlord of the Three Horse Shoes Inn at Hartley, a village to the north of Whitley Bay, and, following his execution at the Westgate in Newcastle upon Tyne, his body was hung from a gibbet on the headland overlooking St. Mary`s Island. Since that time the headland has been known as Curry`s Point and a blue plaque, attached to a large piece of sandstone, marks the spot and also the start of this linear walk. However, before commencing your journey south, a trip across the short causeway to St. Mary`s Island, time and tide allowing, will prove worthwhile. First lit in 1898, the lighthouse, which was so much a part of the local landscape that it was incorporated into the Whitley Bay Coat of Arms in 1954, is now a visitor centre. A 137- step climb to the top of the lighthouse is rewarded by superb views. Again on the headland, and with your back to the island, head along the promenade, looking down to the rocks below; a favourite feeding and resting place for a host of waders, terns and gulls. When the promenade curves to the right, climb to the top of the grass bank and you will be adjacent to the St. Mary`s Wetland. This freshwater area attracts a wide variety of birds, some migratory, others who make their home here, so keep your eyes peeled for oystercatchers, kestrels, curlews, green sandpipers, yellow wagtails and more.
“Where the Horlicks is sweet” - The Rendezvous Cafe
3. Continue along the promenade, passing first an interesting art décor style drinking fountain, erected in 1937 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI, and then the Panama Swimming Club building, whose hardy members are renowned locally for their traditional New Years` Day “dip in the sea”. Where a path branches to the right you will see the four points of the compass set into the paving stones and, heading south, leave the promenade by the facing stairs. At the top you will be on the eastern edge of the large area of open space known as the Links. It is hard to believe that this popular recreation area was, during the early part of the 19th century, strewn with colliery heaps and ironstone workings which had become overgrown with gorse. The work, which ultimately resulted in the current green expanse, was started by the Whitley Bay Golf Club whose members began using the Links in 1890. Walk straight on, turning right at the small facing wall, before reaching the Cenotaph, the site of the towns` Remembrance Day services. Nearby, once stood the King George V Coronation Bandstand, built in 1911 and a popular venue for the brass bands of the day. Although this was demolished many years ago, the adjacent bus stop area is still referred to as the `Bandstand`.
`Sandcastles` - Whitley Bay Promenade
5. Continue along the main promenade with the 1924 -built Lower Central Promenade below you on the seaward side, and the still fine looking Rex Hotel, once the largest hotel in the area, ahead. You are now in the busy nightlife hub of Whitley Bay and it is not without a touch of irony that the artist, who produced some of the most famous Guinness posters, was born in the town in 1898. Working for the Irish drinks company between 1925 and 1960, John Gilroy created two iconic Guinness images; the workman casually carrying a massive girder on his shoulder and the thirsty sea lion making off with the zoo keeper`s pint. Just beyond the hotel, at the bottom of the Esplanade, stood the former Sylvesters night club, which had, since it was built in 1910, many reincarnations; the Alletsa Ballroom, the Gaumont Cinema and the Empire Theatre. The Esplanade provides a direct link between the town`s railway station and the seafront, a fact which undoubtedly influenced proposals to site a pier from this point, projecting out into the sea. First planned in 1908, the scheme was abandoned because it was felt that the cast iron columns, which were to support the 270 metre platform and concert pavilion, would not withstand the forces of nature. A much grander scheme was drawn up in 1935 but, once again, the proposals failed to get off the ground.
North or south? Cullercoats Watch House
7. Since the middle of the 17th century, coal, salt and fishing have all played an important part in the daily life of the village. Whilst never a tourist destination as such, Cullercoats had, by the late 18th century, become well known as an artists` colony, attracting home-grown artists such as Jobling, Emmerson, Birket Foster and Horton. In 1881, the arrival of Winslow Homer, the leading American water colourist of his generation, ultimately led to Cullercoats becoming known throughout the art-loving world. During his 20 month stay, Winslow Homer produced nearly 150 watercolours and drawings, many of which now hang on the walls of major art galleries across America. Glance across the road and you will see, affixed to the exterior of the new block of apartments, a blue plaque recording the fact the Homer, on first arriving in Cullercoats, stayed at the hotel which once occupied this site. The apartment block is named in his honour; Winslow Court. As you reach the corner of John Street and Beverley Terrace you will see the tiny Rocket Garage, once used by the Volunteer Life Brigade for the storage of their carriage and rocket apparatus. The present RNLI lifeboat is housed next to the beach, below you on the seaward side.
The Big Top on Beaconsfield and St. Georges Church
9. On the promenade, at the most southerly end of the Longsands, stands the stylish Grand Hotel, built in 1872 as a summer residence for the Duke of Northumberland and then converted into an hotel some 5 years later. From here the promenade bends away from the beach, climbing gently towards Tynemouth village. Below, to your left, is the beach of King Edwards Bay, dominated by the high cliffs of Pen Bal Crag, the impressive Tynemouth Castle and the ruins of the 7th century Priory. Built by the monks of Holy Island and sacked by the Danes, the Priory is the burial place of three kings, Oswin King of Deira, Osred King of Northumbria and Malcolm III King of Scotland. The village of Tynemouth, once the home of the 19th century writer Harriet Martineau, has many fine buildings and positively oozes history. It is justifiably a Conservation Area and deserves further exploration. But that is for another day and your route now follows the road which drops down the hill adjacent to the castle towards the tiny cove of Priors Haven, home to the local sailing club. Once over the narrow bridge at the foot of the hill, take the signposted gravel track on your right towards the monumental statue of Admiral Lord Collingwood, Nelson`s second in command at the Battle of Trafalgar. Overlooking the mouth of the River Tyne, the Portland stone statue stands on a John Dobson designed sandstone pedestal and was installed in 1845 to commemorate Newcastle born Cuthbert Collingwood. The four cannon were taken from Collingwood`s ship at Trafalgar, the `Royal Sovereign`. The views from the pedestal, across Tyneside as far as the distant Penshaw Monument in County Durham, are impressive.
The Fish Quay Sands `Milepost`
11. The Fish Quay, an area steeped in history, continues to undergo regeneration, and is a place where work and leisure sit comfortably side by side. As you continue along the main road following the river closely, you will pass fish merchants, fish and chip restaurants, pubs, cafes and riverside apartments. The Fisherman`s Mission building is a reminder that this is still very much a working environment despite the overall decline in the fishing industry. There are many historically important buildings within the Fish Quay area, including the `old` and `new` High and Low Lights and the remains of the 1672 Clifford`s Fort. Once past the Fisherman`s Mission you will soon reach the Prince of Wales public house and the buxom `Wooden Dolly`, an artwork made out of oak by Martyn and Jane Grubb in the form of an old ships figurehead. Installed in 1992, the work stands on the spot where a wooden dolly has traditionally stood since the early 1800`s.
A Walk for All Seasons - Tynemouth Longsands in Winter
NEXT WALK : THE BLUE PLAQUE WALK
CLICK HERE NOW TO READ `TYNEMOUTH LONGSANDS: 2003`