It was a wild and windy day when we set off from the small fishing port of Seahouses, heading south along the coast. Britain was currently enduring the Beast From The East 2. Like Grease 2, it was the sequel that nobody wanted. As the seagulls' cries were deadened by the howl of the wind and the crashing of the waves against the harbour walls, we congratulated ourselves on our choice of such an atmospheric day to enjoy the scenery.
We'd decided to stay in Alnwick for the weekend, the medieval market town which is home, of course, to Hogwarts itself, otherwise known as Alnwick Castle. We woke up early on the Sunday morning to jump on the bus from Alnwick to Seahouses, hopefully in time for breakfast.
The bus took us to the coast at Craster and threatened to reveal most of the scenery that we would walk through during the day. We had a sneaky preview of the rough seas pounding against the harbour at Craster, and the ploughed snow piled up on the roadsides after the storms of the previous day.
We arrived safely in Seahouses, where we had our first bit of luck of several we would encounter that day. It came in the formidable shape of the Bamburgh Castle Inn.
The inn overlooks the harbour and offers great views across the bay towards the Farne Islands, as well as the inn's namesake along the coast, Bamburgh Castle.
As we walked through the village from the bus stop, our hearts sank as we passed closed cafe after closed coffee shop. It was 9am on a cold, March, Sunday morning. Not exactly high season. We had visions of setting off on our adventure without so much as a handful of cornflakes to set us on our way. But as we descended the hill towards the harbour, we came to the open door of the Bamburgh Castle Inn.
We had a full complement on this adventure; myself, Colin The Buffet Slayer, Gadget Matt and John. This was the 9th year of our annual March walking weekends, where we alternate between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Traditionally, the day would start with as big a breakfast as we could find, and end with a curry. We're men of simple pleasures.
So imagine our delight when we discovered the "ALL YOU CAN EAT" breakfast buffet at the inn. Colin's eyes lit up. "The more you eat, the cheaper it gets" he claimed.
Harbour road curved around the bay and we passed the Black Swan and headed out of the village, past the obligatory caravan park and around a headland, where the wind howled across the snow-dusted grass.
We walked down to the beach for a few meters, where we encountered the huge, concrete blocks that had served as tank traps along the coast during the second world war.
Despite the breakfast, Colin was able to get through the barricade and we made our way across Seahouses Golf Club to walk alongside King Street as it made its way south.
We soon came to a footpath on the left, heading through Annstead Dunes. This is an area where the Northumberland Wildlife Trust has decided to fight back from the marram grass which dominates the dunes. The lack of grazing was thought to be to blame so a program has been introduced to encourage a wider variety of dune plants to grow, such as lady's bedstraw, restharrow and even a plant called hound's tongue. Help came in the unmistakeable, marram-munching shape of Exmoor ponies.
It wasn't long before the path brought us to Beadnell. And it wasn't long before we left again. There didn't seem to be many signs of life in the village. Nobody was celebrating Beadnell's claim to fame, which is that it has the only west facing harbour entrance on the east coast of England.
We trudged on our way, as the path took us through Beadnell Bay Caravan Park, where we didn't see a soul. Hundreds of static caravans, huddled together waiting for the warmer weather.
We didn't see the sea for a while after we left Beadnell, with the sand dunes standing between us and the beach. The dunes may have blocked the view, but they didn't block the roar of the waves or the shrill cries of the oystercatchers and gulls. In another month, the dunes would also be alive with the sounds of a spectacular breeding colony of arctic tern.
Eventually, we came to the Long Nanny Bridge, over the Brunton Burn. The ferocity of the wind increased as we left the shelter of the sand dunes.
As we made our way across the bay, we alternated between stretches of beach walking and reverting to the path when the incoming tide forced us to take evasive action. All the time, squadrons of oystercatchers swooped and flashed across the sky at amazing speed. Terns and gulls surveyed the sand for food as the tide advanced.
It wasn't too long before we arrived in Low Newton by the Sea. Or, more specifically, we arrived at the Ship Inn. The inn sits in a very inviting open-ended square of cream-washed fisherman's cottages, all set around a village green and looking out to sea.
We shuffled in and were delighted to find a table with enough room for us to gather around and carefully shed our outer layers. On a day like this, the obvious choice of the lunch menu was soup of the day. But we couldn't find any indication of what soup (or day) it was.
"Leek and vegetable" said the waitress with a cheerful smile. Leek and vegetable? Isn't that a bit like saying chicken and meat? Maybe it should have been called "Leek and other Vegetables". We could have accepted that.
Nevertheless, we ordered the soups and stotties. Born and raised around Manchester, we were familiar with the barm cake/bap debate, but we weren't entirely sure what to expect from a stottie.
It turned out to be a perfect accompaniment to the vegetable soup (which prominently featured leeks). A stottie is bread which comes from humble roots, traditionally made with scraps of leftover dough by poor families. Nowadays, it's all about where the stottie is placed in the oven. It needs to be as near the bottom of the oven as it can get, allowing it to cook slowly and provide an almost chewy, stretchy texture.
The beer was great too, with the pub housing it's own micro brewery. It was with a great deal of reluctance that we headed back into the elements for the last stretch towards Craster.
We didn't get very far out of the village before we discovered that the path was closed due to flooding, so we were diverted to the beach. Our eyes were drawn to the horizon with the silhouette of Dunstanburgh Castle overlooking the bay. The shape of the ruined turrets reminded me of the Cocopelli flute playing figure that you might encounter in Arizona.
All that stood between us and the magnificent ruins of the castle was an enormous sea of quivering, bubbling foam that snagged on to our legs as we waded through.
An interesting result of the foam experience was that John has now decided he would like some Ugg boots.
We crossed the Embleton golf links which is separated from the shore by a haphazard line of wooden beach huts. Originally built in the 1930's by golfers, they are now owned by the National Trust.
As we got further around the bay, the castle dominated the view more and more. We passed an old pill box on the shoreline, that was providing shelter from the wind for a cormorant.
Dunstanburgh castle was built in 1313 by Earl Thomas of Lancaster and was the focus of fierce fighting during the Wars of the Roses, twice being besieged and captured by Yorkist forces. It may be decayed nowadays, but it couldn't be more atmospheric on its remote headland over the wave-battered coastline.
From there, it's a short walk along the cliffs to Craster, a village as famous for its kippers as it is for its closeness to the castle. When we arrived the harbour was receiving a severe lashing from the waves, whilst the terns and gulls took sanctuary inside its walls.
We followed the birds' example and took refuge ourselves. Not in the harbour, but in the Jolly Fisherman.
We received a warm welcome which resulted in us missing our bus back to Alnwick. The staff were so obliging that, when we asked for a number for a local taxi, we were told a taxi would be far too expensive, but the chef would take us back instead. What a gentleman.
Now all that was missing from our traditional, March walking weekend was a pub quiz. We'd previously managed to find one in Killahoe, Ireland and Fishguard, Wales. We had the good fortune to win them both. We also managed one on the Isle of Arran, Scotland, but we were hopeless in that one. We didn't fancy our chances at finding a quiz on a wintry Sunday night in Alnwick.
In the car back to our cottage, the chef was telling us all about the area. He looked Colin in the eye and asked "Do you like quizzes?" It was fate.
And so it was that we arrived at the Fleece Inn in Alnwick, just in time for the weekly quiz. We have a secret weapon in quizzes; Matt. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of anything useless. Absorbs information like a sponge. Providing we could keep him awake long enough, we were in with a chance.
We won by one point. Thank you, Matt. We just need to win one in Scotland now, for the grand slam!