Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Cycling near Newcastle: Slow and steady does the job

Picnic a la Courbet, beach between Seaton Sluice and Blyth, photo copyright Margaret Sharrow 2009
One of the biggest surprises of my explorations of the Newcastle area is that it has a fantastic coast. Sandy beaches stretch for miles to the north, comparatively uncrowded even in summer, and lit by the Baltic blue sky. Wonderful for walking, paddling, though swimming seems too adventurous for me (but not for the Panama Swimming Club of Whitley Bay, whose members dash from their modernist beach hut straight into the surf, even in midwinter). And, perhaps surprisingly, a fabulous place to cycle. Sustrans Route 1 takes the explorer from the Newcastle central rail station up right along the coast as far as Blyth before cutting inland on its route to Edinburgh.

I determined to cycle north from Whitley Bay (conveniently reached by Metro from the centre) as far as Seaton Sluice, but decided to continue as far as the south beach at Blyth, a total distance of about five miles (and another five back) from Whitley Bay's free car park, a bit north on the coastal A road from the white onion dome of Spanish City. After crossing the four lane road I was in the park area near the skateboarding / stunt cycling area packed with earnest boys, and found myself entirely off road, either looking down on the beach or on the promenade, as far as the par 3 golf course (£4 adults plus rental of ball, putter, and iron - no drivers allowed) from which a pleasant diversion can be made to visit the tidal St Mary's Island. Like Holy Island, St Mary's Island is connected to the mainland by a paved causeway. Unlike Holy Island, St Mary's Island is tiny, dominated entirely by a lighthouse. And unlike Holy Island, there are more hours of the day when the island is cut off from the mainland, so it is best to check the tide times before setting off. The surrounding beach is a pleasant place for poking around rock pools if the causeway isn't quite clear when you arrive, and the car park (pay and display) boasts a nice little van that will do the usual greasy fare. The woman was very nice to me, apologising that they didn't have proper espresso cups, and offering to hit the button on the multinational dispenser twice, thus offering me a styrofoam cup completely full of espresso for £1 with all the milk and sugar I could add - far superior to instant, and kept me going all day long.

But back to St Mary's Island.

to be continued...

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