Beaches, Cliffs and Dunes

A guide to the restored coastline of County Durham.

CENTURIES of coal mining and its wastes left the Durham Coastline scarred and black.  A massive beach clear up and conservation effort that began as soon as the mines closed has cleaned the beaches.  Once again people can appreciate this unique landscape.

It is an exciting panorama of beaches, capes, cliffs and coves.  Erosion has worn the limestone cliffs into caverns, gullies and spectacular rock formations.

Hidden denes containing the remnants of ancient woodland and the plants that thrive on the limestone run down to the sea.  The cliff top meadows are now being colonised by flowers and have become home to the rare Durham Angus Butterfly.

Erosion is still taking place and recently, The Chair; a massive rock stack was demolished for safety reasons.  Geologists were standing by to take the opportunity to examine any fossils that would be revealed during the operation.  They may have become part of the magnesian limestone that was formed in the tropical Zechstein Sea during the Permian geological period of 290 million years ago.

Seaham at the northern end of this coast was the home of the mine-owning Londonderry family and has been converted into a luxury hotel.  It has connections with Regency poet Lord Byron.  The Londonderrys created their own port at Seaham Harbour to move their coal after having trouble with local ship owners.

Hawthorn Village began life as a Medieval farming settlement, sheltering under Beacon Hill, once a Roman signal station which offers wonderful views.  Hawthorn Dene joins the Coastal Path at Hawthorn Hive.

Easington Village was originally a Saxon village, but was expanded during the 12th and 13th Centuries.  Seaton Holme, now an exhibition centre began as a Medieval manor house, that was expanded in 1249 to provide a retirement home for Bishop Farnham of Durham.  There are Saxon fragments in the fabric of St Mary’s Church.

The pit site at Easington Colliery, the last of the Durham coastal pits to close has now been reclaimed.  A walk through the area brings the visitor to the landmark pit cage that serves as a reminder of this once massive industry.

Castle Eden National Nature Reserve extends four miles inland, almost to the new town of Peterlee, named after an early miners’ leader.  The dene was integrated into landscaped gardens during the mid 18th Century.  Attractive footpaths now provide views of the dramatic gorges and lush woodlands with a nationally important plant community.  Wheelchair access to the dene is very difficult, due to the steep paths with their uneven surfaces.  There is an accessible toilet at the lodge. There are some walks and events organised for visitors with limited mobility and a number of wildlife events are accessible to wheelchair users.  Information on these events and on the more accessible paths is available on 0191 586 0004.

Blackhall Rocks form the most spectacular part of these sea cliffs.  It can be great fun exploring this area, but a wary eye must be kept on the tides.  A local legend claims that it was here that Canute set up his throne on the beach and attempted to turn back the incoming tide.

There are wide sandy beaches and walks through the dunes at Crimdon at the southern end of the Durham Coast.

Sea fishing takes place on many parts of this shore and there is the Durham Coastal Footpath

running behind the beaches.  The National Cycle Network has a number of links around and through the area.

Two decades of hard environmental work has transformed the Durham Coast from a black wasteland into a unique landscaped that can now be appreciated by both local people and visitors.