Another day and another country done on our round Britain sailing challenge for the National Autistic Society! Having had the best of the scenery, the worst of the weather, not to mention some of the best and the worst moments of our trip so far, it was with a bit of sadness but also just a little excitement that we bade farewell to bonny Scotland and headed over the border into my home county of Northumberland.
Arbroath (56.55 91 degrees N 2.5915 degrees W) to Berwick-upon-Tweed (55.77 02 degrees N 2.00 54 degrees W) Sunday 12 – Tuesday 15 August
We left Arbroath as the sun (yes, the sun) rose and we headed back out into the North Sea and negotiated our way, once again, through lobster pot city. The wind was blowing south westerly 16-18 as we headed across the Firth of Forth, passing Dundee and the route up to Edinburgh. We had a reef in the mainsail and picked up the tide so continued across the estuary, making good progress. I was just a little excited as we were heading for the border county of Northumberland, which is my home county.
We had originally planned to head for Eyemouth but having coped well with the longer distances and being keen to try and make it to England that day, we had explored the pilot books to identify a suitable harbour or marina to go into that was over the border. The challenge with many east coast harbours is that they are drying, so we had to plan our passages to get the best of the tide as we were heading to our destinations but also try to coincide our arrival with there being enough water for us to get into the relevant port. Although not having a marina, Berwick-upon-Tweed, the very first harbour on the English border, did appear (from the almanac) to have an all-weather access harbour which could offer visiting yachts a secure berth, together with amenities such as showers and shops close by. And so it was, that after a 54 mile trip, we waved the NAS flag as we crossed over into Northumberland and arrived in the Tweed Dock in Berwick. At this point I will say we had no other option (due to tides and tiredness) but it was with sinking hearts we realised that the picture in the almanac with a horizontal line with an image of a boat against it actually meant harbour wall, rather than pontoon. Not only that but being a commercial dock (or it had been in days gone by) this dock had huge sheer walls with only four or five ladders all round it where you could get out and these were already occupied by two rusting fishing boats, an equally rusting pilot boat and a tripper boat. As we were looking for somewhere to tie up another fishing boat came in and grabbed the only possible place we could see. The fisherman on board were friendly, however, and told us to moor us against the tripper boat but not the fishing boats as they would be leaving again early in the morning. We had just decided this was our only option when the tripper boat captain actually arrived. He couldn’t have been more helpful giving us the okay to moor against the pilot boat, which he also operated and he and his mate would move the tripper boat to the other side of the dock. He also told us where the showers were and where there was a good local pub and café.
Relieved but hungry we tied up then made the trek up the harbour wall ladder (me terrified, just like Stonehaven all over again, Simon pretending not to be) and then walked across the bridge into Berwick itself. There are three bridges across the Tweed, which is a relatively wide river. The farthest bridge set on huge columns provides a viaduct for trains’ en-route between Newcastle and Edinburgh. At night, the columns are lit in different and changing colours which is very pretty. The second bridge is a newer traffic bridge to carry traffic through and out of the town and the third and most ancient bridge is a beautiful old arched bridge which takes local traffic and pedestrian traffic across the river. Berwick has some beautiful old buildings built in the solid Victorian style and stone common in many borders towns. Equally, there are also some buildings, particularly around the docks area, which have definitely seen better days and, as with parts of Peterhead, there were signs that the traditional industries which had fed the traffic going through the docks had all but dried up, leaving the quayside to be an overgrown, cracked and crumbling area used for parking large lorries overnight and a few old fishing vessels (and a lot of swans in the evening) rather than dealing with much commercial shipping.
Berwick upon Tweed is the most northerly town in England and has, over the centuries, been both Scottish and English. Today (and for several hundred years) it is located in England, just over two miles from the Scottish border at the mouth of the Tweed. Locals here may live in England and work in Scotland or vice versa – had the Scottish vote for independence been a ‘yes’, it would have been interesting to see the effect on a true border town like Berwick, where both Scots and English influences are clear.
As well as the architecture in the town itself, the high spots of our stay in Berwick were watching the local traditional salmon netting in the river, enjoying some delicious meals and the generosity of the local landlady of the Harrow Inn, who kindly donated £20.00 to our NAS fundraising. This amazing lady had (with some others) raised £550,000 to support local people needing transport and support to get to Newcastle or Edinburgh hospitals for cancer care, so she clearly had her own charity she supported, but was still kind enough to contribute to our fundraising efforts. Her pub was the local hostelry recommended by the harbour staff and she had only taken it over three weeks ago, redecorated and relaunched it. Her hard work should pay off as her food and hospitality were excellent so, if by chance you are ever in the Tweed Dock area of Berwick, do pay a visit to Margaret at The Harrow Inn and you won’t be disappointed.
The low spots of our stay were most definitely the harbour wall, the dock environment generally and the cleanliness (or lack of it) in the showers, which were also used by the overnighting truckers. But as a secure berth offering good shelter from some unfriendly North Sea weather and for friendliness, a warm welcome and for supporting our Round Britain tip for the NAS, Berwick and the Tweed Dock deserve credit and our visit certainly served its purpose.
Berwick-upon-Tweed to Amble (55. 33 15 degrees N 1.58 53 degrees W) Tuesday 15- Sunday 20 August You may be wondering why we stayed two nights in the Costa del Tweed Dock in Berwick, rather than pressing on to Amble earlier. The answer was simple – the weather got us again. Having generally enjoyed better weather and less rain and lighter winds (even though usually from the wrong direction) since leaving Inverness, the forecast for the Northumberland coast area on Monday was not good and we had been anticipating this for some days. This time the forecast was right and with strong winds from the south and a lot of rain and stormy skies, the sensible thing was to sit it out in Berwick for an extra day. Now, I am sailing with the most sensible sailor there is (those of you who know Simon will know never a truer word was said) so sit it out and wait for better weather, we did. And thus it was that on Tuesday the wind had dropped and gone round and we left Berwick to in a beautiful sunrise for a chilly but bright sail down the coast to Amble.
As this is my home county, I know how lovely the Northumbrian coastline is with its beaches and castles, islands and wildlife but… I’ve never seen it from the sea, so I was really looking forward to the passage to Amble. In recent years Amble has developed from a typical northern mining and fishing village in the shadow of pretty nearby Warkworth, to being a busting little place with a good facilities such as a welcoming, well equipped family run marina and a very friendly yacht club,. There is a recently redeveloped marina village with good restaurants, craft shops and a Sunday market as well as a traditional shopping street with lots of smaller local suppliers and a couple of supermarkets. There are excellent sandy beaches and the area around the port and Coquet Island, at the mouth of the River Coquet, are truly beautiful and looking west up the river you see the picturesque ruins of Warkworth Castle.
One of the main reasons I was looking forward to coming to Amble was that I was going to see my Mum and other family members, who were coming to visit us. My Mum isn’t a sailor (though she has given it a try once or twice) and she has watched ‘Trawlermen’ so put the two together and you have total irrational fear of daughter in dire peril on the North Sea being battered by storms and the boat going down. She has tried to remain calm but every so often she lets out a comment such as ‘ I wish you were home’, ‘how much longer’ and ‘are you SURE you are enjoying it?. I know being able to see us and chat about where we’ve been and see we’re okay will help allay her fears, especially as we are now southbound. I was looking forward to seeing other family members too but especially giving my Mum a hug. I can write about this in total confidence knowing that being a technophobe, she will never read what I have written but I’m sure even if she did she would agree with every word”.
Anyway, I digress, so back to the journey to Amble. We had a good brisk sail down to Holy Island (Lindisfarne), home of St Wilfred, who also had a connection with Chichester Cathedral. I always think it is amazing that, just like me but with several more transport challenges, someone who lived so long ago on an island in Northumberland managed to find his way to Sussex, specifically Chichester. I was looking forward to seeing the priory on Lindisfarne from the sea but unfortunately it was totally scaffolded out as it is being reinforced and strengthened to ensure its conservation for centuries to come.
From Holy Island we continued past the Farne Islands and enjoyed seeing the occasional seal pop up to say hello. The Farne Islands are covered with seals and puffins but keen to hit the tide to get into the marina we couldn’t linger so I could improve my wildlife photography skills as we had to press on.
We passed Bamburgh Castle and I remembered the last time we walked on the beach there it was a chilly autumn day with my Mum and Dad a few years ago before he became terminally ill; I like to think he was watching us sailing by. The castle itself is still inhabited and is a dramatic and iconic image of the Northumbrian coastline. Dunstanburgh Castle, which we also passed, is equally iconic but is truly an eerie ruin with the remains of its stone walls looking out to sea suffering gradual erosion from the North Sea winds over the centuries.
Soon we could see Coquet Island which sits just off the harbour entrance into Amble and we arrived on a rising tide, making an easy entry and being met by the laid back harbour master who helped us with fuel and then showed us to our berth. We were on E10 and, shortly after arriving, were greeted by Peter Coulthard, the owner of January First, two boats down the pontoon and his children Sam and Jamie. They had seen our banners promoting our Round Britain Sailing Challenge and our National Autistic Society Flag. Sam is autistic and having an educational statement receives in-class support at her school. They had wanted to come and say hello and show support for the challenge having used the services of the NAS in the past. Sam and Jamie posed with the NAS flag on their boat and on Kairos and they were a delight to meet and have on board.
Robert also told us about the local yacht club, where he was a member and we visited a couple of times during our stay and really felt so welcomed in it didn’t feel as if we were visitors at all, especially when a lady called Maria Crookes, who is the National Autistic Society’s northern branch manager came over to chat to us about our trip and took our details to follow us. We are members of Mengeham Rythe Sailing Club and Bognor Regis Yacht Club and both are very welcoming but we have been to many in our travels which have been more reserved, quieter and less welcoming but Coquet Yacht Club was up there with our own clubs and with the Royal St George’s at Dun Loaghaire, as being among the best we have visited.
My family came to visit on Wednesday and we enjoyed lunch on board, a trip into Warkworth to the pub, lots of catching up and photos, showing off the boat to my uncle and cousin and her husband, who are a lot more enthusiastic about sailing than my Mum. We then went for a great dinner, which didn’t quite happen in the place we thought we had booked, due to a telephone booking confusion, but ended up with us having local seafood in an upturned boat at The Fish Shack. It was a great visit, I had my hug with my Mum and we all laughed so much, especially when the boat we were having dinner in (not ours, thankfully) started leaking in the rain, later in the evening. For my cousin’s benefit – we went back to the restaurant (The Old Boathouse) we should have been in the next evening and I can confirm it is very, very good.
Our final day in Amble dawned cloudy and breezy but fairly warm and we started with a photo shoot with four great guys who are training to row the Atlantic for spinal and mental health charities – The Four Oarsmen – and we ended up walking down the river into Warkworth where we visited a small classic car rally and a local show in the castle grounds. We managed to see some enormous leeks and cabbages, local spinning, basket making and other crafts before heading to the pub. We then had a brisk walk back to the boat to beat the rain. It was a lovely relaxing land based day before we put our sea legs back on again tomorrow.
All in all, we had a brilliant stay at Amble (like a mini holiday) and couldn’t recommend it more – definitely up in our top of the places we’ve been to list.
Amble to Hartlepool (54. 69 17 degrees N, 1.2129 degrees W) Sunday 20 –Monday 21 August
We departed Amble around 11am, as soon as there was enough water over the harbour cill. The wind was forecast to be westerly and around 10 knots dropping to 5-6 later. It was actually south westerly and gusting to about 15 knots, certainly nothing like as strong as we have had but providing yet another wind against tide battle. The wind was certainly doing odd things – ‘confused’ would be a good way to describe it as not 400 metres away a yacht going in the same direction, also sailing their main sail, was sailing with a an SE wind.
We started off with some sunshine but it soon said farewell, having teased us with its morning rays and it was back to full sailing gear, hats and boots by the time we reached Hartlepool, a North Sea port, which had its heyday back in Napoleonic times. It has to be said that Hartlepool was not one of our destinations of choice, especially after people had told us about it being run down and lacking atmosphere (the place, rather than the marina). It was more a quick overnight port of convenience for us being between Amble and Whitby, which was our next destination of choice.
The benefit of Hartlepool is that there is a lock so you can get in when entry would not be possible at other ports. The lock is a good size lock with a floating pontoon, so access is quite easy however it is not a 24 hour marina and access is only possible at high water +/- 4 hours.
The marina itself is immense and split into several different sections but it is not fully occupied and there are huge differences between what are clearly working commercial boats, rusting boats which have seen much better days, pretty traditional older boats and very big flash motor boats, such as the one moored opposite us with the classy name ‘The Business’ which made me think its owner could be someone like Del Boy after he became ‘a millionaire’!! The monkey photo below shows the monkey that was hanged as being a traitor after it came off a French ship in Napoleonic times and the people of Hartlepool didn’t know what it was.
The visitors’ pontoon is close to the showers and other facilities and there are a number of restaurants and bars nearby – but no shop, so we had a hike around the other side of the marina to Asda to buy some milk. The walk took us around the old dock part of the marina as well as past the newer apartments, this gave us the opportunity to see the Museum of Hartlepool which is situated in a reconstruction of the type of old buildings which would have surrounded the quay in its heyday, complete with an old square rigger (HMS Trimcomalee from 1817) and PPS Wingfield, an old paddle steamer. This area was part of an investment to reconstruct what the area would have looked like in its heyday – needless to say very different to what you see today.
As we walked back over uneven gravelled areas with weeds growing through and saw how poorly used the old dock area is, we reflected that, rather like some of the other areas we have visited, this town and even this marina area, which has clearly had more recent investment, was showing signs of being tired and needing an injection of capital, pride and hope.
Next stop for Kairos and the Crazysails crew, Whitby, so join us then. In the meantime, Crazysails out!
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