A nature reserve, country park and beach, each with its own interest.
Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)
Minimum time 1hr 45min
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Paths and tracks, with good walk on beach, no stiles
Landscape Dunes, seashore and lakeside
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 325 Morpeth & Blyth; 332 Alnwick & Amble
Start/finish NU 282024 (on Explorer 332)
Dog friendliness On lead within nature reserve
Parking Car park at Hauxley Nature Reserve
Public toilets At Hauxley Nature Reserve and Druridge Bay Country Park visitor centres
Notes Check tides; complete coastal section not always passable at high water
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1 A waymarked footpath beside the car park entrance winds between the nature reserve and a caravan site towards the coast. Through a gate at the bottom, turn right on to a track, which shortly passes two gates that give access to bird hides overlooking the lake.
2 Leaving the reserve, continue a little further along a tarmac track to an informal parking area on the left, where there is easy access on to the beach. Now, follow the shore past Togston Links, across a stream and on below Hadston Links.
3 After 1¼ miles (2km), wooden steps take the path off the sands on to the dunes. Cross a tarmac track and continue over a marshy area into pinewood. Beyond the trees, emerge by a car park and walk across to the Druridge Bay Country Park visitor centre, where there is a café and toilets.
4 A footway to the left winds around Ladyburn Lake, soon passing a boat launching area. Keep to the lower path, which soon leads to stepping stones across the upper neck of the lake. If you would rather not cross there, continue around the upper edge of a wooded nature sanctuary above the water to a footbridge higher up. Over the bridge and through a gate, turn right by the field edge, soon dropping around an internal corner to a kissing gate. Descend through trees to regain the lake by the stepping stones.
5 This side of the lake has a more 'natural' feel, the path winding through trees to emerge beside a lushly vegetated shoreline where swans like to feed. After crossing a bridge over the lake's outflow, carry on back to the visitor centre.
6 Retrace your steps to the beach and turn back towards Hauxley, but when you reach the point at which you originally dropped on to the sands, remain on the shore towards Bondi Carrs. Seaweed can make the rocks slippery, so be careful clambering over as you round the point, where Coquet Island then comes into view ahead. Not far beyond there, after passing a look-out post and approaching large rocks placed as a storm defence, leave across the dunes, retracing your outward path the short distance back to the car park.
The story of Druridge Bay's pools begins 300 millions years ago, when the area basked in a warm climate and was cloaked in a dense, forest swamp. The gradual accumulation of decaying vegetation eventually gave rise to extensive coal deposits, which today extend far out to sea. Although dug from shallow drifts or bell pits since the medieval period, it was only during the Industrial Revolution that coal mining began in earnest. Pits were sunk ever deeper, and mining developed as a major industry along the north east coast, with villages such as nearby Broomhill springing up to house miners and their families.
As the 20th century progressed, many pits became worked out or uneconomic, yet with the Second World War, the need for coal had never been greater. A new approach was tried, with the country's first opencast operation beginning on Town Moor near Newcastle. Far cheaper and simpler than deep mining, the scale of workings steadily increased, as the equipment needed to excavate and move immense quantities of rock was improved.
Work began on the Radcliffe site in September 1971, and a staggering 100 million tons of overlying rock was removed to extract some 2½ million tons of coal. Within seven years, all the coal was out, leaving behind a crater 170ft (52m) deep. The Northumberland Wildlife Trust bought part of the site in 1983 and has turned the derelict wasteland into the nature-rich lakes and islands we see today.
Hauxley Pool is typical of the several flooded workings along the coast, and although huge numbers of trees, shrubs and other plants were originally brought in, there is now a remarkably natural feel to the water and its surroundings. As the fertility of the once-barren land has been improved, many species have become established on the banks and, in spring and summer, the place is alive with colour from bloody cranesbill, yellow wort, kidney vetch and a host of other flowers. Look carefully and you'll spot the delicate pink petals of ragged robin, an often-rare sight in today's countryside.
The attraction for many visitors, however, is the variety and numbers of birds that visit these coastal lakes, a spectacle that is ever-changing throughout the year. Resident populations are joined by those migrating between the summer feeding and breeding grounds in the far north and the warmer climes of Africa, where many spend the winter. Dunlin, whimbrel and sanderling are amongst the many species passing through, whilst redshank, plover and bar-tailed godwit are some that winter here. You will also see whooper and Bewick swans as well as many favourites such as tits, finches, blackbirds and robins.
Not far away at Warkworth stands one of the country's most spectacular castles. Commanding a dramatic site overlooking the River Coquet, Warkworth's origins lie in a 12th-century motte and bailey raised by the son of David I, King of Scotland, within whose borders it then lay. By the 14th century, the castle was in the hands of the Percys, who lived there, on and off, until the 7th Earl's execution in 1572, since when it has lapsed into the evocative ruin we see today.
In many places, the base of the dunes overlooking the beach has eroded to give the appearance of low, crumbling cliffs. Look carefully and you will see that they are banded. At the base is sandstone bedrock, formed when the area was flooded some 250 million years ago, at the end of the Carboniferous period. Immediately above is boulder clay, a mere 10,000 years old, deposited by melting ice sheets, and overlying that is peat, laid down between 3,000 to 5,000 years ago when the area was marshy. The dunes themselves have accumulated since then, the product of wind-blown sand.
If you're looking for refreshment during the walk, call in at the Druridge Bay Country Park visitor centre, where the café offers an appetising selection of snacks and light meals. However, for something more substantial, try the Widdrington Inn, which you'll find beside a roundabout on the A1068, about 4 miles (6.4km) to the south.