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Smugglers and the Light of Marsden Bay

Along the coast near South Shields, and inland to the Cleadon Hills.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 246ft (75m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Roads, tracks, field and coastal paths

Landscape Views to sea, with offshore rocks, rolling countryside

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 316 Newcastle upon Tyne

Start/finish NZ 412635

Dog friendliness On leads on inland section of walk

Parking Whitburn Coastal Park car park, signed off A183 - turn right after entrance and drive to southern end of road

Public toilets None on route


© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 Leave the car park at its southern end, following the gravel track toward the houses. The path winds and goes past a sign for Whitburn Point Nature Reserve. Follow the track ahead to go through a gap in a wall and turn right. The path bends right, left and right again to join a road into houses. Go straight ahead to join the main road.

2 Cross the road and turn left. Walk down the road until you reach the windmill. Turn right to enter the grounds of the windmill. Go up the slope on the path and then between houses. Bear left then turn right to reach a T-junction.

3 Go straight ahead on a path that goes to the right of house No 99. When you reach another road turn left. Just after the first bungalow on the right, turn right along a signed track. Follow the track towards the farm. Go through the farmyard over two stiles and follow the lane beyond, with a hedge to your right. Where it ends, turn right over a stile.

4 Follow the path along the field edge. Go over another stile, gradually ascending. The path bends left then right, still following the field edge. Go over another two stiles. The path will bring you to the tower of Cleadon Windmill.

5 Go to the right of the windmill, following the wall on your right. Go right through a kissing gate, then bear slightly right (a brick tower to your left). Go parallel with the wall on your right. Cross a track and go through a wire mesh fence at right angles to the wall. Follow the path through scrubland to emerge by a yellow post by the golf course.

6 Cross the course, following the yellow posts and looking out for golfers. Go over a stone stile and turn right along a signed footpath, following the wall on your right. The path eventually descends beside houses to a road.

7 Cross and take the footpath almost opposite, to the right of a caravan site, heading towards the sea. Carefully cross the busy A183 then turn right, following the sea edge. Marsden Rock is near by, and the Marsden Grotto to your left as you cross the road. Follow the coast as it bends left to Lizard Point. After a visit to Souter Lighthouse, continue ahead on a path slightly inland from the coast, which returns you to the car park.

The coast of Durham south of the Tyne was long renowned for its smugglers. The natural caves at the base of the cliffs of Marsden Bay provided hiding places for illicit activity. Most famous of the smugglers was Jack the Blaster, who in 1792 used explosives to increase the size of one of the caves, and provide steps from the cliff top. An entrepreneur, he sold refreshments to other smugglers. In the 19th century an underground ballroom was created here, and in the 1930s a lift was installed. It is now a popular pub and eating place called the Marsden Grotto.

One 18th-century smuggler turned informer to the customs men. His fellows discovered his treachery, and the smugglers' ship was prevented from landing its contraband cargo. As punishment the man was hanged in a basket in a shaft, now called Smugglers' Hole, near the Grotto, where he starved to death. On stormy nights his shrieks are said to be heard in the howling of the wind.

On the walk you will pass two windmills. The first, in Marsden, is a squat building that still retains its sails. The other, higher on Cleadon Hills, was built in the 1820s, and survived until the end of the century, when it was damaged in a storm. In World War Two it housed Royal Observer Corps members who scanned the North Sea for enemy aeroplanes. Looking south from the tower you will see the Greek temple that is the Penshaw Monument. A half-sized replica of the Temple of Theseus in Athens, it commemorates the 1st Earl of Durham, 'Radical Jack' Lambton, first Governor of Canada. As you cross the golf course beyond the windmill there are views north to Tynemouth, with its castle and priory on the headland north of the river.

The red-and-white striped Souter Lighthouse was opened in 1871 to protect ships from the notorious rocks called Whitburn Steel, just off the coast. It was the first light in the world to be electrically powered, by electric alternators. Originally it was nearly ¼ mile (400m) from the sea, but erosion has brought the cliff edge much nearer. Now decommissioned and in the care of the National Trust, the lighthouse and its surrounding buildings reward careful exploration. The grassy area north of the light, The Lees, was farmed until the 1930s, and then given to the local council as a park. The industrial buildings by the road are the remains of lime kilns, used by the local limestone quarries. South of the light, where Whitburn Coastal Park now lies, was from 1873 to 1968 the site of Whitburn Colliery.

While you're there

Visit Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields. Built to supply the Roman army's campaign against the northern tribes, it has a full-size reconstruction of its gateway and a museum where you can see how Roman soldiers lived. You may even meet a member of the 'Cohors Quinta Gallorum' - volunteers dressed in Roman uniform.

What to look for

Off the coast at Marsden Bay are numerous sea stacks - pillars of rock that have been left as the sea has eroded the cliffs. The most famous of them is the largest, known as Marsden Rock. Although still impressive, it barely does justice to its fame. Until 1996 the rock was a naturally-formed arch; a second, smaller stack was joined to the rock on its south east side with a bridge of limestone. When this collapsed, the smaller stack had to be demolished as it was in a dangerous state. In the past there were ladders that gave access to the top for those willing to wade out, and local people used to have picnics there. There are even reports of choirs and brass bands giving impromptu concerts.

Where to eat and drink

The Marsden Grotto near Marsden Rock has a restaurant, bar and bistro, catering for all tastes, from snacks to full meals (children welcome until 8:30pm, no dogs except guide dogs). Further south, Souter Lighthouse (children and guide dogs welcome) has a good National Trust tea room, with the chance to sit in the walled garden on sunny days - when the foghorn won't be working!


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