As we launch our Greentraveller's Guide to the Northumberland Coast, Jo Keeling enjoys a seafood lovers' walk between two of the region's best pubs – The Ship Inn in Low Newton and The Jolly Sailor in Craster via Dunstanburgh Castle.
Ever since I visited seven years ago, I’d always vowed to come back to The Ship Inn, which is tucked within a row of 19th-century fishermen’s cottages in Low Newton. There’s just something eminently comforting about it. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of those rare British pubs that still feels like someone’s front room – albeit, right now, the busiest front room you’ve ever been in.
We budge on to the end of a table, the windows behind us steaming up with the mix of warm bodies and drying waterproofs, as a gentle hum of Gordie and Scottish accents fills the air.
No matter how tempting the pork pie ploughman’s lunch and fresh lobster sounds, there’s only one thing on my mind: Craster kippers served with brown bread, butter and a slice of lemon. Good honest northern food, washed down with a half of squid ink ale, brewed onsite by the hardworking (and rather fiery) mother and daughter team.
Well sated, we set out along the coast path towards Dunstanburgh Castle. After traversing the edge of a golf course and skirting around a number of enviably-set but rather ramshackle wooden holiday huts, the two-mile arc of Embleton Bay opens up to our left.
At the tip of the bay, the ruins of Dunstanburgh draw us on. We follow the path as it climbs the crest of a sand dune, picking our way through dense bracken and stopping every so often to check the sea for seals and seabirds. Eider ducks, which you might seeing bobbing around in the surf, are known locally as Cuddy Ducks after Saint Cuthbert who established laws to protect them in 676 AD. It’s thought to be the world’s earliest bird protection act.
After scanning Greymare Rock for kittiwakes and fulmars, we reach the remains of the 14th-century castle. It was built on top of a former Iron Age hill fort between 1313-1322 just as relations between King Edward II and his most powerful baron, Earl Thomas of Lancaster, were becoming openly hostile. It soon became the focus of fierce fighting during the War of the Roses and changed hands five times.
The castle never recovered from the sieges and it began to fall into what the 16th-century Warden of the Scottish Marches called a "wonderfull great decaye,” becoming a popular subject with artists, including M. W. Turner. Since then it has been used as an observation post to guard the coast from German invasion, been refortified with trenches, pill boxes and mine fields and, worst of all, become besieged by a golf course.
Today, it’s said to be haunted by a number of ghosts – most notably Thomas Plantagenet, who was executed for treason in 1322. Apparently the bumbling executioner delivered 11 strokes before he finally decapitated Thomas, who is said to roam the ruins carrying his mangled head.
We push on to Craster, walking on a gorse-lined grassy path until we reach the harbour, flanked by stone and white-washed cottages. Along with nearby Seahouses, Craster claims to be the birthplace of smoked kippers so it's an apt conclusion to a walk that has fuelled by them!
L. Robson and Sons have been smoking fish here since 1856, and today the grandson Neil and great granddaughter Olivia still use the same traditional methods, hanging their ‘silver darlings’ on tenter hooks in the cavernous smoking rooms over oak sawdust so that the full taste of the fish comes through.
With its open fire and battered leather sofas, the Jolly Fisherman provides a cosy end to our ramble. Established by Charles Archbold in 1847, the pub even pre-dates the invention of kippers and has been well-loved by Craster residents. As the name implies there’s a cracking selection of cask beers – we round off the day with a pint of Mordue Workie Ticket (made in a microbrewery on Hadrian’s Wall) before gently dozing on the bus back to Low Newton.
Written by Jo Keeling
Further information For more ideas of places to stay, eat, and things to see and do in the area, see our Greentraveller's Guide to the Northumberland Coast
Jo ate at: The Ship Inn, a pub and microbrewery on the coast at Newton-by-the-Sea, who serve locally-caught fish and run folk events throughout the year.
The Jolly Fisherman, a 19th-century pub popular for its crab sandwiches and buckets of mussels, with pretty garden overlooking the harbour and along the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle.
Jo visited L. Robson and Sons, a family-run traditional kipper smokehouse in Craster with restaurant and shop.