Life is strange sometimes, isn’t it? It was one of those “blowing a hooligan” days, but the sky was blue and bright and I just couldn’t stay home. As always, it was the lure of the sea that pulled me up the coast to Seaham. It’s a place I don’t often visit, but whenever I do it seems to have improved. Over the years it’s had to pull itself up by the bootstraps.
The Durham coastline is rugged in the extreme and Seaham Harbour was hacked out of these cliffs to provide transport for locally mined coal. Seaham’s deep mines reached out more than 3 miles beneath the North Sea. Seacoal and waste despoiled these beaches as far as the eye could see when the last mine finally closed in 1992. Almost 20 years later, the sea has washed and groomed them back to a semblance of their old selves.
Of course, man has pitched in to help with the repair. The success of this is evident in the Coastal Footpath which now graces the clifftops. At numerous points along the coast road it’s easy to drop down onto wide sweeping stretches of coastline.
Seaham itself has a vast panorama. At the southerly end the lighthouse juts out into the harbour. Sometimes, returning home by train from Newcastle, I’ve witnessed the sea battering its way in over the harbour wall. Today was not so ferocious, but I had to lean into the wind.
From North Terrace you can descend to a lengthy promenade which hugs the cliffs. Not pretty in itself, still it gives shelter from the wind and the chance to observe the nooks and crannies of the giants above. Dogs foolishly bark at the waves and small wellie-wearers enjoy the rock pools.
At the northern end I clamber back to the cliff top to admire the Seaham Hall Beach Car Park sculpture. Shaped like the layout of St Mary’s Church, it’s one of a number of sculptures which pay tribute to the town’s heritage.
The Vane Tempest Sculpture is a striking piece of art work, depicting the skyline of the former Vane Tempest Colliery.
The upper promenade leads back to Terrace Green. Opposite, at 17A North Terrace, is my favourite coffee stop in Seaham, “Leaf, Bark and Berries”. An intriguing mix of food emporium, café and furniture shop, the homemade quiches are excellent and I always enjoy a browse at the crafts and cabinetry on display. Using the sizeable properties to their full potential seems to be a Seaham trait, as I noticed that the newer “Black Truffle Coffee Shop” on Terrace Green boasted a boutique at the rear. Must check it out, next time.
Looking back at my subject, you could be forgiven for wondering what all this has to do with Lord Byron. On 2nd January, 1815 he married Anna Isabella Milbanke, the daughter of the owner of Seaham Hall. The marriage took place at the Hall rather than at nearby St Mary’s, and was thought by many to be doomed for this reason. Whatever the cause, they were to last only a year. A child, Augusta Ada, was born on 2nd December. She never knew her father, but at her own request was buried next to him in the family vault at Hucknall Torknard Church, Nottingham. Which, completely coincidentally, brought me full circle with my last post on Byron’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey.
Seaham Hall today is a very grand and successful hotel, the only obvious connection, Lord Byron’s Walk. www.seaham-hall.co.uk
Many more details of history and heritage can be found on www.seaham.com from whom I have borrowed a number of photographs. The most recent addition to the town sculptures sits beside the new Byron Place Shopping Centre.
Life as it was in Seaham, a town proud of it’s industrial past, yet reaching out to the future.