Distance: 18.5km (11.5 miles)
Height Gained: 280m
Public Transport: Buses 23 & 24 (towards Sunderland) between Easington Colliery and Sunderland twice hourly (hourly on Sundays).
Parking: Free car park on B1283 in Easington Colliery, as well as various in Seaham. Various pay car parks in the centre of Sunderland
Once a coastline blighted by the coal industry, this is now a lovely clifftop wander once past Sunderland’s docks. Long beaches backed by crumbling shale and limestone features dominate the scenery and is particularly dramatic around Ryhope Beach and Noses Point.
Turn down Bridge Crescent on the immediate Sunderland side of Wearmouth Bridge and descend a path back to the riverside. Follow the river to Fish Quay, where steps lead up to the road above, heading out towards the docks. This was the bustling heart of the old town, which developed around the port as a major centre for shipbuilding and the export of coal. The shipyards that had built ships here since the 14th century finally packed in 1988, by which time much of the old dock area had been levelled for redevelopment. Turn right on a neighbourhood street (towards Chance Community Centre) and, at its end, head straight on across Town Moor. Turn right half way across and emerge to follow Lawrence Street, then turn left at the roundabout by The Charltons. Follow the A1018 for about a mile, before turning left at a lane shortly before the third roundabout. This leads down beneath the railway to Hendon Beach and the welcome resumption of the coast path after the warehouses, cranes and storage tanks of the industrial side of Sunderland.
The gentle clifftop path continues to the large car park above the precarious arches of Seaham Hall Beach, which itself can easily be followed into Seaham. The route continues to the road, then doubles back down to a concrete promenade, which is followed along the beach to its end and some steps back up to the road near the centre of Seaham. Seaham Harbour was hewn entirely artificially from its limestone headland in the 1820s to export coal from the numerous collieries nearby, and the town grew around it, quickly engulfing the old village of Seaham.
Follow the main road on above the harbour and out of Seaham past Byron Place shopping centre (named after Lord Byron, who began his first novel at Seaham Hall yet condemned ‘this dreary coast’) and Dawdon Business Park. A grassy path parallel to the road begins beyond the docks and is worth following to get a view of Liddle Stack rising dramatically below the first cliffs – interestingly, this wasn’t the original Liddle Stack, which once stood closer to Seaham. The route turns left through the car parks above and follows the broad gravel track on along the cliffs. Again it is worth wandering out onto Nose’s Point to appreciate the limestone cliffs around Liddle Stack and Dawdon Blast Beach. The area was once an industrial eyesore, shaped by the iron furnaces which gave the latter its name and Dawdon Colliery on Nose’s Point, which was one of the area’s largest collieries and only closed in 1991. Coal spoil was dumped over the cliffs and painted the beach black, but it had the inadvertent effect of protecting the cliffs and the area has quickly rewilded, now becoming a beautiful arc of pale cliffs again.
Follow the railway past Shippersea Bay, then fork left along the high cliffs. On the hill above, the Pit Cage Monument stands on the site of one of the 1500ft shafts of Easington Colliery, which has been radically landscaped since its closure in 1993 using the spoil originally dumped on the nearby beaches. The path eventually joins a tarmac walkway that leads on around the headland overlooking the long sweep of Horden Beach, before cutting inland along the side of Fox Holes Dene. Continue beneath the railway arch to reach the road and bus stop in Easington Colliery.