For stunning scenery head off to the ‘Border Riveria’

The Flying Scotsman returns from Scotland, passing Alnmouth. Picture by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.
The Flying Scotsman returns from Scotland, passing Alnmouth. Picture by Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

Just a few weeks ago I made the stunning journey from London Paddington to Penzance.

It is the route made famous by the Cornish Riviera Express, although we travelled this time on a much earlier train. Indeed, we went there and back in a day.

An East Coast Train crossing the Royal Border Bridge. Picture by Kimberley Powell.

An East Coast Train crossing the Royal Border Bridge. Picture by Kimberley Powell.

The entire journey is through beautiful countryside.

But the most stunning part of all is along the western shore of the Exe estuary, through Dawlish and Teignmouth.

At Dawlish the train is effectively on the shoreline – indeed, a couple of years ago the track was washed away entirely.

All this made me think of what we might call ‘the Border Riviera route’, for the journey on the East Coast Mainline from mid-Northumberland onwards is equally stunning.

The views of Berwick’s triumphant townscape are classically captured from the train windows.

The panorama really opens up as one looks down from the train on the tiny port of Alnmouth.

Alnmouth is now largely dedicated to yachting, golf and residential, but it nestles perfectly at the mouth of the River Aln.

As the train journeys on northwards, so it passes Boulmer.

Boulmer is identified now mainly by its rotating radar scanners and aerials. Virtually everything that travels below, on, or above the sea from North Cape to Gibraltar can be identified on a vast parade of radar screens buried well below ground level.

From the 11am flight from Stavanger to Madrid, to a French frigate in the Bay of Biscay, nothing escapes its watchful electronic eyes.

On we travel, past the village of Longhoughton, where the main village shop was once the NAAFI.

It is also where Father John Crawley, then the local vicar and a radio ham, in times past would be speaking to pedestrians in Vancouver and policemen in Melbourne.

Onwards, you make your way toward Howick, with its stunning gardens, and there too, on the coast, appear the first signs of the dolerite rocks of the Great Whin Sill – the geometric patterns in the rock are amazing.

From here, the train runs rather further inland.

A diversion by road opens up more of the stunning coast here.

So, from Howick one motors on towards Beadnell, but not before encountering Craster, with its tower and its curing lofts for the best kippers in the world.

Just north of Craster village and harbour arise the unforgettable craggy ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, which is said to have once guarded a northern harbour for Henry VIII’s navy.

Nestling just north of this, beyond Embleton, is the tiny hamlet of Low Newton.

This is now a National Trust village, with the tiny Ship Inn, equipped with its own micro-brewery.

Next, the tiny harbour at Beadnell apears, and then the busier Seahouses harbour. Both remind one of the power of the sea.

At Seahouses, Billy Shiels’ boats go out to the Farne Islands, another outcropping of the Whin Sill with its fragments of history, first from the time of Aidan and Cuthbert, and then later home to the gallant story of Grace Darling rescuing crew members from the stricken Forfarshire.

Passing the dunes between Seahouses and Bamburgh, the remarkable silhouette of Bamburgh Castle dominates the skyline.

Perched, yet again, on the Whin Sill, it looks across to its smaller sister fortress of Lindisfarne Castle, which is set on its own whinstone pedestal.

At Bamburgh there’s the excellent museum telling the story of Grace Darling, and much more too.

Then just over the brow of the hill, still travelling north, is the remarkable inlet of Budle Bay, which is a great magnet for bird watchers and offers a stunning shoreline at both at high tide and low.

Now we can pick up the railway line again.

In times past we might have taken a train from Belford Station – there is often talk of the station re-opening – but, for now, the nearest stop is at nearby Chathill.

The coastline continues with dunes leading toward Beal and the causeway across to Holy Island.

Again, the missionaries Saint Aidan and Saint Cuthbert were based in the seventh century monastery there. However, the stone ruins we see on the island today are of the later 12th century Benedictine monastery that was built.

Alongside the parish church is a sculpted statue of Aidan, who was first called to the area from Iona by King Oswald.

Marching on, the train then skirts the dunes at Goswick, Cheswick, and Scremerston, before one prepares oneself for the crossing of the Tweed estuary on the amazing Royal Border Bridge.

The views of Berwick’s triumphant townscape are classically captured from the train windows.

Over the border and the excitement is greater still as the railway line is perched upon the cliff, just above Burnmouth.

The coast here too is encrusted with history.

At Coldingham, Queen Etheldreda became a nun at the priory, under the care of Aebbe, the aunt of her husband. Nearby St Abbs carries Aebbe’s name still.

Fast Castle nearby was the location chosen by Sir Walter Scott for Wolf’s Crag in his novel The Bride of Lammermoor.

Eyemouth, perhaps, is the place to complete our journey along the Border Riviera .

By road or by train, it is a journey one never forgets.