Three years ago I posted this about an abortive trip to Seahouses on the Northumberland Coast.
With the weather still mild for the time of year, I decided to give it another go, and this time met with success. Of a sort.
Seahouses always strikes me as a bit of a strange place; you arrive onto a main street, with increasing numbers of businesses as you approach the coast. You make a turn at the end of the street… and it’s over. You’re leaving. In truth the place is a fishing village, but over the years it has morphed and evolved and feels like a busy town at the height of summer. The reality is that the small harbour is more of an appendage than a location worthy of its own name.
The original settlement was at North Sunderland, or more accurately Sunderland – so named for being the lands south of Bamburgh, home of the Northumbrian Kings. Sunder meaning “south” in this sense, but with the growth of another town of the same name in County Durham, this became North Sunderland to avoid confusion, though how the adoption of an oxymoron avoids confusion….?
This was primarily an agricultural village, until the 18th Century when a small harbour was developed at the rocky coast and soon fishermen and fishwives began to operate from here.
There were also lime kilns, conveniently sited alongside the harbour so that their product could be loaded straight onto ships and transported elsewhere in the UK where lime was an important fertiliser. Those who worked the harbour built houses here and these soon became known as the North Sunderland Sea Houses. With the boom of herring fishing in the area that took place in the 19th Century, Seahouses became the tail that wagged the dog.
Whether true or not, the town claims to be the place where the kipper was invented, when following a fire in a herring store someone tasted the remnants. Just down the coast, Craster claims to produce some of the UK’s best, but here in Seahouses they can still lay claim to the oldest smokery.
The introduction of quotas to preserve stocks killed the herring fishery, and the production of quick lime in kilns (with its potential to blind those involved in its production) wouldn’t meet any modern safety legislation so you might have expected Seahouses to become completely moribund, but nowadays it prospers through tourism.
It’s just a short distance from long stretches of fabulous Northumbrian beaches, but those who come here can also indulge a love of history (MP Rory Steward described the area as “the centre of European Culture” referring to the flourishing of art and science here in Anglo-Saxon times) or wildlife (the nearby Farne Islands are home to colonies of breeding seabirds through the summer and seals in the autumn). This is also a coastline with a history of shipwrecks on the rocks around those islands, and a Victorian heroine. The boats that run trips to and around the islands play a major role in the local economy, the seahouses have become holiday lets.
And so having looked around, it was time for me to board one of those boats. Posts on the history, the birds, and the seals still to come!