No. 1 The Square, Low Newton by the Sea

Hiding at the bottom of a hill adjacent to the Northumberland coast is the tiny fishing village of Low Newton by the Sea. Little more than a collection of 18th century cottages and farm buildings, the beach is protected by the National Trust and is popular year round with walkers and wildlife enthusiasts.

Images by Edd Armitage

(Images reproduced with permission of Edd Armitage, via his Flickr set)

Geographically, Low Newton is about half way between the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed and Antony Gormley’s famous Angel of the North near Newcastle, in England’s North East. In this spectacular county of big skies, rolling hills and outstanding coastline, the village is easy to miss from the road, betrayed only by the former coastguard’s look-out (above), which sits on a hilltop with panoramic views out to sea.

Low Newton’s focal point, if you can steer your gaze away from the pristine beach, is the cream-washed square with obligatory pub, the Ship Inn, built around a pleasant village green. Further up the hill, the two-storey row known as Coastguard Cottages occupies a commanding position with magnificent sea views, and is a familiar waypoint to nautical folk navigating their way into Newton Haven.

Then and now: 19th and 21st centuries

The Square has changed little over the years, with permanent porches replacing older wooden structures.  But a major shift in demographics has seen the holiday market overtake many of the former cottages of farm hands and fishermen. Fishing mostly died out with the last generation, and while some hardy folk still trawl the coastal waters, fishing’s decline reflects both a dying industry and the end of an epoch.

The boatyard at Low Newton

Behind the Square and its associated farm buildings (many now coverted) is a boatyard, nestling at the base of the sand dunes. Stocked mainly with sailing dinghys brought out of hibernation when their owners venture to the North East on holiday, it is also the final resting place of a few larger vessels, relics of the fishing era and reminders of Low Newton’s past, many of them silently rotting away.

St. Mary's Bay/Newton Haven

Newton Bay, as locals call it, is arguably one of the most picturesque beaches in England. Officially called St. Mary’s Bay or Newton Haven, it’s a natural rock harbour sheltered from North Sea tides by an offshore reef. The rocks ensure a challenging environment for sailors at low tide, but also mean that any intrepid mariner that accidentally runs aground can hopefully step out onto the rocks before being confined to Davy Jones’ Locker.

Image by Hoch Zwei

(Image in public domain)

Popular with all manner of watersports, Low Newton was one of the first beaches windsurfing pioneers flocked to when the sport was established in the UK around 1960, when the “Windsurfer” was the only sailboard model on the market. The village has hosted numerous regattas, and was home to popular windsurfing and sailing schools for many years.

Images (top) by johndal and (bottom) Ian Knox

(Images top and bottom reproduced under Creative Commons licenses – here and here)

A cluster of rocks called the Emblestones marks the boundary of Newton Haven, set against the spectacular backdrop of Dunstanburgh Castle. This mighty fortress was a Lancastrian stronghold during the Wars of the Roses and has the scars to prove it. A popular subject for landscape artists like Turner, its stones also came in handy in the construction of local villages.  In addition to its historical past and popularity with watersports fanatics, Newton Haven is a well known wildlife haven for various marine mammals and sea bird species.

Image by yellow book

(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic)

One curious local oddity is St. Mary’s Church which, dating back to the late 19th century, must be one of the earliest kit built churches around. Functional corrugated steel sheeting contrasts with traditional stained glass windows, and the “tin tabernacle”, as it is fondly known, has also stood in for the village hall at one time or another.  (For more interesting seaside churches, check out our article about the Fisherman’s Chapel.)

The Ship Inn, Low Newton

What would any isolated 18th century fishing village be without its pub, that welcoming bastion of warmth on hand to serve up a hearty pint and offer shelter from the wind and waves that batter the coastline outside? Low Newton’s is the Ship Inn (or the Smack Inn, as it was once called).  Now more restaurant than local pub, it caters primarily to walkers and is often closed on winter evenings.  The Ship was featured on the BBC’s Oz and James Drink to Britain – Episode 2.  

Northumberland is known as one of Britain’s best kept secrets, and a visit to Low Newton will explain why.

All uncredited images are by the author.

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