Things to do in South Shields Part 1 – Sandhaven to Marsden Kinda Circularish Walk.

There are already loads of blogs out there on the best things to do in South Shields.

And I will get round to writing a more complete one based on my extensive guide to the area which I send to all guests who book one of our South Shields self catering apartments.

But most South Shields blogs I have read are on the whole the generic list type, written by someone who doesn’t really know the area well, with a paragraph on each item and maybe reference to a meal in a cafe or bar which the author pouched for free for mentioning the establishment.

Well anything I reference in this blog is 100% off my own back which may hopefully help fellow small local businesses like ours.

And scratching the surface is not how like to approach anything so this morning I’ve just fleshed out this detailed blog tracing our recent lovely coastal walk which I’ve been sharing on our Facebook and Instagram accounts over the last few weeks.

So I guess that you can think of this blog as Part One in a Series of Things to do in South Shields which I will be adding to continually in future posts.

I did this walk with Sonny and Lola, my 15 and 14 year old kids back at the start of July but it is just as beautiful any time of the year.

We are all able bodied (apart from me starting to get a bit rickety through wear and tear) but if you are in a wheelchair much of this walk is accessible as there is a decent coastal path maintained by the National Trust.

So here we go.

If you are driving to do this walk you could park at the Trow Quarry car park then cross the road and head for the benches at the foot of the hill with the gun battery. We climbed this hill (not wheelchair friendly) up to the back of the gun battery.

Photo 1: Top of Trow Rocks

Photo 1 is taken from Trow Rocks, looking north, along the Sandhaven Beach (aka The big beach!), with the Surf School, Sanddancer pub, Minchelas ice cream parlours, Colemans, the Fair, and onto the River Tyne, the piers and over the river to Tynemouth and its beautiful Priory all in view from here! All places well worth a visit. This is a great vantage point and I love to sit around this area to watch the sunset over the Tyne.

Photo 2: Trow Rock Disappearing Gun

I didn’t actually take a photo of the gun this day so Photo 2 is from 5 years ago with my 2 kids clambering all over it; a long held family tradition every time we head back to Shields from Aberdeen (I do not recommend you do this…).

This Victorian artillery piece is known as the ‘Disappearing Gun’ and is a substitute for the original gun installed around 1887. It is ‘disappearing’ in the sense that it’s experimental mounting platform allowed it to be raised and lowered within the concrete gun pit; however, it was never actually used in action.

Photo 3 – Graham Sands

We have now walked a little north and are just off the coastal path and starting to head up the hill to the top of The Leas. Looking back we can see Graham Sands. It’s a combination of rocky and sandy beach. And if you fancy a bit of rock pooling this is a great place and best to come around low tide. The surf school do supervised rock pooling if you’d like to try that. My 2 kids and I often head around head and have an explore and find fish, molluscs, star fish, sea anemone, etc. Great free fun!

Photo 4: Top of Frenchmans Bay

We have now walked along the path that runs alongside Trow Rocks, up the steady hill (you will know about it if you ever do the South Shields 5km Park Run!) northwards towards The Leas. And in Photo 4 we are standing at the the south end of the stunning Frenchmans bay! Absolutely breathtaking! The bay takes it’s name from a French ship that ran aground here in the 17th century and was known for it’s smuggling past. South Shields has a strong history of pirates, smuggling, contraband a skill which many say may still exist to this very day….

Photo 5: Peninsula Frenchmans Bay

We have now walked along “Frenchies” on the coastal path (magificently managed by the National Trust Souter Lighthouse) and we are standing at the the NORTH end of the stunning Frenchmans bay! Absolutely breathtaking! AGAIN!

Photo 6: Still at Frenchies Peninsula.

And just for good luck here’s another one from the same spot but we we are now looking more out to see and towards the end of the River Tyne South Pier. What a view man.

Photo 7: That little cove just past Frenchies.

We walked a little further north along the path to reach that little cove just past Frenchmans Bay and I had to take this cheeky snap.

When I was a kid I used to scour this coast with my mates, dog walk my next door neighbours dog. Every nook and cranny was covered.

And this felt like it was being back there. Past the lovely yellow flowers blowing in the gentle sea breeze, two people sat on the beach with a picnic, looking out to sea. Deserted on a desert island. I wondered what they were thinking about. Right now I’m dreaming of South Shields.

Photo 8: The Leas looking south

We are now heading towards Marsden, cutting across along The Leas, a vast grassland area ran magnificently by the National Trust. If you prefer you can stick to the coastal path which hugs the cliffs more closely. Those 2 specks you can see on the horizon striding ahead of me are my 2 offspring.

“C’mon dad, what are you doing?” Stop admiring the landscape and wildlife and dreaming! This view always makes me think of the Catherine Cookson period dramas they used to show in the ’80s. One minute they’d start a walk from Newcastle quayside then, 10 seconds later they’d be on the Leas! Good effort.

Right in the centre of the photo on the horizon you can see Souter Lighthouse, and if you haven’t been before it’s well worth a visit to see the insides of the lighthouse but their grounds are also stunning and great for a picnic. And the hills to the right are Cleadon Hills (the link is a PDF map download – it’s not dodgy, honest!) which is another a fantastic walk which I’ll cover in a later blog.

Photo 9: The Leas looking north

Then spinning round and looking back from where we came when we started this walk.

The acres of grassland, full of Skylarks hiding in the long grass and soaring up high above our heads. With the dramatic cliffs at their end. And all of the stories that they could tell. Over the millions of years. Pirates, contraband, far away majestic rivers, swampland, dinosaurs? It’s crazy to think that the ground below us was formed a quarter of a billion years ago somewhere near the equator! Foof! I need to go off for a lie down! Haha.

Photo 10: Marsden beach.

We are now at the business end of the coast in my opinion. I love all of our coast; from the Groyne Pier on the River Tyne and all the way south, and along the river which bounds our great town in to the north and the east. But Marsden beach is without a doubt one of my sweet spots. And I think the lesser known and quietest of our beaches as it’s away from the main transport hubs which bring day trippers into town. So many memories have been made here and will continue to do so. And I’ve written how spiritual it is to me. I’d highly recommend spending some time here if you haven’t before and you’ll know just what I mean. PS – mornings are the best time to visits as the sun can disappear behind the cliffs later in the afternoon.

Photo 11: Marsden beach.

From here I wanted to either head south, continuing down the coast to Souter and Whitburn, or west, up onto Cleadon Hills. However at this point my teenage kids started acting up, as if they had just been shot. They sat in agony on the bench! Heads in their hands. My son seemed to have developed a sudden bout of hay fever including watery eyes! The 2 miles gentle stroll had clearly broken their fragile teenage frames. I sensed a dark wee plan had been developed when they walked ahead of me and this was it. Kids eh? Haha.

So at our half way point I give you our last glance of the inspiring Marsden beach and social distancing at its finest (remember this was the weekend when the media showed packed beaches in the south of England; I know where I’d rather be).

Photo 12: The Leas looking south over my shoulder

So we turned around and headed back north towards the River Tyne again. My two teenage kids have suddenly made a miraculous recovery from their near death experiences a few moments ago when they both simultaneously appeared to lose use of their legs at exactly the same time. Who would have known it. And now they are striding purposefully towards the top prize of the X Box sitting back in our apartment!

Photo 13: The Leas looking north

Now we witness the aforementioned miraculous teenagers bolting off into the distance along the Leas! And who can blame them with this wide open space to aim at.

How completely blessed is South Shields as a town to have this natural resource on it’s doorstep. Space, clean air, blue skies, acres and acres of grassland and the wildlife that thrives here. And the views! Tynemouth Priory. The piers. The North Sea. The ships. St Marys Lighthouse. Great North Runners will recognise this view from that final mile or so along the coast road! The killer. And if you have never been to South Shields before folks THIS is why people come.

Photo 14: Back at Trow Rocks/Graham Sands looking north

We headed back to Trow. I can’t put my finger on why but there’s always this pull to the sea for me. Like a magnet.

My kids both went back to school this week up here in Aberdeen, Scotland so time for a little history lesson about this beach. Inland from the beach is a former magnesium limestone quarry. Trow Quarry. I guess the rocks from there would have been used to build many of the older buildings in Shields. Between the 1960-1980’s it was partially filled with waste then capped. But because of natural coastal erosion some material became exposed in this area which is now managed by the National Trust. So a few years back over 10,000 tonnes of Norwegian granite boulders (the line of grey rocks you can see) were installed to form a shoreline barrier along Graham Sands and Southern Bay. Which was then planted with native species to ensure a more natural effect. Bravo National Trust! I think that you did a great job. Do you agree?

Photo 15: Still at Trow Rocks/Graham Sands……this time looking south

Since we’re down here anyway let’s have another one from this fantastic little cove of happiness!

Photo 16: Siting on Sandhaven beach watching a wind turbine jacket getting towed out on a barge

As we headed way back from our walk I’d arranged a cheeky socially distanced al fresco beer with one of my oldest mates without the kids knowing.

And it was the perfect excuse for us to extend our amazing day out along the coast when they had other things of an electronic and indoors nature on their mind!

Typically, they protested but once we sat on the warm sand and they met one of my old pals they seemed happy enough and started playing and joking with each other and earwigging in on our conversation.

Jamie and me have known each other since we were at school together in the early 80s! And our parents both knew each other so our ties go back even longer.

Our teacher was one of the biggest twitchers in the country and he turned us all onto birdwatching!

We used to scour this coast all of those years back looking for rare migrant birds which had been blown off course and landed up on this green oasis to build their strength back up for the journey ahead. Then in our later years we probably got up to some escapades which are best left untold!

But I think, like those were weather beaten birds we all need a bit of South Shields to recuperate from all that life can throw at us!

So that’s the last photo and I hope that you all enjoyed our wee trip along the coast.

I would love to hear from you; about what you thought of it, if it sparked any memories of South Shields for you, and if you’ve never been before has it grabbed your interest and inspired you to book a trip?

And if you read this via our social media page I’d love to see any photos you have of the area in the comments section.

Cheers

Colin.

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