I’m not sure whether I’ve been oblivious all my life or if I’ve stumbled upon County Durham’s best kept secret. But, I’ve discovered an amazing nature walk at Hawthorn Dene Nature Reserve.
For another social distancing walk with my friend, I was racking my brain trying to think of somewhere obscure that I haven’t visited yet. Directly between Sunderland and Teesside, all I could think of was Castle Eden Walkway. But, I go there pretty much all the time. So, while Google Mapping I came across Hawthorn Dene near Seaham. I saw a few pictures of the woods and thought it would be a great place to explore. What sold the deal for me is a Google review where a man claimed if you walk to the other end of the walkway, it leads to the beach.
I’ve tried to avoid beaches as much as possible after seeing how busy they have been during lockdown. But, I thought if this leads to a quieter, less-known area of the coast, we might be able to enjoy being by the sea.
Hawthorn Dene Woods
I google mapped my way to the Nature Reserve but it leads to you to a dead end on a private road. The parking which is pinpointed on the map is simply parallel parking on one side of the narrow road that leads to the walkway. Once you know, you know. But, it can be confusing if you’re looking for a car park. Thankfully, there were a few spaces to pull into, otherwise I wouldn’t have a clue where else to park.
We walked into the unknown and followed a path through the trees and past horses fields which eventually led to a set of steps and a meadow. We decided to avoid the steps and continue walking past the meadow. If you didn’t want to walk too far, here would be a great place for a picnic.
We passed a couple of people and some dogs on the path but apart from that we pretty much had the woods to ourselves. Plus, it was shaded from the sun on one of the hottest days of the year so far.
There was a map of the area on a stump which showed where the coast was but my Geography isn’t great. So, we just kept following the path straight. Finally, we found an arrow which signposted Durham Heritage Coast so we followed that slightly uphill. It eventually led to a cliff which overlooks the sea. Now, we had to find a way down.
We walked across a bridge over the railway line and followed the cliff round until we found some steep steps leading down to a pebble beach.
The walk took just over an hour but it was worth it for the beautiful view. The weather was great so we sat on the beach for a few hours enjoying a picnic.
A rather brazen bird with a tag on its leg also invited itself to the party. He/she wasn’t scared to get too close to us – I don’t think they got the memo about social distancing. I also built a pebble tower which, let’s be honest, has to be done on a pebble beach.
We kind of dreaded the walk back and I thought if we followed a different path, we’d get there quicker. So, we headed past a large, gated-off quarry uphill which eventually led to a gap back into the woods. From there, we followed the track back.
We made it back in around 50 minutes. Admittedly, the walk is tiring and would be much nicer NOT during a heatwave but it’s all worth it to get to that peaceful area of the beach.
Find Hawthorn Dene Nature Reserve at: Unnamed Road, Seaham SR7 8SH