Emily Rose Mawson saddles up for a new view of coastal Northumberland
The wind contours around us in salty swooshes as we charge along the golden sheen of sand. I grip Biscuit’s mane, my heart pounding and my eyes half-closed against the sea spray as I peer between his pricked ears. We’re gaining on the mighty flaxen turrets of Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland Coast, which through the light sea mist, looks like it’s made of sand.
I haven’t ridden horseback for years, but I feel like an excited 10-year-old at summer pony camp. Luckily, Biscuit is a sturdy Clydesdale Cross whose enthusiasm outweighs his speed, and I feel sure of my seat.
We’re on St. Aidan’s beach outside Seahouses in the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: it’s wide, sandy and deserted. The region has miles of coastline scattered with ruined castles. Thanks to its open-access policy — a rarity in Britain — exploring on horseback is easy, and is one of the best ways to engage with the scenery.
As Biscuit slows to a walk, friendly oystercatchers fearlessly approach. My instructor Sallyanne comments that wildlife often come closer when you are on horseback, as they recognise a fellow animal. The area isn’t short of potential sightings: across the water are the Farne Islands – a rocky archipelago home to seals, as well as seabirds including puffins, kittiwakes, razorbills, eider ducks and guillemots.
We steer our steeds away from the wind-strewn dunes flanking the beach and head towards the water’s edge. The striking outline of the castle atop the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, another wildlife haven, comes into view across the waves. Biscuit eagerly plunges his legs into the surf and gives a delighted whinny. The day is mild, and well suited to riding. If it was warmer, Sallyanne says, the horses might be tempted to roll.
An experienced riding instructor, Sallyanne grew up at Slate Hall Riding Centre on the clifftop near Seahouses. The stables offer a range of coastal rides suited to all abilities and ages. She peppers our two-hour beach ride with tips to help improve my rusty technique, balance and confidence. Most important, as we prepare for our next canter, is to relax, or Biscuit will sense my nerves.
I’m feeling coolly confident. With visions of Poldark careering along the Cornish coastline, I push Biscuit forward into trot then canter, leaning forward for balance. He sets off at a charge and, with the pounding of his hooves on the wet sand and my mind a blur of exhilarated ‘yikes’, my reflex reaction is to laugh aloud. This is sightseeing at its best.