Coast to Coast: From Oman to England

By: Alexandra Petersen

From the Muscat coast to the South Tyneside coast, a shared history of the desert, and the stormy North Sea coast unfolded for me recently. It is hard to believe that a mere eight hours flight away, the temperature can drop from a very comfortable 25 degrees Celsius of the Omani winter, to a rather brisk minus 5 degrees in the North East of England. The other differences between the countries assault the senses just as readily, so the familiar comfort of the coastline, albeit in the Northern Hemisphere, is a welcome relief.

Similar to the rugged cliffs that can be found around Muscat and in parts of the Sharqiyah region, the somewhat unforgiving coastline around South Tyneside is something to behold. It can be described as unforgiving in the sense of the relentless foam-peaked waves that hit the soaring cliffs, and also as menacing due to the colour of the sea, a deep dark grey in the dull winter light.

Indeed, James Falconer Kirkup, a prolific English poet whose works have spanned the 20th and 21st centuries, has written at length about his birthplace, with one of his works, entitled ‘Marsden Bay’, inspiring many through poetry to view the coast with awe. Even today there is much about Marsden Bay that attracts keen ramblers, which is why it has been hailed as ‘one of the 25 hidden gems of the UK’. A home to colonies of seabirds, such as Kittiwakes, Oystercatchers and Cormorants, this area is a treat for the sharp-eyed ornithologist, or birdwatcher.

The lush emerald green hills, which lead up to the jagged edge where the North Sea rules, are home to much of Britain’s flora and fauna. Equally prominent are Marsden Rock and Camel Island, natural local landmarks which have no doubt inspired many artists. The two can be seen standing resiliently in the shallower waters, but, formed of limestone, it is perhaps only a matter of time before these stony giants succumb to the stormy power of the sea.

Much of the coastline is quite unforgiving. The composition of the cliffs in South Tyneside is fascinating in itself. The multi-coloured rocky layers have been scientifically confirmed to be between 280 and 245 million years old, and would have started their life many thousands of miles away, near the Equator. It is hard to believe that this area, which is now known as South Shields, would have at one time enjoyed a geographical location and temperatures to rival that of what is now Oman. However, the limestone layers within the coastal formation confirm the fact that the yellow, crumbling material would have originated as desert sand during the Permian geological period, 250 to 300 million years ago.

The relatively recent history of life and civilisation around Marsden Bay, Frenchman’s Bay and the wider area, is enchanting in its own right. From the remnants of Roman forts, to the spooky outlines of caves, where pirates and smugglers were famed for hiding contraband from the tax authorities, life has certainly left its mark. A restaurant can be found etched into the rocks near Marsden Rock, no doubt paying homage to the 18th century house that once stood there. After all, who really knows if the first owner of the house, Jack the Blaster, hid smugglers from the King’s men, for a handsome reward?

Camel Island (left) was named so because of the two humps on itsA little more recently, the first electrically powered red and white lighthouse, known as Souter’s Point, can be viewed as part of the landscape. This lighthouse has been guiding sea vessels through the area since 1871, and has no doubt witnessed some tremendous storms in its time. It’s also appropriate and not surprising that Henry Greathand and William Wouldhave, the creators of the first lifeboat, were born and raised on this coast. Military history enthusiasts may also spot a static replica of the experimental ‘disappearing gun’, a Victorian era coastal defence weapon at Trow Rock. The once thriving fishing industry can be traced to nearby Man Haven Bay, where the remnants of three boat houses remind us how the livelihoods of the inhabitants have changed and adapted over time.

The impressive and very evident history of the South Tyneside coast has thus been re-discovered, and it is hard to believe that just 8 miles of coastline can provide us with so much, not only visually, but in the way of inspiration. The bracing walk in the depths of winter is a worthwhile venture, and as one returns to the town through the ever-green coastal reserve, it is so easy to imagine that you may be walking in the very footsteps of the adventurous pirates and brigands of the North Sea.


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