Mobile menu

24th January 2020 By Angela Upex

On the trail of Bamburgh’s World War Two past

For centuries the imposing bulk of Bamburgh Castle on the spectacular north Northumberland coast was the first and last line of defence. But in World War Two it was Bamburgh Beach that found itself on the frontline during Britain’s ‘darkest hour’. Now the pivotal role this three-mile stretch of pristine sand played in protecting our shores from invasion, is to be brought dramatically to life on a unique World War Two walk on February 9, hosted by North East-based historical reenactors, the Time Bandits.

Bamburgh Beach and Castle

The living history group is inviting the public to follow in the footsteps of the soldiers whose job it was to defend this remote stretch of beach that more than 80 years on from the start of the global conflict, is still littered with the physical reminders of its wartime past.

Dressed in period 1940s costume, the Time Bandits will share stories on the wartime events that took place along this stretch of coastline, introduce the weapons and kit used by the Home Guard, and even instigate a brush with a German spy.

The two three-mile walks for which tickets cost £20 per person are part of Bamburgh Castle’s winter events programme. It is hoped they will show there is more to the iconic landmark than just its Anglo Saxon and medieval past.

Karen Larkin, Bamburgh Castle’s Events and Marketing Manager, says: “There is a huge amount of information out there about the castle and its ancient history. But these two walks are an opportunity for people to get a better understanding of the history outside rather than inside the castle’s walls.

“Visitors often ask what the concrete blocks and other manmade remains are on the beach below. In fact, they are reminders of the coastal defences built in the wake of the Dunkirk evacuation to help protect Britain against a Nazi invasion. There was a very real threat that Germany would invade, and Bamburgh Beach with its long, wide stretch of flat sand running all the way from Seahouses, was seen as an ideal location for an enemy landing.

“During the war, the shoreline was covered with barbed wire, mines, and the massive concrete anti-tank blocks that are still visible today. They would have run the length of the beach in a double row, but over the decades they have been moved around by the sea. There is even the remains of a World War Two pillbox that had been hidden beneath a dune until uncovered in a storm. It is a very evocative reminder of an important part of not just Britain’s history, but Bamburgh’s.

“With this year marking both the 80th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation and Winston Churchill’s famous ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’ speech, it seemed the right time to host these two walks and to show the public what this now peaceful beach would have been like when it was on Britain’s domestic frontline”.

Dressed in period 1940s costume, the Time Bandits will share stories on the wartime events that took place along this stretch of coastline

Following in the footsteps of soldiers

Both walks will be led by Time Bandits’ founder, John Sadler. He says: “The Northumbrian beaches are studded with tank traps, concrete and steel gun emplacements, pillboxes and some superbly restored batteries.

“In quiet Northumbrian lanes and in most unexpected places one comes across further emplacements, seemingly in the most random pattern. These are, in fact, traces of the various ‘stop’ lines set up as a defence in depth against invasion. There was a genuine threat, and Bamburgh Beach was seen as a weak spot in Britain’s coastal defences.

“We hope people will be excited to see this dark period in our history brought to life. The wartime remains on Bamburgh Beach show that even when our backs were against the wall, we were not prepared to give in”.

Pillboxes were partly buried concrete guard posts with narrow slits through which weapons could be aimed and fired. They were so named because they were shaped like the small metal containers people carried pills in. A number were built along the Northumberland coast during World War Two, but only a handful have survived.

Walk along Bamburgh Beach's three-mile stretch of pristine sand

Walk along Bamburgh Beach’s three-mile stretch of pristine sand

The one on Bamburgh Beach would most likely have been manned by the Home Guard, who John says, “would have been charged with resisting the initial onslaught on the beaches and then holding a series of fall back positions. Most would have died or been captured.

“Our modern-day view of the Home Guard has been shaped by the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army and its ill-assorted heroes manning the barricades. But if their mettle had been tested the results would have been swift, brutal and anything but comic.”

The walks will start at 11am from Bamburgh Castle car park and last approximately two hours. Participants will need to be able to walk up to three miles unaided. The walks will end back at Bamburgh Castle, where a hot drink will be provided.

Tickets cost £20 per person and include admission to the castle. To book call 01668 214208.

Everything you need to know about Northumberland

Where to eat in Northumberland 

The best things to do in Northumberland 

The best shopping in Northumberland

The best nightlife in Northumberland

Your guide to arts and culture in Northumberland

Image credits: ©Paul Norris Photography; Philip Veater/Unsplash

Related features