By Kirsti Scott
Hand-drawn illustration, North East coastline and the beaches nearest to Seaham, by Becky Bumble
“My mom turned 70 this year, and her #1 bucket list item was to go sea glass hunting in Seaham, since it is famous for its sea glass and multis,” says Megan Lierman, a beachcomber from Alaska who visited in October 2019. “My sisters and I surprised our mom with a weeklong trip to celebrate her birthday, and we had the best time.”
On a dream trip, the weather is always great and there are two low tides during daylight. But, for those times when a beach trip isn’t the best idea, we’ve got lots of options. You won’t need a car to visit most places listed here, so consider going carless and using the great local public transit system. Buses and trains can get you most places, and taxis are easy to take you everywhere else.
One of the first things you’ll notice in Seaham is how friendly people are. “They are very friendly and enjoy meeting people that come from all over the world to visit the old mining town of Seaham,” says Paula Fedele, a sea glass jeweler who has visited Seaham twice.
Megan agrees. “As soon as you say hello, and they hear your accent (or lack thereof), they strike up a conversation and ask where you’re from and if you’ve found any treasures,” says Megan. “Don’t be surprised if you describe your finds and they say, ‘Well, let’s have a look then!’ If you’re lucky, they’ll give you directions to another beach where you may find additional treasures.”
Marylou Forrest, a sea glass jeweler who has visited Seaham several times tells of how generous other Seaham beachcombers are. “I think the best thing about this beach is stopping to talk to all of the people,” she says. “One day I was by myself and an elderly lady came up to me and handed me a piece of glass the size of an orange. She said ‘You walked right over this one. You can keep it—I’ve found a bigger one!’”
1. Giant 14-ounce sea glass boulder found by Mike Chenery-Robson and his granddaughter and guarded by the family dog. 2. Seaham seafront, Tammy Milius. 3. Tommy sculpture, Tammy Milius.
Depending on when you arrive, settle into your Seaham digs, do some unpacking, and if you have traveled across many time zones, try to stay awake as long as you can. Take a stroll around town, getting your bearings. Stop by the 1101 statue, known locally as Tommy, that commemorates World War I. Created as a temporary installation by local artist Ray Lonsdale, locals raised funds to keep it as a permanent part of the town’s seafront. Marylou adds, “It’s also fun to check out the charity (thrift) shops and visit the other stores along the seafront.” Tammy Milius, who has visited Seaham several times with her friend, Sonja, agrees. “For any sea glass enthusiast, a stop by the Seaham Waves shop is a must!” she says. “Sea glass jewelry, art, and more. Sonja and I would have bought out the store if possible!” You can take a self-guided “Blue Plaque Walk” tour to visit Seaham’s historical sights. Look for signs at Terrace Green Car Park and at Seaham Hall Car Park.
If the tides are right, head down to the beach for a quick look and start to get a feel for the beach. Maybe you’ll get lucky and score a multi on your first trip! Head back up the steps and swing by the ALDI market or the Asda Superstore and pick up food and drinks for breakfast and snacks. Grab dinner at one of the seafront restaurants.
See reader restaurant recommendations on page 45. Check the local tides (bbc.com/weather/coast-and-sea/tide-tables/4/189) and weather to plan your upcoming week.
4. Seaham multi, Tammy Milius. 5. Seaham beach finds, Alex Varbel.
6. North Beach, Megan Lierman.
Hopefully, you had a great night of sleep and you’re ready to start exploring. Today is a great day to check out Seaham’s beaches. Get up early because if the tides are low, you will not be alone on the beach!
The beaches of Seaham are all within close walking distance from town. Seaham North Beach (also known as Vane-Tempest Beach, Seaham Hall Beach, and Big Beach) is accessible via steps at several points along the seafront and promenade. It is a great beach for long walks and glass hunting, though it can be super rocky and the multis are hard to see until you get used to seeing past the beautifully colorful rocks. “The rocks at Seaham are just as breathtaking as the glass, and we found our pockets heavy with glass, slag glass, rocks, and fossils at the end of each day,” Megan laughs. Start at the northern end of the beach and head south.
7. Sunset at North Beach, Megan Lierman.
At the southern end of the beach, head up the steps, then head toward Town Beach (also known as Red Acre Beach or Little Beach), tucked alongside the harbor wall. It’s a favorite spot of Paula Newman, a local sea glass collector and jeweler, who calls it “a little gem,” because she consistently finds beautiful sea glass here. Megan recommends turning over every piece of glass on Seaham’s beaches. “More than a few times, I picked up a piece thinking it was another clear piece only to find the other side had a pink dot or layers of blue.”
8. North Beach, Tammy Milius. 9. North Beach, Alex Varbel. 10. Seaham multi, Tammy Milius.
When the tide is coming back in, take a break from beachcombing and head to The Lookout in the Marina for a hot drink, a sandwich, or something to satisfy your sweet tooth. Paula Newman has a pop-up shop inside this cozy coffee shop on weekends where she sells her art and jewelry. Alex Varbel, who visited Seaham in March 2019, says, “The sandwiches were delicious at the Lookout, and Paula’s artwork that she sells is so cute and whimsical.”
11. Red Acre Beach, Paula Fedele. 12. Red Acre Beach, Alex Varbel.
13. Red Acre Beach, Paula Fedele.
Head home to clean up and admire your treasures, enjoy dinner, and dream of tomorrow’s adventures.
14. Seaham rare sea glass find, Paula Newman. 15. PeblsRock pop-up shop, Kirsti Scott.
Virtual Trip to Seaham with Paula from Peblsrock
1. Durham, Kaca Skokanova. 2. Durham Cathedral, Paul S Mann.
If you’re up for exploring the area around Seaham, a great place to start is Durham, with its fabulous cathedral and castle overlooking the city. Originally built in 995, then rebuilt in 1093 as the cathedral we see today, Durham Cathedral is now a World Heritage Site. The Rose window, a showcase example of local glass making, is one of the finest stained glass windows in the UK. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll want to see the cloisters, where you can walk the same halls as the students, take a peek into the Chapter House (Professor McGonagall’s classroom), and imagine Hedwig flying out of the yard on a snowy day. Don’t miss Open Treasure, an interactive exhibit inside a beautiful medieval monastic building attached to the cloisters. Follow the winding steep road back down to town, past buildings that inspired J.K. Rowling’s fictional village of Hogsmeade. There are many shops, cafes, restaurants, and riverside pubs to explore.
Durham is about 15 miles from Seaham. Take the No 265 bus from Seaham Interchange at Byron Place to Durham Bus Station. Walk or take a small shuttle bus up the hill to the Cathedral. You could easily spend a whole day here. Visit durhamcathedral.co.uk
3, 4 , and 5. Blast Beach, Megan Lierman. 6. Hawthorn Dene, Kirsti Scott.
Today, head to some of the beaches at the southern end of town, accessible from the Durham Heritage Coastal Path. Be extremely careful accessing the beaches from the path, as trails are ever-changing as coastal erosion takes a toll on the cliffs.
Head south along the path to Nose’s Point and admire the view. “Nose’s Point at sunrise is breathtaking!” exclaims Megan. “From atop the cliffs, you can see cargo ships in the distance and the sun glittering off the water.” Nearby, you’ll see a sign pointing you to the short path down to Blast Beach. The beach is still in recovery from its days as a disposal site for coal mining waste, so it is often covered by a layer of silt. “There is less glass on this beach, but the glass that is there is bigger than the pieces found on Seaham,” says Megan.
The next beach south is Hawthorn Hive, which is reached via a path that takes you through Hawthorn Dene, a deep, narrow wooded valley that passes under a brick viaduct built in 1905. The beach is rugged and covered with stones, but sometimes yields up treasures brought in by the tides.
7. Shippersea Goat Track, Kirsti Scott. 8 and 9. Shippersea sea glass, Paula Newman.
The final beach today is the most difficult sea glass beach to reach in the area. The safest way to Shippersea Bay is to cross over from Hawthorn Hive beach when the tide is out. If you rally want a direct pathy, head back up to the clifftop and continue south on the Coastal Path. A narrow dirt trail, known locally as “the goat track,” leads several hundred feet down to the beach at Shippersea Bay. It is best to contact a local to help you navigate the route to this beach, as it is difficult to find and, like everywhere on the coast, subject to erosion. The trail is so challenging that some people descend the trail on their backsides, and climb up on all fours. Recently, a beachcomber fell onto the beach when the trail was muddy and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. Paula Fedele warns, “Just be careful going to Shippersea. It’s a steep hike down and can be slippery.” Locally known as Boaty Bay, it is known for blue slag glass called Boaty Blues and for an interesting glass known as Dragon Glass.
Before taking the goat track, consider checking the tide charts and accessing this beach from Hawthorn Hive Beach. “This path is not suitable for humans at all,” says beachcombing Heike Schneider. “Really, you very likely will get yourself killed or seriously injured while trying to descend. It's a deathtrap. After rain it's like an incredibly steep bobsled rink. You can't even crawl to ascend it, it's that slippery. And I have tried. I was so lucky that I didn't attempt to descend any further that a few steps.”
If you have a car, it’s easier to access Shippersea Bay if you park at Easington Colliery car park and head to the Coastal Path.
Learn more about extreme sea glassing at Shippersea Bay:
10. National Glass Centre display, Kirsti Scott.
There’s no better way to get a feel for the history of the sea glass found on Seaham’s beaches than a visit to the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, a city with a long history of glass and bottle making. This large, modern complex has displays of local glassmaking history, exhibits from contemporary glass artists, and daily glassblowing demonstrations. Reserve ahead and you can even try glassblowing for yourself.
11. Glassblowing demonstration, Kirsti Scott. 12. Private glass experience, Megan Lierman. 13. Blown glass ornament, Megan Lierman.
“Our private lesson was for the four of us to make Christmas baubles or blown glass ornaments,” says Megan. “We selected our bauble accent colors, rolled the molten glass in the color chips, rolled the pipe as we heated/melted the colored glass chips in the “glory hole” and then blew into the hole while the instructor shaped and formed the glass with his skilled hand.”
1. Roker Beach sea glass, Megan Lierman. 2. Roker Beach sea marble, Megan Lierman.
If you have a car, before you head back to Seaham, stop by Roker Beach, just five minutes away. The beach has a very gentle access (in case you’ve had your fill of cliffs) and is famous for its lighthouses that flank the River Wear as it flows into the North Sea. Roker is a seaside resort town, hosting the Sunderland International Airshow in July.
Though there is not nearly as much sea glass on Roker Beach as in Seaham, there is still some to be found. “Roker Beach proved to have glass and interesting shells and rocks like other beaches we’d visited, though in much smaller quantities,” says Megan. “Among a few well-cooked glass pieces, we also found a larger piece that looked like a butterfly wing, plus a cat’s-eye marble.”
If it’s a warm weekend, consider a visit to the Seaham Bootsale, a flea market where you can find everything from Codd and other old bottles to various antiques, sold by locals out of their car boot (that’s a “trunk” for Americans). “The weekend bootsale is a blast,” laughs Marylou. “There’s a nominal admission fee and inside there is a market full of treasures, and even a palm reader!”
Sunderland is about 7 miles from Seaham. Take the No 60 Drifter bus from Seaham to the Sunderland interchange, and then the bus that serves the University campus—St. Peter’s—which is adjacent to the National Glass Centre. The journey is less than an hour each way and you can buy a “Red Zone” ticket that covers both buses. Roker Beach is a short walk from St. Peters, but it’s easier with a car. The Seaham bootsale is held seasonally along the cliffs north of Seaham Hall, a short walk from the north end of Seaham Beach. Visit nationalglasscentre.com
3. Beamish Living Museum, David Steele. 4. HMS Trincomalee, David Muscroft.
Looking to take in some history? Consider a trip to Beamish—the Living Museum of the North—or a visit to HMS Trincomalee, a historical Royal Navy sailing frigate.
The Living Museum at Beamish has an 1820s village rebuilt on site and a 1950s town and farm currently being built. Vintage trams take you around the site to visit working shops and businesses. Beamish is often used as a backdrop in films or TV, so you may have already seen some of its locations onscreen.
Take the No 60 Drifter from Seaham to Sunderland Interchange and then take the No 8 bus all the way to Beamish Museum. The bus runs half-hourly and the journey takes just over an hour from Sunderland, giving you a chance to see the countryside and villages en-route. Visit beamish.org.uk
Currently residing in a purpose-built mock-harbor at Hartlepool, HMS Trincomalee is the UK’s oldest warship still afloat. One of a fleet ordered by Lord Nelson to help defeat Napoleon, the “Trinc” as she is affectionately known, was built in India from teak. She was completed in 1817, too late to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, but after being mothballed for a few decades, saw service fighting slavery and piracy on both coasts of the U.S. Her final contribution was in the Crimea, and subsequently she was retired and spent many years as a training ship for cadets. A few years ago, she was restored and put on permanent display in Hartlepool—still afloat after all these years. A guided tour of the ship is included in your entry to the quayside and all its exhibits.
Take the hourly express bus from the Seaham seafront interchange that drops you in Hartlepool directly in front of the museum, or you can take the hourly train from Seaham Station and make the short walk from Hartlepool station. Visit bit.ly/thetrinc
The beachcombing community
Many people have said one of the best parts of visiting Seaham was getting to meet other beachcombers in this seaside town. “Talk with the locals. They enjoy meeting the people who come to the area to sea glass,” recommends Paula Fedele. Alex Varbel adds, “It’s such a special pilgrimage to travel across the world and meet other enthusiasts, both local and from afar. I love how beachcombing brings people together.”
If you want to beachcomb like a local, The Peblsrock Pocket Guide to Seaham and Nearby Sea Glass Beaches is indispensable. Written by local sea glass hunter, Paula Newman, the book provides highly detailed information about the beaches, including how to get there, what you’ll find, and interesting nearby sights. Available at peblsrock.etsy.com.
Contact Paula Newman at email@example.com for more information about Seaham or to have her join you for a beachcombing session.
There are some great choices for dining out in the Seaham area. You can find something for every taste. Most menus include information about food allergies, and waitstaff are very willing to offer substitutions. Here are some favorites from our readers.
Ashoka: Delicious Indian cuisine. Seaham seafront.
Black Truffle: Quaint coffee shop and café. Seaham.
Chilled Out Gelato: Indulge in gelato in a huge range of flavors after a day of treasure hunting. Seaham.
Dancing Betty: Traditional English Pub. Murton.
Downey’s Fish and Chips: Light and crispy English fish and chips. Seaham seafront.
Gills Fry Fry: Affordable take-away or eat-in fish and chips, pizza, and more. North Terrace, Seaham.
Humbles Coffee Lounge & Bistro: Breakfast and lunch on weekdays and dinners on weekends. Seaham.
The Lamp Room: Enjoy perfectly cooked eggs, avocado toast, and more for breakfast or lunch. Seaham.
The Lookout: Coffee shop with breakfast and lunch selections and the PeblsRock pop-up shop. Seaham Marina.
Seaham Hall: Elegant dinners in two restaurants, classic English tea, and an atmospheric bar. Seaham.
Tonia’s: Grab breakfast before hitting the north end of Seaham Beach. Seaham Hall Car Park.
If you want to eat like a royal for a night, upgrade your meal with dinner in a castle. Situated near the town of Chester-le-Street (about 10 miles from Seaham), Lumley Castle was built in 1389, and it is now a hotel and restaurant, with special events throughout the month. Sample a medieval banquet or take part in a murder mystery dinner. If you’re looking for a historical experience, or just a nice meal in a historic setting, this venue is ideal.
The No 60 Drifter bus from Seaham takes you into Sunderland and then directly opposite where you alight, is the bus stop for either the No 78 or No 8 to Chester-le-Street, where you’ll find local taxis that can run you to the castle, just on the edge of town. Check bus times carefully, or arrange for a local Seaham taxi to collect you from Lumley Castle—it’s not expensive if you pre-book. Visit lumleycastle.com
Sincerest thanks to everyone who contributed their recommendations and photos for this article, including Mike Chenery-Robson, Paula Fedele, Marylou Forrest, Megan Lierman, Tammy Milius, Alex Varbel, and thanks especially to Paula and Dave Newman for their knowledge, generosity, and friendship.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2020 issue.