This weekend was the 26th Sunderland International Airshow. Last year we watched the airshow from the DFDS Ferry, this year we decided to would drive up and see it from the land. We left early as we were not sure what the parking would be like. As we approached Sunderland the traffic became very busy, there were plenty of signs for park and ride and parking but it was quite expensive. The sea front was really busy, lots of people sitting on the beach ready for the show. As wall as the airshow there were plenty of other events going on beside the beach. We decided we would drive up the coast a little way.
We found a parking spot at Marsden, on the cliff edge next to the lift down to the Marsden Grotto. Marsden used to be a thriving pit village for the miners working in the nearby Whitburn Colliery. After the mine closed the village was demolished, partly due to the erosion of the cliffs. Now the area is part of the Whitburn Coastal Park and home to colonies of seabirds
Marsden Grotto is a pub that set into a cave in the cliff, with a more normal building on the front. It has a colourful past and is said to be haunted. Smugglers used to work in the area and looking at the coastline you can easily imagine them dragging casks out of the water and storing them in caves.
On the far side of the beach Marsden Rock is visible, a large stack of Limestone rock. It used to be much larger but part of it had to be demolished due to erosion. At the top of the cliff is a sign that shows a number of choirs standing on top of the rock in 1903 when they climbed up the stairs on the side to perform a choral service.
Now the rock holds plenty of sea bird colonies, kittiwakes, fulmars and cormorants. The birds make plenty of noise as you descend the stairs on the cliff to the beach, and you can see them nesting on the cliff sides. The climb is very steep down narrow stairs zigzagging along the cliff edge. Luckily there is also a lift which takes you inside the pub.
There is also a good view of Souter lighthouse, which was the first lighthouse in the world to be designed to use alternating electric current. It is no longer in use but is owned by the National Trust and is a fascinating place to visit.
Also on the road side is what looks like a fortification from the world war, a large and imposing brick structure that looms at the side of the roadside. In fact they are lime kilns, left over from when limestone was quarried in the area. The limestone and coal was poured into the kiln and quick lime was produced. The area must have once been really industrialised and busy, it is hard to imagine this now.
Once we had a good walk around the beach we sat on the cliff edge and watched for the planes in the airshow. We had a good view of the Red Devils as they flew over; doing acrobatic swoops and whirls in the clouds. We watched them for about half an hour then decided to drive back along the sea front and towards home.
On the way home we detoured to get a close look at Penshaw Monument. The monument itself is visible from my house; I can see it far in the distance when I take the dog out for a walk. It looks like it was built by the Romans, a temple to pacify the gods. It was actually a folly built in 1844 as a monument to the first Earl of Durham. It is a replica of the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens and sits high on Penshaw Hill. It is quite a climb to the top of the hill but once you are there the views across the landscape are breathtaking. While we were there we even saw some more of the aircraft from the airshow fly past.
When we reached the bottom of the hill again we saw some people sitting on the roof of the monument. We did wonder how they got there. Apparently there is a spiral staircase inside one of the columns that takes you up to the top. We might try that next time.