Alnmouth is a spectacularly attractive village on the Northumberland coast some four miles south-east of Alnwick. The village is located, as the name implies, at the mouth of the River Aln, and the way the river twists round to the north and west of the village before entering the sea to its south means that Alnmouth has something of an island feel. This is not somewhere you pass through to get to anywhere else: but that does not stop it becoming very busy at times. The images on this page, taken on a beautiful weekday in late May, show it at its best on a relatively quiet day.
The slightly odd thing about Alnmouth is that the first known part of its story took place somewhere that is no longer part of the village. To understand this, it helps to know that everything changed for Alnmouth in a huge storm that struck on Christmas Day 1806. Until then, the River Aln took an even more tortuous route to the sea than it does today, looping much further to the south after flowing past the west side of the village, and passing to the south of the high ground known as Church Hill.
The Christmas Day Storm of 1806 caused the river to cut through the low ground to the north of Church Hill, destroying part of the village in the process. The remains of the southern loop then silted up, leaving the river to follow the course it does today, which cuts Church Hill off from the village. The impact on the village itself of this change was overshadowed by the longer term impact on what had until then been one of the most important ports on the Northumberland coast. The harbour was in the old southern loop of the river, and its gradual silting up following the storm eventually brought to an end Alnmouth's seven centuries as a significant port.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The first appearance of Alnmouth in recorded history comes in 684 in the near contemporary writings of the Venerable Bede. This was the year in which Archbishop Theodore chaired a synod of the Northumbrian church in the presence of King Ecgfrith of Northumbria. The main consequence was the election of a reluctant St Cuthbert as Bishop of Hexham: he became Bishop of Lindisfarne the following year. This synod, sometimes referred to as the Synod of Twyford, took place at Adtwifyrdi, The Place of the Two Fords. This is a name traditionally associated with an Anglo Saxon religious community on Church Hill, which at the time stood on the north side of the river but which since 1806 has stood on its south side.
The early religious community seems to have been driven out by Viking raids from the late 800s, but a stone church dedicated to St Waleric was built on the same site in the 1100s, staffed by three priests. This may have followed Alnmouth being given Burgh status, which happened during the period Northumberland was controlled by King David I of Scotland prior to 1157.
By the early 1200s Alnmouth was an important grain port, and a centre for shipbuilding. This period of prosperity came to an end with the increase in hostilities between England and Scotland from the early 1300s. Alnmouth was attacked and largely destroyed by the Scots in 1336, and 12 years later the port was hit by the Black Death. What followed was more than three centuries of stagnation and decline. The union of the crowns of England and Scotland under James VI/I in 1603 should have improved matters, but that turned out to be the beginning of a very turbulent century and it was not until the late 1600s that Alnmouth once again became an important conduit for the export of grain.
By the early 1700s stone granaries had been built to service the harbour, and many of the other buildings in the village were constructed of stone or brick to replace earlier wooden properties. Alnmouth became sufficiently important during the American War of Independence to attract the attention of the American privateer John Paul Jones, who attacked the town with cannon fire from his ship the 42 gun Bonhomme Richard before capturing a brig offshore. Most accounts date this event to 23 September 1779, but as this was the day Jones was involved in the Battle of Flamborough Head, 100 miles to the south-east, we wonder if the date has been confused.
The Christmas Day storm of 1806 effectively cut the southern part of the village off from the rest, and destroyed parts of the village on the route of the new path of the river, plus what was left of St Waleric's Church. The silting up of the harbour that followed was a gradual process, but when combined with a move towards larger vessels during the 1800s meant that by the middle of the century Alnmouth was becoming less competitive as a commercial port, though timber and slate were still being traded as late as the 1880s, at which time it was also still a significant fishing port. Today Alnmouth is home to leisure craft and even the small ferry that crossed the mouth of the river ceased in the 1960s: though the hut used by the ferryman can still be seen on the foreshore.
Alnmouth was originally only accessible from the north, but in 1864 the Duchess's Bridge was built over the River Aln to the west. This provided a link between Alnmouth and its railway station, which had opened as Bilton Station in 1847. The station remains in use on what is now the East Coast Main Line, and since 2003 has been known as "Alnmouth for Alnwick". It was the increasing numbers of visitors brought in by the railway that saved Alnmouth from decline when its harbour silted up. Today most arrive by road.
Alnmouth's medieval street plan is still obvious. The spine of the village is formed by Northumberland Street, and from here long plots run out laterally to Riverside Road on the western side and Marine Road on the eastern side. Northumberland Street is a real joy, being home to a superb collection of fascinating stone buildings. Among these are a number of pubs and hotels, including the Schooner Hotel, built at the end of the 1600s and said to be extensively haunted. Amongst the guests who have stayed at the hotel have been Charles Dickens and King George III. With a nice circularity, given the origins of Alnmouth, the north end of the village is home to The Friary of St Francis, housed in a large villa built in the early 1900s.
For those wishing to explore the village, The Riverside Road is the more peaceful of its two sides and is home to fine villas and small boats waiting for their owners to come and play. Marine Road has a more open outlook, and is home to Village Golf Club. This is England's oldest 9 hole links golf course and was designed by Scottish golf professional Mungo Park in 1869. Marine Road leads round the golf course to a visitor parking area behind the beach, which extends north past Marden Rocks to Seaton Point. To the south, access along the beach to the broad sweep of Alnmouth Bay is interrupted by the mouth of the River Aln.