The town of Amble stands on the south side of the mouth of the River Coquet where it flows into the North Sea. It can be found some seven miles south-east of Alnwick, and a mile and a half south-east of Warkworth. To reach it you need to make a conscious decision to turn off the A1086 coast road, which skirts the western side of the town: it's a decision worth taking as Amble is a place of considerable character.
The core of the town is formed by Queen Street, a very traditional shopping street that runs gently downhill from south-west to north-east. Views down the street are completed by Amble's extremely large war memorial, which stands in the Town Square. The square is a good starting point to any exploration of Amble, not least because it is where most of the car parking is located, as well as the Tourist Information Centre and public toilets. It is also well placed as a starting point because it is very centrally located. While the shops of Queen Street head off in one direction, in the other lies the harbour and associated parts of the town.
Town Square itself has a number of points of interest. There are actually two war memorials here. As well as Amble's own, the war memorial for the village of Radcliffe is also located here. Radcliffe was a traditional mining village a mile to the south of Amble which in 1971 was completely demolished to allow open cast mining to take place. The residents were relocated, mainly to the Radcliffe Estate in Amble, and the war memorial found a new home here too.
Town Square is also the home of what is said to be one of the largest gnomons in Europe. A gnomon is the part of a sundial that casts a shadow, so when the sun is out you can explore the workings of the enormous Amble Sundial, though if you are in a hurry, the clocks on each face of the town's war memorial are probably quicker. A fascinating nearby information board reveals the complexities of keeping precise time by the sun.
The whole of the north side and east end of Amble are dominated by its nautical connections. As you drive into the town from Warkworth alongside the River Coquet, the scale of Amble's marina is obvious, as is the extent to which the river still serves as a haven for birdlife. Amble's harbour is, in effect, a single long quay running along the south side of the river, protected by piers and jetties extending out into the North Sea on both sides of the river.
In many ways, the story of Amble is the story of its harbour. By the mid 1800s Northumberland had a highly active coalfield which extended as far north as Amble. Yet in 1831 the population of what was then a very rural parish was just 247 people and its most important building was a manor house dating back to the 1400s.
This all changed with the beginning of work on a new harbour on the south side of the mouth of the River Coquet in 1838, which continued until 1841. In 1851 the population of Amble stood at 1040, and by 1891 it had reached 2975. This reflected the growth of Amble as, primarily, a coal port, from which the output of the local collieries could be shipped to destinations within the UK and beyond. The riverside here also proved an ideal location for boatbuilding, which grew up from the 1870s in the area around what has since become the marina.
The growth of the population of Amble also reflected the arrival of the railway, when a station opened in Amble at the terminus of a branch line from what is now the East Coast Main Line on 5 September 1849. The station closed to passengers in 1930, but the line remained open for goods until 1964 and for coal until final closure in 1969. 1969 was also the year in which the last shipment of coal left from Amble Harbour.
At the east end of Amble, near the intriguing spire of the East Cemetery, the town meets the shoreline in an attractive area of rocks, beaches and dunes. Views out to sea inevitably focus on Coquet Island, a 15 acre island just under a mile off the coast which is home to a nature reserve and a lighthouse. Boat trips round the island are available from Amble, but landing is not permitted.