Blast Beach, how an industrial dumping ground became a natural beauty spot

Photograph of Blast Beach in 2023, taken by Victoria Beaney of Mackemlife

Seaham is a small coastal town in County Durham, to the immediate south of the city of Sunderland. The town is part of the geographic area known as “East Durham“, an aggregation of former mining communities, with Seaham having grew up as a colliery settlement in the 19th and 20th centuries.

However, with the demise of the coal industry those days are long gone, and the end of the mining community has seen the East Region region transform from the dirt and pollution of the collieries into an area of outstanding natural beauty.

One area that is most iconic of such a transformation is known as “Blast Beach”. Situated just outside of Seaham and the village of Dawdon, the beach follows the typical geographical features of the East Durham and Sunderland coastline which is dominated by Magnesian Limestone, giving it towering cliffs from Sea Erosion. This is most notable on Sunderland’s Ryhope Beach.

Blast Beach derives its name from the fact starting in the 19th century, a series of industrial blast furnaces were constructed next to it. Owing to the legacy of the furnaces, a considerable amount of Iron ore also remains in the area, giving the surface of the beach a red appearance.

In addition to that, in the years which followed, the beach became a dumping ground for waste from four adjacent collieries, making it dirty and polluted. However, from the 1980s and 1990s these collieries closed down, ending the dumping and allowing the beach to be claimed up, with millions being invested in removing the legacy of coal pollution.

As such, Blast Beach soon renewed itself as a natural reserve, evolving into an area of natural beauty with its unique red appearance and rolling cliffs. The iconic scenery of the beach soon seen it become sought after as a film location, due to its relative isolation from urbanization and its unique appearance. Most famously, Alien 3 was filmed here, as it became a convincing location for a scene from “another planet”.

But not only that, Get Carter with Michael Caine was also filmed here, as well as scenes from the Last Kingdom as featured on Netflix. This has made Blast Beach one of the most iconic destinations in the North East and arguably one of its best beauty spots. It also serves as a reminder that while popular understandings of East Durham are often dominated by images of coal mining and industrial decline, this is an area that has a lot to offer and is well worth visiting.