As we hike along a portion of the all-new England Coast Path, Michael explains how underfoot are former, re-landscaped spoil heaps that were capped and seeded to create a species-rich community of limestone-loving plants. Few are in flower at this time of year, but were we here in season there would be scabious, rock rose and bee orchids, with unusual butterflies such as northern brown argus fluttering among them.
“As well as limestone grasslands, we’ve encouraged a mosaic of habitats to maximise biodiversity,” Michael continues as we watch a hovering kestrel hunting for lunch. Further along, a plaintive squeal draws our attention to a stoat wrestling a rabbit, finally dispatching it with a bite to the back of the neck. It’s a wildlife drama that illustrates this back-to-nature project’s success.
“And with much less spoil now clouding the water, sea life has also recovered,” Michael adds, noting that wreck-dives and dolphin-watching have joined Seaham’s recreational repertoire. “The whole coastline has bounced back to life.”
Similarly on the up is Seaham itself, where our coast-walk ends. Though parts of town still feel down on their luck, there’s heaps of appeal in the bistros and bars along waterfront North Terrace. A nearby shop, Seaham Waves, catches my eye with its sea glass jewellery.