East Durham's coastline is now blooming after a £10m investment. Photo: Charlie Hedley
They were the setting made famous in Michael Caine's gritty movie, Get Carter (below).
But East Durham's coastline, once dubbed the 'Black Beaches' following 100 years of waste-tipping from six pits nearby, has now been honoured with a prestigious award for outstanding natural beauty by a European body.
The Council of Europe Landscape Awards has rewarded the area after it invested £10 million into cleaning up its shores.
The coastline used to be known as the 'Black Beaches'. Photo: Mike Smith
And it was no mean feat, after 1.5 million tonnes of waste and coal were dropped on the 12-mile stretch of coast between Hartlepool and Sunderland every year.
The six pits were closed in the 1980s and 1990s, and two million tonnes of coal were removed, replaced by 29 miles of cycling tracks and footpaths.
Michael Caine's famous scene in Get Carter was shot at the 'Black Beaches'. Photo: Rex
The blackened beaches were a hit with film producers - but not the public - for their dramatic appearance, and the location also features in Aliens 3.
Jo Watkins, president of the Landscape Institute, praised its turnaround, telling the Independent: 'It is right that we recognise the importance of landscapes and their value to society.
'Just look at what has been achieved in Durham – an extraordinary transformation that is contributing on so many different levels.'
Discover the best beaches in Britain below:
Best beaches in the British isles: is YOUR favourite here?
Durham's 'polluted Black Beaches' win award for outstanding beauty
Any awards? Winner of a Blue Flag Award and a Quality Coast Award 2011. What’s to love? Shanklin sits at the southernmost tip of beautiful Sandown Bay. The water is clear and the beaches gently sloping, all set against the picturesque backdrop of Dunnose Point and tall cliffs of Luccombe. Perfect for: A paddle on a warm summer evening as the sun goes down. Stay the night:The Grange is a gorgeous Georgian country house and is listed in the AA’s Best British B&B Guide and offers a secluded hideaway. Perfect for a short break by the sea.
Any awards? Winner of a Quality Coast Award 2011, Broadstairs also came third place in the Great British Beach Awards. It also has a Blue Flag award for cleanliness. What’s to love? With seven sandy bays, there’s room for all. Perfect for: Clifftop walks – don’t miss the white cliffs of Joss Bay. Stay the night:The Royal Albion Hotel, overlooking the bay, gets top ratings from Tripadvisor.
Any awards? Winner of a Quality Coast Award as well as a Great British Beach Award 2011. What’s to love? 22 miles of beautiful coastline, for starters. Southport beach is home to the country’s oldest and second longest pier. Perfect for: Long, long walks… and bird watching. The beach is home to many thousands of wading birds which return here from their northern breeding grounds at the end of the summer. Stay the night: Treat yourself to a night at the Vincent Hotel, owned by Design Hotels (famed for chic establishments including London’s Charlotte Street Hotel).
Any awards? Newquay won second place in Tripadvisor’s top ten British beaches 2011, beaten only by St Ives. What’s to love? Seven miles of soft golden sands - and it’s the place for watersports - it regularly hosts national surfing championships. Perfect for: Variation. Newquay has no less than 11 beaches so you’ll never get bored. Stay the night:Natural Retreats offers first-class self-catering lodges at Fistral Beach. Choose from luxury penthouse apartments to garden retreats with private courtyards, with supreme views of the beach and bay.
Any awards? This year, St Ives was voted Tripadvisor’s best beach in the UK. Most of the beaches have boasted Blue Flags for several years. What's to love? Sweeping bays, glittering sea and big skies have inspired thousands of painters. Thanks to the reflection of the sea all around, St Ives is known as the lightest place in Britain. Perfect for: Budding artists. Stay the night: Check in to Tre-view, a new self-catering house which features an outdoor hot tub as well as a pool. It sleeps eight - perfect for a getaway with family or friends. There's a big garden and a wonderful rooftop terrace with lovely views to boot. Available from Classic Cottages.
Any awards? Tenby was voted best beach in Wales in Tripadvisor’s top ten British Beaches awards 2011. It has also received numerous Blue Flag Awards. What’s to love? Tenby’s four beaches each offers something different, including Castle Beach, where you can walk out to St Catherine’s Island at low tide, and South Beach, which offers 2km of golden sand Perfect for: Boat trips. Take a trip to Caldy Island, or try one of the seal safaris in a jet boat from the harbour. Stay the night: Just a stones throw from the beach, the Southcliff Hotel offers a warm welcome, spotless rooms and family-friendly service.
Any awards? Weymouth beach won a Quality Coast Award 2011 for its cleanliness, beach activities and toilet facilities. It also features in Tripadvisor's Travellers Choice top ten UK beaches awards What's to love? This is a good old-fashioned British seaside town with soft golden sands and safe bathing waters. Its long been known as England's Bay of Naples. Perfect for: Sun worshippers. Weymouth has the most sunshine in England, even in winter. Stay the night: Chandlers Hotel is a chic boutique retreat - check out their midweek offers.
Any awards? Yes, loads. Winner Coast Magazine’s Quality Coast Award 2011 three times in a row, Holkham has also won Best British Beach Award 2011. What’s to love? Holkham has won a deserved reputation as one of the most unspoilt and beautiful beaches in England and forms part of one of the largest nature reserves in the country, home to many rare species of flora and fauna. Perfect for: Big, big skies. The miles of dunes, marshes and pinewoods offer the most idyllic spot to catch your breath and escape. Stay the night: The Victoria at Holkham, right at the gates of Holkham Hall, is perfectly place after a day on the beach. Think designer rooms, fresh, local food and roaring fires.
Any awards? Winner of a Quality Coast Award 2011 as well as a Great British Beach Award and a Blue Flag. What’s to love? Limestone cliffs have been carved by the sea and wind into a labyrinth of caves and arches. Elephant’s Rock and the Lion’s Paw form headlands that rise dramatically out of the ocean. Perfect for: Exploring caverns and caves accessible only by boat. Stay the night:Ashlea Cottages overlooks the coast and boasts a nine-hole putting course and children’s play area.
Any awards? Scotland’s winner of a Great British Beach 2011. What’s to love? A beautiful beach on the edge of a tiny Scottish village, Plockton’s scenery is known as the jewel of the Highlands – and any visitor here will see why. Perfect for: Wildlife spotting. Take a seal trip, or see if you can spot Plockton’s two resident dolphins, Gin and Tonic. Stay the night:Parth Galen, a self-catering house in Achnandarach just outside Plockton, sleeps up to eight and boasts great views over the west coast to the Isle of Skye.
Any awards? Winner of a Quality Coast Award 2011. What’s to love? This charming Yorkshire village boasts a great family beach. There are rock pools galore, and it’s large enough to accommodate the crowds in peak season. Perfect for: A spectacular coastal walk. The bit between Whitby and Robin Hoods Bay is probably the best part of the Cleveland Way National Trail. Stay the night:Raven Hall Country House Hotel offers Finnish-style lodges overlooking Robin Hoods Bay.
Any awards? One of three Cornish beaches to make Tripadvisor’s Travellers Choice top ten beaches. What’s to love? Soft sand, rock pools and dramatic outcrops, dunes, cliffs, views to marvel at: Padstow has everything. Perfect for: Walks along the spectacular coastal path at Tryarnon. Oh, and the ferry trips over to Rock. Stay the night:Retallack Resort and Spa offers five-star family friendly accommodation in lovely wooden lodges, just a few minutes’ drive from the beaches and bustle of Padstow.
Any awards? Rated the best beach in Devon in Tripadvisor’s Travellers Choice top ten British beaches, Woolacombe Sands also has Blue Flag for beach safety and cleanliness. What’s to love? A wonderfully wide, three mile-mile stretch of glorious sand backed by dunes. Perfect for: Families in need of acres of space. It’s the best place ever to play beach cricket with the kids. Stay the night: Check out the Old Post Cottage, a 16th century abode with a large private garden in the lovely village of Mortehoe.
Any awards? Swanage has scooped all sorts of prizes, including a Blue Flag 2011 and a Quality Coast Award. It’s also one of Tripadvisor’s top ten UK beaches for 2011. What’s to love? A wonderfully old fashioned British seaside resort, the genle shelving beach is popular with families and watersports fans (Swanage Pier is one of the best diving spots for miles). Perfect for: Taking in the superb views over the Jurassic Coast – England’s only Natural World Heritage Site. Stay the night: For a family home-from-home, Quarterdeck sleeps up to 10 is just 400m from the beach and gets rave Tripadvisor reviews.
Any awards? St Brelade’s beach gained sixth place in Tripadvisor’s Travellers Choice top ten beaches – and is the only Jersey beach to feature in the list. What’s to love? The sand is lovely and clean, and so is the water. A jolly good range of beach shops and cafes nearby. Perfect for: Sunset strolls, stopping off for a snack or a drink at a café in the bay. Stay the night:St Brelade’s Bay Hotel is a 19th century house which boasts balcony rooms overlooking the beach – you’re so close that you wake up to the sound of the sea. Bliss.
Any awards? Port Eynon was voted overall winner of the Great British Beach awards 2011. It also has a Blue Flag award for cleanliness. What’s to love? Idyllic scenery, rolling hills and bustling seaside shops. Perfect for: Explorers. Port Enyon boasts all sorts of historical relics, including an old salt house and a lifeboat station. Stay the night: Take the kids to sleep under the stars at the beachside family campsite at Carreglwyd.