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.
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.
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.
'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:
Sign up to our weekly newsletter | Follow us on Twitter | Become a fan on Facebook