Christmas makes

Part of the fun of Christmas for me is the making of¬†both gifts and Christmassy stuff.¬†It’s an excuse to¬†make all sorts of things.¬† In the lead up to December, we were busy with lots of such projects, but because they were presents,¬†I haven’t said much about them. Now – with Christmas well behind us¬†– this is the opportunity to show what we were busy with in those autumn months.

I started my GiveWrap making in September with lots of fabrics spread around, and some very intriguing printed pieces from my cousin Polly. When I’m working with Polly’s prints, I sort them first into colours, and themes.¬† These two predominantly blue GiveWraps mainly incorporate a mix of her human body prints.¬† Her images are¬†bold so I try to marry them up with fabric that has equally¬†strong images – thus, in the top example, there are striking¬†Japanese ladies from an old yukata, and some wonderful owly pieces too. The images in the lower givewrap are softer in colour and tone, and have accompanying softer fabrics.mixed-polly-katherine-blue-givewrapgivewrap-incorporating-pollys-blue-printsOther prints from Polly inspired work in different colourways. Her “little people” are all facing inwards here, dancing to the central tune, in a golden melange. It’s a particular favourite of both of us.gold-givewrap-incorporating-pollys-gold-peopleThis wine-coloured¬†GiveWrap is at heart a worn-out cushion cover of Polly’s. I covered up the holes with bits of new fabric, and built up the edges.givewrap-made-of-pollys-old-cushion-coverLater in the autumn, I made more GiveWraps. These blues, yellows and golds worked so well together that I got carried away and made two more similar GiveWraps.blue-and-gold-givewrap3-blue-and-gold-givewrapsAnother old cushion cover (this time an old green one of mine) got re-pieced here.¬† The holes and stains were removed and I added some strong contrasting purple.¬† Interestingly, this GiveWrap¬†attracted more interest and likes on Instagram than any other that I have made.green-and-purple-givewrapLastly, I made a small red silk GiveWrap with my mother in mind. This to my mind is the best of the lot! I loved it – was sad to part with it – but my mother loved it too. And when a recipient loves the gift that is best of best!glorious-red-silk-givewrapOff they went to new happy homes, bearing Christmas wishes and love!givewraps-ready-to-postApart from GiveWraps, there were practical things to make like the Christmas cake – here garlanded with our own gorgeous glossy holly.christmas-cakeWe also made jams and jellies.¬† Here’s Stephen concentrating intensely as he pots up his chilli¬†pepper jam.stephen-making-chilli-jamThe finished products – chilli pepper jam and spicy harvest jelly – don’t look bad for Christmas presents, do they?finished-jam-productI made two little Toft monsters this year as gifts.¬† The patterns come from Kerry Lord’s brilliant flip book of patterns, Imaginarium. A mix-and-match pattern book to enable the crochet creation of¬†just the monster you want.¬† small-green-ghost-toft-friendThe other little monster I made is quite different – but that’s the whole point of a book with so many pattern choices!small-toft-friend-for-stephenDifferent they may be, but they look like good friends, sitting here together.small-toft-friends-togetherYou may have read an earlier blog I wrote this autumn about our Seaview poppies … we collected as much seed as possible, and packaged it up to send off to friends and family, hoping to spread a little bit of poppy colour in other gardens.seaview-poppy-seed-packsI made hats too.¬† Some I forgot to photograph.¬† But one I did remember to photograph was this pink two-eared beanie for my daughter.¬† The pattern came from my beloved ancient (1977) Paton’s Woolcraft, and I knitted it using odd pink scraps from my stash.¬† The scraps included some Rowan Kidsilk Haze so together with the alpaca pompoms, it was a fluffy hat!pink-twin-earred-hat-for-helenJust¬†right for our beach walks …wearing-christmas-presents-on-the-beachMy son is fascinated (and most knowledgeable about) the periodic table.¬† So what better to give him than periodic¬†table pillowcases?! Stephen found the fabric on the internet, and I sewed them up.¬† Does he now dream of the elements of the periodic table? …. I must ask him …periodical-table-pillowcasesThere was the usual making as well.¬† You might say, the bread and butter making. Wonderful to have a man around who makes all our bread.homemade-breadStephen made some wonderful knits for Christmas presents.¬† He wrote in an earlier blog about the blanket he knitted on his knitting machine as a present for his youngest daughter.¬† That knit incorporated a knitted monogram of his daughter and her husband’s first initials: J and E.¬† My cousin admired it¬†especially because her two daughters share those particular initials.¬† So how about some cushions with your daughters’ initials on them as a Christmas present for my cousin! Here is the maker man himself with his wonderful knitted cushions.stephen-with-his-machine-knitted-cushionsHe made two scarves for other daughters.
Stephen here: Here is one of the scarves I knitted about to be cast off the machine. blue-christmas-scarfFor the technically mind it is knitted in 2-colour tuck stitch using every third needle with tension dial set at 10 (the largest possible stitch size) to give a lovely loose feel. The wool is Rowan baby merino silk double knit – in all I needed 100g of each colour. When washed carefully they came out beautifully soft, though somewhat narrower and longer than anticipated.

I also experimented with some Christmas designs. Here are two panels I knitted just for fun. The left hand one is of random snowflakes ( see¬†the end of our blog¬†Ellie’s Blanket¬†for ¬†more details of this design) and the second is¬†derived from¬†typical Scandinavian Christmas designs and¬†made using¬†their traditional colours.2-xmas-patterns-3Perhaps by next year I will have my own machine-knitted supply of Givewraps.

Katherine here: I’ve written so far about the pre-Christmas preparations.¬† But there was one project we made that involved all of us who were here over the Christmas period.

One of my most treasured Christmas decorations that comes out every year looking sadder and more worn is the crib my children made when small out of toilet rolls, tissue paper, and a bit of glitter and trim. There’s only one shepherd these days, and one king has gone AWOL.rather-sad-cribI put this picture on Instagram, and a helpful virtual friend of mine from Nice suggested it was missing a Ravi as well. You don’t know what a Ravi is?!¬†Well, a¬†character from the santons of Provence, the Ravi stands amazed at the events taking place, with his (or her) arms in the air. So we got to work, and we got delightfully carried away.¬† I made a Ravi, Stephen created a new king, and son James added a Cagador.¬†(James knows this character as a¬†Cagador having lived in¬†Spain, but it is elsewhere known as a Caganer.)¬†new-characters-for-our-cribWhen the Cagador turned round and revealed his true intent, the King and the Ravi turned away, a bit giggly and embarrassed.the-king-and-the-ravi-dissociate-themselves-from-the-cagadorBut they all came together to make a much happier crib scene …¬†all-sorts-of-things-came-to-the-cribSeveral other creatures and presents crept into the mix … but that’s life isn’t it? All can come to the manger …

Lane problems and a tale of the Derwentwaters

We’ve had heavy heavy rain in the UK over the winter – particularly bad in the west of the country with serious floods in Cumbria and Yorkshire. In the North-East we have had nothing to compare with those troubles, thank goodness. ¬†But it has caused particular problems with the rough farm track we drive along to get to our house.deep runnels

The farm track has always been a bit dodgy. ¬†But this winter’s lane problems were new. Heavy, heavy rain meant the surrounding fields were waterlogged, with old duck ponds and boundary brooks reappearing. ¬†Finally, yet more rain over Christmas meant the land could take no more and water poured off the fields down the only path it could find: our lane.water coming off field

Deep runnels, pits and channels appeared.  The rain continued.  The runnels got deeper, the lane more pitted and craggy.deep pits and channels

Driving became precarious.  Those of our neighbours who had 4-wheel drive came home with confidence.  Those with sports cars and low-slung suspension travelled much more cautiously.  Our little Suzuki Alto did not like it at all.  When temperatures dropped and the water froze, we decided it was far too tricky to drive home, and took to leaving our car in the car park near the sea, at the bottom of the hill.  Hard work carrying shopping up from there!water freezing in runnels

We hit crisis point, and some neighbours decided action must be taken. But it is very complicated because we do not know who owns parts of this lane.  Such land ownership problems are not unusual, but ours have a particular history behind them Рwhich is romantic and tragic.

The surrounding farms belong to the Greenwich Hospital Estate Рand they used to own our cottage (in the old farm steading) and most of the old cottages about.  Yes, we live in the most northern part of Northumberland, just a few miles south of the Scots-English border, and yes, Greenwich Hospital is in East London (some 400 miles away).  (You can read more about the Greenwich Hospital and its responsibilities and functions in its 2012-13 annual report here)

Before Greenwich Hospital owned these lands they belonged to the Earls of Derwentwater. Their family home was at Dilston, near Corbridge, in the south of Northumberland.  But the Derwentwaters owned large parts of North Northumberland.  They were said to be the wealthiest and most powerful Jacobite family in the north of England.

Tragedy struck for the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater, who (a devout Catholic and Jacobite) was one of the leaders of the 1715 Jacobite uprising.  The British had deposed their Roman Catholic King  with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and replaced him with his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her Dutch husband, William.  But many longed for the return of Roman Catholic Jacobite rule, among them the Earl of Derwentwater.

The rebels were defeated at the battle of Preston, and Derwentwater and the other rebels were captured and taken to London where they were lodged in the Tower of London.  Despite the reprieve of some of the other leaders, the King was determined to make an example with the Lords Derwentwater and Kenmure, and they were beheaded on Tower Hill on 24th February 1716.   (Below detail of print showing the execution.)IMG_0120

This story of Derwentwater’s fall is told in Devil Water by Anya Seton. She’s a rather forgotten historical novelist these days, but I read – and loved! – all her books when I was young. ¬†I re-read Devil Water when we came to live here and there is no doubt her historical research was excellent. ¬†Her writing about this area of Northumberland is accurate and evocative.Anya Seton Devil Water

With his execution, Derwentwater was stripped of his honours and titles, and his estates confiscated. In 1748 the Derwentwater Estates were granted by Act of Parliament to the Royal Hospital at Greenwich.

The Derwentwaters are almost forgotten here, though the odd (mis-spelt!) street sign about still remembers them.Derwentwater road sign

But Greenwich Hospital is still very much part of the area.  They continue to manage a Northumberland Estate of 8,000 acres Рand that includes the farm fields around us. Their name is also common in the locality.North Greenwich road

So how does this tally with our lane problems?! Well, the old farms here were very small – completely impractical for modern farmers – so as farming families came to the end of their leases and moved on, the fields were given to other farms and the houses and buildings sold on. ¬†Life has changed so much – in sales of the last century, people didn’t always have their own cars to drive to their home, there were vegetable-growing allotments where modern owners might want enclosed private gardens, and old pathways with habitual rights of way were thought sufficient for new owners.

We know half the lane is co-owned by the four steading cottages at its end.  It is the other half Рthe bad part! Рwhose ownership is unknown. The cottages alongside have sometimes done some repairs Рand Northumberland County Council has even visited recently and made vague encouraging noises.

But we can’t wait for the Council’s deliberations – the track was almost impassable! Initially, a small group of neighbours gathered with a digger and a massive delivery of¬†tarry road chippings, which were helpfully deposited in large piles¬†along the troubled parts of the lane.dumper truck and hard coreThe idea was to run a pipe across the lane and under the new chippings, channeling the water further down the hill, out of harm’s way.water pipe and hardcoreThere was just the simple task of spreading the hardcore.digger and spreading hardcoreI never saw myself working as a navvy …spreading hardcoreUnfortunately – another night’s heavy rain, and all our good work was washed away.deep runnels againThe water completely overwhelmed our nice little pipe arrangement.¬† So much for amateur engineeringmore rain, more damageOn a recent weekend, an another impromptu neighbourly working party was assembled, pick axes were mounted on unpractised shoulders …pickaxingtrenches were dug …shovelling – and water was diverted with a new larger pipe! Yeay!new pipeMore gravel was spread over the damaged lane …more gravel burying pipeWe haven’t had any serious rain yet to put the working party efforts to the test, but for the moment the lane is passable.¬†At least we can drive home!

But before I finish this post, I want to return to the story of the Derwentwaters.¬† It was only when I started writing, and checked my facts that I realised the relevance of the date on which¬†James Radclyffe, the 3rd Earl of Derwentwater was executed: 24th February 1716 – by some strange coincidence that’s 400 years ago this week.¬† So, it seems appropriate to mark this anniversary.

What I hadn’t realised was that Derwentwater was only 25 when he found himself the leader of the uprising in 1715 – 26 when he was executed the next year.¬† So very young.¬† According to some accounts he was a very decent man.¬† His contemporary, the Scottish writer, Tobias Smollett, called him “brave, open, generous, hospitable and human.”¬† The Reverend Mr Patten’s description was even more glowing: ” [Derwentwater was] formed by nature to be universally loved for his benevolence was so unbounded that he seemed only to live for others.” (Patten was another contemporary, and the chaplain to the other uprising leader, Thomas Forster).

Fine comments indeed.  Some dismiss them saying this was only propaganda by reactionary writers, and actually he was a person of little importance and weak character.

What I can definitively say is that¬†he was brave indeed at his execution.¬† I’m going to quote here some of the very moving description of that event from Christopher Sinclair Stevenson’s book, Inglorious Rebellion:

“At ten o’clock […] he drove in a coach to Tower Hill and then walked through the ranks of
soldiers to the scaffold draped in black.¬† his face was ashen as he mounted the steps to the block, but he retained his calm composure.¬† A few prayers were followed by his speech.¬† It was an extraordinarily moving address in which he retracted his plea of guilty made at his trial, spoke with great warmth and feeling of James III, and assured his audience that the country could have no lasting peace or happiness until the restoration of the Stuarts.¬† His last words were devoid of bitterness: ‘I die a Roman Catholic; I am in perfect charity with all the world, I thank God for it, even with those of the present Government, who are most instrumental in my death.¬† I freely forgive such as ungenerously reported false things of me; and I hope to be forgiven the trespasses of my youth, by¬† the Father of infinite mercy, into his hand I commend my soul.”

His body was taken to Dilston, where he was buried in the family vault.

There’s a nice little accompanying story to his end.¬† Apparently, the Northern Lights were particularly brilliant at the time of his beheading, and in some places they became known as the Earl of Derwentwater’s Lights.¬† As it happens, there have been some fine showings of the Northern Lights in recent days (though we haven’t actually seen them here) – who knows?¬† Perhaps there will be a magnificent replay of the Earl of Derwentwater’s fabulous lights to mark the 400th anniversary of his death …

Whatever, James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater,  RIP.James_Radclyffe,_3rd_Earl_of_Derwentwater_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_20946Picture of James Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater reproduced from Wikipedia (public domain)

Hard lives

Beached up on the north Northumbrian cliffs, we are exposed to all that the weather can throw at us.  Over this winter so far we have endured violently squally and bad-tempered Southerlies bringing rain, rain and more rain. Recently the winds have changed to sea-salty and much colder Easterlies.

But whatever the weather throws at us, we sit tight in our small sandstone cottage, and are good at keeping busy and toasty.seaview cottageMy eye is always drawn out – when the grey allows ( and we’ve had a lot of grey this winter) ¬†– to Holy Island on the horizon, and to wonder how the monks there coped with the wind and the cold and the rain.Sunrising behind cloudsWe know about these monks because some of them were so exceptional, so saintly, that Bede (himself an exceptional early historian) recorded their history. In the early 7th century, ¬†King Oswald of nearby Bamburgh had summoned the monks from Iona to bring Christianity to his kingdom. ¬†It was St Aidan who stablished the monastery, and St Cuthbert was to follow there as bishop.LindisfarneFol27rIncipitMatt

We don’t have Bede’s histories alone to tell us about these early monks. ¬†We have inherited from this place and these early years one of the most remarkable and beautiful illustrated books of all time, the book of the Lindisfarne Gospels, apparently made by the later Bishop of Lindisfarne, Eadfrith, in honour of God and St Cuthbert.

First page of St Matthew’s gospel.  Image made available to the public domain by Wikipedia.

These are the ruins of the monastery church on Holy Island today. ¬†Life in these buildings would have been hard and rough enough, but, in fact, these aren’t the buildings Cuthbert, Aidan and others knew. These are 11th century buildings. The early monks would have had oak buildings thatched with reeds.Holy Island ruins of prioryFrom the security and warmth of our windows, I often look out on Holy Island and wonder about the monks’ lives. ¬†And that manuscript – how on earth could the¬†scribes¬†do this skilled, delicate work in such bitterly cold conditions – no windows, remember?

Hard lives. Hard and dangerous lives.

Extreme danger, in fact, with the earliest known Viking raid on Lindisfarne in 793.  Eventually (in 875) the monks fled, taking with them what they valued most: the body of their beloved St Cuthbert.  A life-size wood carving in the church on Holy Island commemorates their journey.  It gives a sense of the struggle to carry the coffin and body, but what of the panic, the fear, the gut-wrenching terror.wood carving of monks carrying Cuthbert's bodyFrom our small cottage we can see the sea and down the coast to Lindisfarne, and when there are large bonfires on Holy Island, we can often see their smoke too.  Farmers here might have seen the approach of those terrifying Viking longships, or the smoke from their destructive fires.view out of garden to seaSkip through the generations to the 13th century, and people here endured a new menace: the Reivers.  The Border lands, the ungovernable country between the separate kingdoms of Scotland and England, experienced years of lawlessness (right up to the Union of the Crowns in 1603) because of the depredations of the Reivers.

Novels have been written and ballads sung of the Reivers, the wild lawless men who grabbed and took whatever they wanted Рespecially if it belonged to another family that they were at odds with.  It was Sir Walter Scott who really put the Reivers on the map.  His Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border established the tales of the Reivers as romantic, glamorous, and exciting.  Actually, they were nasty, cruel and vicious.Minstrelsy of the Scottish BorderThese Border lands were divided into six Marches, and Berwick lay in the English Eastern March.  It was better governed than most.

But it was bad enough.¬† It’s not hard to find examples of defensive architecture.¬† In our adjoining parish of Ancroft, the church itself had a secure tower to offer safety when the Reivers swept in. The walls are 1.35 metres in thickness, the upper windows are tiny.¬† You can climb to the top of the tower, and there are fine views around.¬† It might have been used as a look-out, and it’s possible warning beacons may have been lit from here.¬† This tower is certainly no ecclesiastical adornment.Ancroft churchEven in more recent times, life was miserably hard in these parts. ¬†Coal was mined under the neighbouring fields, and the tramway bearing coals to transport ships runs across our view ( it’s the uneven shrubby line of trees running from the top right of the landscape across to where it meets the modern Eastcoast Mainline running along the coast).old railway trackIn the¬†local churchyard, there are several sad gravestones which tell of deaths at the colliery.¬† One of them is for John Harbottle who was accidentally killed on the 21st November 1865, aged 45 years.¬† We don’t know how he died, but you can read¬†more on these accidents at Scremerston Colliery¬†at¬†the¬†Durham Mining Museum webpage. ¬†No Health and Safety Inspectorate in those times.¬†¬†John Harbottle's grave stoneBut of all the troubles in this part of the world, it¬†was surely the sea that caused most grief.Spittal beach promenadeJust up the coast at St Abbs, these small statues stand as a reminder of the terrible cost of fishing disasters. ¬†These are the wives and children of Charles Purves and James and William Thorburn who lost their lives in the great storm of 1881. ¬†189 fishermen from the east coast of Scotland perished in that storm.St Abbs statuesAnother extremely dangerous (but potentially very lucrative) sea-faring enterprise was whaling.¬† Berwick’s last whaling ship, the Norfolk, left on its last voyage in¬†1836.¬† She sailed over to the North American coast in the spring,¬†but come winter, found¬†herself trapped by ice¬†in¬†Pond Inlet (of Baffin Bay) with several other ships.¬† The Captain of the Norfolk recorded on 15th January 1837: “…The frost is very severe and the ice has been pressing to a great height all around us.”¬† They did not escape the ice¬†until mid-March.¬† Many, many men died of scurvy as well as frostbite.

One Berwick whaling-ship owner proudly announced his trade on his front door.No 1 Wellington TerraceThose are harpoon heads on the front door panels.Detail of door of no 1 Wellington TerraceThese balustrades on the roofs of local Spittal houses are sometimes know as widows’ walks.¬† From them pacing wives and ship-owners might scan the sea, looking for sight of ships.widows' walksThe whale oil was processed in the manufactories where the last Spittal chimney now stands.¬† It was a foul-smelling and obnoxious process.¬†Spittal chimneyIs it surprising that people fled, leaving this beautiful area for places where they hoped they might have a better life?emigration noticeI am left to reflect on my twenty-first century luck to be living here, safe and warm and healthy¬†– so as to be able to enjoy it in comfort.

Oh, alas for all those poor souls who lived in these parts for whom life was such a miserable and dangerous struggle.Poe in front of fire

Christmas

Yesterday we put up our Christmas tree.  For many years, we had a proper natural tree, and I loved the excitement of getting the tree,  but it is a relief now, in retirement, to have an easy little synthetic tree that just comes down from the attic.  And anyhow, it is the decorations that give me most pleasure.

Out come the boxes of old and new.¬† There are the felt stockings my mother made us when we were children, the American¬†Thanksgiving paper¬†turkey, sparkly decorations, the Christmas mobile, and much, much more.Christmas stockingThese are old glass balls that came from my grandmother.¬† These are so fragile that they could be cracked with just a squeeze of the hand.Granny's glass ballThe box (much repaired) alone is a delight.Ancient Christmas decorationsOdd little things have come into the Christmas collection – and stayed.¬† I love Zacyntha’s little card of wishes (including the wish that all her cats were with her from the old house …)¬†¬†Not sure why we have mementos of Truro and Winchester Cathedral …¬† The golden Catherine Wheel (from New York)¬†was a gift to¬†me, of course!Old Christmas tree treasuresSome ornaments truly are treasures.¬† My American sister-in-law gave me this beautiful glass ball from San Jose’s Museum of Art.San Jose baubleAlas, there are always breakages. ¬†We bought this charming couple in Krakow a couple of years ago.Christmas breakagesThere are new¬†things to join the collection. ¬†We already have Mary, Queen of Scots, so thought we should add Elizabeth I.¬† Some delightful freebies from the British Red Cross, a Mexican angel – and a happy memento of Jak and Ellie’s wedding earlier this year.New Christmas treasuresThe pi√®ce de r√®sisistance for me is my knitting angel.¬† How could I not find a knitting angel enchanting – especially when she was made for me by the dear, dear friend who taught me to spin in Devon a good few years ago!Eileen Seddon's Christmas fairyChristmas is¬†often a time of looking back – memories are particularly poignant and powerful at this time of year.¬† Over the last few months I’ve been scanning the family photograph albums, so I’ve been looking at Christmas through family recollections.

These lovely pictures of my father with his parents in Melbourne are the oldest Christmas pictures I can find. ¬†Here is my grandmother with her 9 month baby, Christmas 1926, taking him for his first dip on the beach at Cowes.¬† She looks enchanting – so happy, so proud.My father's first Christmas dip 1926, CowesIn 1928, they were again at the beach at Cowes.¬† It’s my grandfather on the left,¬†she’s in front, holding their little boy’s hand. ¬†They are clearly having such a happy time. ¬†I do wonder what they are looking at out to sea?¬† My father’s holding his mother’s hand – for reassurance?¬† He looks a bit worried – perhaps just that deep thinking of a child who is struggling to understand what the adults are telling him?My father at Cowes Christmas 1928Sadly, my grandfather, Vin, died in 1933.¬† He had got amoebic dysentery in Gallipoli, and never fully recovered. ¬† Dora, my grandmother, later married an Englishman and moved to Leicester with her two little boys.¬† So these are the only photos I have of the hot Australian Christmases that my father would have known as a child.

The rituals of big English Christmases that my mother’s family liked gradually took over.¬† Here we all are at my grandparents’ table for Christmas Lunch, 1961.¬† My parents are there with their four children (err – yes, that’s me the bossy one with her arms folded at the end of the table), together with all my other aunts and uncles.¬† There are still a few grandchildren to come …. This photo records a rare family get-together.¬† My father (the photographer here)¬†and uncle were both British diplomats¬†so spent much of their working lives abroad.¬† My uncle Bow¬†(on the far right) lived in California with his family.¬† No wonder my grandfather looks so pleased – truly a grand-paterfamilias moment!Christmas lunch Paddock 1961Aaah – those reprehensible 1960s habits!¬† Here is my father smoking a pipe – and, oh dear, holding the baby at the same time!!¬† It’s really an archetypal Christmas picture of its era.¬† The paper hats, the gathered family in their Christmas best, the well-behaved children, my cousin in his short trousers …. this could well have come straight out of a Ladybird book on Christmas.Christmas Paddock 1961 - sitting in drawing roomMy mother’s family always got a visit from Father Christmas.¬† Here is my patient Uncle Harry wearing the family Father Christmas costume with great aplomb (my mother’s the helpful elf behind).Father Christmas visit 1961A few year’s later, my father’s work took us back to Japan.¬† He was Head of Chancery (sort of Embassy Personnel Officer) during this time, so he felt very much that is was his job to¬†look after¬†the waifs and strays at Christmas.¬† This meant a formal Christmas lunch in the dining room, cooked (as usual) by our Japanese cook, Mori-san. ¬†We were waited on by our two lovely kimono-wearing Japanese servants, Hisatsuni-san and¬†Mitsuko-san.¬† There were always spinster secretaries and batchelor diplomats who joined us for lunch (during which we children obeyed the old adage to the letter of being seen and not heard).¬† Afterwards, my father would get us all out to play football on the lawn. ¬†The fun was to see how poor Miss X from the secretarial pool coped with the garden mud in her unsuitable suit and heels.¬† How I wish I could find photos of those Christmases!

One Christmas – one awful, awful Christmas, – there was the disaster of the Chancery Guard’s lunch.¬† All the Embassy staff enjoyed a Christmas holiday bar¬†one person –¬† the Chancery Guard.¬† He had to be on duty in the Embassy offices in case an important telegram came in, some crisis in Whitehall etc.¬† In his Head of Chancery role, my father promised that we would supply lunch for the Chancery Guard as the offices were just round the corner from our house.

Alas, we forgot!¬† It must have been about tea-time when we realised. ¬†My father turned black with anger and mortification – how could he forget and fail!¬† A deputation of children was roped in to trail round to the Embassy offices with cigars, bottles of spirit, crackers, chocolates – and I¬†guess some cold turkey.¬† But my father never forgave himself – a pall of black hung over the day. ¬†Memories of the Day we forgot the Chancery Guard’s lunch remained with my family for a long, long time.

Christmas 1966, and I was given a camera for Christmas Рa very nice Japanese Minolta.  These are some of my first photographs.

Here is my father, amid the detritus of Christmas paper and presents, in our huge Department of Works furnished sitting room.¬† Diplomats entertained regularly and – in those days – were provided with large, elegant houses and regulation Government furniture.¬†RHE Tokyo christmas 1966I also photographed my Christmas presents in my bedroom. I was 12 – on the cusp of the teenage years, so I’d been given a smart black patent handbag (must have been my first “proper” handbag), and there’s a sewing basket I can see there, along with quite a few books.¬† How¬†arid and unexciting that would seem to today’s 12 year old!¬†My bedroom Christmas 1966Actually, I was quite contented with my Christmas presents¬†– but I did have a rather big paddy later on those holidays¬†about the endless old-fashioned hand-me-down dresses I was expected to wear.¬† My mother finally took me to one of the fantastic Japanese department stores and bought me a couple of Mary-Quant-style dresses so I felt better equipped for the parties of the season.

There were lots of parties in the Embassy world over Christmas.¬† I didn’t go to this one, of course.¬† It’s the¬†1964 Imperial Court New Year party – that’s some dressing up!¬† My father is standing at the top right, very smart in his diplomatic uniform, and my mother is second¬†from the right at the bottom of the picture.¬† She looks gorgeous.Imperial Court New Year party 1964 Tokyo EmbassyIt was also during these holidays that my¬†parents took us Christmas shopping to the Ginza shopping street – an incredible glittering Christmas experience.¬†¬†They bought each of their four children the¬†Christmas ornament of our choice.¬† This snowfamily was my choice – a bit worse for wear now, but still very much treasured.Christmas snowmanBy the 1970s we were back in England, and, his Australian summer Christmases long forgotten, my father settled into comfortable paterfamilias mode.¬† There’s even a spinster secretary (on the far left) who has joined our family Christmas dinner.Christmas 1975 FarninghamThere¬†were no Japanese servants¬†working for our comfort¬†any longer.¬† Here the kitchen is staffed by family: three generations (my mother, grandmother and sister) making brandy butter together.Christmas 1970 Tasting brandy butterOne year (1970) we had proper snow.¬† How opportune!¬†That’s one of¬†my Australian cousins clearing the steps (as though he had done it all his life) and my Californian aunt is standing on the left of the picture.¬† A really proper picture postcard English Christmas laid on just for them.Clearing snow Fanringham 1970We walked to the church through the charming snowy English village.Christmas 1970 walking to churchAnd we sang carols around the piano over the holiday (my mother playing).¬†¬† It could almost be out of the same Ladybird Christmas book that I mentioned earlier.Christmas 1970 carol singing round pianoJust when you think you’ve got this Christmas thing sorted, along comes a complication.¬† Yes, it’s a delightful complication – but not at all what I expected.¬† I¬†had a Christmas baby!¬†¬†¬†I still have the letter in which my mother wrote to me in the days before James was born, telling me that I must make sure not to give birth too close to Christmas – it just wasn’t kind!¬† (He was 10 days early.)¬†James' Christmas birth in Express & EchoA Christmas birthday puts a whole new complexity on the celebration of Christmas.¬† There were yet more presents for James (at tea-time), – and there were special cakes.¬† I worked so hard to make this gingerbread cake!Gingerbread cake for Jam's 3rd birthdayIn 1981 Father Christmas started visiting us.¬† James is definitely very intrigued ¬†– does he know something about the person wearing the costume that we don’t?Father Christmas visit 1981He visited again in 1985.¬† I think it may be my brother wearing the Father Christmas robes.¬† By now¬†the children¬†seem to be taking Father Christmas rather more for granted.Father Christmas visit 1985 FarninghamA Christmas birthday was, of course, a great excuse for a children’s fancy dress Christmas party.¬† Here we are in a rather cold and draughty Devon village hall.¬† It’s 1988.¬† Judging by the costumes, I think I must have asked the girls to come as Christmas fairies and the boys as Christmas decorations. Shobrooke Christmas party 1988Skip through the years quickly, and I’ve been through a divorce and embarked on a new marriage.¬† I have¬†four step-daughters¬†– we are a step-family!¬† Perhaps the hallmark of stepfamilies should be flexibility.¬† We certainly were open to change.¬† One year’s Christmas lunch was Shepherds’ Pie, Star-gazy Pie and Angel Delight. ¬†Hmm … an experiment¬†never repeated.

Of course, what really changed in recent years is the abundance of photos Рdigital cameras make a big difference.  For the new step-family, there were ups and downs, comings and goings, swings and roundabouts.  Lots of happy Christmases in amidst all the changes, perhaps summed up with this lovely picture of four of our children in the fancy dress costumes that I had made them for Christmas.1991 Christmas fancy dress costumes editedJust as Christmas is a time of looking back, so it is a time of looking forward.  Dawn is a metaphor for hope, for blessings, for future promise of goodness.  So I leave you with this magnificent picture Stephen took of the sunrise this December solstice morning.Sunrise past Bamburgh CastleHappy Christmas to you all!

Misty Moisty* on Holy Island

There has been dense fog over much of Britain for the last week or so – not cold, just moist and very misty.¬† You can sense the sun is trying to break through.sun trying to break throughAnd there have been days when the sun has actually broken through … even if it is only for a little time.¬† So when the weather forecasters said the sun might break through on the Northumberland coast, and we saw that the tides were convenient (so to speak), we decided yesterday was the day for a walk round Holy Island.

Crossing the causeway was forbidding: the fog was deepening.driving over a misty causewayThe car park – not surprisingly for a grey foggy day at the beginning of November was almost empty.¬† (Contrast this with our summer visit several months ago.)car in almost empty carparkIt wasn’t cold – just very damp, very grey, and not a little bit disappointing.¬† But we’d set the day aside for this walk, so better make the most of it.¬† And how very rewarding it turned out to be.blackened plantsWith so much mist – such limited vision – you see things differently.¬† Dark, decaying plants stood out strongly.¬† strange blackened plants in the mistColours – even the smallest patch of gold lichen on the wall – leapt out at us.stone wall with lichenPlants that had been silver earlier in the year were now turning gold.undergrowth turning goldThere were clearly cattle around – much evidence of them: the ground churned up, cow pats.¬† But we never saw them.¬† I was imagining how they would look looming through the mist.evidence of cattleWould the mist lift when we got to the beach.¬† No, far from it – the fog was denser there than ever!walking along misty beachWhat I can’t convey with these pictures is how haunting the sounds were as we walked round the island.¬† And nowhere more so than on the beach.¬†¬†We found – and heard – ¬†a couple of curlews amid a plenty of gulls – and our favourite little sanderlings (for whom we have set out searching before).

This was the view – or lack of it – from the hide.¬† It’s usually busy here with people settled in to watch the water birds.¬† But yesterday?¬† Nobody else – just the water birds busy and noisy.¬† ¬†What colours and splendour of bullrushes!¬† reeds, bullrushes and waterfowlWe met nobody else on the walk – until we had passed this hide.¬† The sense of walking in the pervasive grey and damp with just bird¬†calls floating out and about was extraordinary.

As we drew near to the castle, we passed the cairns shrouded in mist.¬† Visitors construct these out of local stones – in memory of loved ones or perhaps for fun?¬† I don’t know.¬† Today they were beautiful and mysterious.cairns in the mistSomebody¬†had¬†left a message …message in the cairnsAnd then¬†we approached¬†the castle … or did we¬†…where¬†was it?¬† Never before have I seen (or not seen) Lindisfarne Castle like this!approaching Lindisfarne castle in the mistCuriously, it is even more magnificent glimpsed in fog.

We couldn’t leave – on a day like this – without paying our respects at the Priory.¬† Most disappointingly, it was shut, so we couldn’t get inside.¬† Still plenty to see outside.Holy Island ruins of prioryWalking round the graves in the churchyard, you can’t help feel how appropriate the old festivals of All Saints and All Souls are for this time of year.¬† graves in churchyardRemembrance Day also falls in November, for the very good reason that Armistice Day, when the guns of the First World War fell silent, is on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.¬† Here amid the grey mists and grey graves, it comes naturally to remember.¬† These lost souls almost stood around us.grave in churchyardSuch an enjoyable walk – how very surprising!¬† When we got to the pub for lunch, the few other tourists there were complaining about the weather: Such a horrible day!¬† We knew better.walking through the mist* Misty moisty are technical weather terms of Stephen’s.

The Book of Psalms

Over the last couple of years, I have been re-reading the Psalms.¬† I was brought up in a Church of England family, and went to Church of England and Roman Catholic schools, so I am familiar with the psalms from church liturgies.¬† However, ¬†I don’t think I have ever read the psalms straight through before.¬† And although I’ve been a Christian for much of my life, I wouldn’t call myself one now – theist, yes, but not a Christian.

I don’t know why I decided to re-read them again, but there is sufficient distance from the Christian¬†that I once was¬†for me to be able to read them afresh.My PsalterMy reading copy of the Psalms is this nice little cloth-bound and gold-tooled copy which I bought for ¬£1¬†in a second-book shop in Hay-on-Wye on one of our summer holidays in the 1990s – so it has been with me for some time!

It has the benefits of both including a Latin translation and red rubrics.¬† Don’t know what red rubrics are?!¬† My mother was obsessed with them! – no prayer book or Bible came up to scratch unless it had red rubrics.¬† They are the red letters denoting the titles and numbers at the beginning of each psalm – and actually¬†my mother’s phrase “red rubrics”¬† is a tautology because the word rubric is also a reference to the redness of the script.

They do look nice – perhaps my mother was right to place so much importance on them.

As for the Latin – well, in my youth I was a student of Latin, and I still find it a helpful gloss¬†on places where the English text is curious.Psalm 1 - Beatus virThis is a very old English translation, and it is salutary to remember what it cost¬†some brave and very principled¬†men to give us a translation in the vernacular.¬† Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) is credited with this version¬†but his translation was based on those by William Tyndale, Martin Luther and others.¬† Some of these men died for the principle of providing a Bible that everyone could understand; others experienced long periods in exile and many trials and tribulations.¬† It is almost beyond our modern comprehension that some five hundred years ago, you couldn’t hear the texts of your own religion in your own language (nor read them either, but then most people couldn’t read anyhow).Pslam 23 - the Lord is my ShepherdThere are all sorts of treasures to be found in the Psalms.

Firstly, there is great honesty with the human condition.¬† The psalmist knows how shitty life can be and truly excels in recapturing how absolutely miserable¬†one can feel: “I am feeble and sore smitten: I have roared for the very disquietness of my heart.”¬†(Psalm 38)

The psalmist is also good on how nasty one can feel when things are going well for everybody else, and just rotten for you.¬† How¬†spiteful is this: “… it shall come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones…Let it thus happen from the Lord unto mine enemies…” (Psalm 109)

But the psalmist is also good on comfort: “Thou tellest my flittings;¬†put my tears into thy bottle: are not these things noted in thy book?” (Psalm 56)¬† What an exquisite image of our tears being so valued that they are bottled!

Evocative ¬†language just flows from Coverdale’s pen, and one of my favourite psalms (and I think the most beautiful) is Psalm 121.¬† A psalm of great comfort, it is¬†commonly read at funeral services because of the last verse: “The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in: from this time forth for evermore.”Psalms 120 and 121It is the first line of this¬†psalm that intrigues me most (of perhaps all the lines in the psalms).¬†I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills: from whence cometh my help.¬† Some years ago we found it engraved on the window of a¬†small church of¬†Capel-y-ffin in Wales.¬† The trees¬†were a bit overgrown, but you could just see the hills behind that the little window looked out on.¬† What a beautiful use of the psalm!¬† So comforting, so reassuring – but why? What is there in the hills that is so full of help?

Levavi oculos meos in montes, unde veniet auxilium mihi.  No clues from the Latin.  A phrase to ponder over.Window at Capel-y-ffin churchThere are great stories in the psalms too, and nowhere more poignantly than with Psalm 137:

“By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept: when we remembered thee, O Sion.¬† As for our harps, we hanged them up: upon the trees that are therein.¬† For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody in our heaviness: Sing us one of the songs of Sion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song: in a strange land?”

Perhaps, like me, you have Boney M’s version in your ears now?!

It’s the story of the Jews in exile, of course, who cannot muster¬†their spirits¬†to sing as their Babylonian captors demand –¬†a despair shared with¬†other captives, at¬†other times, in other places.¬† In the Iliad, Homer wrote poignantly of Andromache lamenting to her husband, Hector, about the treatment she could expect as a captive¬†when he was dead.¬† In¬†recent times, we have heard the heartbreaking stories of Yazidi women taken into slavery and Nigerian girls stolen from their land.¬† This Jewish lament in the psalms is the song of all these captives.¬† The beauty of the lament moves us just as much the anguish expressed.

Small phrases crafted by the psalmist and his translator (they were all men) are just wonderful.¬†¬†You don’t have to be spinner to enjoy ¬†“He shall come down like the rain into a fleece of wool: even as the drops that water the earth.” (Psalm 72).¬† or know confusion to recognise “For I am become like a bottle in the smoke: yet do I not forget thy statutes.” (Psalm 119)

What I am left with above all¬†else after my re-reading of the psalms¬†is that these are the musings and poetry and songs of a people looking for answers to the human condition – just as we all are.¬† Who could not sympathise with the exasperation with which this psalm addresses God: My heart was hot within me, and while I was thus musing the fire kindled; and at the last I spake with my tongue:¬† Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days …” (Psalm 39)

There is great and¬†deep comfort –¬†similar¬†to that a mother might offer when she croons over her crying child and reassures the baby that it’s alright.¬† She doesn’t, of course, know that things will always be alright for her child, but in that moment – yes, things are alright, and she is being completely honest.¬† Psalm 121 again: The Lord himself is thy keeper: the Lord is thy defence upon thy right hand;¬† so that the sun shall not burn thee by day: neither the moon by night.¬† The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil…”

Now – there’s something else in this little book – something that I missed until now, and I can’t think why I didn’t see it before!Offizier - Gefangenenlager - ColbergThere is a purple stamp on the front page.¬† Researches on the internet reveal that it is the permission stamp for the prisoner-of-war camp at Bad Colberg in Saxony where captive British officers were housed during the First World War.Name plateLook at the front page.¬† I reckon that there are four hands here.¬† Somebody has printed J.H.Goodall at the top of the page in pencil.¬† There is a ¬£1 marker below that.¬† Then somebody has written JHHGoodall in ink – this looks like a signature of ownership.¬† Below that is my name, and my notes on where I acquired the book.¬† We can account for the ¬£1 price marker too as it is linked with my acquisition of the book.

But the printed pencil name and inked name are the same and it has always puzzled me why there is this duplication.

Further searches on the internet, using the London Gazette website and the ICRC records of POW camps, reveal that a Captain J.H.H.Goodall was seconded from the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment to the Royal Flying Corps in March 1917. But in June 1917 he was listed as missing, and then just a month later he was reported as being a prisoner in German hands.post-59858-0-10162600-1428357000(Bad Colberg sanatorium/POW camp, courtesy of the Great War Forum)

It is likely that the ICRC supplied small religious books as well as letters and parcels to POWs.  This would explain the pencilled name at the top of the page, and the personal signature below.

I just hope this little psalter was a comfort to him.

Extraordinarily, I even found a photo of Captain J.H.H.Goodall Рaah, the miracles of the internet!  (He is standing at the very back Рhe was nearly 6 foot tall Р, and his brother, Marcus, who died in the fighting on the Somme, is in the row just in front of him.  This photograph, taken on April 13th 1915 on the steps of York Baths, courtesy of the Yorkshire Film Archive.)  JHHGoodallFinally Рand almost by chance РI happened upon the full story of Captain John Humphrey Herbert Goodall and his courageous war service on the Hazlewood School Great War Roll of Service webpage.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

I will let you into a secret.  It was for this view that we moved the 400 miles from Devon to live in Northumberland.evening light on Holy IslandYou are looking out of the window, over the fields, over the Eastcoast railway line, over the sea, towards Holy Island.  That bump that you see towards the right of the picture is the Elizabethan castle standing proud on Beblowe crag.  In differing lights the island looms grey or shimmers as a mirage. Sometimes it is wrapped in mist.  It is always fascinating.

It is as though one is glimpsing Avalon, the Isles of the Blest, a place associated with deep yearning and longing Рand peace.

Although I have always¬†felt drawn to¬†this distant¬†vision,¬†I¬†haven’t always enjoyed going to Holy Island.

Our first¬†visit was in August 2004.¬† Like the rest of the day-trippers, we’d checked the tide tables and driven over the causeway in a busy¬†queue of holiday makers.¬†¬†We were directed into a huge busy carpark, and followed the stream of people walking into the village where it’s all busy and bustling, and you can join the rest of the crowds in the tiny¬†Lutyens castle, the mediaeval priory or¬†the¬†usual¬†mish-mash of touristy shops.

Nothing special there.  Just busy, bustling and bustling.  How to reconcile this with the spiritual intensity of St Aidan and St Cuthbert, to draw near to the harshness of life that those amazing monks experienced who produced the Lindisfarne Gospels, to understand the holiness of the place?

Well Рwe have learned the way.  Now I can feel the island calling to me when we have not visited for a while.  It has worked its magic on me, and I am a disciple.

So – let me tell you about our visit earlier this week.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is not really an island.¬† It would be much more accurate to call it ¬†a peninsula.¬† Peninsula –¬†from paene meaning nearly in Latin and insula¬†meaning island.¬† It is just that: nearly an island.

You have to cross a causeway to get to Holy Island, and the causeway is flooded by the tide twice a day.¬† So for approximately¬†eleven¬†hours of each day it’s inaccessible by road.driving over the causewayBefore the causeway was built in the sixties, you had to approach by boat, or else walk with your donkeys over the sands¬†as these two good ladies did.Holy Island ladies crossing the causewayWere you to cross when the tide was high, you would be unable to drive right over the causeway. You would have to take refuge in this rickety little wooden hut and wait for the tide to go down.crossing the causewayYou are still directed into the huge busy carpark.¬† Even though it’s a long way off the school summer holidays, the carpark is crowded and busy.¬† Holy Island is an immensely popular visitor attraction.¬†crowded carpark But it is from¬†here that we diverge from the masses. Holy Island mapWhile most people walk into the village (or catch the local hopper bus), we back-tracked and walked along the road to a footpath that takes you over to the dunes.¬†¬† Stephen striding ahead from the carparkThe¬†expedition has begun!!¬† You can immediately see how different this area is.¬† The wild flowers are fantastic.¬† There are poppies and daisies….Poppies and daisiesand cowslips¬†and orchids and buttercups and vetch…..cowslips and orchidsThere is also piri-piri.¬†¬† At this time of year it is young and green and harmless.¬†Young pirri-pirri plantsThere are warnings¬†about piri-piri, and rightly so as it is most tiresome and we definitely do not want it to spread.Pirri-pirri burr warning signOne year, later in the summer, I unwisely trampled in the piri-piri and this was the result.¬† This plant has the best survival tactics of any I have ever known – it attaches itself with little wiry hooks which are the very devil to remove. and then it travels with you until it finds a nice new uncolonised spot to invade.¬†pirri-pirri on Katherine's shoes After you leave the meadows, you climb up into the dunes, and there is the sea!¬† The vegetation is different here – more sparse and lower growing.¬† Everywhere the birds are calling.¬† I cannot capture the many larks we see as they fly up and up and up with their glorious singing.¬† But believe me, they are there, and their song is beautiful.looking for birdsWe sat on the¬†edge of the dunes¬†and looked down on this wonderful white empty beach.¬† Not a lot of birdlife here today, and no people at all.¬† Strange – there are¬†usually oyster catchers, curlews and redshanks, and at least the odd beach-comber competing¬†for finds.sandy beachesThere are, however, quite a few kittiwakes chicks in nests on the cliffs.¬† We can see one nest quite clearly.¬† There is a very demanding chick there!¬† You can see its open greedy beak, and boy, could we hear it!¬† When parents arrive with food, the chicks go wild and make an unholy din.kittiwakesAfter watching the birds, we turn inland again and head for the castle.¬†glimpsing the castle aheadIt is fascinating how many different sorts of terrain there are on one small island.¬† We call this part the Moon Landscape.¬† It is actually what was once Nessend Quarry.¬† This is where, in the 1860s, they quarried for limestone.¬† The extracted limestone was fed into the limekilns (at the foot of Lindisfarne Castle) where it was roasted into quicklime (commonly used as an agricultural spread for neutralising acid soils).lunar landscape You clamber out through sandy dunes and are back in meadowland again.¬† We are once more in the land of verdant greenness.meadow flowersThere are traces of old dykes and ditches.¬†The monks farmed here so these may be very old indeed.traces of old ditchesWe turn onto the old tramway that once carried the limestone to the Castle lime kilns.¬† This is very comfortable walking after the rough terrain of the quarries and dunes.¬† They’ve clearly been shearing the sheep – bits of their fleece are scattered all over like snow.¬†walking the old tramway But it’s a coarse fleece – I shan’t be taking any home to spin.¬† fleeceNow we’re beginning to draw closer to the castle, and we can see the sheep whose fleece I’ve been inspecting.Lindisfarne castle from the distanceI love Lindisfarne castle.¬† The washed colours remind me of an Uccello painting.Lindisfarne castleIt is not an old castle¬†as British castles go – nor¬†did it see important action.¬†¬†A castle was first built¬†on the protruding¬†rock of Beblowe Crag in the 1570s as part of the English defences on its unruly Scottish borders.¬† But in 1603 the crowns of England and Scotland were united under James (1st of England, 6th of Scotland), so after that the castle was rather unnecessary (although a small military garrison was maintained there for another three centuries).

It was reborn into modern life in the early 20th century when Edward Hudson (the owner and founder of Country Life magazine) acquired the building.  He appointed the distinguished architect, Edwin Lutyens, to convert the castle into a home.  Lutyens made a magnificent job of it.  It is enchanting inside Рsimple magnificence combined with a strong eye for detail.

On the shoreline below the castle people make cairns with the local stones.  We may not all visit Holy Island as Christians, but without doubt many people find in the place a deep spirituality.  I think this couple were building a cairn to commemorate the scattering of cremated ashes. building cairns I can well understand why you would wish to leave the ashes of those precious to you in the care of these little islands on the Northumbrian coast. 

You are here to kneel Where prayer has been valid  (T S Eliot: Little Gidding)

On the distant horizon is the Inner Farne Island, whither Cuthbert retreated when he could no longer cope with the busyness of Lindisfarne.¬† cairns by the shoreNow we are rounding the shoreline and the old tram road path leads up to the Castle (those arches on the left are the Lime Kilns).¬† The castle sits like a galleon sailing in these magnificent Northumbrian skies.walking round to the lime kilns and castleWe¬†are nearing¬†civilisation …Stephen walking round castleBut first, glance up at the golden lichen on the castle approaches.¬† Lichen thrives where the atmosphere is pure.lichen under castle And look down, at the banks of valerian on the lower castle reaches.valerianWe are back now with¬†our fellow tourists.¬†¬† The ruins of the Priory are in our sights.joining crowdsA sunny lunch in the local pub.¬† It’s quite an ordinary little¬† pub, but how many other pubs sit so casually next to such magnificent ruins?¬†Stephen in pub It was St Aidan who brought Christianity to these islands at the request of King Oswald of neighbouring Bamburgh Castle.¬† St AidanThe sainted Aidan was much loved and is still revered as a great saint, as is his successor, Cuthbert.¬† But in many ways it has to be said that Cuthbert has overtaken Aidan in the popularity stakes.¬† St Cuthbert amid ruinsThis is Cuthbert’s country.¬† He was –¬†and still is – hugely special to Northumbrians.¬† They remember him¬†locally as¬†Cuddy.¬† If you look carefully you’ll see the Cuddy duck (actually an Eider) nestling at the foot of this rather curious statue of Cuthbert.¬† Crinoid fossils found¬†on the beaches¬†are Cuddy beads, and were once used¬†to make¬†rosaries.¬† Today there’s a ginger cat asleep nearby, oblivious to everything but the sunny warmth.¬† cat amid ruinsAidan and Cuthbert never knew this stone built Priory.¬† Aidan came here in 635, and Cuthbert is thought to have arrived here some 30 years later.¬† They lived and worshipped in wooden buildings which have completely disappeared, but are thought to have been on the same site.¬†¬† LindisfarneFol27rIncipitMattGiven the simplicity of the monks’ lives here on Lindisfarne it is truly extraordinary that one of the finest books extant, the Lindisfarne gospels, was copied and illustrated here.¬† The Lindisfarne Gospels are thought to be the work of Bishop Eadfrith, Cuthbert’s successor on the island.¬† They are now one of the greatest treasures¬†of the British Library.¬† First page of St Matthew’s gospel.¬† Image made available¬†to the public domain by Wikipedia.wood carving of monks carrying Cuthbert's bodyThe monks left Lindisfarne in disarray when Viking raiders began a series of attacks on the monastery at the end of the 8th century.¬† But they took the body of their beloved St Cuthbert with them, and a fine wooden carving in the church commemorates their devotion.

In the 12th century monks returned to build the Priory that we see today.¬† It is a beautiful building, and despite the exposure to the elements still looks amazing.¬† You can still make out the details of the chevrons on the columns.¬† priory ruinsEven in the Priory, it is the Castle¬†perched on Beblowe Crag that dominates.¬† It intrigues me that when I speak of gazing longingly at Holy Island, it is a conflation of the image of the Castle and the ethos that the monks created that sits in my mind.¬† The Castle is the stronger visual symbol of the place, but without the history of Aidan, Cuthbert, Eadfrith, and all their fellow unknown monks, it¬†could just be another castle.¬† Of course, Mother Nature has a strong part to play in making this place remarkable too!looking from the priory ruins to the castleTime to face the world again.¬† There’s the whole Lindisfarne/Holy Island retail experience.¬† Lindisfarne shopsAnd then we join the pedestrians walking back to the car park.¬† I hope they will return to the mainland as refreshed by their visit to Holy Island as I have been. walking back to the car