An absence of birds and rain

It has been a slow and boring March for us here, with painting, painting – and it seemed – yet more painting …We had a new porch built outside our front door last December.¬† It’s on the colder, north side of the building, so gives us extra protection with a double entrance as well as accommodating all our muddy, messy outdoor wear.All sorts of things had to be done to make it a useful part of the building …And it is finally just about there …But the painting – the oh, so very¬†boring painting – dragged on and on.¬† Little bits all over the house and garden also appeared in need of a paint in the fresh clean light of spring days …We are now making up for lost time, and outside as much as possible, catching up on the garden.Stephen’s potting up of seeds and young plants includes making these nifty little newspaper pots – so ingenious!Sometimes he has a not-so-helpful helper with him …The salad greens in the greenhouse are feeding us comfortably …But it looks like we will have a while to wait for any crops from our raised beds.¬† The problem isn’t just the very cold nights we are still getting (although our days are blessed with sun a plenty).¬† No, it’s the absence of rain …Our water butts are empty.¬† We have light rain showers occasionally, but they are so very light as to make little or no difference.¬† I can’t remember when we last had a decent downpour. ¬†The water butts remain almost empty. So most reluctantly, we have got out the hose …It’s easy for us – but not so easy for the local farmers.¬† At the beginning of April, there were still ponds on the local fields.¬† We watched these with great¬†interest as they provide home and sustenance to the local gulls.This is what they look like now … parched …Walking around the local farms, there is evidence aplenty of parched fields.¬† This is an interesting spot because it is at the bottom of fields that run down to the sea on the right.¬† In other years – in wetter winters – there has not been the same marked run off as we are seeing this year. You can’t really tell from these pictures, but this winter wheat crop has barely grown at all.It’s easy for us to water our slow-growing raspberries plants, but quite a different matter for a farmer with huge grain fields …Elsewhere, the monopoly of bright yellow early spring flowers is over.¬† Those daffodil heads are in the compost heap, contributions to another year …There are flash-coloured tulips about now and lots of forget-me-nots … oh dear, I see something else that¬†needs a fresh coat of paint! The forget-me-nots really come into their own on the other side of our garden fence … this year they are tiny plants … usually double the height …I always think the very best thing about gardening is the surprises, the things you have forgotten you planted.¬† These entirely white narcissi are exactly such a case in point.¬† I have absolutely no recollection of planting them, but I think they are just exquisite, fragile and elegant … Ghost flowers …Another delight this year is the japonica flowering for the first time.¬† Usually in the autumn I collect japonica fruit from my friend in Devon to make quince jelly.¬† Perhaps this year, I’ll have a couple of my own fruit to add to this year’s jelly …There are disappointments too.¬† The rosemary bush has died – and just look at the scorch marks from salty easterly blasts on the snapdragon plant in the foreground …The other big disappointment for us is the absence of birds.¬†It’s true that there are pigeons¬†… hours of entertainment for Eggy (hunched in the foreground)¬†…But there have been no ordinary birds like sparrows and blackbirds for weeks. In February, Ilsa brought a song thrush in to Stephen.¬† He was able to rescue it, and as it seemed fine, we hoped it¬†would survive. However,¬†we later¬†found it dead in the field.¬† RIP beautiful bird.So now the cats wear collars …They don’t seem to be very perturbed by the collars, and are out and about enjoying themselves as usual …But have they frightened the birds away for good? We take heart from a new young blackbird who¬†has been seen around,¬†and a sparrow was sighted on the bird feeders today.

There are still larks. On my knees, as I weeded the flowerbeds, with the sea on the horizon, the sun on my back, my head was full of the sound of the song of the larks – singing their hearts out in this glorious place. Rain and birds …. please come back!

Goodbye 2016!

So many ups and downs in 2016! It’s been a topsy turvy year – a year of sadness and upsets for my family and a deeply shocking year in global politics. I have travelled through the year with a pervading sense of loss.

But, in the last few days I’ve been indulging myself drawing up a #bestofnine2016 for my Instagram feed. I’ve looked through all the pictures I’ve posted online, and selected the nine pictures that most capture 2016¬†for me.¬† It has taken me quite a time to finally make a selection, but it was a good exercise because after that, I didn’t feel so bad. So many little ordinary happinesses and pleasures that I have taken for granted!¬† Here are my chosen nine:bestofnine2016Top left: That’s my dearest husband Stephen and our lovely cat, Poe, who passed away in her 20th year, this August. This photograph was taken on her last night of life, when we knew she was extremely ill and would have to visit the vet next day, probably to be put down.¬†She is curled up asleep, comfy and trusting, next to Stephen, on the sofa, as she regularly did. RIP Poe, faithful friend.stephen-and-poeTop middle: Lots of little pleasures here. My knitting, my nails – and my travel knitting bag! Those of you who¬†know me well¬†will know I almost always have my nails painted – and doesn’t this colour match the knitting so well! The Solace bag was a generous gift from Rebecca of Needle & Spindle¬†and symbolises to me the constant comfort of knitting, and the friendliness of the wonderful online community of knitters and makers.solace-bag-and-knittingTop right: This is our lovely local beach, just five minutes away from our home, and my very grown-up children, visiting from London, on a beautiful blustery day.¬†¬†Stephen and I¬†walk here several times a week, and watch the tides and waves and sands move, the holiday visitors with their families come and go.¬† To share this with my own family is the greatest of all pleasures.j-h-on-spittal-beachMiddle right: A golden GiveWrap, made with the Japanese and Indian silk scraps I was given for my birthday, and mixed up with some very¬†treasured pieces of old¬†clothing.¬† It’s been another year of GiveWrap making, sharing the ideas with my cousin Polly, and spreading the word about sustainable wraps.golden-givewrapBottom right: I wrote about the poppies that we grow here in a recent blogpost.¬†They are the best of our gardening in this wonderful place, right up on the north Northumbrian border, exposed to all the elements.¬† Lots of plants won’t grow here – it’s too salty, too windy, too cold.¬† But poppies flourish, and best of all, they self-seed.¬† They grow where they will, not just where I choose.¬† Don’t they adorn the view so very well …poppies in laneBottom middle: In the turmoil of family events earlier this year, two little cats, Eggy and Ilsa,¬†found themselves needing a new home – so they came to Seaview!¬† And look how these little smilers love it here!¬†These little London softies have become Northumbrian toughies.¬† They’re good at mousing, chasing the neighbours’ cats, exploring their territory, and finding the comfiest places in the house to sleep (usually some special fabrics I have carefully laid out).eggy-and-ilsaBottom left: Nothing says Seaview to me as much as the big skies with their endlessly-changing weather stories.¬† Through the winter months, we are privileged to watch the sunrise as it moves over the south-eastern horizon. So often it is explosively dramatic and exciting. Perhaps best of all, the sun doesn’t rise until a decent time (8.38 as I write on 31st December), so I don’t sleep through it … You never tire of these skies.seaview-sunriseMiddle right: On the 23rd June 2016, Great Britain voted in a referendum on their European Union membership – and we all now¬†know the result.¬† In the days leading up to this¬†referendum, those of us who hoped to stay in the European Union became increasingly worried about the result – as indeed there was good cause – and I was inspired to stitch my Love letter to Europe,¬†incorporating some lines from John Donne’s poem No man is an¬†island.¬† Embroidery isn’t really my thing, so this was a textile experiment for me.¬†It wasn’t, of course,¬†an earth-shaking contribution – really rather feeble – but it was very comforting to stitch at the time.¬† Now it hangs up our stairs, and it speaks to me of our continuing membership of Europe, even if we lose the membership of the European Union.love-letter-to-europeCentre: We saw this little 18th century ladies patch box on display at Traquair House – a very happy daytrip to a most interesting place to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. So there are lots of things bound up in this picture for me: my very happy marriage to Stephen, the pleasures we have out and about exploring this beautiful part of the world, and above all else it speaks of¬†hope.¬† More than anything else in these unsettled times, the message of this little box comes back to me, and I find in it great, great comfort.¬† At some time in its history, it must have given hope to another person.¬† Now again, it is holding a hand out to¬†a dodgy future.patch-box-from-traquairGoodness knows what I will be writing at the end of 2017.¬† But hope isn’t a bad travelling companion.¬† So thank you for your company on the¬†journey through 2016, and may you all be sustained by hope in whatever comes your way through the next year.¬† Happy New Year!

All change

I’ve been both a town and a country mouse. One thing that stands out for me as I revert to country mouse status is how oblivious I’ve been to¬†natural change¬†when living in towns and cities.

It’s been partly due to my occupations in these places, of course, that I have noticed things so differently.¬† When rushing to work in town or city, you may indeed notice the seasons change, but the micro changes so often pass you by.

Everything at Seaview conspires to remind us¬†that the old Greek adage from Heraclitus ŌÄő¨őĹŌĄőĪ ŠŅ•őĶŠŅĖ¬†(everything flows) is true. Life here is constant flux.

The sun and the moon show this as well as anything.¬† These photographs of a wintry sunrise on the solstice last year (December 21st) were all taken in the matter of minutes¬†as the sun rose¬†to the west of ¬†Bamburgh Castle. First a tiny hint that something was coming …sunrise-1-on-the-solstice-21-12-15Then a bit more …sunrise-2-on-the-solstice-21-12-15And as the sun continues to rise, it appears to swivel to the right …sunrise-3-on-the-solstice-21-12-15Now you can see clearly the¬†orb approaching¬†…sunrise-4-on-the-solstice-21-12-15Likewise the moon, here captured on the night of the Supermoon¬†last month, (14th November) …supermoon-14-11-2016Through the early evening, the moon moved rapidly across the sky, in and out of the clouds.¬† But there were other changes afoot too – man-made changes.¬† In the blink of an eye, a train slipped across our line of sight, travelling down the mainline East Coast railway line …supermoon-14-11-2016-with-trainCloud banks constantlychange, sweeping across the huge Northumbrian skies in a fascinating variety of patterns …cloud-formationsRainbows shimmer for a moment (here over Holy Island) – and then pass on …rainbow-on-holy-islandSometimes the moment appears to linger. This foggy sunrise last winter seemed trapped in a cold still world …washing-line-in-the-misty-sunBut the lingering is always an illusion, usually fostered by the light on cold days, as captured in this picture of Berwick, golden in the setting sun …winter-sun-on-berwickYou’ve got to be quick to catch the birds sweeping through our skylines too.¬† Starlings over the neighbouring houses …cloud-of-starlings-copyCrowds of seagulls following the plough …seagulls-following-the-ploughOr this solitary bird caught in a recent sunrise …bird-at-dawnUnremarkable¬†hungry black birds, looking extraordinary in black and white …wintry-birdsAnd our very favourites, the little sanderlings (who only visit this area in the winter), running in and out of the waterline on the Tweed …sanderlings-on-the-shoreJust occasionally we manage to capture the boats coming into the Tweed – not often.¬† Entry is difficult, limited by the tides, and so dodgy (because the channel is very narrow) that only the local pilots are allowed to navigate these boats to the Tweed Dock. Magical to see them rushing past Berwick’s old lighthouse …marinda-entering-the-tweedTides – ah, yes, tides. Nothing, of course, demonstrates the inevitability and variety of natural change like the tides.

“Twice daily the tides are here, sometimes¬†
breenging shoreward like an army
of small, mad, angry locals,
at others, creeping in on tourist feet.
They are their own beginnings & endings …”

from At Douglas Hall by Stuart  A Patterson (a Borders poet) 

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to record these changes by photographing the Tweed Estuary from our lane throughout the day.¬† In all these pictures, you should be able to make out¬†the wide panorama, stretching from Berwick’s old lighthouse on the far right to Berwick’s Royal Border Bridge on the left of the picture. These pictures¬†start at 9.21 am with very low tide, and the sands of Spittal Point stretching out almost down to the lighthouse …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-9-21-amAn hour later (10.22 am), the sun has come out, there’s a van coming down the lane, and the sands of Spittal Point are succumbing to the incoming tide …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-10-22-amBy 11.26 am, the sky is really blue, there are some gorgeous light clouds mirroring the line of the pier, and only a few islands of sand are still uncovered by the tide …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-11-26-am12.20, and the sky is far less exciting, the sun has gone in, there are still a few very small islands of sand in the Tweed – and there’s a train running up the East Coast mainline, Berwick bound, I think …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-12-20-am13.17, and rather a dull picture of high tide and no sun …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-13-17-pmAn hour later (14.20 pm), and shafts of low wintry sun are running over the picture from the left (the west) as another train is captured on the Eastcoast railway line.¬† It is very high tide …view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-14-20-pmBy 15.17 pm the light is beginning to go, but an odd flash of blue sky is revealed in the dying light.¬† The tide is¬†on the turn¬†…view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-15-17-pmAnd the last picture of daylight, taken at 16.15 pm, the sky and sea are delicately rose-pink from the rays of the setting sun in the west.¬† The tide is still only a very little way out¬†…view-to-berwick-from-our-lane-16-15-pmHow uplifting – in a year when the world has seen such radical and disturbing global changes – are these ephemeral sudden shafts of light …

 

A Paxton walk

The meteorologists warned us last week of horrible cold wet windy weather to come, so we seized the opportunity to get out on Friday. Thank goodness we did. We had a truly golden day.

It was cold – look how wrapped up I am! The first time this winter that I’ve had all my winter woollies out and on.We decided to park our car on the English side of the Union Chain Bridge, walk over the bridge to Scotland, up along the Tweed to Paxton House, through the grounds and onto Paxton village where we could get lunch at the newly-refurbished Cross Inn.¬† Then retrace our steps.¬† Not a big walk at all – more of an amble really.¬† mapThe Union Chain Bridge is one of our very favourite places in the locality – (you can read my paean to this fine bridge here.)beatiful-union-chain-bridge-bannerIt sits across the magnificent river Tweed, and for much of its way separates the countries of England and Scotland.walking-over-union-chain-bridge-to-scotlandSomebody had put/left/forgotten a little clown vase near the centre of the bridge.¬† An appeasement to the gods of the river?small-clown-vase-on-bridgeAt the far side, we followed a path to the river bank just below these enormous suspension cables.suspension-cables-of-union-chain-bridgeLooking back up from the path at the enormous stone pillars supporting the suspension cables, you can’t help but be impressed.looking-up-at-the-union-chain-bridgeThe walk along the river embankment was very muddy – it’s obviously a heavily-walked route. But no¬†matter –¬†so much to see, so much to enjoy.¬† How clear the water is!¬† Autumn leaves being carried along with the water.¬† Perhaps we will meet these same leaves again when walking on our local beach at Spittal¬†where the Tweed meets the sea?water-so-clear-leaves-drifitng-down-streamThere were birds getting on with their own¬†lives. We glimpsed a heron fishing through the trees.glimpse-of-a-heron-through-the-treesOur walk took us past small private and secretive doors …past-little-private-doorsThen, in the distance, ¬†we caught our first glimpse of the rosy stone wall surrounding the Paxton estate …glimpse-of-paxtons-wall-up-the-riverNot far to go now …approaching-paxtons-groundsCloser, the door¬†was a magical invitation to a private world …through-a-hole-in-the-wall-into-paxtons-groundsInside the estate, the walk¬†was as golden as ever …a-golden-walkThere¬†were fine trees – and a little teddy bear trail ….childrens-find-the-teddy-bear-game-in-evidenceLooking up we¬†were able to catch¬†a glimpse of Paxton House through the trees.¬† Paxton House was built in the 1760s to be a fine mansion looking out on the river Tweed – but alas, they have allowed the trees to grow so tall that there is almost no view of the Tweed from Paxton House any longer – such a pity.paxton-house-glimpsed-through-the-treesBefore long we reached Paxton’s fish and boat houses.paxtons-fish-house-and-boat-houseThey run boat trips from here – something we’ve never done, but definitely plan to do one day.boat-trips-run-from-paxtonNow it was¬†time to climb up from the banks of the river Tweed and through the Paxton estate …walk-takes-us-up-hill-to-housePast the children’s play area – it looked a most imaginatively designed place for children to enjoy!wonderful-childrens-play-areaAnd a brief glimpse once more of Paxton House …finally-get-to-paxton-housePast their masonry treasures/leftovers/rejects sitting casually on the lawns …casual-masonry-piecesPast the apple trees so skilfully espaliered on the red brick wall of the walled garden …walled-garden-wallOver the Linn Burn … aaaah the tree colour!over-bridge-in-paxton-groundsAnd on to the main Paxton entrance gates, guarded by some fine stone lions (and a modern touch: matching grey wheelie bins).entrance-guarded-by-lions-wheelie-binsOur walk to Paxton village only took twenty minutes or so further, but still more of interest¬†to see.¬† A stylish teal bench – in the middle of nowhere, should you need a rest.¬† No, I don’t think it’s a bus stop.teal-bench-in-the-middle-of-nowhereWe met an engineer working outside the old telephone exchange to¬†connect somebody up to broadband and had an engrossing conversation, though I must confess much of the technicalities of multi-coloured cables passed me by.arriving-at-paxton-villageThen we turned down a long slicket at the backs of peoples’ houses …walk-down-slicket-to-paxton-villageMuch more fun when you can see the fronts!¬†¬† These folk have got a rather nice mini- Paxton lion …mini-paxton-lion-outside-this-houseAnd look at these fuchsia cushions outside on the teal bench! – but, oh dear, it’s going to rain!!fetching-fuchsia-pink-cushionsAll right for us luckily – we got to the pub, the Cross Inn, before any showers started.paxtons-cross-innIt’s been pleasantly refurbished and looked welcoming – and indeed was so, with tasty food, and perhaps more importantly for Stephen, tasty beer.newly-refurbished-pub-is-welcoming-insideThen we retraced out steps. I much prefer circular walks, but our return walk was so different that it didn’t matter that we were going over the same ground. The light was completely different – and spectacular – on return.¬† No longer so gold and so friendly – more stark and much more exciting.

We approached Paxton House the proper way (as it were) on return. paxton-house-bannerBack¬†along the¬†fine avenue of trees …wlaking-back-through-paxton-groundsDown the leafy banks to the river Tweed …walking-through-fallen-leaves-down-to-the-tweedAt first, the Tweed glimpsed through the trees appeared with the gentleness of a John Nash painting upturned-boats-by-the-tweedBut then we veered¬†downstream into the light …river-tweed-glimpsed-through-the-treesMirrored perfection …fantastic-light-walking-back-along-river-tweedDark clouds overhead, rain threatening … but a¬†reassuringly golden sign¬†that we were on the way home …reassuring-way-markerAnd some dappled green ambling …dappled-green-return-walkBefore we had the Union Chain Bridge once more in our sights …first-sight-of-the-bridge-on-our-return-walkDistinctly dark clouds hovering over the bridge now …dark-clouds-over-bridgeThe mighty stone supports of the suspension bridge …stephen-walking-over-the-bridgeBack over the bridge to England …walking-back-over-the-union-chain-bridge-to-englandWhere the bridge supports are cut into the soft local red rock. Back in England just before the rain!back-in-england

Norham Tweed walk

A beautiful sunny spring day last week¬†– and we were off for a walk.¬† One of our favourite walks, this one is bookended by Norham’s fine church and it’s equally magnificent castle.¬† Sometimes we start with the castle, sometimes with the church. You can see in the map below how the route runs in a circle – first along a loop in the Tweed and then inland to complete the circle.map of walkThis day, we decided to start with the church.Norham St Cuthbert's churchThe Church of St Cuthbert at Norham is one of the churches we like best in the locality, and on this day it was looking particularly fine, garlanded with early spring blossom.gravestones amid ramsonsJust inside the churchyard, in the damp and dark gloom of the churchyard wall, there are ramsons – wild garlic.¬† They were everywhere on this day’s walk¬† – a pungent smell when crushed underfoot.¬†Norham ChurchThis church is¬†a distinguished building historically and architecturally.¬† It dates from 1165 (the same age as the nearby castle). Kings have met here (Edward I and John Bailliol of Scotland in 1292).¬† 1320 saw it fortified by Robert the Bruce as he attacked Norham Castle.¬† You can read more of its fascinating history on the church’s own website.Norman arches on Norham churchJust look at those Norman arches – what patterns!Ancient faces on Norham churchThis small face on the east end looks down on us from the past.¬† I think that’s a grimace: Enjoy yourself – or else!Grave of Grace Friar NicholsonThe graves stand as solemn markers to those who went before.¬† Was Grace Friar Nicholson a book-lover, I wonder, with those two open volumes above her tombstone?Doggy flowers on graveNo doubt that this person loved dogs – what a fine way to be remembered!Path leads down to the TweedTime to leave the churchyard with its moving mementos, and set out on the walk proper. A¬†narrow path leads down, through the fields, to the Tweed.swans on the TweedOh – the magnificent Tweed! Such a glorious river, flowing down from the Scottish Borders, and marking¬†on its eastern course¬†the border between Scotland and England.¬† That’s Scotland on the far bank where the swans are sailing by.

What really strikes me as I look on this view is how deceptive were the green and blossom we had been enjoying in Norham church graveyard.  It is still early in the year Рthe trees on the far bank are dun-coloured without their new leaves out.

Our path continues along the Tweed, well-managed by the good folk of Norham. It is a truly inviting walk.Walk along the TweedBefore long we approach Ladykirk and Norham bridge, and this gentle path ends.Approaching Ladykirk bridgeLadykirk and Norham bridge – as the name says – runs between the Scottish¬†village of Ladykirk and the English parish of Norham.¬† A fine late nineteenth century bridge.¬† Just look at the detritus on the other side! Detritus under bridgeOver the winter the country experienced heavy heavy rainfall, particularly in the west of the UK, where the River Tweed rises. As we walked along the Tweed, we were increasingly reminded of the floods, and damage, and basic mess this land had experienced thanks to the heavy rain.Rubbish under bridgeHere, at the foot of the steps leading up to the bridge crossing, you can see more rubbish – including plastics,¬†bottles and other man-made undesirables. All swept down by the torrent of the Tweed.Ramsons and celandines under Ladykirk bridgeNature is fighting back – with hosts of wild garlic and celandine flowers.fishers' paradiseThis is fishing country – paradise, I would guess, if you have a deep pocket. small boat and fishing sheilAn old fishing shiel, a little boat, grazing sheep … Time for coffeeWhat better place to stop for a bun and a flask of coffee? But also note the detritus, caught in the branches of the tree. We reckoned this to be some 15 feet above the current height of the Tweed¬† – there’s been serious flooding here.small boat on TweedIt is such a beautiful river.¬† The stories of ancient bitter Scots and English fighting are all around, and particularly marked in the histories of Norham Castle, Ladykirk church (built at James IVth of Scotland’s command entirely of stone so that it could survive being put to the torch) and nearby Flodden field.¬† As for the Tweed, well “Men may come, and men may go, but I go on forever.”¬† Thank you, Tennyson. It’s deeply reassuring.swirls and eddies in the TweedJust before we turn up from the Tweed, we find these scummy eddies. One’s instinct is to assume this is man-made pollution, but Stephen (most conveniently) is reading Tristran Gooley’s How to Read Water and he informs me that it may be warm temperatures acting on natural ingredients that produce this effect. It might, of course, be the result of chemicals running of the fields. Best not to speculate.

At this point, the path moves away from the Tweed, and we enter wooded country.¬† Part of the pleasure of this walk to me is, indeed, the variety of landscapes we pass through. There are primroses ..primrose pathand celandines …celandines amid the stepsand ramsons again! Just look at those banks of wild garlic on both sides of the path!woody path with ramsonsIt’s not long before we see our next “marker”.¬† There, glimpsed through the trees, is one of the viaducts of the old Kelso to Tweedmouth railway line.first glimpse of railway bridgeIt’s quite a job to scramble up to the top …struggling up to top of bridgeand you have to go carefully …trees growing in stoneworkbecause trees are growing into the masonry …metal rails on bridge collapsingand the old iron railings are falling to pieces.glimpse of the Tweed from the topBut it is wonderful to be at the top – you can see the Tweed snaking away where we left it.Old Kelso lineThere are few things to my mind as poignant as a dismantled railway line.¬† All that effort put into the building, all the excitement of travel, all those ordinary everyday journeys!¬† This line took holiday makers from the mills in¬†the Border towns to our home village of Spittal on the north sea coast.¬† You can just imagine the trains chugging along this track.studying the stoneworkSuch a fine piece of engineering.

The next piece of the walk took us along the road.walk hits the roadRoads are not¬†favourite walking, but it’s sunny, there’s almost no traffic so we have the world to ourselves – and look at that burgeoning rape crop about to break into heady yellow flower on the field on the right!rape coming into bloomThere’s another “marker” along this part of the journey and it’s this that makes the road walk worthwhile.¬† This is Norham railway station.¬† And it’s for sale – it went up for sale in 2013 for a cool ¬£420,000.Norham railway station - for saleIt was a railway museum for many years, but was closed, alas, by the time we discovered it.¬† More of its history here.Norham railway stationAnd – yes – that is a letter box in the wall, a Victoria Regina¬†too! How amazing¬†must it be to have your own private letter box!!Victorian post boxBefore long we leave the road and the route took us into¬†a watery world again – over a bridge …walk over small bridgeand alongside a stream.walk along little streamIt’s cool and dappled after the hot road walk.¬† Once more we’re walking through banks of wild garlic.walk through woods and ransomsNow time for our final “marker” – our pi√®ce de r√©sistance, you might say.¬† Here we turn in to Norham castle.arrive at Norham castleIt’s such a fine castle, with all the attributes that one associates with castles – moat, drawbridge, slit windows for arrows to pass through.¬†¬†And it has¬†a fine history to boot.¬† It was built in the 12th century by the Bishops of Durham as a defence against the Scots. Again and again it was besieged by the Scots – nine times in all – and captured four of those times. One of those times of Scottish ownership was just before the battle of Flodden.¬† James IVth besieged the castle for several days, battering the walls with his powerful artillery.Norham castleIt sits in a magnificently commanding position right up on high above the River Tweed, looking straight over to Scotland.Norham castle high above TweedFrom the castle you look down on those small folk in the village.Norham castle above villageAnd that’s where we’re heading now for the very final leg of our journey back to Norham church. Norham village is a pleasure to walk through, looking sunny and simple in the 21st century compared to those bitter fighting times of earlier centuries. Daffodils, village green, war memorial. Village perfection (but who knows what lies below this well-behaved surface …)sunny Norham village greenBack to the church …Walk back to Norham church– and that heavenly blossom where we started.Blossom at Norham church

Winter guests

Over the winter we take as much care as we can of the local wildlife.¬† We have discovered that that we can feed most birds¬†that come to our table¬†by scattering birdfood (grain and grated-up fatballs) along the path to our house, so we dispense with the bird feeders for this time of year as they aren’t really used, and the food there just goes mouldy.Birdfood on path in cold snowy conditionsThis brings a number of birds to our table.¬† Crows, pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds, robins and wrens all feed there – we do not discriminate.¬† All birds need food on cold hard days, and all birds are part of our local community.birds eating on pathWe even have a friendly – and very timid – seagull, and I am happy to feed this seagull (a young bird, I think) so long as he doesn’t bring all his friends along too.¬† Indeed, I rather admire his ingenuity in finding us, and keeping us to himself!Seagull on pathWhen we first arrived here, Poe was good enough to extend our winter hospitality to other small folk.¬† She would be out in all weather, looking for little lost souls.Poe venturing out in snowShe was sure they would prefer the nice warm inside to the snowy cold outside. Poe returning with mouseTrouble was, she would then expect them to play for a little while …Poe has a mouse… before she lost them, and they ran off to make new homes inside.¬† A year later, we discovered the small carcase of just such a forgotten mouse, trapped behind the grandfather clock.¬† Such a considerate mouse – never smelt in its decay.¬† Now it has a place of honour on our nature window display.desiccated mouse and other treasuresLuckily, Poe is now too old to go out a-mousing, but we have discovered with our shed spring cleaning that we are still caring for the local wild mouse population.¬† I keep my spinning fleece in the garden shed, as well as our supplies of bird feed.¬† The fleece is high up on shelves.fleece on high in shedOne year, I brought a particularly special bag of Crookabeck alpaca out of the shed into the kitchen for dyeing, and I discovered that somebody had not only been making a home in my beautiful fleece, but they’d been helping themselves to the food supplies available in the shed.¬† A cosy way to spend the winter, don’t you think, with food and comfy bedding both on hand?!Evidence of mice making themselves at homeWe always know what the mice are up to in the shed, because they leave little guilty teethmarks all over the bird food.mice eating bird fat ballsAnother year, I caught the little blighters in action.¬† Mice in grainTime for some shed spring cleaning soon – I wonder what we will find in there this year?

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)