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!

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 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?


“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a¬†time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; ¬†A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up …”

The writer of Ecclesiastes put it so well.¬† (Though you may have Pete Seeger’s version, memorably sung by the Byrds in your ears) ¬†For us, in the dark northern hemisphere,¬†it is¬†the breaking down¬†time of the year.¬† The time of decay, death, mouldering and rotting¬†¬† – and so we come to compost.

On of our first chores when we came to Seaview was to build a compost heap.  Stephen had dismantled the ridiculously high fencing so that we could finally see the sea from our house, and we had plenty of spare treated planks of wood.So he built two compost heaps Рone beside the other.  A work of genius!  As we fill one heap up with fresh victuals, the other heap gently matures.  Two states of compostOver the year, all sorts of goodies go into our compost heap.  It could in many ways be said to be a labour of love.

The core goodness is, of course, the green waste from the kitchen.¬† We eat a great deal of fruit and vegetables, and all their parings go in.¬† Eggs and anything meaty don’t – that would encourage rats.

All our garden waste goes into the compost heap – bar the very woody material, which wouldn’t disintegrate quickly enough. ¬†Grass cuttings are an important element.

To this we add treasures lovingly collected on our walks in the neighbourhood.¬† Cowpats from the friendly local cows.Horse manure – when we can get it!¬† This was nicely bagged up by some wonderful folk on Holy Island – free for the taking!¬† How very generous.Horse shit from Holy IslandSeaweed from the beach.¬† We never pick or cut seaweed – but then we don’t have to.¬† If you wait for the right time, there will always be storms to sweep it up onto the beach.Seaweed for collection at the beachSeaweed is a really important addition to the compost heap because of the minerals and sea goodness it adds to the pile.Seaweed on the compost heapSometimes the sea gives other treasures for our compost heap.¬† One winter, after terrible storms, huge piles of beech leaves came down the Tweed.¬† So large were these piles on the beach that they dwarfed Stephen.Huge piles of beech leaves washed down the TweedWe weren’t alone to appreciate these beech gifts – lots of little bugs and insects to feed hungry birds too.Beech leaves washed down the TweedAs we add all these good things to the “operational” compost heap, the other compost heap – the maturing one – is¬†just so good that plants (like these poppies) start to grow.¬† This is an indication¬†of the¬†biggest failing with our compost heap: it never gets warm enough to kill the seeds and weedlings.Poppies growing in the compost heapCome winter, come this time of year, we are at the turning point with our compost heaps.¬† One is very full indeed – Stephen has to jump on it at times to compress all the garden waste that has been piled up after the autumn clearances.This year's compost piled highAnd the other pile is rich, matured – and compressed.Lovely crumbly composted materialIt’s time to spread the goodness round and about.Loading up the wheelbarrow with compostAll sorts of treasures come to light … that’s the blade of the paring knife that went missing last year!¬† And there are worms – a sign of a healthy heap because, of course, it is they who have been eating our composting greenery and¬†vegetables¬†and excreting¬†them as loam.worm and potato peeler in compostTime to spread goodness around.¬† Great mulchy piles around shrubs …Compost nestling round the roots of shrubsAnd I do so love my little borders tidily put to bed like this!Compost spread on flower bedsAs we compost and reuse the goodness from garden, house and locality, we are part of a cycle that others follow too.¬† Last winter the farmer put great piles of cow dung (cleared out from the cattle’s indoor habitation) in the field up the hill from us.¬† By the end of the year there was a sizeable heap.Pile of manure beside fieldAfter harvest, it was loaded up onto tractors …Tractors collecting manureand spread on the fields …Spreading manure all ove fieldSpreading manure over the fieldCompost heaps have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.¬† I can still vividly remember the grass-cutting smell of my grandmother’s heap in her Oxfordshire garden¬†– probably because the heap sat under a large tree which we children liked to climb and hide in.

And my five-year old son Рon his first school trip to the beach at Exmouth Рcoming back with a puzzled teacher and a determined expression on his face as he lugged home some grubby, sandy carrier bags full of seaweed for my compost heap!

We are not the only ones to love the compost heap here at Seaview – our neighbour’s cat is particularly fond of this spot too.Our neighbour's cat likes the compost heap too

No-one sums it all up better for me than the poet, Edna Eglinton:

“What I am now is made from this rich compost, deep-stirred with fellowship and love, sunshine on green pastures, may-trees in blossom, and the heart singing.”

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.

Ros Castle Camp

The walk up to Ros Castle Camp is a favourite one of ours.¬† It’s not a long walk, and the reward of just fabulous views right across north Northumberland is well worth the steep climb. Looking up from where we parked the car, it doesn’t appear to be far to walk¬†at all.View of climb from parked carBut the walk was surprisingly muddy.Muddy climb up to Ros CastleWhen you pause to look back, you realise just how far you have climbed.¬† Our little white car is just a blip on the road.Looking back on the climbAt the top, you are blown away by the views – and¬†sometimes by wind! (not on this walk which was almost completely windless).¬† From here you can see for miles and miles and miles …..

There’s Bamburgh Castle on the coast ….Bamburgh Castle from the top2and the Farne Islands ….Farne Islands from the topIn the other direction, you can see the Cheviot range …Cheviot hills from the topYou can also see all too clearly the much-lamented wind turbines obstructing the views of the coast.windfarm from the topTo help identify the places you can see from here, the National Trust has set up a topograph.¬†about the topograph It’s a nice little stone enclosure from which to take photographs.K photographing in sunOn each of the four¬†stone walls¬†lie metal plaques indicating with precision what¬†you can expect to see on a good day.¬† This plaque points from Coldingham (on the left) to Dunstanburgh castle (partially obscured, but on the right).¬† In between, it points to Norham, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Magnetic North, North, Lindisfarne, Budle Bay, Bamburgh Castle and the Farne linesHere is the view to our home just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed. (Not that we could see Berwick from here – it was obscured by the hills.)Photographing our view over to BerwickThis is a great place to stop for a bun and a flask of coffee.¬† King of all you at the topYou may well ask where the castle and camp are.¬† Apparently – according to Wikipedia – there¬†was a 3,000 year old Iron Age hillfort here. Unfortunately, the remaining defences – banks and quarry ditches – are concealed by the bracken, and the visitor really has no sense of it having ever been a hillfort.

There is another modern construction here – a triangulation station (commonly known as a trig point).¬† At the base, you will find the Ordnance Survey bench mark code: S3697 (useful if you’re into “bagging” trig points!)triangulation point at topBut on the other side, there’s another plaque that tells some more of this place’s history.

Ros Castle Camp.¬† This height with its wide prospect was a favourite resort of Sir Edward Grey, afterwards Viscount Grey of Fallodon K.G., Foreign Secretary December 1905 to December 1916.¬† In 1936 it was presented to the National Trust as part of a National Memorial to him.Edward Grey memorialEdward Grey haunts and fascinates me.¬† As the plaque tells us, he was Foreign Secretary for the surprisingly long period from 1905 to 1916.¬† And, yes, he was the Foreign Secretary who took Britain¬†into the First World War.¬† He was one of those rare people in a position of extraordinary and terrifying power whose actions have¬†undoubtedly influenced world history¬† – and millions and millions of lives.¬† Of course, you can’t pin responsibility for the First World War on him – he was reacting to the Kaiser’s actions, and he took his decisions alongside the rest of the British Cabinet.¬† That he¬†realised what disasters this war would entail¬†is shown by his famous remark: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

The Greys were a Northumberland family of some distinction.¬† Edward Grey’s great-great-uncle was the Earl Grey, famous for the Reform Bill he introduced, and probably even more famous for the tea named after him (apparently created to conceal the chalky taste of the local water).¬† Earl Grey’s family home, Howick Hall, is nearby, as is Sir Edward Grey’s home, Fallodon (here photographed in 1932).Fallodon 1932Together with his first wife, Dorothy Widdrington of nearby Low Newton Hall, Edward Grey loved the Northumbrian countryside and way of life.¬† (Rumour has it that theirs was a chaste marriage and he had affaires and illegitimate children in London).¬† For many years he lived this strange dual existence with power and importance and sophistication in London¬†alternating with¬†frequent weekends at home in Northumberland and birds and walks and fishing there.¬† Unlike modern travellers, Grey was able to avail himself of the¬†family right to stop mainline trains at little Fallodon station, a few hundred yards from his door.¬† (This ancient right came to the family as part of the deal when the railway was¬†constructed through Grey land.¬† It, of course, no longer exists – the station has gone, and I read somewhere that the railway authorities bought it off the family in exchange for free unlimited travel!).¬† Edward Grey 1918 (aged 56)This picture is of Grey in 1918, a couple of years after he had ceased to be Foreign Secretary.¬† By this time his sight was severely limited – he had struggled with deteriorating¬†vision¬†for¬†quite a while¬†as a result of severe degeneration of the retina and choroid in each eye.¬† He had longed to retire¬†from politics earlier (and that would undoubtedly have improved his health and consequently his eyesight) but was restrained by Prime Minister Asquith.

So ironically, Grey Рan enthusiastic and knowledgeable birdwatcher and walker (he wrote a book called The Charm of Birds with his second wife), was only finally free to enjoy his beloved Northumberland when he was almost blind.  Here he is in 1931, a couple of years before he died,Edward Grey 1931When I walk up to Ros Castle Camp, I think of Edward Grey taking the same path, weighed down with the cares of State.  And as we watched kestrels and partridges, I thought of how little he could see.  He would have been able to smell the place though Рand wow, did it smell wonderful the day we visited!  Fresh and clean and heathery.

It is churlish to complain on a day with such gifts, but I do prefer it when the heather is flowering and purple as it was one August day last year.heather in AugustThat day I brought home a small posy of heather to remind me of a glorious walk.¬† This trip I’m having to resort to a virtual posy.heather picked on previous visits