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.

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Edin’s Hall Broch

Last week Stephen took me to Edin’s Hall Broch.   He had discovered it on one of his longer walks, but I had never been there before – indeed, had never even heard of it.

As it turns out, Edin’s Hall Broch is a very remarkable place, and I am surprised more people don’t know about it.  Or perhaps they do.  Perhaps it’s just another closely guarded Borders/Northumbrian secret.

For those of you who (like me) don’t even know what a broch is, here is a brief summary of received internet wisdom.

There is much debate about their function and purpose.  What is agreed is that they are only found in Scotland, they are superb examples of drystone architecture, and they are round.  Nobody is sure whether they were built for defensive purposes or to be lived in as farmsteads.

But ooooh – I do love the word “Broch”!  I roll it round my lips and savour the sound – quite different from any other word I know. Stephen in Edin's Hall Broch It wasn’t really that special a day to be out.  As you can tell from our photos, the day was dull, and it was quite sharply cold for May.  But it was still a comfortable – and very interesting – walk from the carpark, about a mile and half from the ruins.

After a short walk through a forested area, you cross the Whiteadder Water by the Elba Footbridge.  The Whiteadder Water then runs parallel to the walk as you climb the hill up to the broch.Crossing Elba footbridgeThe Whiteadder Water is magnificent here, swirling dramatically over craggy rocks.  But, wait – is there a yellow conspiracy afoot?!  There’s masses of gorgeous clumps of golden scented gorse, many of the trees are in that early flush of colour when the leaves are transparent yellowy-pale-green, – and to cap it all we saw a Yellow Wagtail bobbing around on the rocks in the stream! Looking down at the Whiteadder waterWhere the scenery wasn’t yellow and green, it was silvery-white.  The lichen is as much an ornament on these blackthorn trees as their own blossom.Lichen on treeOur route takes us on up and up.  The sheep gaze down anxiously at us from the ridge, not sure whether we are friend or foe.  Don’t worry, sheepy friends, we’re travelling up to the right of this pylon.

Ah yes, this pylon.  We were happily admiring the beauty and wildness of the place when we realised that there was a huge great plonking pylon – no, a chain of pylons striding across the valley.  How fascinating that we’d subconsciously “subtracted” it from our awareness.  How strange too that we object to wind farms but seem oblivious to these earlier man-made monstrosities.Pylons, sheep and gorseThe way is well-signposted.  But look behind the sign, and there’s a telling indication of modern farming.  That’s the old drystone wall broken and crumbling, and it’s been superceded by an ugly barbed-wire fence (which you can just see in the foreground of the photo).  How very sad.Route sign to Edin's Hall BrochNature gives and it takes.  En route we found evidence of the harsh reality of nature red in tooth and claw.  Somebody’s dined here….perhaps the sparrowhawk we saw wheeling above?Nature red in tooth and clawHowever the kindly sheep have left me some lovely bits of fleece to collect – it’s the softest and cleanest fleece I have found out and about for a long time.  Wish I could catch a sheep to take some more fleece home with me!fleeceFinally, we get to the top of the hill, and there – amid a lot of other stone ruins (it’s a prehistoric hill fort) – is Edin’s Hall Broch!  (You get a really good idea of the whole site with this aerial picture on the Welcome to Scotland website.)Approaching Edin's Hall BrochThe people who built this place knew about dry stone walls – they could teach modern farmers a thing or two.  Just look at the size of the stones at the base of this building!huge stones at base of wallsThe size of the walls too is enormous – at their maximum they are over 5 metres wide.thick wallsThere’s a proper entrance, and what must be a front door slab lying on the ground beside.entrance to Edin's Hall BrochOn either side of the front entrance, there are guard rooms.entrance to guard roomsSet in these huge walls around are well-built steps and more rooms. stone steps Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this place is that this is one of only a handful of brochs in the Lowlands.  They are mostly found in northern western Scotland.   And this broch is not like the northern brochs – it’s too large in diameter for starters, so there are doubts that it was ever roofed.  As you will see on the information board reproduced below, Historic Scotland have come up with the hypothesis that somebody in the 2nd century AD travelled south bringing broch-building skills with them and adapted them to this Border locality.Historic Scotland information boardWho knows?

What we do know, however, is that when this site was first excavated in the late 19th century, a number of artifacts were found (these were donated to the Museum of Scotland).  They include a stone spindle whorl, a piece of jet ring, an amber bead, an oyster shell, bones and a fragment of a glass bracelet.  Very much the normal sort of possessions of people’s lives – food, ornamentation, and the means to clothe oneself.

I’d read about spindle whorls recently in Rebecca’s Needle and Spindle blog.  She describes so clearly what an vital part they had to play in basic survival tactics – and that would have been especially the case in these colder northern climes.

So – I’m once again stretching my imagination back to the people who lived here, and I’m finding that they (like me) enjoyed a bit of bling.  Ancestors of the modern sheep grazing around would have been of value to them for clothing – just as they are to me.

The modern world interrupts my old-times reverie. Well – a slightly more modern world.  Down through the trees, on the other side of the Whiteadder Water, there’s a glimpse of an intriguing house – actually another Round House.  Apparently it’s The Retreat, built in the late 18th century by the Earl of Wemyss as a shooting lodge.  You can’t help wondering if he was referencing the round broch on the opposite hill in his choice of architecture……  It looks very comfortable and well-appointed compared to the exposed stony broch of the ancients.looking down at The Retreat