Flotsam and Jetsam

beach after a stormOne of the great, great pleasures of living by the sea are the treasures you find  on all those everyday beach walks.

All sorts of things get washed up on the beach.  It doesn’t necessarily take a storm out at sea for us to find intriguing objects on the beach –  but it helps.blue glove on beachWe find so many odd shoes!washed up trainerslost flipflopAnd bare legs too!washed up doll's legYou can’t help wondering about the stories behind these finds.  Were there hysterics when the doll’s leg got washed away?  Furious parents because a teenager had lost one of a new pair of trainers? Was this vegetable meant for Sunday lunch?washed up vegetablesWe couldn’t believe it when we found false teeth on the beach!  – how on earth?!!! But were somewhat shamefaced when we recounted this story to my aunt, only to be told it had happened to her once…. oh dear. teeth on beachSome finds are more disturbing.  After the terrible floods last winter, we found several dead sheep on the beach, washed down the river Tweed.dead sheep on the beachA pushchair – was this a terrible accident, or just lazy parents who wanted to dispose of an old broken one?washed up push chairSome things come back with us, and we have a “nature table” display on one of the window sills in our kitchen specially dedicated to these finds.Yes, those are the teeth!  Three baby dummies, would you believe it? And all sorts of children’s toys. I love Dumbo – we have garlanded her with a child’s bracelet which happened to come home with us on the same day as we found her.garlanded dumbo It has metamorphosed with sea growth into something rich and strange. Remember Ariel’s song in Shakespeare’s Tempest?

“Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade.
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.”
dumbo's necklaceThere are sea potatoes and sea urchins … and plastic too. I thought this was a beautiful sea-blue  jellyfish when I found it -but it is actually the bottom of a water bottle and only mimics a living creature.  How deadly – for all those lost pieces of plastic bottle are being eroded into pellets that sea-creatures ingest.plastic jellyfishOne special Christmas, we found this small china face. It has pride of place now on the window display.china faceTwo other special things share the pride of place spot: our house mouse and the fish skeleton.

The mouse is not, of course, a sea find.  It was brought into our house alive by our elderly cat, Poe, when we first arrived here – and she promptly lost it.  Many months later, when moving furniture, we found its desiccated body (why hadn’t it smelt?). Presumably, it had hidden from Poe for so long that it had died of starvation. We placed it here on the window ledge, a small furry creature – and then the moths came by and ate its fur.  No respecters of death, they!  So here it is, just papery skin, and presumably all internal organs intact.mouse and fishThe fish skeleton is such a beauty!  Picked clean by bird or fish or the elements, and just look at the curve of that spine!fish bone as foundYou’ll have realised that all sorts finds their place here. In a humble way, it is our own “cabinet of curiosities”.

Robert Macfarlane writing in Landmarks, tells us of “the ‘wonder-rooms’ of the Renaissance and the Baroque, in which examples of natural history (naturalia), precious artefacts (arteficialia), scientific instruments (scientifica), findings from distant realms (exotica) and items of inexplicable origin and form (miribilia) were gathered and displayed.”

So here are: a pigeon’s claw (still bearing its number), seaglass, feathers, butterflies, shells, cuddy beads (on which more later), glass stoppers, feathers, the pincer of a small crab and fossilised coral. Have you ever played memory games as a child or at a party? These items would be good for that: I packed my portmanteau and in it I put … racing pigeon clawThe trouble is our sea-treasures have spread around the house.  The kitchen table doesn’t only have place mats, conserves and fruit – it’s been taken over with broken china and seaglass. Oh goodness – four bowls of broken China and seaglass!sea treasures on the kitchen tableAnd in the sitting-room, there’s a small oblong tray with a particularly intriguing treasure. We think its the contents of a ready-to-hatch gull’s egg.  It would appear that some predator ate the good stuff and left the soft feathery scalp.oblong tray of treasuresThe cats love it!Ilsa with treasureAnd then in the conservatory – why there are more bowls of sea-treasure! Fossils, toys, old bits of china and seaglass.  I particularly love anything we find that has writing on it.  More bowls of sea treasureEvery now and then, it’s fun to play with the finds.blue and white china (mostly)  To pick out the finely patterned pieces and the lettered ones too.playing with lettered chinaTo sort by colour.playing with green and redI love the mixture of red-hot geraniums and bowls of old blue and white china.conservatory bowls of blue and white chinaWe find a lot of fossils on the beach round here. Apparently, there is a fossilised coral reef on these shores and the large streaky stone is a piece from that, nicely rounded by the waves.  The other pieces are bits we have picked up on nearby Cocklawburn Beach where we find many crinoid fossils.fossils in the conservatoryCrinoids (or sea-lilies) were plant-liked animals which inhabited these shores thousands of years ago. Locally, we often find them as ring-shaped segments. They are known as Cuddy Beads after St Cuthbert who lived on the nearby Holy Island of Lindisfarne (Cuddy is the Northumbrian name for Cuthbert). According to legend, Cuthbert himself used these segments to construct rosaries – and others say that later folk around would also use them as rosary beads.

Here are some of our Cuddy Beads – some are fat, some thin, some squashed, some already come with holes punched, and some are still in the their stone casing.  I particularly love the ones that have starry holes. You can see particularly fine examples of branching Crinoid fossils on Palaeontologist fiann_smithwick’s Instagram feed.some of our cuddy beadsWhen my daughter Helen last visited she put together this wonderful composite picture of fossils we found on the local beaches.fossilsIn the garden, there are yet more piles of seaside treasure – old toys, shoes, a doll’s leg, interesting stones.sea treasures amid the garden flowersThere are interesting bits of wood too.sea woodpoppies and seawoodTruly the seaside is a magic place.  You can lose yourself for hours there, searching for treasure.absorbed in searching for sea treasureI think e.e.cummings puts it best:

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.bottom of a glass jar

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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 – the 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 pièce de résistance, 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

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 – especially 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

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 – and 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 – we 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 – simple 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