Sunday, 3 September 2017


Empty Beach
There is something rather irresistible about circumnavigating an island and when I saw this walk in the Pathfinder Guide vol 35 Northumberland and the Scottish Borders (walk number 12) I just knew we had to do it.  There was something about the idea of being pilgrims that appealed too - the fact that countless people have been over to celebrate the Holy Island and its special spiritual history was too good to miss.  We had saved it until the last day of our sojourn in the County for I knew that it was the optimum time to make sure we had the tides in our favour.  Part of its specialness is the fact that you cannot just come when you want - you can only come when the tides allow you to do so.

Stark Warning
We arrived about 20 minutes before the official safe time and were pleased to see that the tide had already done its thing.  The road across the causeway was freshly washed by the sea and was still mostly wet where the seawater had only just relented.  As we were there before the official time we were actually one of the first visitors of the day and that showed when we got to the car park and had our pick of spaces.  When we had parked up we went in the opposite direction to most of the visitors as we headed away from the only settlement on the island (Lindisfarne) and struck off for the north coast.

Setting Off
Holy Island is mostly a world of dunes.  I am not sure how it came to have the holiest of connections (we have St Cuthbert to thank for that), but I think I could see the inspiration especially today.  We weren't just lucky with the tides but also with the weather - it was by far the best day of the whole week in Northumberland.  The combination of blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds, extensive views and the rolling sand dunes would be enough to inspire anyone I reckon.

Big Clouds In The Dunes
As we entered the sand dune area we saw a big warning sign.  This was about the invasive species called piri-piri burr which emanates from New Zealand and was thought to have been introduced accidentally on wool that came from Down Under and washed in the Tweed.  The seeds came down the river, washed up on the beach and thrived in the sand dunes.  As with a lot of invasive species it crowds out the local plantlife as it thrives.  Part of the warning was about dogs - their fur seems to collect the burrs very easily and helps with the spread.

Piri Piri Burrs
Funnily enough we didn't see any on the first mile or so of our walk and weren't sure what it looked like.  We did see quite a few species other than the standard marram grass - vipers bugloss, daisies and thistles.  All must be pretty hardy to live in such a hostile environment.  Despite the amount of rainfall in these parts most is not avaolable to the plants as it travels quickly down through the porous sand.  Eventually we came to the most magnificent beach after climbing through all the sand dunes.  The view was astonishing - ahead we could see into Scotland and St Abbs Head on the horizon.  A little nearer was the border town of Berwick on Tweed - it looked most invited along a sandy beach that just seemed to go on forever.  Apart from a dog-walking couple who left almost as quickly as we arrived (did we say something?) we had the entire beach to ourselves - it was astonishing!  Elsewhere in the country a beach of this quality would surely be heaving...

Unnamed Bay
As we wandered along the beach we realised very quickly that this would not be an option that would allow us to continue very far as ahead of us the sand quickly turned into rock pools.  We ended up back at the dunes and as we climbed up one quite high one the unmistakable sound of seals could be heard.  It was something that we remembered from our trip to Rathlin Island some years ago.  Sure enough on a rocks some distance out to sea we could see them calling to each other.  It was a sound that would stay with us for some time to come. 

The sand dunes were quite difficult to negotiate but at last we came to a  large seemingly unnamed bay.  This was a lovely sandy beach frequented by large numbers of seabirds.  In particular we saw godwits, sand pipers, oystercatchers and black headed gulls.  We stopped here for a while and had a spot of lunch and enjoyed our surroundings.  We weren't alone now - there were a few other people on this beach although to be fair there was plenty of room for all of us!  After having a spot of lunch we were ready to carry on.  Our first port of call was to examine the rather prominent looking daymark on a bluff above the beach.  We weren't alone now - some of the more intrepid visitors to the island had by now now found there way out here too.

Once we had got to the daymark it was easy to see why the numbers of people had grown as it was a lot easier to reach it from the south than the direction from which we had come courtesy of a delightful clifftop path.  The scenery changed dramatically here.  The dunes were all behind us now and the southern part of the island is made from the same dolerite that we had encountered at Craster, being part of the Whin Sill intrusion.

Jekyll's Garden
From the daymark we could see the famous castle, sadly under a very large complex of scaffolding and sheeting as it undergoes some much needed restoration.  For the next mile of the walk that was our focus, although it never seemed to get any nearer!  By now the puffy white clouds that had been bobbing across the sky were coalescing to form bigger black clouds and the sky looked more threatening than benign.  Sadly it also meant that there were longer periods between sunny spells.  It could have been worse though as off in the distance were some pretty fierce looking showers and we counted ourselves lucky that none of them tracked over us for there was no protection.

Sadly when we got to the castle we realised that it wasn't open to the public while the restoration work was going on.  I remember as a boy coming here and being disappointed by not going inside even though I was desperate to look round.  I don't even remember the reason but I couldn't help curse my luck that I missed out again.  We had to console ourselves instead by going to the small walled garden across the way.  This little oasis was thronged with visitors, which rather detracted from its serenity but we did sit and enjoy the flowers and insects for a while.

The path now led into the village where most of the visitors to the island were to be found.  Before going into the village proper though our route took us around the small harbour and up on to a small ridge where there was a coastguard lookout.  The view from here across the tidal reaches separating the island from the mainland was quite special and the view extended down as far as the mighty fortress of Bamburgh Castle.

This Way To The Castle
The clouds had relented once again and on the other side of the ridge was the remains of Lindisfarne Priory, the main reason for the settlement.  The golden stone that it was built from positively gleamed in the sunshine.  The girls didn't really want to look around - I guess they could see most of it from this lofty perch.  We did take a look around the old lifeboat station at the bottom though.  This area has a proud history of lifeboats from the era of Grace Darling back in Victorian times.  The present day RNLI traces its history back to those days.  The station is no longer used but inside were plenty of memories of the bravery of all the lifeboat men and women that saved life and limb with their daring rescues.

War Memorial
The last place we looked was around the village. It was far busier than I remember it as a boy and there were plenty of shopping opportunities to entice the tourist.  I'll bet that most visitors don't venture far from here so we felt a little smug that we had seen pretty much everything that the island has to offer including the wild north side.  In fact we had done the walk a lot quicker than we anticipated and by now the weather had reverted to the unsettled squally showers that had been a feature of much of the week.  We left long before the tide came in and overwhelmed the causeway.  I wonder what the island is like between tides?  It must be a very different place when all the crowds have gone.

Lindisfarne Priory

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for really is a quite stunning part of the country....