Whilst I was striding about Liverpool buying LPs and ranting about street markets over the weekend, Sarah was on a ‘Walking Women’ holiday with a dozen or so other women in Northumberland. As you’ll see the weather was wonderful, the whole place is beyond gorgeous. And it just makes you sick doesn’t it?
No but it looks like she had a great time and, now she’s back home, she shares it here with the rest of us, so we can dream about going there too.
Thursday 20th March, two trains from Liverpool (change at York), the X18 bus from Berwick (it’s an Arriva so strangely familiar), and I arrive in the village of Bamburgh just before 3pm. I head straight for the castle, which sits so invitingly at the end of the road.
I’m here for four nights, in Bamburgh, on a Walking Women holiday – it’s their ‘Gentle Northumbrian Coast’ holiday. I need a break, I want to do something outdoors and I don’t want to have to think about my arrangements. So this sounds perfect. Organised walking doesn’t begin until tomorrow… so I’m off to explore on my own for a bit.
First I find the beach, and a huge expanse of sea and sky – but that’s Northumberland, lots of coast and lots of castles. I’m off for a look round it.
I walk up the hill to the castle entrance, and have to admit I do have a moment where I wonder whether it’s worth it – entrance is £9.95. But since I haven’t been in this area for 25 years (and didn’t visit the castle then), who knows when I’ll be this close. So I decide to go in, and buy a handbook for an additional £1. The sign at the entrance says ‘Bamburgh Castle: The King of Castles’, which seems a bit boastful… but I’m in.
Evidence that this is a castle that has been used to defend Northumberland is immediately apparent. There has been some sort of fort here since about 500, this stone castle was begun by the Normans and has had a varied history, finally ending up in the hands of the Victorian industrialist William Armstrong. He restored the castle, and it is still owned by the Armstrong family, but they no longer live there, preferring life out of the public gaze in a nearby farm. Some of the castle is available to rent as private apartments, and is of course open to the public. Also it’s ‘the North’s Premiere Wedding Venue’ – well, according to their own website. Well it’s probably very expensive maintaining all those old stones isn’t it?
Anyway, the castle entrance fee gives me unlimited access to the castle grounds and also to a 14 room tour of the ‘State Rooms’. This takes me through a sequence of semi-furnished rooms containing displays of china and other collections and artefacts.
As I leave, the sun has come out and it is a golden evening. I can’t help wondering why anyone needs quite so much space, so many dinner sets (that they don’t use), and collections of snuff boxes and other stuff… but have still enjoyed my visit.
The next day promises to be golden as dawn breaks.
First this morning I do a quick visit to the church in Bamburgh. It’s St Aidan’s, named after the saint who came here from Iona to bring Christianity to this area, at the request of King Oswald.
And then it’s off for our first walk together. Across the beach to nearby Seahouses. It’s simply stunning.
The Whin Sill is a geological feature that runs across Britain. In the Northumberland Coast the Whin Sill forms the Farne Islands (off the coast off Seahouses) and some dramatic stretches of coastline. In the Northumberland National Park the Whin Sill is a formidable natural rampart for Hadrian’s Wall. It is a volcanic rock called dolerite.
At Seahouses we have a warming cup of tea, find out that we can’t visit the Farne Islands by boat as it’s too windy and so walk back along the country lanes and the Northeast coastal path.
The next morning we visit the Grace Darling museum in Bamburgh. Grace Darling was a lighthouse keeper’s daughter on the Farne Islands, and in 1838 famously helped in an amazing rescue of the shipwreck of the Forfarshire. She became a legend for doing so. Grace did not enjoy her fame and she had become very weak. Sadly Grace died just four years later from tuberculosis, age 26.
We start our walk from Howick, and geological interest continues, with large areas of whinstone clearly visible from our cliff walk.
The Ship Inn stands in the corner of an open ended square of white-washed cottages set around a green and looks out to sea across the beautiful sandy beach of Newton Haven. Run by mother and daughter team Christine and Hannah, The Ship Inn is very proud of its growing reputation for serving good simple food, and for providing friendly welcoming service and brewing their own beer. Couldn’t have wished for a nicer way to end a perfect day. Read more about them here.
Sunday. Our third walk is to Holy Island, Lindisfarne. This is a tidal island, accessible across a causeway at low tide.
From the wild and windy coastal walk we arrive at the small settlement on Lindisfarne which is where most day trippers and tourists are to be found. Coffee shops, pubs and shops cater for them. Having spent so much time away from this ‘noise’ I head off for the priory. The priory was founded by Saint Aidan in 635. What survives of this monastry is simply magical.
I find myself a sheltered space here, against the wall and sit peacefully for an hour. I’d walked past the castle, also now a ‘wedding venue’, which was built in 1550. This was a former fort which became a holiday home of a wealthy Edwardian bachelor seeking a quiet retreat from London, who commissioned architect Edwin Lutyens to renovate it. Gertrude Jekyll created a plan for a walled garden here, which I visited… a can’t help thinking it’s a strangely challenging place to try and create a garden.
This is a sculpture by Fenwick Lawson called ‘The Journey’, created in 1999. Here the body of Saint Cuthbert, in a coffin, is being carried by six bearers. Cuthbert was a monk who had a vision the night that Saint Aiden died, and became the bishop at Lindisfarne. After his death he became one of the most important medieval saints of Northern England, his body was carried to Durham and the cathedral built there.
I find this sculpture incredibly moving, and reflect that I have not seen this carrying of a coffin in painting or sculpture before, and yet it is one of the most sacred things we do. Very moving.
Monday. Our last day. Our final walk is a short walk, allowing us to leave after lunch to travel home. We walk on footpaths across fields and the golf course in Bamburgh, arriving at the cliff top view of Budle Bay.
Reluctantly we head back to Bamburgh, for a final beach walk.