Wednesday, August 24th 2016
The destination we have in mind for today is an unusual one. It will take a train journey and a bus ride to reach it and will be accessible only at certain times. Maybe that has given you an inkling as to where we are going.
Leading up from our hotel is a steep street called simply Side. It passes under a railway bridge and on the other side of this is to be found the curiosity pictured below.
I mentioned in my previous entry that Newcastle is hilly in places and that there are flights of steps. This must once have been a staircase like Dog Leap Stairs but the area at the bottom has been cleared to make a car park, leaving the stairs truncated. I hope the top end is closed off as you would not want to stumble down them in the dark.
The first part of our trip was a train journey to Berwick-upon-Tweed (Berwick is, of course, pronounced ‘berrick’). This small but historic town sits, as its name suggests, at the mouth of the River Tweed, north along the coast from Newcastle. This map shows its location and you will see how close it is to the modern border of Scotland. Founded by the Anglo-Saxons within the Kingdom of Northumbria, Berwick became a bone of contention between the Scottish and English nations and changed hands many times before finally becoming an English town in 1482.
Our way into town led through Scots Gate in the town wall built in Elizabethan times. Through the archway, in the background, you can see the tall clock tower of the Town Hall.
Near the wall we found another historical vestige, a drinking fountain raised to commemorate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. Its spouts are in the form of the head of the imperial lion:
Is there any significance in the fact that this monument lies outside the fortifications, rather than within? Probably not, but, given Berwick’s history, the question hovers in the back of my mind.
The clock tower of the Town Hall, 150 feet tall, makes this building the most prominent landmark of the town. Completed in 1754, it is an impressive site with a main entrance framed with four massive columns. The top floor still has bars on the windows from the time when it served as the town jail. This is now a museum. The building is Grade I listed.
We did not stay long in Berwick, having just enough time to have lunch and take a quick look around. We then returned to the station, to catch, not a train but a bus. A number 477 would take us to our intended destination.
That destination is the island of Lindisfarne, also known (as many islands are) as Holy Island. This map shows the island’s location relative the Berwick and you can click the image to see the corresponding Google Map.
You might be wondering how you travel from the mainland to an island by bus. The answer is: cautiously! The above map shows the island and also the road to it – that vulnerable-looking white line.
Lindisfarne is in fact a tidal island, connected to the mainland by a sandy region that is covered by the sea at high tide. You can therefore access the island on foot or by vehicle only at certain times. The route for vehicles is a road called the Causeway and there is also a footpath called the Pilgrims’ Path, marked by tall poles standing in the sand. Because both the road and the footpath disappear beneath the waves as the tide rises, it is essential to make sure you understand the times when it is safe to cross.
We felt perfectly safe because we were taking the scheduled bus service, number 477. The bus runs at different times each day, depending on the tides, and the timetable is displayed at bus stops.
We duly caught the bus at the railway station and set off. The bus was a small single-decker and as we proceeded, we picked up more and more people until the driver decided, correctly, that no more could be allowed on board. She radioed base and they agreed to send an extra bus. The driver also requested that they provide a larger bus for subsequent journeys in view of the number wishing to travel.
While we were crossing to the island, the tide was out and the road ran over what seemed to be a broad, flat expanse of sand. Cars were parked on the sand beside the road and there were people strolling on the sands, children running about and it was hard to imagine that this would all be covered by water in a few short hours.
The island is quite small and on such a fine, sunny day, the place was crowded. My preferred scenes, therefore, were views away from the inland areas, such as the one above, on the southern end of the island looking out to sea. Straight ahead, across the water is visible part of one of the smaller islands, known as Hobthrush or St Cuthbert’s Isle, now a nature reserve. Near the left edge of the photo you see Lindisfarne Castle. This was built in the 16th century when there were still tensions between England and Scotland. It can be visited but we did not do so. Perhaps another time.
Lindisfarne has its own resident community whose activities include fishing and farming. It has also been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We spotted these huts made from old boats upturned, a good example of recycling!
This view shows part of the ruins of the priory and, on the left, the Lookout Tower. (More about these below.)
We climbed up onto the Heugh (pronounced, I think, like the name ‘Hugh’), a 17th fort and the island’s highest point. From here you get better views of certain features than you do lower down.
These views can be compared with the earlier ones taken lower down.
Now known as the Lookout Tower, this structure was built in the 1940s for the coastguard but has now been adapted as an observation platform for visitors, providing panoramic views of the island.
The ruins of the ancient priory are one of the landmark historic features of the island. It was the priory, of course, that gained Lindisfarne its epithet Holy Island.
In the 7th century, Northumbrian King Oswald invited the Irish monk Aidan to be bishop of his kingdom, giving him Lindisfarne on which to build a monastery. A monk named Cuthbert joined the monastery, rising to become its prior and the bishop of Northumbria and eventually the North’s most important saint. The priory became a centre for scholarship and learning and in the 8th century produced the Lindisfarne Gospels.
In the face of Viking raids from the late 8th century onwards, the monks retreated from Lindisfarne, abandoning it entirely in 875. Carrying with them the remains of St Cuthbert, they eventually settled in Durham. In 1069, however, the violence of the ‘harrying of the North’ by the forces of William the Conqueror, caused the Durham monks to seek temporary refuge on Lindisfarne. Although this was a brief visit, it seems to have led to a re-establishment of the Holy Island priory though on relatively small scale. The site of St Cuthbert’s original burial came to be regarded as a sacred site and attracted pilgrims.
The priory survived the 12th-century Border Wars, being fortified and for a time garrisoned with soldiers for protection but finally met its end in 1537 with the suppression of religious houses by Henry VIII. Though the buildings survived for a while because they formed part of the Tudor northern defences, by the 18th century they had fallen into a ruinous state but had become a tourist attraction, a position that they continue to hold.
We sat for a while absorbing the atmosphere of the island which, despite the crowds, was fairly peaceful. We had checked the times of the bus back to Berwick but were a little concerned because the bus had been full on the way here and we didn’t want to risk being turned away because there were more passengers than the bus could hold. So we went to the bus stop good and early to make sure of a seat. We found that others had had the same idea and there was already a queue!
After a long wait, the 477 arrived, driven by the same driver as before, but this time she was at the wheel of a motor coach, not just a small bus, so there was plenty of room.
Interesting as the historic buildings and traces are, my preferred memories of Lindisfarne are its views of sea and sky, as below: