Northumberland September 2019

Saturday 7th September  Leave home 9.00 am.  A14 then A1 north.  Coffee and croissant at Blyth Services.  Road signs define the north: Rotherham, Doncaster, Leeds, Harrogate, York, Ripon, Darlington, Middlesbrough, Durham, Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle – Upon –Tyne.  A gazetteer of a one-time industrial Britain punctuated by historic town gentility.

Beyond Newcastle the road is quiet; the place names have a different history, Morpeth, Rothbury, Amble and Alnwick.  Cross country to Beadnell.  Marram Cottage, 19 The Wamses (named after North and South Wamses in the Farne Islands), looks out onto dunes.  Scramble up through the spikey marram grass.  Sandy sweep of Beadnell Bay runs south from the harbour to jagged headlands and distant ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle.

Sunday 8th September  Out exploring the village.  First, north along a rocky shore towards Annstead Rocks; oystercatchers piping, turnstones picking over the seaweed and eiders bobbing offshore in the gentle waves.  Small deli-like shop; bought mushrooms, postcards and the Observer.  Main beach animated by families enjoying September sun.  Paddled, cold.

After lunch to Dunstan Steads and walk by the golf course to Dunstanburgh Castle.  Dramatic setting: boulder strewn shore and deeply fissures dolerite crags topped by soaring devastated towers.  14th century, originally for Earl Thomas of Lancaster; fell into decay after the Wars of the Roses.  Fulmars sailing stiff-winged round cliffs; gannets diving out to sea; swallows twittering in pre-migration gatherings.

Monday 9th September  Day dawns grey.  To Alnwick intending to visit Castle and Garden.  Rain.  Enthusiasm dampened by the wet and the theme park atmosphere around the Castle; walk into town instead.  Attractive – hills, twists and turns, fine buildings in mellow stone, useful local shops.  Lunch at the Olive Branch Café.  The Tour of Britain Cycle Race rushes through.  Much hooting, a blur of colour and the buzz of tyres on wet tarmac and chains on sprockets.  Police drivers and motor cyclists enjoy the most fun they have had in ages.

Stop at Beadnell Towers on the way back to book dinner.  ‘Do you have a table for this evening?’ ‘How Many?’  ‘Two.’  ‘Will you be bringing a dog?’ ‘No.’  Dogs, border terriers to wolf hounds, de rigueur companions or accessories here  Dinner fine, apart from north-south debate about the meaning of ‘wilted greens’ – sugar snap peas v greens.

Getting a feel for Beadnell.  Village centred on the church, The Towers, The Craster Arms and Beadnell Hall.  Half a mile away, the harbour, lime kilns (1798) and curious Beach Court.  In between a rash of building including converted fishermen’s cottages and new development – both conversions and new build suggest little planning control.  Many holiday homes and holiday lets lend a deserted air.  Did someone once have a grander vision for Beadnell?  Several large houses with features of modern movement/art deco style (11, 23, 66-68, 134 and 138 Harbour Road), beautifully realised at 1-2 The Haven.

Tuesday 10th September   Up the coast to Bamburgh via Seahouses.  Pevsner calls Seahouses a ‘pretty fishing port’ – well, it may have been in 1957.  Queues wait for boats to carry them to the Farne Islands.

Bamburgh Castle, as complete as Dunstanburgh is ruined, looms over the shore.  Walk on the beach to the lighthouse at Harkness Rocks.  Looking back along the strand dark figures like something Lowry might have painted if he ever got to the seaside.  (Did he? Get to the seaside that is.)

Back at Beadnell long walk on the beach.  Receding tide leaves surface patterns of black coal sand.  Tractor trundles across the shore, backs into the sea and hooks up with a Zodiac bringing divers back from exploring the Farnes.  Dunstanburgh’s towers shift with the changing perspective and disappear behind a hill with all the mystery of an illusion.  A lone figure flies a rainbow kite that dives drumming like a snipe.

Wednesday 11th September  To Lindisfarne (origin of name uncertain).  Stop at two level crossings on the East Coast Main Line for trains speeding north. Across Holy Island Sands at 8.15 am; open vista of sand and saltmarsh under wide blue skies.  The bubbling call of a curlew flies in on the wind.  Park and walk up towards the Castle.  White horses whipped up in the harbour; across the water John Dobson’s early 19th century Guile Point lighthouses rise as slender obelisks from the sand.

Turn away from the Castle and circle a meadow up to a stone enclosure, the Gertrude Jekyll garden.  The colour palette yellow with touches of white and a bed of red sedum; it’s faintly redolent of roses and sweet peas.  The wind skips over the wall and sets the flowers dancing.  Round the front of the Castle and back down towards the village, solitary contraflow to the figures walking up.  Fishermen’s huts made from the cut off hulls of upturned boats.  Follow the scent of roasting coffee up Marygate to Pilgrims Coffee House.

Priory Church: chevron decorated arches; dark red stone weathered into organic vermiculated surface.  Tourists traipse round now, but the numen of pilgrimage seeps out from the stones.  St Mary’s church gloomy at first, then eyes adjust.  Traces of ancient arches and roofs show the adaptations of centuries.  Modern window depicts eider, puffin, seals, sands, upturned boats etc.  Visitors come in and take photographs – few sit, only two pray.  Back along St Cuthbert’s Way. Hundreds of gulls sit silently on Budle Bay.

Thursday 12th September  Driving towards Alnwick, see sign for Craster, decide to investigate.  Signs then discontinuous at best, confusing at worst. Eventually brave the castellated gateway at the end of an avenue and find a way in. Parking in the car park at the top of the village only. Drive down to overlook the harbour.  All looks tidy; places to eat and galleries for visitors, not the slightly scruffy work-a-day place redolent of old lobster pots and kipper smoking I recall from an earlier visit (1988). Stop at The Stable Yard next to Craster Tower; drinks and large slices of cake.

On to Alnwick under heavy skies.  Make it into the Castle Garden this time.  Dramatic Grand Cascade, gushing, beautiful and fun.  Ornamental Garden surrounded by high brick wall; chequer board of planting crossed by water bubbling over cobbles; flowers, shrubs and fruit trees; secret places for sitting in peace.  Cherry orchard dropping dramatically down a slope; high Hornbeam Tunnel leads to an enormous sycamore.  The Poison Garden: guide revels in lurid tales of cannabis and khat, hemlock and deadly nightshade, foxgloves and aquilegia, oleander and autumn crocus.  Rain.

Back at Beadnell out onto Ebb’s Nook, reddish rocks dipping towards the sea.  Site of former chapel dedicated to St Ebba, early 13th century; three fishermen cast optimistically from the far point.  Sky clearing; lighthouses on the Farnes catch the sun.

Friday 13th September  6.35 am out on Ebb’s Nook again waiting in chilly breeze for sunrise; sky purplish shading to deep orange touching the steely sea, wispy clouds tinted to rosy hues. 6.43 a fragment of yellow on the horizon; the lowest clouds begin to turn to gold.  The sun rises lighting a path from horizon to shore.  Rocks and marram grass take on tone and texture; the breeze seems a little less cold.  Welcome coffee back at the cottage.

Late breakfast and time to read – Half a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Walk into what Pevsner calls ‘the modern village’.  St Ebba, built c. 1740 and Gothicised later; spire with odd pierced octagonal screen at its foot.  Windows with charming details.  Plaques and memorials to the Taylors.  Source of their money and influence?   Lit candles.  Ladies busy arranging flowers for induction of new Vicar.

Craster Arms bears the family crest, a pale eyed jackdaw perched on top.  At the bottom the motto, ‘Dum vivo spero’; ‘While I breathe, I hope’, a paraphrase of ideas from Theocritus and Cicero.

Dinner at the Salt Water Café.  On the way back, spectacular full moonrise over the sea.

Saturday 14th September  Leave Beadnell 10.00 am.  Stop at Angel of the North, Gateshead.  Every bit as fine and spectacular as the photographs and hype suggest.  Visitors pose arms outstretched for photos – Gateshead’s equivalent to tourists supporting the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Teams of children play football in the Angel’s shadow.

Newspapers full of revenge quotes from David Cameron’s memoir.  TheTimes headline: ‘I’m sorry.  I Failed.’  Motorway gantry signs advise: ‘Freight papers for EU may change 1 Nov check now’.

Photographs: 1. Dunstanburgh Castle from Beadnell Bay, September 2019;  2. Lilburn Tower, Dunstanburgh Castle, September 2019;   3. Beadnell beach, September 2019;  4. 1-2 The Haven, Beadnell, September 2019;  5. Bamburgh beach, September 2019;  6. Coal sand, Beadnell beach, September 2019;  7. Lindisfarne Castle, Lindisfarne, September 2019;  8. Craster fisherman, September 1988;  9. Poison Garden, Alnwick Castle Gardens, September 2019;  10. View to Farne Islands from Ebb’s Nook, Beadnell, September 2019;  11. Sunrise, Beadnell, September 2019; 12. Window, St Ebb, Beadnell, September 2019;  13. Craster Arms, Beadnell, September 2019;  14. Angel of the North, Gateshead, September 2019.

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