Friday, August 18, 2006

Lindisfarne, not wholly an island

Thursday 17th August

My chief target for the Northumbrian coast was a visit to Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, not far up the road from Bamburgh. Like Mont St Michel, this island is accessed via a causeway which is uncovered at low tide.

I drove up to the causeway at about 10am, and noted that today's tide table showed it would be available between 12:10 and 8:40, so we drove further up the coast to England's most northerly town, Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Berwick, birthplace of one of my ancestors in 1805, has switched hands between Scotland and England many times. This has frustrated some of my attempts to trace this family further as the Scottish records are separate to those for England and Wales. My ancestor Elizabeth Henderson moved to Australia with her husband and at least 5 of their children in 1852. Her great-grand-daughter Beatrice Kerr (the swimmer), was my great-grand-mother.

A walled city, Berwick town centre has an interesting approach over a high bridge crossing the river Tweed. The high street area seemed a little more drab. I asked at the information centre for directions to an internet cafe: neither of those available had any protection against virus or spyware, so I was very reluctant to use either of their expensive (£4/hr) terminals. I glanced at email and booked a hotel in Newcastle for the weekend.

Picked up a copy of John Baxter's autobiographical "A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict".

We got back to the Lindisfarne causeway at 12:25, and there were already processions of cars entering and leaving the island. You drive around the edge of some elevated dunes on a road skirting the mainland edge of the island, itself only a fingernail's elevation above sea-level.

The two attractions on the island are the Priory, made famous by one of its bishops, Saint Cuthbert. The Priory is in about the same state of disrepair as the one I'd visited at
Lanercost yesterday. From its grounds you can see Lindisfarne Castle, a wee castle on a crag a mile off. The castle was rescued from neglect in the early 20th century by an editor of Country Life magazine and turned into a holiday home.

The remaining village is comprised of a winery, a miscellany of tourist shops hawking Lindisfarniana and fridge-magnets with celtic spiritual messages ("Avoid pillaging Vikings", "A martyr a day keeps the Picts away") and cafes with sandwiches having the typical soul-destroying combination of lifeless contents and high prices. I avoided most of this and came away with yet another book "The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime" by Miles Harvey.

Back on the mainland we drove down to the intriguingly named Seahouses (from whence my breakfast kipper had come), and just found a tatty seaside resort town of no discernible merit.

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