Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Lindisfarne on Foot

Back in October 2006 I walked from Dunbar to Tynemouth along the coast (you can read a trip report at Scottish Hills if you are so inclined). However I missed out a key section of the walk - from Berwick to Lindisfarne. This walk has always attracted more than the landward alternative between Berwick and Bamburgh. The walk to Lindisfarne follows an ever-expanding stretch of sand out to a romantic tidal island: the landward route entails a dull inland detour to avoid a coastal marsh. If doing the walk to Lindisfarne as part of a continuous coastal route, the problem of getting from Lindisfarne to Bamburgh remains. The solution is to swim across the bay or, for the less suicidal, see if a local will take you across by boat. I feel sure that is the best way of walking between Berwick and Bamburgh.

Berwick-upon-Tweed on a sunnier day:

We parked the car at Beal and took the bus to Berwick, one of the most fascinating towns in Britain and subject of a future post! The day was grey and still, and we were soon at Scremerston, the narrow beach backed by geologically interesting low cliffs, miniature waterfalls on the rock layers fingering out to the sea between the sands.

Beyond Scremerston things opened up and we had the beach entirely to ourselves, enjoying walking along the waters edge. A wide and deep stream (North Low) barred progress, but I could see footprints further up the beach. Somebody else had crossed here, so we made confidently for the prints... and my heart sank to realise they were hoof prints. Not having a horse's long legs and four points of contact, we were forced back to the tidal zone to pick our way across barefoot, the water numbingly cold. What would have happened had one of us slipped, fallen into the freezing water and been carried to sea? Would the undertow have got us? Or would it be easy to outsmart the gentle surf and uncertain underfoot conditions? The perils of coastal walking, distant from solid land, vigorous water on all sides and gulls in the grey air.

Leaving land behind for the stretch out to Holy Island:

Having negotiated North Low, we stuck close to the land's edge to Goswick Point, then struck straight out across wet sand towards Holy Island, acutely conscious of the distant roar of surf.

Eerie nonscape on the traverse to Holy Island:

It was almost an anticlimax to reach the links and dunes of the northern end of Holy Island. It was too early in the day for the walk to end. Why not continue to the pretty village of Lindisfarne, its castle and ruined abbey? The atmosphere of Holy Island is so haunting, that it is not surprising to discover that Lindisfarne Abbey was founded by monks from Iona in 634, another place of great spiritual resonance. The 7th century Anglican King Oswald of Northumbria had sheltered amongst the Gaels of Dalriata away from his dynastic enemies, and on taking the throne at Bamburgh decided to introduce into his own kingdom a monastery run on Ionan lines.

Lindisfarne lasted as the primary Christian centre in Northumbria until 664, when the Rome-backed bishop in York persuaded a later king to adopt Roman, rather than Ionan, forms of tonsure and Easter calculation. York then became the primary seat of Christianity in Northumbria, which in those days stretched from the Humber to the Forth. A new stone abbey was built at Lindisfarne, then fell into ruin. A castle was later built on an abrupt rock to keep an eye out for marauding Scots.

This Iona of the east, the St Michael's Mount of the north, Lindisfarne is a place to actively hope the tide will come up, stranding you overnight. But, running, we made it back across the causeway to our car in Beal, wondering - should we have tarried just half an hour longer?

1 comment:

blueskyscotland said...

Always fancied this walk.maybe someday.Cracking photos out on the sands.