For the first anniversary of our wedding, my husband and I took a beautiful trip to Great Britain this June. We flew into Edinburgh and then took a train south to Northumberland. We did not see Hadrian’s Wall–instead we created our own walking tour of castles along the coast. Our first English castle–and my favorite–was Lindisfarne, on the Holy Island.
The Holy Island can only be approached at low tide when a causeway several miles long is uncovered. For most of the causeway, there are only mudflats on either side, with almost no room to walk. At times, it’s necessary to walk among the mud, grass, and seaweed. It reminded me a great deal of the terrain I was used to when I was a child in Alaska. At the end of the causeway, there is marshland with high dunes and signs informing about all the birds that call the island home intermingled with warnings of the danger of unexploded ordinance and quicksand. Finally, the village comes into view. It is a small, charming little town. We arrived at the end of the tide, when most of the visitors of the day had already headed to the mainland, so the village was quiet. It was a little rainy and very cold. We checked into our hotel–an old rambling house situated right next to the ruined Lindisfarne Priory–and headed out for a walk. The castle was closed, but we walked up to see the outside. There were very few people out and about, and the walk was peaceful and pleasant. Boats bobbed in the harbor and a cutting wind blew through our jackets. We walked around the castle and then down to the shore where there was a huge wall of cairns made from beach rocks. I added my own cairn, thought a few words over it, and then we moved on.
We visited the lime kilns that are situated under the cliff next to the castle. The kilns are spooky and fascinating structures that smell vaguely of sheep. The entire area is strewn with sheep droppings, and it is impossible to keep from stepping in at least one pile. We speculated for a little while on what the sheep must be eating to make their droppings so wet!
A first century monastery was once built on the volcanic mound where the current castle stands, but the existing structure is of Tudor provenance. It was used for various purposes over the centuries until, like many castles in the area, it was allowed to fall to ruin. At the end of the 19th century Edward Hudson (the founder of Country Life Magazine), who was vacationing on the island, climbed the walls of the castle and fell in love with the structure. He was able to negotiate a deal to buy the castle from the crown in 1901, and quickly enlisted the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to oversee the renovation. Gertrude Jekyll–the reknowned garden designer– overhauled the walled garden. The castle was eventually used as Hudson’s holiday home, where he entertained friends. The castle remained a private residence for decades, but is now a National Trust property.
We went back to the castle when it was open, and were sort-of surprised by the sheer number of tourists milling around. It was a very different experience from the night before. Oddly (or maybe not, considering the nearness of the Scottish border) there was a kilted bagpipe player doing his thing in the parking lot the whole time we were there. We bought our ticket out of one of the sheds made of the hulls of old fishing boats that sit at the foot of the castle, and then headed inside. The castle is surprisingly small and very cozy. Serpentine hallways and staircases lead to various rooms still furnished in the Edwardian style. Views from the castle are amazing. I really fell in love with the castle–it is exactly the kind of place where I would like to live!
Too soon, it was time to leave. We decided to take a taxi back across the causeway so that we could keep to our schedule. The driver was a native of the island, and he seemed to think that it was the best place to live!
One thing that we discovered on our trip is that no castle is exactly alike. That might seem to be a stupid statement, but I think that I went into the trip thinking that the castles would be basically the same. We found fascinating, individual things about each castle we visited–things that made each one unique.
I really loved Northumberland and would like to go back and see more someday.