Skip to main content

     On a day in 793AD, estimated to have been the 8th June, one of the most cataclysmic events in British history took place on the tiny island of Lindisfarne just off the Northumberland coast. The first recorded Viking raid on British soil. I stood within the ruins of the later 12th century abbey pondering this event. For the peaceful monks of Lindisfarne it must have been like a Pagan apocalypse from hell itself, a calamity to their order of life the like of which we could not begin to imagine. The raids continued for the next eighty years with increased ferocity and by 875AD the monks had had enough and fled the Island taking with them the body of Saint Cuthbert and the precious Lindisfarne Gospels.

   

     Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is connected to the mainland by a 3 mile causeway. Twice a day a mile of this disappears under the sea separating it for five hours. I arrived via the Pilgrims Path, a 2 mile stretch of wet mud marked out by a line of posts which has been the traditional way to the island for centuries and can only be walked during two hours of low tide. Until 1954 when the causeway road was built, these posts were the only visible route over to Lindisfarne. The island was cut off from 5:35pm so I stayed the night at the ‘Crown & Anchor’ next to the abbey. The ancient district, or 'hundred,' of Islandshire was once part of the County Palatine of Durham before amalgamating into Northumberland in 1844. The Islandshire Way is a 10 mile walk from Lindisfarne to Berwick-Upon-Tweed which I decided to do the following day but with no safe crossing time until 10:25 I thought I'd explore the island first. After breakfast I noticed on the pub wall the 12” inner sleeve of Lindisfarne’s classic 1971 album, Fog on the Tyne. Amongst the photos were several from inside this bar and the guy who ran the place told me the woman in the bottom left hand corner was his grandmother. I was intrigued. In my youth Lindisfarne talked a language I understood that was both tongue in cheek and deadly serious. Theirs was a political voice in the wilderness for me and as we chatted, we both lamented how little there was today to fill that void. So, with We Can Swing Together playing in my head, I checked out of the Crown & Anchor.

   

     From a field in front of the abbey I climbed onto the Heugh, a lump of whinstone protecting the harbour. To the south two stone obelisks on Guile Point marked where a colony of seals blubbered about, much as they had done while I crossed the Pilgrims Path. The weather was cloudy at first with a promise of some clear blue skies later. As the North Sea coastline stretched to the Farne Isles beyond Bamburgh Castle, I walked past the harbour to Lindisfarne Castle, built of stone from the priory as a defensive stronghold during the Scottish wars. After much neglect it was bought in 1901 by the founder of Country Life magazine who commissioned Edward Lutyens to restore it as a holiday home, mercifully preserving the outer appearance. In 1944 the National Trust opened it to the public. I made for a raised embankment, once an old lime kiln wagonway, and at Castle Point turned north then rounded the top where I headed west alongside large dunes edging a remote part of the island. Back on the road I came to Chare Ends where the causeway met the Pilgrim’s Path. I saw little point in walking this a second time and began the 3 mile trudge on a well surfaced causeway road to the mainland instead. It was a mite tedious with constant drops off the tarmac to avoid the traffic, some of it going a bit too fast for my liking. Considering this was the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve alongside an important wetland area with birds flying across, it was highly irresponsible. Just my opinion!

     I stopped occasionally, first to look at the walkers south of me on the Pilgrim’s Path, then to listen to the eerie growl of the sea unseen from behind the dunes. This constant rumbling was quite unnerving, like the sound of distant gunfire. Once over South Low Bridge I was back on the mainland with a car park just ahead by a line of anti-tank blocks. From there I began the coastal walk at twenty minutes after midday. Rounding Beal Point I crossed sluice gates to a grassy path alongside Goswick Sands against the background sound of the sea. It was all an intoxicating mix to the senses along with the salty air and warm blue sky. Beyond the white buildings of Beachcomber House I passed a brief line of properties that made up Goswick, a strange sort of setup. Roughly 1½ miles inland from there was the birthplace of the notorious conifer tree Leylandi. It was first cultivated back in the 19th century at Haggerston Castle, now a holiday park but onetime home of Christopher John Leland.

 
 

     After Goswick Golf Clubhouse I followed the East Coast line to some rough grassland alongside high and undulating dunes. At a car park beyond fields and pathways was a sign for National Cycle Network number 1. This signalled an agreeable stretch of tarmacked path, all it lacked was a bench for me to sit and eat my lunch. I followed a track to another car park where a narrow path down to the sea brought me to a perfectly positioned plateau of rock to sit on, it was time to whip out the bum mat. Whilst eating lunch I enjoyed amazing views in both directions. To the north I got my first sight of Berwick roughly 3 miles away. The roar of the sea close by was overpowering, a wonderful cacophony of high waves thundering onto the shoreline. Then I looked to the outline of Lindisfarne Castle above the waves, over 7½ miles away to the south. It was a magical stretch of coastline to find yourself on a brisk, sunny afternoon. Further on I followed a road to Sea House, a building in fields overlooking the cliffs. As the road swung left I continued in the same direction with Berwick getting ever closer. A National Cycle Network marker on Huds Head told me Holy Island was 14½ miles back with the Scottish border only 4 miles away in the other direction.

 
 

     A path on the right headed down steps to an esplanade lined with grass and benches. I checked my phone as I walked Spittal Promenade and opened the Wikipedia page on Berwick... the northernmost town in England, (yes, I knew that!) 2½ miles south of the Scottish border… whatever, blah blah blah... then I found what I wanted… Berwick Rangers Football Club. I was right, they do play in black and yellow stripes. Formed in 1881 the Gers are one of the most unique football clubs in Britain being the only English team to play in Scotland. To date they have never reached the top flight of Scottish football, but you never know… one day! From Spittal and Tweedmouth I reached Berwick Old Bridge, the town’s most famous landmark. Prior to this visit I didn’t know much about Berwick, but I knew about its bridge. Cars still went over its narrow width one way, the nearby Royal Tweed Bridge took traffic both ways. As I crossed the old bridge I stopped to look at the River Tweed in the sunshine whilst keeping an eye out for swans and seals that are often seen. Before it opened in 1624 all previous wooden bridges invariably got trashed by ice, floods or violence during the Border Wars. At 1,164 feet long and 17 feet wide, the old bridge has fifteen unequal spans. Berwick's third bridge stood further back from the road bridge, the 121 foot high Royal Border Bridge was opened in 1850 and still takes the East Coast Main Line over the Tweed via its twenty-eight arches. It featured on a set of Royal Mail stamps on bridges in May 2015.

 
 

     Berwick-Upon-Tweed is incredibly photogenic I noticed, especially when the sun shines on its old stonework and ancient walls. Its strategic position on the border of England and Scotland subjected it to 400 years of violence where it changed allegiances over a dozen times. The town suffered especially during the campaigns of Edward I after he recaptured it in 1296 and massacred the inhabitants. It has remained in English hands since 1482. My walk concluded at exactly 5pm just as the shops closed thus dashing any hope of buying a Berwick Rangers top, so I made my way to the youth hostel. Eighteenth century Berwick was a prosperous port and commercial centre with cereal and grain exported around the country. This building known as John Dewar’s Granary was one of many that stored and conditioned the grain prior to export. It was almost destroyed by a fire in 1815 with damages estimated at £5,000, roughly £3,500,000 in today’s money which was coincidentally the same cost of restoring the building in 2010. It opened as a youth hostel on Friday 3rd June 2011.

 
 

     Later that evening I went down to the reception and bar area where a few people had gathered for a live act playing in the main area of the ground floor. I thought I might stop awhile, I’d never been to a gig at a hostel before. It was one guy with a guitar and a girl backing singer. As I listened to his strange, almost cartoon like American accent my first reaction was to go straight back to my room but I had a beer to drink so I sat at the back and listened. He wasn’t bad. Then I listened to his lengthy monologues as his songs needed explaining and it soon became apparent this guy was a highly reactionary American poet and songwriter with a burning contempt for US foreign policies. He listed them off one by one as he sang his heart out about everything that was wrong with the world.

 
 

     I looked up David Rovics on Wikipedia not expecting to find anything, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Described as an American indie singer/songwriter and anarchist he had spent most of his time being a thorn in the side of whatever administration was in the Whitehouse… this guy made Bob Dylan look like a neo-Nazi. I stayed to the end and chatted to him and the young man who ran the hostel. How ironic that a day that started in conversation lamenting the paucity of political passion in today’s music finished with an American singer doing exactly that. I couldn’t help noticing there was an underlying theme going on here, what was I being told I wondered? As usual I never got the message, or chose to avoid it more like, but it was an excellent end to a very good walk, of that there could be no doubt. Walking this far north-eastern tip of England with the Scottish border only a few miles away was an unexpected delight.

 
   

Reader Comments (0)

There are currently no comments on this article. Why not be the first and leave your thoughts below.

Leave Your Comment

Please keep your comment on topic, any inappropriate comments may be removed.

Return to index