Saturday, 30 July 2016

Lindisfarne

We went to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne today which has to be one of the most magical places in the world. I first went there in about 1985, when I was ten, which is the age of my Godson Will who was with us today. It had a massive impact on me back then and I fought incredibly hard to get the entire group to brave the long drive to come there with me today. 31 years ago, my family stayed in a guest house on Lindisfarne and I was really inspired by the idea of a causeway from the mainland disappearing into the sea at high tide and creating an island.

It was a long old drive from our youth hostel and we decided to break the journey at Bamburgh, which was a revelation to us all. Mile upon mile of white sandy beach and stunning grass-covered sand dunes underneath a perfectly preserved Norman castle. It's very difficult to imagine anything more perfect if I'm honest! The kids had a whale of a time surfing the waves and building enormous sand castles. Will and Tomas dug a very deep hole which they named the "Pit of Doom."

The Northumbrian coast in that part of the county feels incredibly isolated somehow. I can't really explain why. The North Sea is never more than a few miles from the A1 road, but visiting any of the little villages scattered along its intricate inlets and headlands is like stepping back to the 1980s. As a result, it seems to attract a rather genteel type of tourist. The parking is free, the shops are curiously old-fashioned and the beaches are largely empty.

Driving a car across the causeway to Lindesfarne was every bit as exhilarating as it was in 1985. I still felt that frisson of fear, wondering if the tide times were wrong and my car was likely to be swept away into a tidal abyss. I'm pretty sure, when I came here as a child, rusty cars and vehicles were strewn along the side of the road, left, perhaps, as a warning to have-a-go-hero drivers that the tides move in very fast. If deserted cars WERE there back in 1985, they weren't there today, but there were posters all over the place displaying the image of a half-submerged Land Rover with massive letters spelling out the words, "check the tide times!"

We parked up and bought lollipops from an ice cream van in the corner of the car park. Meriel noticed that he sold cups of tea, and, because she was feeling a bit car sick and frozen solid from her swim in the North Sea at Bambrugh, asked if he sold mint tea. It was one of those cringingly middle class requests, and it fell on rather dead ears: "look, love, I'm an ice cream man stuck in the corner of a field on Holy Island... Now what do you think the answer to that question is?!"

I was instantly reminded of the occasion I took my celiac, somewhat brassy American friend to a greasy spoon in Leeds and was forced to hide behind a pillar whilst she brusquely asked "what have you got that is wheat free and dairy free?" The question was answered with a long pause and two simple words, "chips, love."

At 3pm, I left everyone at the priory on Lindesfarne and drove Hilary to a dentist in Berwick-Upon-Tweed for an emergency appointment. Her tooth has been killing her since we arrived and, as she arrived at Bamburgh this morning and knocked back a pain killer like some sort of addict, I could tell she'd reached the end of her tether. I spent an hour or so phoning round dentists in the area, begging them to offer us an emergency appointment.

It's funny how, when you reach Berwick, you suddenly start hearing those wonderful Scottish accents, despite technically still being in England. The woman in the pharmacy was particularly chirpy and sounded like something from Balamory, or Lorraine Kelly on helium: "have you got a wee abscess?" She asked. "Now I'm only going to give you enough of these for three days as they can get a wee bit addictive..." Like a little bird, she was.

By the time we'd arrived back in Holy Island the majority of tourists were leaving, so I encouraged everyone to come down to the castle with me, and we hung about for some time as the light faded, sitting by the crab nets, and clumps of poppies and houses made out of upturned boats in a somewhat rundown little harbour. It was a really still, peaceful moment. I looked around at the kids playing on the mud flats and wondered how many of them would take the memory into their adult years. A number of similar long summer evenings from my childhood have lodged themselves very firmly in my brain.

We went home via the wonderfully named seaside village of Sea Houses, which I kept wanting to call Sea Horses. All of us sat on the harbour wall eating chips from Pinnacles, which the Hairy Bikers have apparently hailed as the best chippie in the UK. A rather brave baby starling and a gaggle of seagulls watched us eating and waited for the leftovers.


We drove home along the A1, past signs for the unfortunately-named village of Shilbottle, which some local comedian had doctored to read "Shit Bottle." As we drove, we became aware of an astounding sunset brewing and, over the course of about half an hour, and with the aid of a little rain and a strategically-placed hot air balloon, the sky went from impressionist through Turneresque to apocalyptic! As we turned onto the A69 at Gateshead the entire experience became mesmeric. We were listening to the Concerto for a Rainy Day from ELO's Out of the Blue album and it was as though the sound track and visuals had been edited together for some kind of Hollywood epic. At one stage Sam gasped, "oh my God, there's a rainbow" and, sure enough, behind us, a giant golden rainbow was filling the sky. And when I say golden, I mean golden. The sun by this stage was crimson red and so the rainbow appeared in sepia. The only thing that was more perfect than the symbiosis of music and sunset was Sam's running commentary describing, in deeply florid terms, what he was looking at: "It's like lilacs softly blushing," he said at one point, and then later, "it's a burnished bronze..."

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