Where his­tory dom­i­nates wild rugged shores

An­cient fortresses rise above the sweep­ing beaches of the dra­matic Northum­ber­land coast­line, rich in wildlife and char­ac­ter

Landscape (UK) - - Contents - Words: Angie Aspinall Pho­tog­ra­phy: Sarah Jamieson

Sit­ting atop a plateau of dark vol­canic rock on the rugged Northum­ber­land coast, a mag­nif­i­cent brood­ing cas­tle dom­i­nates ev­ery­thing around it, both above and be­low the bright blue sky­line. Its mas­sive bul­wark re­sem­bles a long, wide ship, run aground amidst the sea of dunes that fringe the coast­line. This is Bam­burgh Cas­tle, and it sits within a land­scape formed by a cataclysmi­c event that took place al­most 300 mil­lion years ago. As the terns wheel in the sky just off­shore and dive into the troughs be­tween the waves, and oys­ter­catch­ers call from the shore­line, it is hard to imag­ine that molten magma once bru­tally forced its way to the sur­face here.

The magma cre­ated a legacy of land­forms ideal for castles, light­houses, se­abird colonies and shel­tered har­bours. This now hard, black rock is a highly-prized, unyield­ing build­ing stone, which the lo­cals call whin­stone, for the sound it makes when hit by a stone­ma­son’s ham­mer. In some places, the rock still shows the hol­lows where an­cient vol­canic gas once bub­bled and popped.

From in­side the cas­tle walls, with can­nons fac­ing to sea and a pre­cip­i­tous drop all around, there is a sense of the se­cu­rity this for­ti­fi­ca­tion has of­fered through the ages to those who took refuge within.

Bam­burgh Cas­tle was once the royal seat of the Kings of Northum­bria and is now one of the largest in­hab­ited castles in England. Af­ter the death of Lord Crewe in 1721 and the

for­ma­tion of the Crewe Trustees, the cas­tle be­came a surgery and dis­pen­sary for the poor and sick. In 1894, the cas­tle was pur­chased for £60,000, with the aim of restor­ing it as a con­va­les­cent home for re­tired gen­tle­men, but the owner, Lord Arm­strong, died be­fore the pro­ject was com­pleted. His heir was his great nephew Wil­liam Wat­son Arm­strong, who de­cided to keep Bam­burgh as a fam­ily home, and it is his de­scen­dants who live there to­day.

In­side the cas­tle, 14 rooms are open to the public, and more than 3,000 items are on dis­play. These in­clude

“Ye holy Tow­ers that shade the wave-worn steep, Long may ye rear your aged brows sub­lime” Wil­liam Lisle Bowles, ‘Bam­burgh Cas­tle’

col­lec­tions of fine porce­lain, an­tique weaponry and fas­ci­nat­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal finds, for while the cas­tle has watched over this coast­line for more than 1,400 years, there is ev­i­dence show­ing peo­ple lived here as early as 10,000BC.

Un­usu­ally for a cas­tle, the over­whelm­ing sense once in­side is of light. Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in the King’s Hall, with its cathe­dral-like qual­ity, tall win­dows and the high false ham­mer beam ceil­ing, made with teak from what was then Siam. The King of Siam was a friend of Lord Arm­strong, and it is said that when he vis­ited Bam­burgh, he helped to carve some of the in­tri­cate de­signs in this splen­did, airy ban­quet­ing room.

Act of courage

At the foot of the 180ft (55m) basalt promon­tory, on which the cas­tle stands, lies the coastal vil­lage of Bam­burgh. Dom­i­nated by the dra­matic ram­parts of the fortress above it, this small com­mu­nity is shel­tered from the North Sea winds.

The vil­lage of Bam­burgh is quite be­guil­ing in it­self, its pic­turesque streets tempt­ing vis­i­tors with invit­ing cafés and in­de­pen­dent shops to ex­plore, around a tri­an­gu­lar wooded area known as The Grove. Once the site of a quarry pro­vid­ing sand­stone for the cas­tle, it is a vari­ant on a vil­lage green, over­looked by the im­pos­ing Victoria Ho­tel at the up­hill end of Front Street, which runs along one side. At the heart of the vil­lage sits a glass-fronted, wood-clad build­ing: the RNLI Grace Darling Mu­seum, in­side which the story of one young woman’s ex­tra­or­di­nary brav­ery is told.

Grace Hors­ley Darling was the daugh­ter of the light­house keeper on Long­stone, one of the Farne Is­lands, lo­cated ap­prox­i­mately five miles off the Northum­ber­land coast from Bam­burgh. On 7 Septem­ber 1838, Grace saw a pad­dle steamer, the SS For­farshire, wrecked on Big Har­cour rock. She was only 22 years old, but hero­ically, she braved the rough seas with her fa­ther in their coble, a small open boat, to res­cue the sur­vivors. Grace held the coble steady in the rag­ing seas while her fa­ther jumped onto the rocks to help the sur­vivors on board. There were nine in all, but as the coble had room for only five of them, Grace and her fa­ther had to make a re­turn trip to pick up the rest. News of Grace’s brav­ery soon spread, turn­ing her into a re­luc­tant celebrity. Sadly, she died of tu­ber­cu­lo­sis in 1942, just four years af­ter her coura­geous act.

“But courage, Fa­ther! let us out to sea – A few may yet be saved.” The Daugh­ter’s words, Her earnest tone, and look beam­ing with faith, Dis­pel the Fa­ther’s doubts: nor do they lack The no­ble-minded Mother’s help­ing hand To launch the boat; and with her bless­ing cheered, And in­wardly sus­tained by silent prayer, To­gether they put forth, Fa­ther and Child!” Wil­liam Wordsworth, ‘Grace Darling’

The very boat used in the res­cue can be found in­side the mu­seum, along with some of Grace’s per­sonal be­long­ings, an at­mo­spheric au­dio-vis­ual in­ter­pre­ta­tion and a de­tailed model of the Long­stone Light­house. “When you see the boat in front of you, it has a real im­pact,” says Mar­leen Vin­cen­ten, RNLI her­itage de­vel­op­ment man­ager. “Grace was an in­spi­ra­tional woman to all.”

Op­po­site the mu­seum, in the grave­yard of St Ai­dan’s church, where Grace is buried, is her me­mo­rial: a canopied stone struc­ture with a life-size sculp­ture of Grace, an oar laid at her side. It is said that the me­mo­rial was placed in this elevated po­si­tion so that it could be seen from pass­ing ships.

In­dus­trial relics

Clasped be­tween hard out­crops of re­silient rocks jut­ting out to sea, are sev­eral long beaches of fine, pale sand. One of the most peace­ful is Bead­nell Bay, which stretches south from the vil­lage of the same name for slightly more than 2 miles (3.4km) and is bor­dered by dunes clad in mar­ram grass. To help con­serve the dune’s rare plants, which in­clude pur­ple milk vetch and au­tumn gen­tian, along with its dis­tinc­tive

“Be­tween our east­ward and our west­ward sea The nar­row­ing strand Clasps close the no­blest shore fame holds in fee Even here where English birth seals all men free – Northum­ber­land” Al­ger­non Charles Swin­burne, ‘Northum­ber­land’

wild char­ac­ter, the Na­tional Trust em­ploys hardy Ex­moor ponies. By graz­ing on the grasses and un­wel­come plants, such as the en­croach­ing sycamores, the ponies help to open up the grass­land, al­low­ing flow­ers, such as resthar­row and bloody cranes­bill, to pros­per.

Bead­nell is a quiet spot nowa­days, but like so many other set­tle­ments along the coast, it was once a hive of in­dus­try. What ap­pears to be an old cas­tle on the har­bour side, es­pe­cially when viewed from afar, is a group of old lime kilns.

The honey-coloured stone ed­i­fice has three in­di­vid­ual kilns. Dur­ing op­er­a­tion, lo­cally-quar­ried lime­stone and coal would be loaded from above us­ing a ramped, horse-drawn tramway, the re­mains of which can still be seen, be­fore be­ing set alight. The lime, which was ex­ported across Scotland and north­ern England, would be raked out by hand, through a small ori­fice known as an ‘eye’. To­day, the kilns are used by fish­er­men to store lob­ster pots and crates and also of­fer a spec­tac­u­lar view to­wards the ruin of Dun­stan­burgh Cas­tle.

Shelter and pro­tec­tion

Ap­prox­i­mately 5 miles south of Bead­nell Bay is the 18th cen­tury fish­ing ham­let of Low New­ton-by-the-Sea, with its pic­turesque white­washed cot­tages and pub, the Ship Inn. Be­low the vil­lage green, more pris­tine golden sands un­fold, shel­tered by an off­shore reef. Set back from the shore and

pro­tected by dunes is New­ton Pool Na­ture Re­serve. Herons, lap­wings, wigeons, oys­ter­catch­ers and ever-chang­ing colonies of wet­land and coastal birds shelter here and can be seen from the bird hide, less than 110 yards (100m) from the pub.

There is a pop­u­lar walk along this end­less ex­posed coast­line be­neath big skies, via the golden sands of Em­ble­ton Bay to the ru­ins of Dun­stan­burgh Cas­tle.

Built by Earl Thomas of Lan­cas­ter be­tween 1313 and 1322, the cas­tle was con­structed on the re­mains of an iron age fort and fur­ther de­vel­oped in the 1380s by the Duke of Lan­cas­ter. In the 15th cen­tury, it formed a strate­gic strong­hold dur­ing the fe­ro­cious bat­tles of the Wars of the Roses, and was twice cap­tured by the York­ists. It never re­cov­ered from these bat­tles and, by the 16th cen­tury, had fallen into de­cay. Later, it be­came a pop­u­lar sub­ject for artists, in­clud­ing J M W Turner, who made many sketches and paint­ings of the cas­tle’s re­mains be­tween the end of the 18th cen­tury and the early 19th cen­tury. To­day, the dra­matic ru­ins, owned by the Na­tional Trust and man­aged by English Her­itage, are open to the public.

Fam­ily smoke­house

Just over a mile along the foot­path from the cas­tle lies the vil­lage of Craster, with its small har­bour, dubbed The Haven. This is the home of L Rob­son & Sons, a fam­ily busi­ness that has been smok­ing kip­pers for al­most a cen­tury.

“This smok­ery was built in 1856,” says Neil Rob­son, the fourth gen­er­a­tion of the fam­ily to own the busi­ness. “The three kilns are tar-black in­side from the years of smoke and soot that has built up.” In­side, light fil­ters down from the vents in the roof, and wooden beams, known as ‘lungs’, stretch across the space. “The fish are hung on hooks on ‘ten­ter sticks’ and that’s where the phrase ‘on ten­ter hooks’ comes from,” ex­plains Neil. The ‘sil­ver dar­lings’, as the her­rings were once known, are gut­ted by hand, then split on a ma­chine, a job once the pre­serve of the ‘her­ring girls’.

In each kiln, nine small piles of wood shav­ings, cov­ered with oak saw­dust, are lit. “They’ll be in here for 14 to 16 hours, and of course they’re cold smoked, which means they aren’t cooked,” says Neil.

He still en­joys the oc­ca­sional kip­per. “Many peo­ple like to jug them: put them in a jug of boil­ing wa­ter with their tails stuck out the top, to cook. But nowa­days, a lot of peo­ple do them on the bar­be­cue wrapped in foil, as they don’t want the smell in the house. Per­son­ally, I like them cooked in the mi­crowave, cov­ered with cling film to keep the flavour in.”

Once a much busier place, Craster used to have a quarry. “They had big bins on pul­leys, and they loaded the stone into them, and over­head ca­bles moved them to the har­bour,” ex­plains Neil. “When the tide was high, the big ships would come in to load up. The stone was used to make kerb­stones.”

Craster is much more peace­ful now, and The Haven, bounded on ei­ther side by lumps of rock, known as Muckle

Carr and Lit­tle Carr, is the fo­cus of the vil­lage. A few fish­ing boats are hauled ashore when not be­ing used for set­ting lob­ster pots or run­ning fish­ing trips.

Along the road from the smok­ery is the Mick Ox­ley Gallery, where self-taught artist and for­mer teacher Mick pro­duces wa­ter­colours and tex­tured acrylic seas­capes.

“I re­turned to my na­tive Northum­ber­land af­ter re­tir­ing through ill-health. Twenty years on, Craster, with its ever-chang­ing light, con­tin­ues to be my in­spi­ra­tion. It feels as if the move here was meant to be: it has be­come cen­tral to my rea­son and ex­is­tence,” says Mick.

Housed in an old joiner’s shop, the gallery pro­vides a light and airy dis­play space and stu­dio. In ad­di­tion to the evoca­tive paint­ings, prints, cards and jew­ellery based on Mick’s work, there are also ex­am­ples from other artists and crafts­peo­ple, in­clud­ing Julia Lin­stead, who works with glass.

Julia’s colour­ful, del­i­cately sand­blasted bowls fea­ture themes such as shoals of fish, flow­ers and lo­cal fauna. “I think the Northum­ber­land coast is one of the most ro­man­tic in the coun­try,” she en­thuses. “What­ever the weather, there is al­ways some­thing in­spi­ra­tional, from the cliffs to the coves, to the long, long beaches. If I’m ever stuck with a pat­tern, vis­it­ing the coast will clear my mind or pro­vide the an­swer.”

En­ticed by dan­ger

Turn­ing in­land and con­tin­u­ing some seven miles south-west of Craster lies Al­nwick, bound in the his­tory of its well-known cas­tle and lords. First be­stowed to one of Wil­liam the Con­queror’s stan­dard bear­ers, Gil­bert Tyson, the es­tate was later held by the De Vesci fam­ily for more than 200 years, then passed into the hands of the house of Percy in 1309. At var­i­ous points in the town are memo­ri­als of the con­stant wars be­tween Per­cys and Scot­tish raiders.

East of the town cen­tre is one of the most im­pres­sive gar­dens in the North of England. The Al­nwick Gar­den dates back to 1750, but the present plant­ing and fea­tures, in­clud­ing the Grand Cas­cade, are part of a ma­jor re­de­vel­op­ment in­sti­gated by the Duchess of Northum­ber­land, which be­gan in 1997. But among the del­i­cate blos­soms hides a more sin­is­ter dis­play: the Poi­son Gar­den.

This was in­spired by the Duchess’ tour of Euro­pean gar­dens in the 1990s. Many had medic­i­nal gar­dens, but ac­cord­ing to head gar­dener Trevor Jones, she found that vis­i­tors were be­com­ing rather bored by this of­ten re­peated fea­ture. A visit to a gar­den in Italy, de­signed specif­i­cally for poi­sonous plants, fired her imag­i­na­tion.

In the Poi­son Gar­den are 100 species of lethal or in­tox­i­cat­ing plants. Fox­gloves and helle­bores are fa­mil­iar to many vis­i­tors, but hem­lock and hen­bane may be less so. Kept un­der lock and key, the gar­den also fea­tures cannabis, khat, coca and the opium poppy. Vis­i­tors are only al­lowed to en­ter by way of a guided tour.

The Poi­son Gar­den is more than just a col­lec­tion of fas­ci­nat­ing plants. “We have school vis­its here in term time,” ex­plains Trevor. “Many chil­dren sit look­ing at com­puter screens rather than go­ing out and ex­plor­ing the coun­try­side. A lot of them don’t know how to recog­nise some­thing such as deadly night­shade. We are able to show them.”

Each of the plants in the gar­den has an in­trigu­ing story and phar­ma­col­ogy be­hind it, re­lated in de­tail by the guides. Night­shade, for ex­am­ple, was once used by women to di­late

their pupils, which they be­lieved made them more at­trac­tive, lead­ing to the plant’s Ital­ian name of bel­ladonna, mean­ing ‘beau­ti­ful lady’.

Next to the Poi­son Gar­den is the largest col­lec­tion of white ‘Tai-haku’ cherry trees in the world. “The ‘Tai-haku’ was in­tro­duced to England in 1900,” says Neil. “Af­ter it had died out in Ja­pan, it was spot­ted in a Sus­sex gar­den by plant col­lec­tor Cap­tain Colling­wood In­gram, who was then in­stru­men­tal in re-in­tro­duc­ing the tree to Ja­pan. All the ‘Tai-haku’ trees in the world are de­scended from the cut­tings made by In­gram, in­clud­ing ours. In a good year, the blos­som can last up to three weeks, but it de­pends on the weather.”

A re­cent ad­di­tion to de­light vis­i­tors to the cherry or­chard is a se­ries of 50 swing­ing seats hang­ing from the boughs.

Just a short stroll from The Al­nwick Gar­den is Barter Books, lo­cated in­side the town’s mag­nif­i­cent for­mer Vic­to­rian rail­way sta­tion. Cross­ing the thresh­old into this won­der­ful shop is like step­ping back in time to a more gen­teel era. Once in­side, vis­i­tors are en­veloped in hazy jazz mu­sic and co­cooned within a daz­zling ar­ray of sec­ond-hand and col­lectable books.

As ec­cen­tric as it is charm­ing, the shop has a model train run­ning through the mid-sec­tion on a track which swoops above the book­shelves. Café seat­ing is avail­able in the for­mer wait­ing rooms, and fires blaze on cooler days. Many of the orig­i­nal fea­tures of the sta­tion can still be en­joyed to­day, in­clud­ing the buf­fers in the mid­dle room. There are cosy nooks and cran­nies, where vis­i­tors can while away the hours, skim­ming through books or en­joy­ing a proper read. From cook­ery books to zo­o­log­i­cal tomes, all gen­res are cov­ered.

Own­ers Mary and Stu­art Man­ley opened Barter Books in 1991, based on a swap sys­tem. Vis­i­tors are in­vited to drop off up to one large bag of books to be val­ued. If the books are of in­ter­est, cash or credit is of­fered. Credit can be used im­me­di­ately or on any sub­se­quent visit and is recorded in an in­dex card fil­ing sys­tem, which sits be­hind the counter.

From its sweep­ing beaches and com­mand­ing fortresses to the teem­ing birdlife and char­ac­ter­ful set­tle­ments, this stretch of the Northum­ber­land coast is both his­toric and dra­matic. It is a part of the world which, once vis­ited, will re­main un­for­get­table.

al­nwick long­stone light­house farnE iS­landS Bam­burgh Sea­houses Bead­nell Bay low new­ton-by-the-Sea Em­ble­ton Bay craster

› Nes­tled at the foot of the cas­tle, the pretty vil­lage of Bam­burgh is dwarfed by its im­pos­ing bul­warks.

Dur­ing Ed­war­dian times, the cas­tle hosted daz­zling so­ci­ety balls in the mag­nif­i­cent King’s Hall (left).

› Her­itage de­vel­op­ment man­ager Mar­leen Vin­cen­ten in front of the model light­house.

The 85ft (26m) tower of Long­stone Light­house, on Long­stone Rock, Outer Farne, once home to Grace Darling (top). Grace’s or­nate Vic­to­rian Gothic me­mo­rial, built in 1842, in St Ai­dan’s church­yard, Bam­burgh (above).

An il­lus­tra­tion show­ing Grace Hors­ley Darling with her light­house keeper fa­ther, Wil­liam, row­ing their coble to the aid of sea­men aboard the sink­ing steamboat, the SS For­farshire, af­ter it hit a rock off the Farne Is­lands in 1838.

The re­mains of for­mer kilns at the harboursid­e in Bead­nell, with their curved walls. They pro­duced quick­lime, used in fer­tiliser and mortar, un­til 1822.

Top to bot­tom: Tran­quil New­ton Pool Na­ture Re­serve, a mag­net for birds; re­lax­ing on the green in front of the Ship Inn, Low New­ton-by-the-Sea; the sweep­ing sands and wild waters of Em­ble­ton Bay, shel­tered by dunes, is another un­spoilt beach which draws vis­i­tors and walk­ers to the breath­tak­ing Northum­ber­land coast­line.

Craster, with its colour­ful fish­ing boats cling­ing to the shel­ter­ing har­bour, known as The Haven.

The re­mains of Dun­stan­burgh Cas­tle’s main gate­house still re­flect the might of the in­tim­i­dat­ing strong­hold.

Neil Rob­son with one of his kip­pers from the fam­ily smok­ery.

Dun­stan­burgh Cas­tle, a pop­u­lar sub­ject for artists, rises in the dis­tance be­yond the rock pools among Grey­mare Rocks, at the south­ern end of Em­ble­ton Bay.

Trevor Jones, head gar­dener at The Al­nwick Gar­den, who has been work­ing there for 11 years.

Mick Ox­ley re­turned to his home county in re­tire­ment, where he now has his own art gallery. His paint­ings re­flect the ever-chang­ing light on the sea.

Julia Lin­stead uses the lo­cal land­scape and wildlife as in­spi­ra­tion for her colour­ful glass bowls.

Leap­ing arches of spray de­light on­look­ers at the Grand Cas­cade, which comes to life ev­ery half-hour at The Al­nwick Gar­den.

Chil­dren at play on a sum­mer’s day en­joy a soak­ing from the foun­tains. A skull and cross­bones warns vis­i­tors to the Poi­son Gar­den.

Barter Books is housed in the 32,000sq ft for­mer sta­tion. As seat of the Dukes of Northum­ber­land, it was deemed nec­es­sary to im­press vis­it­ing roy­alty, re­sult­ing in its re­mark­able size and grandeur (above). Shop owner, Mary Man­ley, in the cav­ernous in­te­rior, stacked ceil­ing high with books (right).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.