Day One – A Northumberland Sojourn, and a Birthday

Its not every day that someone attains the grand old age of 50 years, in fact, and this should not come as any surprise, it usually happens only the once in each persons lifetime, if you are lucky.

And so when that person is your wife you are reminded on a fairly regular basis that you had better bloody well organise something pretty good for her big day, when I say regularly I mean at least once per day, for the whole of the previous year, that sort of regular.

She is from Northumberland, the wife that is, the one who’s 50th birthday it was, are you keeping up, and I lived in Northumberland for eight years or so and have been long aware of the fact that the Northumberland coast, especially the last 30 miles or so of coast before you hit Scotland, is the last great secret coastline of all our coastlines in this country – walk along most beaches, huge dune backed beaches that stretch for miles and miles, and you will rarely meet another human coming the other way, you may meet a seal and you may mistake those seals for mer-men as did the people in one of the stories told of one Northumberland fishing community who dragged ashore a “creature” in their nets and held “him” prisoner for several days, feeding him fish and attempting conversation with him, alas he could only squeak back to them and eventually escaped.

Travel inland and you encounter countryside that rises quickly into the Northern Pennines, this is the land that for several hundred years was fought over between Scottish clans and the English monarchy, here you will find a fortified house around every corner and a castle every five miles or so, here you will find stories of battles, blood shed and massacres over a few square miles of land, the town of Berwick which today lies on the exact border with England and Scotland exchanged hands many, many times and in just one of those exchanges Edward Longshanks, King of England landed his army there in 1296 and put the whole population to the sword, 8000 people killed in one day – this is the borderlands, a land that was often stained red with blood, scrape the surface and you’ll still find bones and swords.

So it was that we gathered together a band of nine friends and ventured north to Spindlestone House, a five bedroom country house in the grand style in the tiny hamlet of Spindlestone, a quarter mile or so inland from Budle Bay which in turn is contained within the Northumberland AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and being a tidal mudflat is protected as a bird sanctuary – put simply, its stunning in its beauty and is within sight of Lindisfarne the island retreat which has been inhabited since (at least) 635AD and so yes, its got history.

I’m guessing that both Spindlestone House and the large water mill opposite are 18th or 19th century buildings as Spindlestone Tower at the top of the hill is certainly 18th century, and I’m guessing that the house that we rented (above) was the mill owner or managers house, it was certainly grand enough with lots of space inside and out, five bedrooms, huge lounge area with several large settee’s, a formal dining room, large dining kitchen, chandeliers everywhere, quality fittings and soft fabrics, the birthday girl only found one fault in that she couldn’t find a sweeping broom for the kitchen floor and for someone who works in hotel housekeeping of the finest quality to only find a missing broom to complain about, well, they done well is all I can say.

We rented the property from Grace Darling Holidays who have a great portfolio of houses and apartments in the local area and are well worth looking at if you have a wife like mine who examines every small detail of every place we stay in and blames me if she finds fault as if I’d done it on purpose, its a dangerous job being me I can tell you.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, a stroll down to the bay and back preceded a long breakfast and then off to Bamburgh for lunch by which time the whole of the sea and beach area was covered by a thick sea mist, brilliant sun on the land with a backdrop of mist an atmosphere just designed for painting, and so I took lots of photos…

Bamburgh Church (above) is just over the road from the Grace Darling Museum which, being of free admission, is always worth a visit and while churches do nothing for me of a spiritual nature they do impress me in their construction, this one is pretty impressive and much larger than you’d expect from a small village, its been there a long time, has a shrine to St Aidan who was known to have inhabited the site in 635AD, and of a later vintage has a mysterious small window at a low level in one of the side walls near the main altar – it was for giving communion to plague victims who weren’t allowed into the church but queued outside for their dose of religion every Sunday, yes, I’m not really into this religion stuff am I, love the architecture though.

Just back from the beach it was still warm and sunny and our group retired to The Castle Pub while Andy and I took a stroll on the beach in front of Bamburgh Castle. When I say there was a sea mist on the beach I mean this …

Only a hundred yards or so into that photo is the massive outcrop of rock upon which sits the huge Bamburgh Castle, we’d walked for a fair distance when I took that photo and I mentioned to Andy that we couldn’t see anyone or anything and that as far as we knew we might have actually ventured out onto a sandbar and could be surrounded completely by the incoming tide right now, we pondered on this thought for ten seconds and then headed back into the mist to find eventually that we’d walked right past the castle without seeing it, and when I say castle, I mean this …

Quite impressive isn’t it, I don’t think there can be a more stunning backdrop to a cricket ground than that which Bamburgh Castle Cricket Club have, on the other side of the castle is the beach and you can probably just see the sea mist lingering above the battlements, on this side all was fine and sunny and we sat on a bench and watched the game for an hour or so – there is something very special about watching a game of village cricket on a fine Sunday afternoon, it needed a pint or two and a pork pie, or two, but neither of us could be arsed going for one and so we sat in the sun, got burned, and watched the sea mist occasionally drift across the pitch and then clear again just as quickly, and eventually our group had to leave the pub and come and find us, “Where will they be” they had pondered while drinking beer in The Castle garden, “Cricket ?” someone suggested – not much of a puzzle to solve when you have Andy in your party, he’ll stand and watch the grass grow if you told him it was a sport.

All in all a pretty fine start to the week of birthday celebrations, a relaxed, potter about sort of day, drink beer, chat with old friends, watch sport, drink beer, did I mention drink beer ?

2 thoughts on “Day One – A Northumberland Sojourn, and a Birthday

  1. Sounds a grand plan – I miss northumberland very much. My family had the first hotel on Lindisfarne and I lived on / near that Coast until I was thirty

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