Ramblings

October 2001


Monday 1st October – Edderthorpe – I finally see the Green-winged Teal that has been present for several weeks. It is a well marked male. A gaggle of eleven Greylags sweep in from the north. The Wigeon numbers have increased as have the Coot which have concentrated on the far end of the flash. A yelping gaggle of Canada Geese wings in from over the colliery waste tip. The noise actually disturbs Dill the Dog from her sniffing and she watches them with interest. Thirty Dunlin are feeding on an area of mud but are very flighty. High on the waste stack, a Carrion Crow is harassing a Kestrel. The aerial ballet is a joy to behold. Puff Balls peep from the grass beside the old railway track.

Barnsley Canal – Robins and Wren tick in warning as we pass. Russula fungi have appeared within the last few days; large concave, slimy caps lining the tow-path. A small flock of Yellowhammers are chasing each other by the loop.

Tuesday 2nd October – Home – And the apples keep falling. After a serious peel, slice, blanch and freeze session yesterday, I emptied the trug of windfall apples and pears from the garden. Today, the trug is half full again. A flock of Long-tailed Tits is moving through the garden creating a wonderful high-pitched cacophony. I have now netted the top of the tank used to collect rain run-off from the patio – after removing two frogs, again. As we are away for a few days, a polythene cloche has been put over the last of the lettuce for this year. The high winds have left the Runner beans in disarray, but they are now mainly for seed for next year. We have managed to ripen the first tomatoes and they were delicious!

Tuesday 2nd October – Whitburn Country Park – On the north-east coast, north of the city of Sunderland, the park runs along the cliff tops looking out over a very choppy North Sea. The wind blasts across the open grass land. A lighthouse looks out over the vast sea. Below sea arches, stacks and rocky outcrops in the sea provide resting places for gulls – Herring, Great and Lesser Black Backs and Black-headed. There are several Northern Wheatears on the paths. I chase after of flock of small passerines that fly up the cliff edge, but lose them. Probably Goldfinches as there are good numbers around, and not the Snow Buntings that this area is known for – too early in the year. Lots of Meadow Pipits flit up the cliffs, which are not steep and have plenty of ledges. A ferry is steadily ploughing through the sea towards Gateshead. Dill the Dog looks worriedly up the slope as there is a shooting range along the coast and she is not impressed by the sharp retorts. She also proves herself incapable of reading notices on the cliff edge that say It is dangerous to cross this barrier. I mention that rolling on her back at the cliff edge probably is not a sensible move.....

Newcastle upon Tyne – We head into the city centre after finding our hotel. It is in an Asian area and the delicious scent of spices emanates from a number of grocery stores. In the city we head down the steep hill towards the quay. The first pub we visit is the Crown Posada – a splendid little establishment. It is very small, a tiny snug, a length of bar which could just manage patrons two deep, into a narrow main area with a long upholstered bench, stools and enough passage for one other. Two stained glass windows depict a woman resignedly pulling a pint and a boisterous man wassailing – maybe a statement that never changes? Next port of call is Bob Trollop’s, a vegetarian pub. We go for a light snack, but forget that this end of England has little concept of small portions! Across the road is the Guildhall and all is watched over by the massive girders of the Tyne Bridge. From under the bridge the elegant arch of the new Gateshead Millennium Bridge shines against a stormy sky. Along the water front is another extraordinarily thin building, now a restaurant. It cannot be more than ten metres across, but much longer and four stories high. An old advertisement for the Tyne and Tees Steam Shipping Company, listing its destinations, remains on the wall. Climb to St Willibrord and All Saints Anglican Catholic church. A rare elliptical building by David Stephenson built 1786-1789 – unfortunately closed. The Holy Jesus Hospital (AD 1681) is hidden in a turmoil of highways and tower blocks. It has a low row of arches which support the deeper upper floors with fourteen doors lined along the under passage. We rise through concrete monstrosities and end of the hospital looks across a busy road – General Soup Kitchen 1880 reads a large stone plaque. The concrete edifice is dead – boarded windows and demolition contractor’s signs. I cannot imagine it will be missed. The main shopping area comes from all directions to a central area which contains a towering 135 foot high column dedicated to Charles Earl Grey; whose statue tops the edifice. He is remembered for his Reform Act of 1832 – and of course, the tea named after him

Morpeth

Wednesday 3rd October – Morpeth – The County Town of Northumberland. A splendid stone bridge of 1831 crosses the River Wansbeck, built by Thomas Telford to replace the first bridge of 1296. A great circular lodge graces the road into town and there is a semi fortified manor house tower on hill. After crossing out of town by the road bridge, we cross back over river by a footbridge, erected by public subscription by instruction of Jos Jobling esq, Mayor, built by Swinney Bros, Morpeth. Above the foot bridge, water is rushing down a wide weir. The Chantry was formally the grammar school educated Dr William Turner, physician, Dean of Wells and father of English botany. At the end of the main street stands a clock tower in stone blocks repird in the Year 1760 Charles Pye Thomas Softley Bailiffs. The main street is a delicious mixture of buildings from probably 17th to 20th Century. Off the Newgate, a church houses 1st Morpeth Company, the Boys Brigade, founded 1894.

Warkworth – The estuary of the River Coquet runs along beside the road. Decent numbers of Redshank, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatchers and a few Knot are feeding on the mud banks. A female Eider swims down river. Cormorants are sunning themselves. Gulls – Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed rest in the sun. Various remains of boats lie around, black ribs rising from the mud. Further up the road the ruins of a major castle guard the route to a picturesque village.

Craster – A ridiculous ban on dogs, allegedly because of Foot and Mouth, means we are unable to visit Dunstanburgh Castle. Not sure at all why dogs would spread foot and mouth whilst humans will not!

Seahouses

Seahouses – One of the pleasures of life – feeding chips and bread to Eiders and gulls in harbour. Eiders adopt two strategies to beat the gulls, either dive just before the food and grab it from below or the reverse, grab the food and dive. A few gulls manage to avoid the competition by catching the morsel in mid air. The Farne Islands are basking in the sun. Gannets, mainly young, are plunge diving out at sea. Turnstones run across the rocks. A small stone hut sits on the edge of the harbour rocks. In the lee of harbour wall there are good numbers Eider, including some splendid males with pristine white breasts setting off the dark brown and green plumage on their heads and backs. Up the coast, the castle at Bamburgh rises from the low laying land. Just outside the town to the north, grass covered dunes divide the beach and the fields. There are hundreds of Eider at sea. In the distance, the Cheviots stand dark. Flocks of Golden Plover wing over. Swallows and House Martins feed in the afternoon sun.

Budle Bay – Lindisfarne Nature Reserve – A wide estuary where small rivers, Ross Low and Warren Burn join, with convenient roadside viewing point on the Bamburgh road. Mallard in decent numbers are right at the mouth of the estuary. There are also large numbers of Shelduck, Wigeon, Oystercatchers, substantial numbers of Redshank, and some Curlew. On the far side, really some distance away, is a large flock Barnacle and Greylag geese. Lapwings are in profusion but their cousin, the Grey Plover is in far, far fewer numbers. In a channel on the edge of the open sea a Red-breasted Merganser and a couple of Common Scoter accompany Eiders.

Thursday 4th October – Holy Island of Lindisfarne – The island is approached across a causeway which is flooded twice daily at high tide. Care must taken as driving through drifts of seaweed is both tricky and unusual. Just outside the village, stone walls are covered in lichen and poppies. The island’s history is closely linked to that of early Christianity in Britain. In 635, Aiden came to Lindisfarne and set up a monastery. A few years later, LindisfarneFinan built the first church, of wood and dedicated it to St Peter. In 673 Cuthbert was made Prior of St Peter’s Monastery. He died in 687 on Inner Farne and was buried on Lindisfarne. In 698 his body was exhumed and found undecayed. At this time, Eadfrith completed the wonderfully illuminated manuscripts of the Lindisfarne Gospels. In 793 the monastery was destroyed by Vikings. A second invasion of Vikings in 875 forced the monks to leave the island taking the body of Cuthbert and the Gospels with them. In 1069 they were returned by monks fearing William the Conqueror, but were taken back to Durham the following year.

During the next century, Benedictine monks from Durham rebuilt the Priory and extended the parish church, which was enlarged and given its present Chancel in the 13th and 14th Centuries. The Priory was dissolved in 1545. The bell tower of the church was rebuilt and the walls buttressed in 1836. Today, some Saxon stonework still forms part of Lindisfarnethe current church along with Norman pillars and arches. Inside the church, the oldest memorial is set into the north wall of the sanctuary; a mitre, cross and sword dating from the 12th Century. Nearby are four diamond shaped hatchets which are memorials to the local Lords of the Manor – two of the Haggerstone family and one each for the Selbey’s and Askew’s. Light-bellied Brent geese are feeding out on the mud flats. Red Admiral butterflies are plentiful, some feeding on late Hawksbit blooms. The island is made of hard, dark dolerite, part of the Whin Sill, a large area of igneous rock, 295 million years old. An outcrop rises near the Priory and is topped by a coastguard lookout. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies around it calling. This must be one of the least exp