Coquet Island

Twenty hours earlier the North Sea had been tummelly with big hashy waves, big enough to attract the surfers. This morning a smoult or calm, a relative millpond. Coquet Island is an RSPB reserve almost a mile off the Northumbrian Coast at Amble. It has the largest colony of one of Britain’s rarest birds, the Roseate Tern, as well as Puffins and Eider Ducks. The reserve is under the protection of European Law which begs the question of whether this protection will continue under a post-Brexit government.

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Birling Carrs

Headed north to escape the weather. Northumbria has a lovely stretch of coast. It was thought Hitler might have been tempted to visit. Some of these WW2 concrete blocks designed to hinder an Axis invasion still have sharp edges but others are showing signs of seventy years of being buffeted by the sea twice daily. Elsewhere some have are almost buried by the shifting sands. This is Birling Carrs at the north end of Warkworth Dunes.

Crag Lough

Perhaps the most photographed lake in the Northumberland National Park. Crag Lough sits at the foot of the steep igneous cliffs of the Whin Sill along which runs Hadrian’s Wall.

The lake (lough is the regional name for a ‘lake’ and pronounced like the Scottish loch) is only a maximum of two metres deep and since the last ice age has been slowly silting up. Its surrounding peat bogs about are part of a SSSI managed by the National Trust and local farmers although it has been stocked with Rainbow trout. Brown trout, perch and eels are also found in the lake which unusually is alkaline, most upland lakes are acidic. The chap in the small inflatable boat is fly fishing. In the strong westerly wind his technique is to motor up to the west end of the lake and then drift with the wind while casting. He actually beat me to the other end.

So a slightly smaller lake perhaps but a scene which would have been familiar to the Roman foot soldiers patrolling the wall over 1,600 years ago. On a windy wet December day I hope they had more on than togas and sandals although hobnailed sandals would have given a better grip on the greasy hard rock than modern rubber.

Morpeth Castle

Morpeth Castle; or what remains of it. This is actually just the gatehouse and dates from the 1340s. Very little is left of the rest of the castle. But even though this gatehouse has been much altered throughout the centuries it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I listed building. It is now used as a holiday let.

Morpeth is a castle where nothing much seems to have happened. Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots, stayed there after fleeing Scotland. After the death of her husband, King James IV at the Battle of Flodden, she became regent to the child King James V. This made her quite a few enemies coupled with the fact that she was the sister of England’s King Henry VIII, Scotland’s enemy at the time.

The castle’s other claim to fame was during the English Civil War when, in 1644, 500 Scottish Covenanters held it for Parliament against 2,700 besieging Royalists.

 

Shipwreck, Bamburgh

This wreck on the beach below Bamburgh Castle appeared overnight after fierce storms in June 2013. By early the following year they had again disappeared below the shifting sands.  Early indications were that the ship was sufficiently old and an archaeological survey was carried out in the two hours available either side of low tide. Dendrochronology on the exposed oak timbers showed them to have been felled around 1768 supporting the theory that the wreck is of a coastal trader sailing between ports along the east coast of Britain.

The beach at that time was used to offload cargo for the castle. Ships would have been beached at high tide, the cargo offloaded and re-floated on the next tide so it may have been that something went seriously wrong during these operations.

Interestingly in 1771 Dr John Sharp, who was then living at the castle foresaw a need for a system for dealing with stricken vessels on the coast. He obtained an order from the Trinity House in Newcastle Upon Tyne effectively transforming the keep of the castle into the world’s first coastguard station. In 1786, Dr Sharp launched the first ever lifeboat at Bamburgh.

The full archaeological report of the survey can be found here.

In the distance in the photo are the Farne Islands, 1½ miles offshore.

Dunstanburgh Castle

Another day, another castle. Dunstanburgh is 14th century, built by Thomas of Lancaster who was executed and the property forfeited to the Crown. Its been a ruin since the 1500s and today is a national trust property.

Bamburgh Castle

Staying on a farm about two kilometres from Bamburgh. The castle dominated the skyline. So after dinner decided to get a bit closer. Ended up underneath it.

Parts of the castle date from the Norman times but underwent major expansion under Henry II. The castle boasts excellent air quality as there is no industry nearby. The same can’t be said about the light pollution. Must have a fantastic electricity bill.