Anglo-Saxon Northumberland

We had a wonderful few days in Northumberland recently, exploring Lindisfarne, Bamburgh Castle, Alnwick and the stunning coast. We have been planning a trip for a while and definitely weren't disappointed. 

I have wanted to visit Lindisfarne for ever! I've been fascinated by Anglo-Saxon literature and history for many years, and it feels as if Lindisfarne is the embodiment of everything of this period. I studied Old English at university and didn't get on with it at all. I realised, years later, that I didn't have any understanding of the period, at all, and everything we studied felt really alien and remote. More recently there have been so many excellent books published about the period, as well as a deepening understanding of the so called "Dark Ages" that I have started to appreciate the literature. So, a visit to Northumberland, home to so much Anglo Saxon history, seemed appropriate.

Lindisfarne wasn't what I was expecting. I imagined that the island would feel more remote and cut off. There were an awful lot of visitors, even in late September. But the Abbey was magical and the setting stunning. I also hoped for more information about Cuthbert and Bede. But, it was very beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk round the island and exploration of the Abbey. We gazed at the Castle, but didn't have time, on this occasion, to visit. Our visit has inspired me to find out more of the history of Lindisfarne.

Walter Scott - Lindisfarne

The tide did now its flood-mark gain
And girdled in the saint's domain:
For, with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle;
Dry shod, o'er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to their shrine find way;
Twice every day, the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace!

Our next destination was Bamburgh Castle. I think Bamburgh Castle was the jewel of the visit, for me. Bamburgh is a stupendous castle, dramatically situated above a windswept beach. It was a fortified site in Roman times and was a key castle in Norman times, becoming a royal castle under Henry II. It was substantially restored in the 19th century. 

William Lisle Bowles

Ye holy Towers that shade the wave-worn steep,
Long may ye rear your aged brows sublime,
Though, hurrying silent by, relentless Time
Assail you, and the winds of winter sweep
Round your dark battlements; for far from halls
Of Pride, here Charity hath fixed her seat,
Oft listening, tearful, when the tempests beat
With hollow bodings round your ancient walls;
And Pity, at the dark and stormy hour
Of midnight, when the moon is hid on high,
Keeps her lone watch upon the topmost tower,
And turns her ear to each expiring cry;
Blessed if her aid some fainting wretch may save,
And snatch him cold and speechless from the wave.

We loved Bamburgh Castle, especially the views of the beach and sea. It was absolutely stunning and so easy to imagine the Viking raiding forces approaching from the sea. I was finally able to use some of my very rusty Old English, and exclaim "und tha se here com" - and then the raiding force arrived! Standing with our backs to Bamburgh Castle, with the wind in our faces, it was finally possible to picture the Vikings arriving on the coast. I wish I'd visited years ago and improved my understanding of the Anglo-Saxon world.