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Discovering Albion – day 8: Sunset

scotland trip jan 15 650We walked up to the Heugh, a high point of the island, to watch the sun set in the west. Once there was a fort here and some of the ruined walls remain, providing a little shelter from the prevailing wind. There are the remains too of the Lantern Chapel that may have been a beacon and lookout point.

scotland trip jan 15 678The view from here today is spectacular, looking inland onto the ruins of the twelfth-century Priory, eastwards to the castle and along the coast of the mainland to where the silhouette of Bamburgh castle punctuates the horizon and the day markers of Guile Point reach for the sky.

scotland trip jan 15 697The light was amazing, turning the pink sandstone to red then gold, painting the landscape with long shadows and glittering on the water, casting an aurulent pathway to the sun. Below we could see the little spit of land, no more than a sea rock cut off from the island by the tide, where St Cuthbert’s chapel once stood.

scotland trip jan 15 708A simple cross stands on the tiny islet. It was to here the saint retreated in search of solitude, and later further still to the island of Farne. Legends say that like St Francis his rapport with the birds and beasts was great. He would talk to the birds that flocked around him and the seals would come and sit at his feet, warming them against the frozen north wind that blew across the sea.

scotland trip jan 15 783Certainly, the birds were still with us as we climbed past the simple memorial cross, designed by Lutyens in memory of those who lost their lives to war. The shocking number of crosses at its foot may be more a reflection of those who remain than the number of dead, but the tiny population of the island means that few families escaped unscathed from the conflict.

scotland trip jan 15 700From here we could look down into the precinct of the Priory, seeing the lovely rainbow arch, the remains of the old crossing tower and the plan of the precinct. This corner of the island, with the village nestled against it, is the home of so much history.

scotland trip jan 15 690The ruined priory had been the home of monks and the artistry that created the Lindisfarne Gospels. It had seen the lives of saints unfold through the 7th century and known the rabid bloodshed of the Danes when they decimated the little community. And yet, for fourteen hundred years, the light of their faith had been kept burning.

scotland trip jan 15 663We watched, gradually becoming colder and colder, as the sun sank behind the distant hills. The chill barely mattered in face of such beauty. Plumes of birds flew overhead in the silence, solitary wings crossed the aureate glow and cries of haunting magic drew us into their spell.

scotland trip jan 15 705We watched until the last sliver of gold poured itself along the hilltops, then, as the light changed once more, made our way back to the village and the warmth of the fire in the Crown and Anchor. There we partook of suitable refreshment before a wander back to the car beneath the crescent moon to collect the laptop.

scotland trip jan 15 837We whiled away the time until the tide would turn, working on a project near completion in the homely warmth of the pub, surrounded by the unmistakable smell of coal fires and childhood. It was pitch black by the time we were ready to leave and make the crossing back to the mainland as the tide receded from the causeway.

scotland trip jan 15 832The drive was surreal. There are no lights to guide you, no kerbs to prevent straying, no luminous paint or glowing cats eyes… just a flat causeway snaking through the sand in the dark, gleaming with seaweed and receding water. It didn’t help that one of my headlight bulbs chose that moment to fail. The layer of deposited sand made it impossible to see the edges of the roadway and it is not a drive I will forget in a hurry. There seems nothing but you and the sea… the world stops. But then, it had been slowing all afternoon and had disappeared with the sun. It had been a time out of the world somehow… a threshold crossed into a magical land; an island beyond the mists of time.

scotland trip jan 15 732