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Holy Island Walk

Holy Island Walk

Sun 30th November 2014

Saturday 29th November 2014

The grey and misty day with restricted visibility contrasted markedly with the day Ian and I did our recce a month ago when we sat in the sun for lunch and even observed mirage phenomena where the Farne Islands appeared detached and “floating” above the water.  No such temperature gradients today, it was uniformly cool, with no sun and definitely no view of the Farne islands.  The bonus was that we were restricted to looking closer-in at detail rather than the usual big sky and far-horizon landscapes.  Following a quick introduction and walk onto the island proper our first real stop was adjacent to St Cuthbert’s Island (aka Hobthrush).  This overlooked the mud and sandflats and the salt marshes of the pilgrim route from the mainland over Holy Island Sands, most of which was still under water as the tide receded.  The seals on the emerging sandbanks provided interest to the east but the south-easterly breeze carried their “song” away from us.  Whilst there we had a quick look at the structure and features within the boulder clay cliffs displaying evidence of the most recent glacial period.

The south coast contrasted between the high viewpoint from the old Coastguard Lookout on top of the Heugh (with excellent views into the Priory) to the old storm beach at sea level by The Ouse now occupied by the iconic sheds made from upturned boats which provided shelter from the north-east wind.   The Heugh forms part of the Holy Island Dyke complex and is made of dolerite, a hard intrusive igneous rock.   During the walk along the road towards the castle we encountered more people that we saw for the remainder of the day.  Walking between the castle and the Gertrude Jekyll designed walled garden, we arrived at the shingle spit, on the south-east corner of the island, on which limekilns were built in the 1850’s for the trade with Dundee.  This site provided a relatively sheltered, if somewhat draughty, location for lunch.  At least we were protected from the gentle drizzle and the scale of the kiln complex itself was impressive.  

Here we picked-up the former waggonway that led north along the east coast where we could easily pick out the raised beach that resulted from the glacial rebound, a result of the melting of the overlying ice towards the end of the Pleistocene glaciation.  From here we could easily appreciate the changing landscape produced by hard and soft rocks, erosion and deposition etc as we approached the white panted navigation marker on Emmanuel Head at the north – east corner of the island.

Turning west provided yet another marked change of environment where massive sand dunes concealed two broad sandy bays.  We crossed Sandham Bay at beach level, the point of Emmanuel Head providing some protection from the wind.  The relative sense of wildness, tranquillity and remoteness contrasted starkly with the tourist honeypot activity on the south coast just an hour previously.   We climbed over the slippery, folded rocks of the headland of Castlehead separating Sandham Bay from Coves Haven.  A different landscape again, a former limestone quarry was revealed, now largely reclaimed by nature.  The whole area comprises both a National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).    The contrast between the hard and soft rocks, erosion and deposition and natural and human impacts was easy to see and appreciate.  

The broad sweep of Goswick Sands north-west towards the Berwick coast would normally have been clear but the visibility hadn’t improved and all we could see was the grey breakers rolling-in.
We turned south near Snipe Point to cross The Links, the sand dune belt that forms a broad strip across the whole of the northern part of Lindisfarne.  From here it was possible to see the westward extension of the dune belt that forms The Snook.   We could just make out the grey silhouette of Snook Tower approximately three kilometres away from us at the eastern extremity Lindisfarne, the visibility was improving.  This area had been the location of an old settlement called Green Shiel which may date from the ninth century.  It is interesting to view the area on Google Earth.  Walking across the dune slacks between the lines of dunes provided shelter from the cool breeze before emerging from the dunes to walk back to the cars by way of the lonnen passed St Coombs Farm. A brief shower at this stage gave us the only proper dampening of the day but we were now only half a mile from the vehicles.  The sky displayed a few tiny patches of pale blue with a brief pink glow as sun was beginning to set; it was the first sky colour we’d seen all day.  

Thank you to Andrea, Margaret and Ian for their assistance throughout and also for Ian’s role as photographer.  We hope you enjoyed the day, we certainly did and we look forward to meeting you again soon.  Our next walk, on Sunday 25th January, is a bit different.  It is in central Newcastle and we shall be visiting the Tyne Bridges and the Quayside Sunday Market in the morning which will doubtless include a genuine coffee break.  In the afternoon we are going underground for a guided tour of the Ouseburn Tunnel which involves a couple of hours out of reach of any inclement weather.  We would be delighted to see you there.    

RNH 30th November 2014

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