Walking the Northumberland Coast, Days 2 and 3 – Sacred Cave to a Blistered Foot.

29 Oct

On day 2, after a big, fried breakfast, which probably cancelled out the benefits of the previous day’s walk, we detoured inland to join part of another long-distance path: the St Cuthbert’s Way. This follows the route taken by the Lindisfarne monks as they carried the sacred remains of their revered former Abbot. Cuthbert was a Scottish shephard boy from the Borders who became a famous preacher and healer after he saw a vision of St Aiden’s soul passing into heaven. Eleven years after his death, Cuthbert’s body was found to be miraculously intact as if he was just sleeping. The famous Lindisfarne Gospels were written to commemerate his elevation to sainthood. The monks took Cuthbert’s body away from Lindisfarne to escape Viking pillagers in the 9th century.

Leaving our lodgings near Holy Island, Colin and I climbed gently away from the sea but still enjoyed wide ranging views of the coast. Inland, we skirted moors and through woods, getting views of the dark outlines of the Cheviot Hills. In a sloping wood of Scottish pines, we visited the sandstone cave where the monks and their sacred cargo came to rest for a while. It is a special place and has been dubbed: St Cuthbert’s Cave. ( see previous blog — “Getting up from the couch…”)

We walked on through a field with a very large white bull in it. Luckily it was more interested in its harem of cows than in us.In fact it was sniffing one of their rear-ends! We passed a little silvery lake in a woodland glade. On it, 2 swans glided gracefully and above it 2 buzzards circled on the thermals. Colin and I walked alongside newly ploughed fields of dark earth, with shiny furrows snaking off into the distance. Tractors trailing clod-breaking harrows worked their way up and down the post-harvest fields. Sudden explosions of feathers made us jump as startled pheasants broke their cover. Belford was announced by its church steeple and a crenellated tower called West Hall.

Belford is either a big village or a very small town. It has the old Bluebell Inn at its centre near the market cross. Having a drink there, the inn reminded us that this place used to be on the Great North Road, formerly doing a brisk trade servicing the stage coachies which plied up and down it in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now the A1 bypasses it about a mile to the east and it is a quiet backwater. Belford no longer has a school and lost its Post Office a few years ago, such that it briefly found fame on a TV programme about the decline of rural settlements. Tourism has led to a sprinkling of guest houses and on the edge of the village is another golf course. Big houses lurk up long drives. But for most of our time there, all was quiet in Belford, as it slumbered undisturbed in the late September sunshine. After a pub meal, Colin and I retreated to a comfortable guest house which unfortunately suffered slightly from an over-chatty landlady, but was otherwise very nice, especially when we discovered a decanter of Lindisfarne mead on the landing!

On day 3, fields, woods and country lanes led us back from Belford to the coast. We passed huge metal grain silos with roaring exhaust fans. Colin said they were for drying grain. We crossed the busy A1 and then the East Coast main railway line after we phoned the signalman ( on a freephone provided), to make sure that we were not going to be mown down by the Flying Scotsman.

We emerged from a short climb through another wood and there across the rolling wheat fields was the huge fortress of Bamburgh. It sits on a dominating platform of volcanic rock known as the Great Whin Sill. Beyond the dark bulk of Bamburgh were the white, guano-stained cliffs and white light-house of the Farne Islands. These are 2 of Northumberlands biggest tourist attractions. The imposing castle used to be the seat of the Kings of Northumbria. It now belongs to the wealthy Armstrong family. The Farnes are famous for their spectacular birdlife ( especially in the summer nesting season), basking seals and the legend of the Victorian heroine Grace Darling, who helped her lighthouse keeper father to rescue survivors of a shipwreck on the rocks one stormy night. The legend is milked unashamedly by the tourist industry. Coachloads of visiters are deposited at the Grace Darling Museum which some describe as charming but others find quite silly. Apparently, you can actually see a lock of the heroine’s hair on display!

Bamburgh is approached via a magnificent sandy beach made famous in films such as “A Lion in Winter.” This is where King Henry II met Thomas a Becket on horseback, although why they had to ride all the way up to Northumberland just to have a chat, I don’t know. Maybe it was something to do with the supremely photogenic location.

Before we could get to the famed beach, Colin and I had to negotiate another caravan site and yet another golf course! ( Play is continuous, rake the bunkers after use, respect the dress-code.) Prior to finally hitting the dunes we slipped by the mysterious, glistening mud-flats of Budle Bay, Northumberland’s very own version of The Wash. It is a paradise for birds with big, splayed wading feet and long, thin beaks which they endlessly poke into the mud in search of breakfast, dinner or tea.

In Bamburgh village we battled with the tourists pouring off their coaches to sit on every seat in the park below the castle walls. Luckily Colin grabbed a place to sit while the trippers were distracted taking photographs. When they all traipsed off to the teashops or perhaps to the famous Grace Darling Museum, we walked slightly wearily on to Seahouses, a few miles further south.

Seahouses is a little working fishing port. It is also where the boat trips to the Farne Islands set off from. It sounds as if it should be charming, quaint and picturesque, but it’s actually full of tourists, crowded car-parks, fish and chip shops and ice-cream parlours. It’s convenience as a base for visiting many of Northumberland’s tourist attractions has squeezed any charm out of it.( in my opinion.) We trudged into the town and had a drink in the beer garden of the Olde Ship Inn with great views of the busy harbour and the Farne Islands beyond. Then we retired to another very nice guest house. It was time to relax.

Unfortunately we were now ambushed by the great blister crisis! I already realized that my feet felt pretty sore. But as I peeled my boots and walking socks off, I was not prepared for the shock of the largest blister I had ever seen — and it was on the ball of my very own left foot! It looked like a small, partly inflated balloon. It was accompanied by an array of smaller blisters on the ends and sides of my poor toes. “Oh my God!” I exclaimed melodramatically, and Colin, a look of alarm on his face, uttered the dreaded words: “We may have to abort!”

I had been too blase. Apparently I should have upgraded my walking boots and socks, put in special insoles and soaked my feet in cold tea before setting off on such a long trek. I had not been scared of the distances ( they were not that long anyway — averaging about 11 miles a day), but it was the day after day nature of a long-distance walk and the carrying of a heavy pack that I had not accounted for. I actually had an aching shoulder as well as a blistered foot. Curiously it was my right shoulder but my left foot. ( Yes, I know it was a film with Daniel Day Lewis!)

Thankfully the crisis subsided. After limping to the Olde Ship Inn for a veggie lasangne in the cosy Captain’s Cabin, I had a good night’s sleep and in the morning, my blister had hardened up. So I bravely decided to walk on. I would tape my poorly foot up, put on 2 pairs of protective socks and walk in my softer trainers. The only trouble was that I now had to carry my boots, which made my heavy rucksack even heavier! But I was determined to carry on. I reminded myself that I was not a wimp ( not anymore anyway). I thought of Ernest Shackleton, James Bond and Michael Palin — and walked manfully on into the unknown!

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2 Responses to “Walking the Northumberland Coast, Days 2 and 3 – Sacred Cave to a Blistered Foot.”

  1. jarvisandbeetle October 30, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    I feel like I should visit that part of england soon – and I take it your foot is back in fully working order!

    • scrapstu1949 October 30, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

      Yes, it’s fine now but it took a couple of weeks to renew itself. Thanks for reading this. More coming soon.

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