Off the Northumberland coast just north of Bamburgh – where I was staying at the weekend – is the little island of Lindisfarne, only accessible when the tide is out. There’s a causeway for cars and walkers, but four of us, with emergency supplies of, erm, chocolate, headed for the more challenging Pilgrims Way across the sand and mudflats, about 3 miles from shore to shore, marked by a line of wooden poles.
We’d checked the tide timetables – essential – and were going with someone who knows the area – advisable. In case you’ve miscalculated and get cut off by the tide rushing in, there’s a handy refuge shed on stilts along the route, but best to avoid that scenario.
It’s traditional to walk barefoot, but squelching through thick stinky mud wasn’t for me and I soon put on my (unsuitable, running) shoes. Equally squelchy, but not quite as unpleasant. The mud and coarse grass turned to sand with channels of clear water, the sky was lowering, threatening a later rainstorm, and strangely enough no sight of any seabirds in the bleak landscape.
Suddenly the silence was broken by the eerie sound of howling. Ghosts of sea-wolves aka Vikings perhaps, we wondered, thinking of their vicious raids on the island in the eighth century? Not marauders from the east, but hundreds of seals singing to each other other on the far side of the saltmarsh, with occasional bellowings from the males.
Thoughts of the kindly and aimiable seventh century St. Cuthbert came into my mind as we neared Holy Isle and tiny St Cuthbert’s Isle. It’s said the saint would stand for hours in the freezing waters of the North Sea off its shores, until he finished his meditations and had his feet dried by handy otters.
We reached the island, and were glad we hadn’t seen this notice warning us of quicksands and unexploded ordinance. Perhaps St Cuthbert was keeping on eye on us …