30 Oct 2014
I awoke to the sounds of birds echoing across the village. David lounged comfortably in a velvet armchair gazing out of the full-length windows.
“Seagulls, jackdaws, and ravens…” He reported when he heard me stir. “wheeling around; looking like a Japanese woodblock print.”
By the time I was ready to get up, the castle was glowing golden in the sunlight.
“Come on – Let’s go!” I’ve missed his happy exuberance; all trace of work-mode has left him.
We arrived in Bamburgh last night after a flight from London City airport to Edinburgh, where we collected a hire car and drove two hours south to beautiful Bamburgh. We’re staying at the Victoria Hotel and love our room with its lovely view of the castle over village rooftops.
After breakfast we walked down through the little village, across a vivid green field to the foot of Bamburgh Castle. Overhead jackdaws circled on the wind. We stopped to take a few photos and to read the information boards about the castle.
This site has been inhabited since 1200 BC. Around 547 AD a timber castle stood here for the first Anglo-Saxon King. It’s built on an outcrop of volcanic rock in a good defensive position, which is clear to us standing dwarfed at the foot of the walls. Over the centuries, it’s been under siege, blasted with cannons and patched up again. It’s been built upon and added to; home to Kings and gifted to favoured courtiers.
Around the base of the castle ,we walked north down into the grassy dunes and followed the sandy path until we broke through onto the broad flat beach.
“The North Sea.” David welcomed the sight of the sea, under a watercolour sky.
“It looks tame today.” When I think of the North Sea I think of giant rolling waves that can sink a fishing trawler. But today the waves looked no higher than ankle-deep. I wasn’t prepared to check the water temperature.
Turning to look back at the sprawling castle from the beach, it cut a striking silhouette against the morning light. A living sandcastle. The King of Castles.
We wondered if there is a family in residence still. (Today the Armstrong Family own and live here which they have for generations.)
We virtually had the beach to ourselves, and decided to head north towards a rocky headland. Lindisfarne Castle appeared as a misty shadow on the horizon. Perhaps we’ll go there tomorrow.
It’s been almost fourteen years since we’ve been here. Northumberland was the last place we visited in 2001 before we first moved to London. It’s left a lasting impression upon us. We had to come back.
“I remember looking that way and thinking ‘that way London lies’ and wondering what would become of us.” David said pointing south.
“We’ve come a long way since then.”
Beach combing and exploring the rock pools and sea weed, stopping to photograph as we walked, filled the morning. The sea air had a difference fragrance to Sydney’s. Here it’s more subtle, crisp, sand and maybe the fields with a hint of coal fireplace. Different to the salty air of Sydney in summer. We couldn’t even smell the seaweed, which on closer inspection was still alive and flat in low tide.
“It’s not baking in the sun like at home” observed David.
On the rocky headland, we came across a group of photographers sheltering behind a lighthouse. Armed with binoculars, tripods and telescopic lenses they looked a little like nature paparazzi. As the path grew muddy and slippery we turned and made our way back to the castle.
Back at the castle jackdaws were still wheeling over the towers, playing in the air currents. As we made our way along the castle walls towards the main gatehouse, Dave later confessed to having a weird moment of feeling what it must be like living in that time; armed with sword and shield, sneaking up to the Castle gates.
Inside the walls of the castle, perched high up on a rocky hill, the views up and down the coast were beautiful. I remember the colour of the dune grass the most; a soft sage green. The perfectly manicured emerald lawn inside the grounds, stand in direct contrast.
Only the ground floor rooms are open to the public but my curiosity was piqued whenever a corridor or stairwell was marked ‘private’ and roped off. Oh to be given full reign of all the rooms!
It’s school holidays in England which explains the numbers of kids here, running around and touching anything not locked behind glass. One little girl was grabbing onto a small timber table with a very large, and very old, porcelain vase balanced on top. It was as big as she was. I debated saying something but I was on the other side of the Great Hall.
The castle has a very long and complicated history, which is reflected in the rambling nature of the building. The eight feet deep walls of the Keep, impressed David who likes his structures to be sturdy. The door shaped so a horse and rider can fit through without dismounting and the armory room with a passage to the ladies sitting room was interesting. To what purpose is the passage? Snigger.
In an old store room there was an exhibition of a local artist Peter Phillips’ work. He clearly has a wide ranging style of drawing, watercolours and painting. I loved his drawings of the castle in particular. I hope I’m not violating any copyright issues by posting his work. I searched for a link to these drawings online, unsuccessfully. So here is a link to the artist’s website instead: http://phillips-creative.com/site/
The view, looking out from the Keep, emphasised the size of the little village; their very existence is still reliant on this ancient castle.
We warmed up in a tea room in a converted terrace house on the main high street. By main street I mean, only street, in town. After lunch we headed back to our hotel guest lounge to plug into wifi before heading back to the room. The afternoon was spent lounging in the comfy armchairs reading, writing, whist listening to black birds in the beer garden.