02 Nov 2014
“I’m glad we have a small car!” I breathed as we squeezed past oncoming traffic while negotiating a tight bend in the lane. We were driving along a coastal ‘B’ road, on route to a castle ruin. These country roads are barely two lanes, they’re lined with hedges or stone walls and twist, turn, rise and dip seemingly simultaneously.
Besides a few hair-raising sections we enjoyed the drive through tiny seaside villages, past freshly plowed fields and grassy meadows. Birds flew in formation heading west into the sunlight. Our soundtrack for today was William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices; choir music from the 1600’s. It seemed fitting considering the age of the ruin we’re headed for.
Dunstanburgh castle stands on a spectacular site, high on a rocky coastal bluff, and can only be reached on foot; which means fewer people. From the car park, we could see glimpses of a craggy silhouette in the distance.
“It’s going to be quite a walk” observed David as he unlatched the sheep gate walked through and held it open for me. We couldn’t see any signage or direction information but we could see the castle.
A sandy path led through a small field towards the dunes and another crossed it leading to a golf course. We chose the dunes path, and followed it down to a gorgeous little beach. The tide was in, the air was still and the sun was out. Small neat waves gently washed onto the sandy beach.
“Wow, this is beautiful!” I loved it.
The walk to the castle was very picturesque. Following the beach south, the path headed up into the grassy dunes that I have come to love. At the rise another glimpse of the ruin was revealed. After awhile the beach changed to big rounded stones and the sound of the sea took on a base note of rocks clonking together. Dave walked on while I stopped to listen and to enjoy the beach for a minute.
Back into the dunes and up to the top I came across a Pillbox (a hardened field fortification built during the 1940’s) and knew David would be here somewhere. Show him a small dark space and he’ll climb into it! Sure enough I found him, face pressed up to a tiny square window (a loophole) inspecting the gloom. He couldn’t fit into the opening and I was too chicken to climb in myself.
Rounding a bend we were upon large granite cliffs at the base of the castle and the final assent to the bluff. Reaching the gate we took a minute to ogle at this interesting ruin. It looked straight out of a fairy-tale.
Building began in 1313 and was added to over the next century. It was owned by Thomas, Earl of Lancaster (1278-1322), cousin to King Edward II, he was a rich and powerful rival. They suspect the choice of site was partly as a reminder to Bamburgh Castle, owned by the king’s allies. In the distance, we could see one castle from the other.
Armed with a guide book we took our time climbing up into one of the towers and exploring the site. Standing in the centre of the main living chambers with a sketch of what it was like, was really helpful in bringing it to life. This place had turned into an unexpected highlight!
While we were exploring the bailey, and perimeter wall, a storm front blew in from the south. The wind suddenly picked up and dropped in temperature and brought a light shower of rain. It added to the sence of drama for sure. And then a timid rainbow appeared behind Lilburn Tower. I didn’t want to leave.
But leave we must, and turned back to our path returning the way we’d come. The storm front blew out to sea and the weather had settled so we were able to take our time walking back. With the sun on our backs, we sat on a fallen tree trunk over the pebbles and soaked in the view.
I think this might be my favorite day so far, I keep saying it, I know.
“My dial has passed happiness around to sadness again” said David as we approached the car. We’re so happy we’re a little sad to be leaving. It’s not that we want to live here.
Later we stopped at Seahouses the neighbouring village to Bamburgh, to poke about the village. It was a surprisingly lively little place. People were out and about, walking, in the pubs, and down by the piers. A group of divers were climbing out of their gear. At first I didn’t understand what they’d been doing. I didn’t recognise their gear. They weren’t wearing a surfing style wetsuit, they were baggy and had full rubber shoes, and under the baggy rubber suit they were wearing a quilted onesie. It wasn’t until I saw the oxygen tanks and flippers that I realised; of course the water would be freezing.
That quilted onesie would come in handy! I’ve always wanted a quilted onesie.
We watch fishing trawlers come in to dock accompanied by a crowd of bossy, noisy, demanding seagulls. We discovered that the boats are still running out to the Farne islands after all. Doh. Something for another trip. For tomorrow we head north.
“North, Miss Tessmarker”
We saved the one fancy restaurant in town for our last night, tonight. And we weren’t disappointed. I will go so far as to say, the meal was the best we’ve had in the UK. Moules in a cream, mustard, and streaky bacon sauce. Luckily they provided spoons for the sauce or we may have resorted to drinking from the dish, the sauce was that good. My rib eye steak was soft and juicy and cooked to perfection. I could see the map of Australia in my steak. It was served with a healthy glass of tempernillo.