Beal to Holy Island
Earworm of the Day: Ordinary People by Bugzy Malone ft JP Cooper
Slept great! Woke v early and divided up my stuff into things I needed for today, and everything else. Not much I needed today. Had a quick breakfast and was ready for my friend RE arriving at 7.15. Wore The Cowl that I had spent so long knitting.
I was feeling nervous about the walk across the sands - and left to my own devices I might have taken the road causeway across, or even stayed at the B&B til P came to pop us across in the car. BUT RE was here and was adamant that we would walk across the sands to Holy Island. 'This is it. The big finish. You can do this'.
In terms of tide timings, we had worked out the mid-point of the safe road-crossing time 9.45 or thereabouts and the guidebook advised us to be across by then. This meant setting off at 7.30 latest.
The carpark that I remembered down by the causeway has been closed off in recent months - someone mentioned in the bar that the landowner is in dispute with Natural England (or whoever) about unpaid grants. Who knows. Anyway, we had received permission to park in the Bothy Car Park while we walked across, Ken and the couple had evidently set off earlier. No tents evident behind the hedge and it looked as if we were last. No worries, right?
We headed down the footpath to the start of the causeway, then once we were over the South Low (river) we slid a bit inelegantly down off the road and walked across to join the line of 123 marker poles which stretch straight across the sands to Holy Island.
There has been a pole-marked crossing across the sands since earliest times but these were installed in the 1970s I think. I suppose the monks would have come back and forth this way, and on their last journey fleeing Lindisfarne with its relics and with the coffin containing the body of St Cuthbert, on their way to St Cuthbert's Cave that I had passed yesterday.
The ground underfoot was a strange mixture of sand and mud - but fairly firm - and we had elected to keep our boots on for now. We could see footprints in the sand and decided that these were the couple and then Ken slightly separate. It was overcast but fairly light and we couldn't see another soul in front of us or on the road.
I've visited Holy Island many times since moving to Scotland in 1990. For several years it seemed to be the place we went for a birthday day out and we spent a good few dreich February days trying to find something decent to eat and taking the long circular path around the island.
Things have certainly changed in recent years and the island seems a much more inviting place to visit these days. P and I visited in just over a month later and the island was buzzing with life and people. We spent some time in the Gertrude Jekyll's garden:
We wandered the island and then found a grassy spot on the heugh where we lay in the breeze and listened to the sound of the seals singing out on their sandbar in the approaching tide. It's a sound I had only heard once before, on a magical evening at the Brough of Birsay....
and before we left we managed to visit St Mary's Church, with its statue of St Aidan outside and the stunning wooden sculpture by Fenwick Lawson inside. The bronze version stands outside Durham Cathedral where St Cuthbert's body was laid to rest.
RE and I chatted about a range of things as we crossed. We're members of the same crafters group and RE is a talented and creative printer who seems to travel far and wide attending classes and workshops. We had been on a few walks together now and I felt comfortable being with her. I wanted to talk about my experiences of the Way but felt muddled and as if I hadn't made sense of it all in my head yet, other than the sore feet.
Occasionally we'd stop, be still and just listen. Other than the distant calling of waders, the only thing we could hear was the wind.
It grew even lighter and cars started to head across the causeway across to our left ; visitors, locals, delivery drivers. We could see a large group nearing the end of the road and a couple heading towards us coming from the island.
Then we reached a barrier. A long stretch of water and deep bog with no way across. We followed Ken's footprints along the side of the water, then back again, went further across to the right. No way across. RE pointed to a solitary wellington boot nearly submerged in the mud. Really?
We took off our boots and socks without falling over and steeped into icy cold water and then almost lifelike , caressing, grabbing soft mud. People pay good money for mud. But we were across what we hoped was the worst bit only to find sharp shell fragments underfoot making me hop and squeal and move as quickly and lightly as I could. Good grief this was horrid - and yet? At least my feet weren't hurting as much. We met the approaching couple. Tough to get across that bit. Ha ha we checked it out yesterday smug giggles. RE muttered and we looked back to see them pacing up and down the edge of the swampy bit. Then they were across.
We walked on for 10 minutes and I realised RE was still muttering to herself about the couple's smugness. I'm supposed to be the angsty one.
We were closer to the road now and I was hoping P would arrive in his car, visible and waiting at the end of this mammoth walk to welcome us onto dry land. There's a bench at the far end - RE has great eyesight. All that time sailing maybe.
And like that we were across. Time for a vaguely celebratory photo-stop. There was a couple sat on the bench. Not yesterday's couple but a French couple and her feet were wrecked. I felt a small glow of comradeship and relief . We chatted about the walk. 'Ah yes! You are the lady with the dog'. RE told them about the Pilgrims Cafe on the Island and you have to hand it to her: she has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of emerging and hipster coffee and cake stops.
As we walked into the village, I realised that was it. The Way was over. I didn't feel loud or celebratory but a little bit sad. I'd spent months planning and getting fit, then mapping the route, booking accommodation and then doing the walk itself. The Way.
Hobbled into the cafe and there they were; the Glasgow ladies, kit, poles and wiry bodies and an air of joy. 'Oh hi - yes the lady with the dog - we saw you yesterday' and RE and I headed upstairs clutching cake and coffee. The French couple was there too. I'd seen Ken loping his long stride back across the causeway as I sat on the bench drying my feet. The pilgrims had converged and were now separating again, like bits of shell on an outgoing tide.
P arrived in the car and the three of us sped back across a causeway that would never seem quite the same again. Back to the world. The tide was coming in fast and already our footprints would be gone.
Had I proved to myself that I could do it? Yes. Had I managed alone? Yes - on the few bits where I was. Had I got lost? Only once outside Wooler and that was a relatively minor mistake caused by lack of attention. Had it been the unalloyed uplifting experience i had occasionally hoped for? Sometimes yes. Often not. Had I thought Great Thoughts? No. No magical cure for lack of capacity on the brain front. But I had reflected, considered, wondered, sung to myself, sung to Hamish, absorbed, listened, wondered, chatted to people I met, and Managed. My earworm - which had bugged me since waking - seemed apt. My subconscious had chosen it. Perhaps we're all far from ordinary people.
And I could definitely do it again.