SITEZINE: Holy Island's E-Mail Newsletter: December 2019 / January 2020

A BIT FROM ME Geoff Porter

Dear Subscriber,

Welcome to our final newsletter for 2019 and after one of the wettest Novembers I can recall, it seems strange to be preparing my editorial at the beginning of Advent - almost a month ahead of Christmas Day.

The leaves I grumbled about last month now lie strewn, flat and lifeless on our kerbs and pavements. Despite poor weather forecasts, visitors continue to arrive across an often hazardous causeway only to be greeted by showers and a quagmire-like car park. In particular walkers will notice that, as I write, the southern handrail on the bridge is now completely absent which must pose quite a risk for those daring to venture across on one of our notorious dark stormy nights. Apparently, our county's highway department is 'doing its best' but claim restrictive budgets.... Nevertheless, we thank the many visiting us and I apologise for you having to experience the travel conditions which we endure on a daily basis.

Whilst picturesque, Lindisfarne Causeway is a very remote part of the Great Britain. When the weather is fine you will be sharing it with thousands of other road users. But on a bitter night in the middle of winter you may well be totally alone. To avoid having to call on emergency services we urge you to check the causeway safe crossing times!!

Our country is in the midst of a general election with a plethora of promises from all political parties. The media is full of it. However, whatever political persuasion may have, I urge that the thing that we must all do on 12th December is vote.

Thank you to our authors who have given their time throughout the year to produce our newsletters. We really do hope that you have enjoyed the fruits of their work. Wherever you may be we wish you the joy and hope of Christmas and that your New Year brings you the best of health and happiness

We look forward to getting in touch in February 2020.

Geoff Porter
Editor (SitEzine)


at 11 am

Walk across the Pilgrims Way to Holy Island 
with stops for the traditional Antiphon prayers
and sung verses from  'O come, O come, Immanuel'.

Phone Anna + Andy Raine  on 01289 389351   or  07864266750   for details
(or to say you're coming, and arrange for cars.)
Walk in wellies or crocs or brave bare feet  -   [not walking boots]
Soup and sandwiches afterwards.
Whatever the weather, but usually stunning views.  Always memorable.

Write it in the diary or on your calendar: Tuesday 17th December 2019

Scarlett-Beau greets her fisherman-father

Winter has arrived! We certainly felt wintery on the school field this morning as we finished planting our new hedge. Mrs Ward was successful in her bid for hedging plants from the Woodland Trust's 'Big Climate Fightback' campaign. We are hoping this will help make the field a little more sheltered and help it to be a haven for birds and wildlife. Thank you to Mrs Ward, Richard and Connor who spent a chilly Saturday planting and getting the ground ready for Scarlett-Beau and Lily-Ella to do their bit.

On 11th November we were joined by Revd Canon Sarah Hills and our children's families for our visit to the war memorial up on the Heugh. The children laid hand painted stones saying 'we will remember' at the base of the memorial and we gave thanks to our brave servicemen and women. Thank you to Sarah and our families for joining us on such a cold and windy day.

Our school field is looking very different - have you noticed our new trim trail? The girls were delighted to see that it had been built over the half term holidays. Thank you for putting up with the disruption over the days of the build. The children helped with the planning of the equipment and had been waiting eagerly for its arrival. We have really enjoyed getting used to the different parts of the trail. The wobbly bridge is a favourite and the swinging logs are very tricky to traverse. But the challenge is there and we have two keen and active pupils to put it to the test!

We would like to say a huge thank you to Holy Island Parish Council for the generous donation towards the cost of the trail. Thank you to John Bevan for organising the donation. When we heard that the village had 'voted' for the money to come to the school, we were absolutely delighted and so grateful. We have also had substantial funding from the local council and would like to thank Cllr Roderick Lawrie for his kind interest in Holy Island First School. Our yard has also been re-surfaced and we are going to have a think about the types of games we can get painted on to it.

We are very busy in school and our preparations for Christmas have already begun. Our magnificent Christmas performance,' Christmas with the Aliens', will be taking place at Lowick Village Hall at 2pm on Friday 6th December and 5pm on Monday 9th December. Please come along if you can. The children are enjoying their rehearsals and are just beginning to get their costumes fitted and ready for the show. 

BIG NEWS! We are having a Christmas coffee and cake afternoon in school on Friday 13th December at 2pm. Please do join us. We want to celebrate the wonderful year we have had at Holy Island First School and to say 'thank you' to you all for your support. Come and see our Christmas tree and have a look at our beautiful decorations. There might even be a couple of Christmas carols. Christmas jumpers are more than welcome!

You may remember that in July we re-created our Viking Raid for a BBC documentary. We have now heard that this is due to go out regionally on BBC 1 on Monday Dec 9th at 7:30pm. Watch out for the fearsome Lowick and Holy Island Vikings!

Finally, we were delighted to be asked to create a 'pocket' for the advent calendar being made for the church. As you will see, Lily-Ella and Scarlett-Beau have created a masterpiece.  We would like to wish you all a safe and merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Heather Stiansen


I have to begin with an apology. Regular readers of the E-zine will recall that I reported on and urged readers to support James Douglas who was running in the Berlin Marathon on 29 September 2019. The little grey cells  are on the decline and I forgot to report back!

James was successful on two counts: First he completed the marathon in a smidgen over four hours and secondly his sponsorship raised more than 1,600GBPs for Cancer Research UK.

Well done James. Thanks to you and all who supported him.

As the year draws to a close the demand on the hall facilities declines, but it gave opportunity for the Vicar to start up a sewing club that has met on three occasions.

The County Council have booked the hall for the General Election and a local political Party plan a meeting in December.

But the biggest job tackled this month has been checking and sorting out our Christmas Lights, but they will all be up and ready by mid-December. (I hope)

Finally, on behalf of the Trustees and all associated with Crossman Hall I wish you all a Peaceful and joyous Christmas and a Very Good New Year, an often heard sentiment at this time "Long may your lumb reek"

David O' - Contact
OR via the new Crossman Hall website:



With dusk coming these days by mid-afternoon, it's a great time to catch a glimpse of one of the island's favourite birds, the Barn Owl.

Our resident pair are regularly out hunting in the hour or so before darkness with recent sightings around Sanctuary Close,  the beach and Rocket Field and, of course, around St Coomb's Farm and the hedges, fence lines and walls of the Straight and Crooked lonnens.

When times are hard - and they are at the moment - they can also hunt during daylight so could really turn up at any time. Our Barn Owls have had a thoroughly miserable time this year with two pairs using nest boxes but failing to produce any young.

The regular pair around the village first laid a clutch of four eggs. These failed to hatch so they laid four more with, sadly, the same result. The birds remained in residence and by the time I got around to cleaning out the box in October most of the eggs were just broken and pathetic shells.

Hunting Barn Owl at duskPhoto: Tim Dean

A second pair elsewhere on the island occupied a box early in the season but failed to produce any eggs and gradually seemed to disappear from that particular area. The problem seems to have been caused by a lack of their staple food, Short-tailed Voles.

This year's total failure compares sharply with seasons when vole numbers have been high. For example, back in 2014 two pairs around the village each produced two broods resulting in a total of 14 young owls successfully fledging.

That was by far the best year since Barn Owls resumed breeding on the island in 2008 after a gap of over half a century after Robert and I installed the first nest box at St Coomb's.

The problem this year seems to have been simply a lack of food.  Barn Owls are heavily dependent on small mammals, particularly the voles. These small and plump creatures were once very accurately described to me by Alison Brigham as "little chunks of meat on legs."

Voles have a cyclical lifestyle. Numbers build up over a period of three or four years and then suddenly crash before the pattern is repeated.  In years of vole shortages, such as we have had in 2019, owls really struggle.  This has been widely recognised for many years and results in owls of all species have "off years."

They either don't attempt to breed at all, like our second island pair, or lay eggs which prove infertile, like the village owls. This is probably because the female was in a poor physical condition at the start of the nesting season.

When voles aren't available or are in very short supply, owls have to turn to other species which are generally much poorer in food value. Mice are taken but are pretty small and without much meat. Small birds are also hunted but are much more difficult. They are obviously wary when owls are about and even when caught, like mice, don't provide much in the way of calories.

The lack of voles this year has shown in other ways. Several people who walk their dogs regularly in the lonnens have told me that their pets haven't been managing to sniff out or catch any voles. Similarly, a couple of cats at St Coomb's, which are normally good and wily hunters, have not had much success either.

Still further proof has come from another owl species. Short-eared Owls which arrive from Scandinavia in October and November usually stay around the island in winters when voles are plentiful. They often provide a wonderful sight as they also hunt by day and so are much more obvious.  They patiently and slowly quarter the rough fields, particularly those at the north end of the Straight Lonnen, and the dunes and are a familiar sight throughout the colder months. In some years up to a dozen can winter on the island.

This year I've noticed several arriving on the island and briefly explored the fields. They don't seem to have found anything and have quickly disappeared across to the mainland.

A happier year on the island: three young owls take a look at the outside world.- Photo: Darren Shell

Short-eared Owls are migratory and highly nomadic and can wander for hundreds of miles during winter, only settling down when they find areas with abundant prey.

In direct contrast, Barn Owls are extremely sedentary, adults remaining in small areas for their whole lives. Youngsters have to move away to establish territories of their own and to find mates but even then they seldom go more than a few miles.

This lack of nomadic instinct makes Barn Owls extremely vulnerable to sudden changes in local conditions, such as any prolonged periods of snow cover, happily a pretty rare occurrence on the island these days. A thick covering of snow effectively cuts the owls off from small mammals which are safely hidden underneath.

Even a few days with little or no food can prove fatal to Barn Owls and large numbers of deaths have occurred right across Britain during severe winters.  During the visitation of the Beast from the East - and who could forget it - one Barn Owl was picked up on the island in such an emaciated state that it hadn't the strength to fly. 

After treatment by a vet at Berwick and a successful period of recuperation, it was released back on the island and happily survived to breed again.

Hopefully the failures of 2019 will quickly be forgotten as vole numbers start to climb again. Roll on the 2020 breeding season!


Winter maintenance is well underway at the Castle with our builders having been up to repair the area around the bridge on the wagonway and the entrance to the lime kilns. The bridge was becoming inaccessible to many folk as both ends had acquired
a step - mainly through erosion and visitor footfall - so these are now being levelled off. The entry to the kilns was becoming something of a pond, again with footfall a small depression had appeared which filled with water after even the slightest shower; hopefully the repair should mean people can go inside without getting wet socks. We are also fixing down the pumphouse roof properly - the tiles are only really supported by their own weight and a small lip on the top of each holding them together. A traditional approach would have been to drill every other one at the top and fix down with a nail or screw so that should keep the roof on during higher winds.

Speaking of the pumphouse I don't know if I ever shared the pictures of the timbers on the inside? I was in there a few years ago investigating a lack of water pressure and noticed some graffiti inscribed on the inside of the door frame. There are some recognisable names in there, who I guess must have been involved in the building/repair of the pumphouse in 1913 - I think the pumphouse was there before 1913 so perhaps they were repairing or maybe servicing the pump? Anyway, I can make out Thomas Cromarty, George Cromarty, and Stuart Kyle 28 June 1913 on there, and a bit more investigation (and a better camera) might produce more.

Inside the Castle we are pressing on with the deep clean which is an annual event traditionally but is now more often spread out through the year. This is when we get the waxes out and make everything shiny (within reason) and also carry out cleaning and dusting of pretty much everything else. Its also a chance to have a good sort out of storeroom and attic spaces having a good rummage through at the same time. With most of the collection being in storage offsite this job does get a little easier, but in some areas that fact creates other tasks. For example, with the absence of large beds and rugs, painted floor surfaces which are largely untouched from Hudson's time are now exposed, and so need protection in the form of microcrystalline wax. It also gave me the opportunity to get hold of an upright floor buffer!

We are also well along with planning for next season's opening so look forward to more interactive audio/visual displays along with plenty of stories from the Castle's history. I am really excited about the people we are working with and can't wait to see what they come up with.

Although we aren't open over Christmas I am putting my decs up at home this weekend (the perils of having a 3 year-old!) so in that spirit I wish you all the very best for the festive season and will speak to you in the New Year.

Best wishes


Nick Lewis, Lindisfarne Castle  @NTNorthd_Coast  01289 389903

Wigeon - Photo � John Dunn photographer and volunteer for Lindisfarne NNR

Just when you think the weather can't get any wetter... .it seems too. It has been an exceptionally wet October/November with standing water in most areas of the Reserve. Wellies are the footwear of choice when out and about and in places even they can be overtopped!

Luckily, as they say, it's been nice weather for ducks and this has been the case for Wigeon, with a count of 23,000 birds on the Reserve! This is the highest count since the winter 2000/2001. With so much doom and gloom around the world of nature it's nice that here at Lindisfarne NNR we can report increasing numbers of certain species.

In terms of management on the Reserve we have been out with our volunteers cutting back scub regeneration. This task is vital to maintain the dune system on Holy Island. Without removal the dune system would turn into a woodland, destroying the incredibly biodiverse suite of habitats that the dunes create. We do leave a certain amount of scrub, as part of a healthy duneland ecosystem which is utilised by invertebrates and migrating birds.

This month wrapped up the last of our scheduled events for 2019. With thousands of people engaged from 26 events throughout the year, it has been a great year of sharing Natural England's passion for nature and all the aspects of our work on Lindisfarne NNR that make it such a special place for wildlife and visitors alike. Seal watch events were always popular with crafts at the WoWL building and volunteers showing passers-by the hauled out seals through telescopes and binoculars from the Heugh. If you haven't had your fill of craft events just yet we will be running some events with a festive flavour at the WoWL building over the next few weeks. Keep your eyes peeled on our social media accounts for more details.

This months species under the microscope is Wigeon. As you have read earlier Wigeon have had an exceptional season with the highest counts in nearly 20 years. Numbers have dropped back since then but that is to be expected at this time of year.

  • UK conservation status: AMBER
  • Although highly gregarious in winter these medium-sized ducks are surprisingly solitary on their breeding grounds.
  • Breed in Iceland and widely in Scandinavia with a few hundred pairs breeding in Scotland and northern England
  • They are ground nesters,  breeding in forest lakes, marshes and tundra pools
  • Their call is a diagnostic loud whistling
  • Breeding males have a large creamy/buff patch on their forehead as well as large white patches on their wings.
  • Wigeon come to Lindisfarne NNR due to the extensive feeding grounds and safety that the wildlife refuge provides.

From all at Lindisfarne NNR and Natural England we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Andy Denton
Reserve Manager
Lindisfarne & Newham NNRs
Natural England


We wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year.

Winter is a time for storing up and re-stocking. Our Celtic Christianity Library is increasingly well used. We are grateful to our librarian, Judith Line of Shilbottle. She has now completed full cataloguing of over 3,000 volumes and many more booklets on pilgrimage etc. The library has a new computer, which allows users to search for any title under author, title or subject. The library is usually open from 9.0 am to 6.0 pm daily and residents are welcome to use it.

The latest title is The Naked Hermit: a journey to the heart of Celtic Britain (SPCK 2019) by Nick Mayhew Smith, an Anglican lay minister. He points out that The Life of Cuthbert by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne, Bede's Life and the hermit Guthlac's hagiographer Felix all tell of hermits who enjoyed a special relationship with the elements, birds and animals. The author argues that the vision of the early Celtic church was to restore communion with creation which they often pictured as restoring Eden. Mayhew-Smith links the Celtic practice of open air baptisms and regular prayer while submerged in water as a spiritual practice that helped to restore this communion of our bodies and souls with God in creation. He himself has done this all over the British Isles, including on Lindisfarne, and thinks this attitude towards creation can capture Extinction Rebellion campaigners.

I attended the church service after our new mayor was inducted. She wants the theme of her year in office to be 'The Underdog'. After she was inducted we sang a locally composed hymn which begins:

"Northmen from the Humber to beyond the Tweed,...

Chorus:  Builders of the nation, workers with our God, May our generation tread the path they trod."

May our generation tread the path they trod.

Ray and team

FROM OUR CHURCHES Rev Canon Dr Sarah Hills & Rev Rachel Poolman

Dear friends

I can't quite believe I am writing the Christmas letter already. We have been here on Holy Island for almost a year... and it has flown! It has been such a pleasure and a privilege starting to get to know everyone - thanks for your great welcome and generosity! We are of course coming towards the end of the year of 2019 - but the season of Advent (the 4 weeks leading to Christmas) is in fact the start of the Church's year. Advent foretells the birth of Jesus, and helps us to await his coming with anticipation, searching our hearts, and with joy. And then Christmas is upon us! I'm very much looking forward to our first Holy Island Christmas celebrations. The birth of Jesus Christ lightens our world and brings God's love into our day to day lives and realities. Even in the darkness of those January afternoons to come, His light reminds us that Christ brings hope out of darkness, and the brightness that he gives us we can share with each other.

There are lots of special Christmas services coming up to join in with as we celebrate together. By the time you are reading this, we will have had the great Christmas lights turn on in the village. Many of the island ladies and our school children have been making a unique, beautiful and huge Advent calendar which will be hanging on the wall in St Mary's. The pockets are currently empty - a sort of reverse Advent calendar - so if you would like to add a small gift or toy to one of the pockets as the days go on please do! After Christmas we will be giving the presents to a local children's charity. The craft/sewing/knitting group will continue to meet in the village hall every fortnight - please do be in contact if you'd like to come (plus tea and cake!) - everyone welcome! Jacqui Parkin is kindly organising various trips and events (such as a trip to Bamburgh to see the new St Aidan ossuary; a wine tasting; and scrabble club - and many more) - again, do be in contact with us for details.

Throughout December, Mary and Joseph and their donkey will be travelling round the island (knitted nativity figures) spending a night on their journey to Bethlehem at homes, the school, cafes and pubs and hotels - they hope! If you would like to give them hospitality for a night , please be in touch. Let's give them room at the inn or the hearth!

Sam Quilty is in the final year of her ordination training, and will be doing a placement as part of this at Berwick Parish Church until her ordination next July. We wish her every good wish and prayers for this time (but we will miss her while she is there!).

On Sunday, December 1st, we will have a special Advent service at 5.30pm to mark the beginning of Advent. On Sunday December 15th at 10.45am, we will have our Christingle service. Each element of a Christingle has a special meaning - the orange represents the world, the red ribbon symbolises the love and blood of Christ, the sweets represent all of God's creation, and the lit candle represents Jesus's light in the world, bringing hope to people living in darkness. Do come and take part (along with your teddies who will be having their Christingle Christmas party too!). This will be a more informal and fun service for all ages - from 0 to 100!

On Sunday December 22nd at 6pm there will be a traditional Carol Service by candlelight with special music and readings from Nine Lessons and Carols.

On Christmas Eve at 1130pm, the first communion of Christmas, Midnight Mass. And on Christmas Day, a family communion at 10.45am. Come and celebrate!

We will celebrate the coming of the three kings at Epiphany on January 5th, and Christmas will officially be over at Candlemas on February 2nd. All at St Mary's Church.

Lots of time to come and see the church beautifully decorated and to pray for our loved ones, our nation and our world. By then, we will have had the general election, and I hope and pray that reconciliation and unity will be higher on the agenda of our public life, so that we can all work together for the common good.

So as the nights draw in, let's look after each other. Look out for those who need some cheer. Share the good times. And be there when our friends or neighbours need us. That is what Christmas is about - the birth of Christ bringing love and light and hope into our world.

Christmas services:
Sunday 1 December: 5.30pm: Advent procession service
Sunday 15 December: 10.45am: Christingle service: informal service for all ages
Sunday 22 December: Carol service: 6pm: traditional candlelit Nine Lessons and Carols
Christmas Eve: Tues 24 December: 8am: Morning Prayer;
5.30pm: Evening Prayer; and Midnight Mass:11.30pm.
Christmas Day: Wed 25 December: 8am: Holy Communion, and 10.45am: Christmas Day Family Eucharist.

Other December service times:
Worship for Weekdays:
8am: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday Morning Prayer
8am: Wednesday and Friday: Holy Communion
5.30pm: Every day: Evening Prayer

8.00 am: Holy Communion (BCP)
10.45 am: Parish Eucharist
5.30 pm: Evensong

Sarah Hills
StMary's Church
01289 389216
Rachel Poolman
St Cuthbert's Centre (UnitedReformed Church)





  Pattern of worship for Sundays
8am    Holy Communion (BCP) 
10.45am    Parish Eucharist 
5.30pm    Evensong
Pattern of worship (Monday - Saturday)
   8 am Morning Prayer Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday
   8 am Eucharist Wednesday and Friday
   5.30 pm Evening Prayer (every day)

please check notice board in church porch in the event of revision


meet our hospice team

Merry Christmas