SITEZINE: Holy Island's E-Mail Newsletter: February 2020

A BIT FROM ME Geoff Porter

Dear Subscriber,

With our February issue, may we wish you a happy and healthy 2020!

I wonder how many of our readers managed to visit the island over the Christmas period. Perhaps you joined one of our special church services at St.Mary's. Thank you to all those who contributed to the success of Christingle, Carol Service (with a choir!), Midnight Mass. And if you visited at night - thank you to those who set up that splendid community Christmas light display in the village square.

If you visited the island recently, we hope you weren't too shocked by the condition of our causeway and coast roads. Maybe you can now understand the grumbles of those with no alternative than to face such conditions daily. And we caution even frequent visitors to: always check the safe crossing times.

Do take care when wandering around the village. Whilst our council has now repaired the balustrade on the bridge, you will immediately notice that their budgets do not yet seem able to fixed the numerous defects in our lanes, pathways, bridleways, potholes and pavements. And it doesn't help that strong winter winds have added fallen leaves and branches to litter our verges. Good advice might be to remember that in this very rural area, think about opting for stout footwear.

Cautions: please help to reduce the problems we experience from seagulls by not feeding them; a 'word to the wise' for those bringing dogs: the council is actively pursuing a �1000 fine for dog-fouling; finally, please keep dogs under strict control.


By the time our newsletter reaches you, on 1st February 2020 the UK will no longer be part of the European Economic Community. Though a democratic vote, by no means was the entire population in favour of leaving. To our European neighbours, we remain the same nation, your friends, your allies.

Thank you to all our writers - particularly to Rachel who sent in the song her father had been singing over the Christmas period. I had hoped to obtain a sound byte....

We really do hope that you enjoy the February issue and look forward to getting in touch in March.

Geoff Porter
Editor (SitEzine)

Rev Canon David Adam
Vicar of Holy Island

Rev Canon David Adam

Perhaps like me, visitors who knew him will be saddened to hear the news that Rev Canon David Adam has died, at his home at Waren Mill, in the morning of Friday January 24th.

Very often seen without clerical collar, even in a crowd there was something about David that made him stand out. He was our Vicar 1990-2003 becoming globally known and well-loved as a poet and author of many books. Throughout his term David continued to uphold what had become a St.Mary's tradition to maintain three daily services. 

During the mid-90s David was one of small group of us who originated island website policy. The newsletter you are reading derived from his community newsletter, 'The Holy Island Times'.

Please feel free to write in if you have a memory or photograph of David to share - or indeed anything to do with the Island or its people both past and present.


It's been a busy month as usual here at Holy Island First School and January seems to be flying over; we've already had a visit to Newcastle and are looking forward to Lowick School joining us on the island again at the end of the month.

We'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who came to our Christmas tea and coffee afternoon on 12th December. The event was held to say thanks for your support over the year and for voting for our school to receive funding from the Parish Council for our trim trail. It was great to see so many of you in school again! Thank you to Alison Murray and Pat Tidy who very kindly came into school to teach Scarlett-Beau and Lily-Ella some Christmas songs. It was a joy to have Alison playing the piano in school during our event - it turned into quite a 'sing-song' with everyone joining in and having fun together.

At Lowick Village Hall, our Christmas performance 'Christmas with the Aliens' was a delight - and of course, we were very impressed with the children's singing and acting during both performances; it's not always easy being in the spotlight in front of such a large audience. 

As part of our 'out of this world' topic, we visited the Centre for Life in Newcastle. The Space Zone was very popular with the children because they got to take part in lots of practical activities related to communication, research, travel and life in space. We visited the planetarium which really brought our learning about the planets to life. As a treat, we took the children ice skating on the temporary rink outside the centre. They were amazing! Everyone had a go and I think some of them surprised themselves with their new found skill.

In school we have built an amazing spaceship and have been on some super 'adventures' to different planets and moons. Scarlett-Beau and Lily-Ella have made their own instrument panels and computer screens and are completing space logs to record their missions in words and pictures.

The trees at the bottom of our school field have been pruned. They were getting very tall and spindly and the idea is that they will now 'bush out' to give us more shelter from the wind. Speaking of wind, those very windy days we had recently have made their mark on our greenhouse in the garden. Mrs Ward had already repaired the original greenhouse which we saved from the old garden. The good news is that we have now ordered a replacement greenhouse. It's a bit larger than the last one and will have sturdier polycarbonate panels which will be much better. We are still harvesting our leeks (thank you Sheila and David Lishman) and we have chard, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, turnips and beetroot growing. Great! We will be planning our planting for the new season in the next few weeks.

And our bulbs are growing! It is always a heart-warming sight to see daffodils and bluebells poking their heads tentatively through the cold winter soil. Dare we think that spring may be on the way?

Heather Stiansen


The year started with bright sunny days, followed by a day or two of a stiff wind from the west with rain and 8c degrees or so then more wind and rain and frosts returned. However, it is unusual to note that the grass is showing signs of movement. Does this mean I've got to consider firing up the mower ahead of normal?

The Town was dressed-overall with community and house Christmas Lights, the display around the Cross was very effective. The village looked very bonny.

On 2nd more than 100 locals gathered in the Hall for an Island 'soiree' the happy evening   enjoyed a good gossip, a drink or two, some food and then a bit of a dance.

The evening very well organised by Ashleigh and Charlette, who with sense beyond their years arrange that the disco, well run by Luke, played the music at a low volume during the first half allowing us oldies a good 90 minutes to enjoy a heathy blather before the volume was pumped up for the dancing.

The last Old Year/New Year communal event was (it's alarming to think back to when) held 30+ years ago when Johnson & Brigham Promotions, aided by their Company Secretary Lynn, organised a dance in the Old Hall. It was a jam packed occasion and very successful occasion and Charlie & Robert as promoters looked the bees knees in their Black Tie outfits. Aye those were the days!

Christmas is always special and focused on the Children. Then on the Island Old Year Night and New Year's Day was enthusiastically celebrated by the adults. The tradition was to 'first foot' family and friends soon after the New Year arrived and then back to the Pub to eat and greet and then sleep.

On New Year's Day small groups of men, some dressed as guise's, got together went  First Footing around the village. More of this later;      

Some will recall that Simon Bevan retired as our Treasurer a year or so ago. Since then Simon has acted ex officio maintaining a watching brief over the hall finances. However, that will end in December, when he will stand down from many of his voluntary tasks and head for the land of pipe & slippers.

Several small works of maintenance are planned and we are currently pricing a deep clean and coating of the main hall floor. If the works goes ahead it will be timed not to interfere was any hall activity.

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


[ The Taxi Driver's Song originated from before the advent of the tidal causeway and is sung to the tune of 'Galway Bay' ]

If you ever cross the sands to Holy Island
Maybe just for a week or for a day
You'll see the taxi's standing there waiting
To carry you across the Low and bay

Once again to hear the screeching of the gearbox
As Selby plays a tune upon his gears
To Charlie, Crow and all the other drivers
That's music to the taxi drivers ears

Now the breeze is blowing o'er the sea from Half Thrush
And perfumed by the tangle as they blow
And the women in the Big Close diggin tatties
Speak a language that some strangers do not know

Now some visitors come and try to teach us their ways
And scorn us for being what we are
But they might as well go try and catch a taxi
and get back o'er those sands for half a crown

For you're strangers when you first come to the island
But we are all good friends before you go away
And we wish you all the best while you are with us
And hope you'll come back again some day

They say there is to be a life here after
And somehow I'm sure there's going to be
So I'll ask my god to let me make my heaven
In this dear isle across the Low for me

Ed: Thank you to Rachel Patterson  who sent this in on behalf of her father.  The images are original photos from their family album and the one with the gentleman by the vehicle is her Grandad. Apparently, the song is a personal  favourite of Dick's who had been singing it all weekend... 



Each time I walk through the Anglo-Saxon excavations at Green Shiel on my way to the North Shore or Snipe Point I think about a spectacular seabird which is sadly now extinct.

Bones found during the excavations at this early farm site are just one of three tantalising bits of evidence that the mighty Great Auk once lived in our region.

Its closest living relative, the Razorbill, still does and is a common sight at its breeding sites on the Farne while during autumn and winter others regularly feed off the island.     

Razorbills stand around 14 inches tall but Great Auks towered at 40 inches. They were the largest seabirds ever to have lived in the Northern Hemisphere. Like most auks. they walked upright, had black and white plumage and huge strong bills. Similarly, like today's auks, they were designed by nature to dive deep to exploit fish other birds couldn't reach. But, unlike the others, they were flightless.

An artist's impression of Great Auk

Great auks bred on small islands safe from four-legged predators. Down the millennia they'd sacrificed flight, their wings developing instead into powerful flippers.  Early scientists gave them the Latin name  Pinguinus impennis. When explorers reached Antarctica and found similar-looking flightless birds they named them after the Great Auk. Hence we have penguins.

Great auks bred around the North Atlantic from Britain to Scandinavia, Iceland, Greenland and North America. We don't know if they bred locally but there are those three tantalising bit of evidence to prove their presence, perhaps as winter visitors from further north.

The Reverend John Wallis, a naturalist and antiquarian, produced a 1769 publication, "Natural history and antiquities of Northumberland" in which told of the capture and taming of a local "penguin."

"This curious and uncommon bird was taken alive a few years ago on the island of Farn and presented to the late John William Bacon Esq. of Etherston, with whom it grew so tame and familiar that it would follow him with body erect to be fed," he wrote.

 John Hancock, of Newcastle museum fame, and George Bolam of Berwick, generally recognised as the region's founding father of modern ornithology in the region, both had little doubt that it was in fact a Great Auk.

Then in 1878 human and animal bones were found in a cave at Whitburn Lizard, just south of the Tyne Estuary. The upper mandible of a Great Auk was alongside the bones of Red and Roe deer, Badger, Gannet, Razorbill and other birds which had been taken for food.  Unfortunately, they couldn't be dated.

In the 1990s, archaeologists and students from Leicester University excavated the Green Shiel site. In its midden were the bones of Great Auk as well as deer antlers and remains of seals, whales, and birds still common locally, including Gannet, Cormorant, Guillemot and various gulls and waders. Coins of the 9th Century found at the site enabled accurate dating. Similar Great Auk remains have been found right around the North Atlantic.

It seems obvious that down the centuries Great Auk was among birds exploited for food, something which was probably opportunist and perhaps had little effect on total numbers.

But by the 1500s everything had changed. Sailors exploring North America found Great Auks in huge numbers along the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. They were fearless of humans and being flightless were very easy to catch. Wholesale slaughtered followed for their meat and feathers.

Sailors would round them up and kill them with sticks. Planks were also laid to boats and the hapless auks were driven up them like sheep and killed as they fell into the holds. Early writers told of 400 or 500 being killed at a time.

Similar slaughter took place in Britain, on St Kilda, where right into the early 20th Century islanders relied for survival on seabirds, by then mainly Fulmars and Gannets, harvested for meat, oil, feathers and skins.

The widespread slaughter continued down the centuries and by the early 1800s few remained where once they had been millions. That very scarcity led to a rush to obtain those which remained for museums and private collections and put even greater pressure on the sad remnant population.  Prices went up and to meet demand hunters scoured their old haunts in a frantic race to find any remaining birds.

Adult Great Auk and egg
Adult Great Auk and egg
Photograph courtesy of the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

The last British Great Auk seems to have been killed on St Kilda around 1820. The final birds were caught and killed in Iceland in June 1844 by three local hunters acting on behalf of a Danish collector, effectively consigning the species to extinction.

After it became obvious that Great Auks were gone forever the demand for skins and eggs soared. By the 1890s, when the average annual income was just �83, over �300 was being paid in London for a single egg

Around 80 stuffed Great Auks survive, nearly all in collections. Two, an adult and a juvenile, are in the collection of the Great North Museum; Hancock in Newcastle. One is probably the world's only surviving example of a bird in immature plumage.

The adult was bought in either Holland or Germany and then mounted by Hancock. The juvenile was originally in the Barnard Castle collection of Marmaduke Tunstall (1743-1790). During the Second World War they and an egg were moved to the Rothbury  area for safety because of fears the museum could be bombed as part of the Luftwaffe's raids on industrial Tyneside. 

The extinction of the Great Auk provides a terrible lesson from the past for us today, even as scores of other animal and bird species are under great threat and habitats such as the Amazon and other rain forests are being felled and put to flame and our season are being poisoned by plastics.

Yet amazingly there does seem to be a chance that the Great Auk could rise from the dead.  Scientists are currently considering if it will ever be feasible to use DNA from Razorbills and the feathers, bones and other museum remains to recreate this spectacular seabird.

It all sounds a bit like Jurassic Park and that was mainly fantasy.  But technology is coming along in leaps and bounds and perhaps science fantasy can one day become science fact. Only time will tell if the Great Auk, or something very like it, can be brought back, perhaps even to grace our local waters once again.


A Happy New Year to you all.

January brings the realisation that we will soon be back open to the public and that there is always loads to do before then. This year feels especially busy as we have a lot to prepare for with a whole new installation coming in for the new season.

As part of this there will be some collections pieces returning - not all of it just yet but a good number - and that all needs to be planned around; new underlay is needed for returning rugs, new fixings need for mirrors on walls, and the items themselves need to be checked and cleaned before opening. We are also getting a little bit of painting done in certain areas where the condition of the walls allows; the rest of the castle is scheduled to be painted this coming November - the final job of the major project you could say - but that is dependent on how well the walls are drying out. I would certainly appreciate a dry summer in that regard.

John Bevan recently showed me some photographs that were being catalogued by the Berwick Archives belonging to the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club down in Blyth. I am always excited to see any images of the castle which are new to me but having seen many hundreds over the years they often conform to a certain type depending on their age. These we reportedly taken in 1901 and so usually photos from this period would show the castle from the village; with a couple of boats moored in the Ouse perhaps and maybe even a bit of the still-standing Cocklestone Jetty. This bunch of images did certainly feature 'this' picture, but it also had one which caught my eye in particular. Any image from inside the castle walls prior to Hudson's time (1902-20) are very rare and this one ticked that box. Not only that, it was taken on the north facing Queen Battery - where the Long Gallery and three bedrooms were later built and so now is now longer visible. Even better than that is that the photo features six figures; four men and two ladies. One of the men is of real interest as I think it might be the architect Edwin Lutyens. There are no photos of Lutyens at Lindisfarne, which given the impact he had on the place is a real shame. The chance that one may have come to light is extraordinary, and how appropriate that he is standing (if it is him) on the area of the castle where he made the most fundamental changes. I have asked his family and my contacts in The Lutyens Trust to help me in identifying the folk in the picture and I am hoping to go down to Blyth soon to see the originals. I won't reproduce the picture here just now as I don't yet have permission but hopefully I can share it soon.

I am now off to continue deep-cleaning the castle Lutyens so lovingly restored (although those brick floors aren't the easiest things to vacuum if I'm honest Edwin) and continue preparing for opening. We have a really exciting installation coming which is going to be totally different to anything we have done before and will allow us to tell more and more stories from the castle's past. I will be able to update you more about this next month.

In the meantime I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and don't have too many January blues (don't worry, it'll be February soon!)

Best wishes

Nick Lewis, Lindisfarne Castle  @NTNorthd_Coast  01289 389903

Cattle on the  Dunes

A Happy New Year to all from Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve!

There was no rest for the wicked as daily stock checks of the cows and sheep continued throughout the festive period. With the cattle being able to roam over 110+ hectares, it made finding them sometimes tricky, but a quick dash to the top of a windswept dune often revealed their location. The sheep weren't nearly as difficult and always appeared happy to see a member of staff rambling towards them.

They have done a fantastic job since October ridding areas of rank vegetation, opening up the sward and tackling some of the invasive species such as Michelmas Daisy and Pirri-pirri Burr. However, all good things must come to an end, and so early in January we said goodbye to our Bovine and Ovine friends as they made their way back to farm.

December and January have been a particularly stormy period with gales battering the coastline on a regular basis. Sadly, this has brought an increase of plastic (particularly balloons) being blown across the Reserve, further highlighting the plastic plague that blights our landscape. In early January the volunteers were out along the shores of Goswick Sands litterpicking. A good haul was found and taken away. Over the next couple of months a series of litterpicks will be undertaken across the Reserve to prepare for the arrival of breeding birds; a reminder that spring is just around the corner.

Over the last couple of months the volunteers have also been tackling scrub in the Snook area. We remove a lot of the Hawthorn regeneration in order to keep the important duneland habitat from reverting to woodland and scrubbing up. The mature growth is often left as this forms part of a healthy dune ecosystem, providing refuge and food for a large variety of invertebrate and bird species.

Sheep on the Dunes Cattle arriving

Looking forward to 2020 it's going to be another busy year as we look to build on the successes of 2019. Our events programme will be beginning in the spring with a host of family crafts and guided events throughout the year. We will also be holding two 'Celebration of Nature' festivals showing the breadth of work undertaken by Natural England as well as showcasing the habitats and species that form the Reserve. Our events leaflet will be published soon with finalised dates, so keep your eyes peeled on our social media accounts and noticeboards around the Reserve

We have also started to review the byelaws which cover the whole of the National Nature Reserve.  This will involve removing byelaws which are now redundant and strengthening or adding byelaws to ensure the National Nature Reserve is better protected in the future.  We will share the details with you in the coming months.

Andy Denton
Reserve Manager
Lindisfarne & Newham NNRs
Natural England

Our Fabulous Coastline

Public Consultation opens on plan for the Northumberland Coast

Consultation has opened on an important plan that will help to shape the future of the Northumberland coast.

Local people are being asked to provide comments on the draft Management Plan for the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Management Plan is the single most important document for the Northumberland Coast AONB. It sets out long term aims and objectives that will ensure that this nationally important landscape is conserved  and enhanced for future generations to enjoy as it is today. It is a legal requirement for Local Authorities to review statutory management plans for AONBs every year. This draft plan, covering the period 2020-2024 has been prepared by the Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership on behalf of Northumberland County Council.

Chairman of the Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership Cllr Jeff Watson said "In a time of uncertainty with both challenges and opportunities ahead, the Plan sets out clear objectives and policies designed to provide a framework for action by the AONB Partnership, the County Council, partner organisations, farmers, businesses, community groups and residents over the last five years.

"The AONB is a living working place and local people are at the heart of protecting the coastline and adjacent countryside and safeguarding its future. We really hope that local people will engage with this consultation and let us know what they think of the draft plan and we look forward to receiving these comments over the next few weeks"

The consultation is open for six weeks from Monday 20th January until Monday 2nd March 2020 and people can comment on the draft plan via the AONB website at

Catherine Gray
Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership
c/o County Hall, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 2EF
Tel.  01670 622 644

FROM FORD & ETAL Elspeth Gilliland

8th February: Live Music at Etal Village Hall - Hot Club du Nord

Etal Village Hall welcomes Hot Club du Nord on Saturday 8th November for a night of hot club/gipsy jazz. The group brings to life the classic 1930s and 1940s repertoire of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli's Hot Club de France. It features Emma Fisk, a British Jazz Awards nominee, on violin, James Birkett and David Harris on guitars, and Bruce Rollo on double bass. Tickets cost �12, to book contact Steve Taylor: 01890 820566,

During February half-term (weather permitting!) most attractions will be open across the estates.  Heatherslaw Light Railway is open 17th-20th February with diesel trains at 11am, 12 noon, 1 & 2pm.  The Heatherslaw Corn Mill site (including tearoom and shops) and Lady Waterford Hall are open 18th-21st February from 11am-3pm.  Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre opens Tuesday-Sunday for the season from early February.

Snowdrops should be in full bloom that week and we are encouraging visitors to follow the snowdrop walks in Etal and Ford villages.

Etal Castle - Early Spring

Lars Knutsen, a Norwegian who worked in USA has recently returned to Britain, He writes how his visits to Lindisfarne were a formative time for him:

"So Lindisfarne has always been special to me as one of those "thin" places where I was aware of the claims of God on my life. I would always in my youth feel a sense of peace there, even though many years would go by before I came to understand why. In November 1983 my then girlfriend and I had a very meaningful long weekend; we drove to St. Albans to submit my Ph.D. thesis for binding, and then drove up to North Northumberland.  We spent some hours on Lindisfarne and it became clear to us there that we were destined to spend our lives together as husband and wife, soul-mates and best friends.  We have just celebrated 35 years of marriage, and I would not be the person I am if I had not met her; we are also gifted with three wonderful children.  In terms of life and spiritual formation, feedback from a godly wife can be one of the best ways in which the Lord speaks to us.

Coming to an understanding of the ten elements of the Way and compiling a Way of Life has also provided a spiritual balance in my life, though I am a far from a perfect person, and am therefore an imperfect practitioner of this way of following God.

When I accepted a job offer with a Biotech company in  USA in 2006 a new chapter of life started, and I became part of the US Community of Aidan and Hilda. This led to the opportunity of sharing my journey of faith with people... I became a US Citizen under Barack Obama in November 2015, and although very fond of North America, moved back to care for and elderly parent/ parents-in-law in 2016. I am now a Voyager in the UK, living in coastal Essex near Colchester.
I was asked what the 25th Anniversary Community of Aidan and Hilda Gathering in Yarnfield, Oxon  felt like, and my response was "it was like being with a 'Cloud of Witnesses'". Hebrews 12.1 tells us: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Lars J.S. Knutsen "

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

Holy Island Churches

from Holy Island Churches

Dear friends, I am writing this at the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - a global event where Christians from different backgrounds come together to pray for an end to unhealthy division in the church.

On Holy Island our 3 church buildings - St Mary's Church of England, St Aidan's Roman Catholic and St Cuthbert's United Reformed each have their own beauty, and each give visitors and worshippers different ways of spending time with God.  However, the fact that we have distinct identities does not mean that we are in competition, or divided when it comes to the bedrock of our faith and our willingness to serve others.

Unity is something we still strive towards as Christians; respecting difference is a challenge when positions of principle and belief are deeply held, and we are certainly nowhere near it yet.

The call to unity is not just a challenge for our churches, but for our society as a whole.  Unless something dramatic has happened since writing this, the UK will have left the European Union by February 1st.  We have all seen the vitriol and division that has been part of the long journey of getting to this point.  The nature of our public debate has seemed to have become increasingly personal, and appalling attacks are made on people across the political spectrum through the anonymity of social media.  This unhealthy tone can have a trickledown effect into conversations at every level.

So, what does unity mean to us, not just in the context of Brexit, but in working for the common good in our country and in our communities ? Are we individually able to find a way of respecting those whose deeply held views are radically opposed to our own ?  As we travel onwards together through life we can each play our part in creating a society of kindness that will not tolerate hatred wherever it comes from, and wherever it is directed.

The prayer attributed to St Francis of Assisi has a resonant challenge for us all:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


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





  Worship Times - Sundays
8am    BCP Holy Communion
10.45am    Holy Communion
5.30pm    Evening Prayer
Pattern of worship (Monday - Saturday)
   8 am Morning Prayer: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday
   8 am Holy Communion: Wednesday
   5.30 pm Evening Prayer: Daily

Please note: any changes to service times or additional services will be posted on the noticeboard inside the church.