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

A BIT FROM ME Geoff Porter

Dear Subscriber,

Welcome to our April newsletter.

As in much of the rest of our world, these are sad times indeed. Our government has restricted movement nationwide with the exception of key workers and essential services.

Not only are we in a very remote part of northumberland, we live on a tidal island regularly cut off from the mainland by the tide. In an emergency, we no longer have local RAF helicopter support and long distances are involved should hospilisation become neccessary.

During this time of national emergency our Parish Council asks that visitors should keep away >> PC notice   
Access is restricted to those who permanently reside here - other than essential suppliers, key workers and emergency services.
Other than our local post office, shops, businesses, attractions, car parks, toilets even our churches are closed.

It seems that Covid-19 is a recent mutation of Coronavirus. A worldwide race is on to develop an antiviral. Thorough handwashing with soap and water is recommended against potential contamination. Obviously, any risk is reduced by practising social-distancing - hence the request by our PC.

Having foreseen a developing crisis, under the leadership of the vicar, various island bodies came together to form an island support group. Primary needs, particularly for an aging community, are already in hand and it is rewarding to find residents offering help of all kinds. Bamburgh View have even done quite a professiional job is setting up as a podcast. Have a listen! The HISG is regulary reviewing the developing local and national circumstances.

Individuals are permitted to venture out for essential shopping. We had tried to shop online only to discover delivery slots were not available for at least 3-weeks. So we were pleased to find shopping periods of an hour three times weekly had been set aside for us. However, disapointment followed as we were greeted by empty toiletries shelves. And we met an uncompromising manageress, unable to comprehend that the island community would only be able to shop using the current time allocations on alternate weeks - when the causeway was open ....

As I write the sun is shining and the clock is are about to 'Spring forward'. As forecast, cold winds from the arctic are arriving....

Leaving the gloom, doom and negativity behind let us get on with the newsletter.

I'm delighted to report that almost all our authors writers have given up their time to write again this month. This will be the second time Max has written and what wonderful pictures he is producing from his HI observatory. At night I walk the dog past Max's house and look in awe up into our black sky. In his photo this month of 'NGC 5194 and its smaller companion NGC 5195' we are viewing from a distance I find impossible to comprehend - 25 million light-years, Using that same scale, I find it impossible to guage how far they might be apart and wonder what each might look like when viewed from the other. Similarly, how might our part of space look if there were intelligent life looking back....

We hope that you enjoy this month's newsletter and look forward to getting in touch in May.

Most of all, during these very dark, pandemic days our thoughts are with you all.

God Bless,

Geoff Porter
Editor (SitEzine)


March 2020 has been very different for our school community of Lowick and Holy Island First Schools. For the last week we have had an 'end of term' feeling across the school and since finding out that schools were likely to close, we have tried to make the last few days calm and positive for our pupils.

We have been very busy getting home learning packs ready for the children and over the coming weeks, we will be sending learning videos, resources and activities home via our website. This can be a tricky time for parents and we are in touch and available to help and support our parents and children.

Earlier in the month we visited our island post office. We have been learning about writing letters and 'the journey of a letter' in our English and geography lessons. We were warmly welcomed by Debbie in the post office and she showed us around and explained what happens to our letters when we post them. Thank you Debbie! We were truly inspired and have built a post office in our classroom. The girls have really enjoyed role-playing with letters, parcels and stamps - it has been a great way to get used to paying with cash and working out totals. We have been writing letters to each other and I have been very impressed with the enthusiasm shown by both girls with their writing and counting.

Brian has been giving our school field the first two cuts - thank you Brian, the field is looking good! And now that those winds seem to have died down, Karen and Richard are keen to get our greenhouse built in the garden. At least we can get some things growing and that's always a positive and hopeful job to do. The daffodils in the school garden are magnificent and our tulips are getting ready to bloom. We have potatoes 'chitting' and our tomato seeds are sown.  Carl (my husband) also has some beautiful lavender plants to go in along the side of the path next to the garden gate. We will keep things going for Scarlett-Beau and Lily-Ella and hopefully it won't be too long before things get back to normal and our gardening club can begin again.

These are uncertain times and we are all taking each day as it comes. If you get the chance, have a look at our rainbow message in our school windows. We have written a message of love and hope and the girls have made some beautiful rainbows to brighten our days.

Take care all,



The CORONAVIRUS or CORVID 19 is a new disease that affects the lungs and airways, it can be severely debilitating. Our Government, advised by medical health specialists have issued advice suggesting ways to avoid infection.

I will not repeat the advice issued by the NHS it is much publicised by the media on how to protect ourselves from this now notifiable disease. As for self-isolation to try and keep clear of the virus, many elderly have been practising that for years!

This note is to alert you to the possibility that events in the Hall may be affected and to remind those who use the hall to follow all advice given by the NHS and our local Health Centre that will help reduce the risk of becoming ill.

If you use or have used the Hall;

  • wash your hands
  • clean all hard surfaces that you have used/touched

The Hall Coffee Morning on Monday 13 April 2020, has been postponed until a later date.

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



One of the most distinctive and noisy birds arriving locally during April is the Sandwich Terns. They're a species with far-carrying harsh calls which means that you normally hear them before you see them.

But when you do it's a sign that spring really has arrived. Typically, I find my first of the season when I'm on the Heugh looking out towards the Black Law and the Beacons.

Their piercing calls are normally the first evidence of their arrival and a careful scan out across the Harbour usually reveals the newcomers.

They have a loping and buoyant flight with deep wing beats and their pure white plumage shows well against the water.  If I'm lucky one or two will approach closely and hover high above the water before plunging for their first small fish of the visit. They always present a magnificent sight which I look forward to each year.

Sandwich Terns are the largest and always the first of the five tern species which regularly breed in Northumberland to arrive offshore. The first are present from late March with numbers rapidly increasing during April.

As numbers build up locally it's often possible to find groups of 100 or more in noisy pre-breeding gatherings at high tide on the low rocks at the northern end of St Cuthbert's Island. These gatherings give a chance for a closer look at these robust seabirds.  Roughly the size of Black-headed Gulls, they have a slimmer appearance. They have black caps, which often look ragged, stout black bills tipped in yellow and short black legs and, of course, that snowy plumage which shows so well at distance.

Birds constantly come and go to this favoured St Cuthbert's resting area, always with those screeching  calls. Early in the season males have to prove their skill to the females by catching fish, usually Sand Eels when they are present, and bringing them into this roost.

Elaborate presentation ceremonies take place, the male in waddling walk providing his gleaming silvered offering to the waiting female. If he's successful mating can follow.

By May most have moved off to the Farne Islands to breed although fishing birds remain very common off the island right through the season.

I'm often asked about their name. It's got nothing to do with food but comes from the Kent town of Sandwich where the species was first scientifically described back in 1784.

It's always seemed to me a bit of a parochial name for a bird which has a huge oceanic distribution, taking in Europe and the eastern seaboard of both North and South America with other wandering to the shores of India and East Africa.

An adult Sandwich Tern showing its ragged black cap
Photo: Mike S Hodgson

Our local birds spend the winter months around the Mediterranean and along the coasts of West African before returning to us in spring to gather in dense nesting colonies, typically on islands and safe from the threat of ground predators.

In the past Sandwich Terns occasionally bred alongside the regular Arctic, Common and Little terns at the Black Law. More recently, breeding has been confined to the Farne Islands and Coquet Island

In both of those colonies numbers have fluctuated wildly over the years. Back in the 1980s more than 4,000 pairs bred on the Farnes while a more recent peak of 1,700 pairs was on Coquet in 2011.

Since then the species seems to have been in a downward spiral with the latest available figures showing that only 424 pairs nesting on the Farnes in 2018. The reduction on Coquet Island was much less pronounced with 1,415 pairs during the same year.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much scientific evidence to explain the current downward trend. Perhaps, like many other seabirds, Sandwich Terns are suffering from the gradual warming of the seas which is affecting the distribution of the fish on which they totally depend.

When the breeding season is over some Sandwich Terns, accompanied by their fledged young, will return to linger at St Cuthbert's into late summer.  By then the adults go off fishing and return to the little islet to feed their young, an essential step towards preparing them for migration southwards.

Most Sandwich Terns will have gone during September with only the occasional birds remaining in October. Please enjoy them while there're here.


When I write these articles, I always open the last one I submitted (in this case February 2020) and read over it; the idea being that I don't repeat myself. Doing it this time was a strange experience because usually I am worried about repeating myself, never sure if I mentioned 'this' last month or promised to talk about 'that' next month.

No such worries concern me writing this month, such is the extraordinary situation we and the wider world find ourselves in. There was certainly no mention last month of terms like 'self-isolation', or 'social-distancing', or even 'toilet-roll stockpiling'. It seems incredible that only a week or two ago - according to my note book -I was preparing for the upcoming exhibition installation, programming maintenance work at the castle, and planning to head out to Inner Farne to get the chapel ready for opening to the public on 1 April.

The spread of COVID-19 though has of course rendered all of the above as absolutely trivial. The castle will be closed to the public until further notice as of less than an hour and a half from when I'm typing (4pm on 20th March for those keeping score) and most of the staff will be working from home. The exceptions being Daniel and I who will be still coming over - not at the same time - to keep the place ticking over. The open spaces at the castle are of course staying open and we would still encourage people to use them, bearing in mind the aforementioned social-distancing. I'm sure when we know anything about reopening, the message will circulate reasonably quickly, but I don't know anything more than that.

We are still going to install the exhibition Limelight so that once re-opening is scheduled, it is up and running. You can see a little teaser video on our website and social media channels if you'd like to know more. It even seems trivial saying that to be honest, but that is my next thing to think about here.

As for the next few weeks I'll be trying to keep a wife and two little boys entertained while she and I work from home, but otherwise I hope you all stay safe and look after yourselves and each other. If you need anything from me please get in touch, and I'll no doubt see you on the other side of this.

Best wishes
Nick Lewis, Lindisfarne Castle
@NTNorthd_Coast  Phone: 01289 389903


I know everyone is sick of the sound of it but I'm going to start with addressing the elephant in the room... Coronavirus. Events over the last week have taken over the airwaves and will fundamentally change the way we all live and work for the time being. Some will be hit harder than others but even on a remote area such as this, our work on the Reserve will change, with public engagement and volunteer work put on hold.

The latest advice as I write this article is that the Reserve is still open for people to enjoy but we ask if you are showing any symptoms or a member of your household is symptomatic then please do not visit the Reserve. Also when visiting avoid large groups, especially in confined spaces such as bird hides.

This advice is likely to change as we move forward but you can keep updated on our social media platforms and blog website. We have put information signs up at the main access points which will be updated should guidance change.

Anyway enough of the doom and gloom. In the last couple of weeks we have seen the signs that spring is beginning to stir amongst the dunes. Ground nesting birds such as Meadow Pipits and Skylarks can now be heard regularly singing above their prospective territory and the first Chiffchaffs have been spotted. Frogs spawn has been spotted in great clumps amongst the slacks and flowers are beginning to bloom as well. Days are getting longer and we are finally getting a bit of a break from the relentless storms.

Geese are now on the move as well with the vast flocks of autumn and winter becoming smaller and smaller as they head to their northern breeding grounds.

Practical work on the Reserve has continued with the last of the scrub bashes of the winter. Staff and volunteers alike have been pitting themselves against Hawthorn regeneration as it stubbornly clings to the ground. We have also continued to litter pick across the Reserve digging out rope and carrying tyres across the beaches.

As soon as the winter practical management concludes our attention turns to the shorebird season. All of the breeding species of Tern on the Reserve are currently closing in fast on UK shores having travelled from the West coast of Africa and beyond. Ringed Plovers too, will soon be displaying to each other along the coastline so keep your eyes and ears peeled but be careful not to disturb them. From the end of April we will be fencing off sections of beaches to provide a safe refuge for these declining birds to nest and rear their young free from human and dog disturbance. Volunteers will be out to monitoring their numbers and breeding success. We will keep you updated as the season progresses.

As for now we hope everyone stays healthy and hopefully we will be able to get back to some sense of normality very soon.

Best Wishes,
Andy Denton
Reserve Manager
Lindisfarne & Newham NNRs


When I first started photographing our night sky from Holy Island a couple of years ago, I was not really aware how the position of the stars, galaxies and nebulae constantly changes with the seasons.  Nor did I fully appreciate how significant our northerly latitude here is in determining what objects are visible from my observatory on Chare Ends.  Now I have become acutely aware of these factors, both of which are critical for determining the best targets to select on the next clear night.

The reason is simple why the constellations (in other words the different regions of the night sky) that are visible on any given night change gradually through the seasons.  It is because as the Earth orbits the Sun, the hemisphere of our planet that is in darkness looks out into the Universe each night in a slightly different direction.  One complete orbit of the Sun takes - by definition - one year.  So over 12 months, as spring turns to summer to autumn and then winter, the night side of the Earth makes a complete inspection circuit of the heavens.


NGC 5194 and its smaller companion NGC 5195.
Approximately 25 million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici

Look up on a clear night in April and you will not see the Milky Way, which is best viewed in a few months time during high summer.  Instead, at the present time of year, we are able to look out beyond our own galaxy and out into very deep space.  And what do we find there?  The answer is more galaxies like our own Milky Way - incredible numbers of them, each huge collections of stars. And by "incredible" and "huge" I really do mean mind-bogglingly enormous!  A typical galaxy contains several hundred billion stars!  And we know there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe. Galaxies really are like grains of sand.

So Spring is Galaxy Season and galaxies come in all shapes and sizes.  The Milky Way, on the edge of which our own Solar System is located, is a spiral galaxy, with long curving "arms" composed of myriad stars that are relatively closer to one another causing these lanes to appear almost solid.  In reality though the individual stars are far, far apart from one another.  Even the most densely packed galaxies are mainly empty space.  Some galaxies have been observed to collide, passing through one another like ghosts with no stars actually hitting each other.  A spectacular example is the Whirlpool Galaxy (pictured), which is actually two interacting galaxies: NGC 5194 and its smaller companion NGC 5195. This pair are located approximately 25 million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici.

Holy Island in Spring is ideally positioned for viewing the Whirlpool Galaxy, which lies in the northern sky not far from the Plough (the saucepan-shaped pattern of bright stars that is handy for finding Polaris).  Our northerly latitude is both a benefit and a disadvantage for the purposes of astronomy.  On the plus side, it means that northerly objects such as the Whirlpool Galaxy are often visible high in the night sky, where they are best positioned for photography.  On the downside our very short summer nights make astrophotography effectively impossible from early May until mid-August when it never gets fully dark on Holy Island.

There is another disadvantage of being located high in the northern hemisphere.  From here we can never view the many wonderful astronomical marvels of the Southern Hemisphere.   For that reason I make use of telescopes in Australia and in Chile that I can control remotely thanks to the new high-speed internet that has recently reached the island.


AONB Visitor Guide to be launched at North Tourism Fair

This year's Northumberland Coast AONB Visitor Guide will once again be available at the North Tourism Fair at Willowburn Sports and Leisure Centre in Alnwick on Tuesday 17th March. It is the nineth edition of this popular publication and this year features an impressive image of Dunstanburgh Castle on its front cover, taken by local photographer Gavin Duthie.

The guide is designed to be used once visitors are here. It is full of information, great photos and aims to help visitors make the most of their stay whilst encouraging them to help conserve this unique landscape. This year, we have included an extra 16 page pull out - Drive Less, See More - to help visitors get around the Northumberland Coast without a car.

We strongly encourage small business and attractions to come along next Tuesday to pick up copies of the Guide, ready for the year ahead. We have printed 50,000 copies to meet demand. There will also be other AONB leaflets to collect and a chance to chat with the staff team.

Catherine Gray from the Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership said: "This well-received guide is always very popular. It was redesigned last year by Offstone Publishing; it's now a handy A4 size, but still retains all the essential information. It's a must-have for visitors to the AONB".

The Guide is distributed through A-ha Distribution. If you wish to be added to their mailing list, then please contact them on 0191 267 1220 or e-mail: You can also collect copies from Visitor Information Centres or by contacting the AONB office on 01670 622 644.

Catherine Gray []
Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership/Tel.  01670 622 644

FROM FORD & ETAL Elspeth Gilliland

Etal Village

It seems that everything that had been planned for April has been cancelled.

For the time being at least, our attractions are remaining closed.

The two village shops are open but all tearooms and the pub are closed.

Heatherslaw Cornmill is producing flour and selling this and its cereals both at the mill (customers to phone/email before coming) and via normal retail outlets.

Let's hope that people heed advice and stay close to home, in the hope we can get through this quickly.

Regards - Elspeth


So many events have had to be cancelled because of the corona virus, but I was encouraged that our Members Guardian, Penny Warren, was able to travel all the way from Devon to lead our last group retreat at the  Open Gate until conditions improve.  However, although the retreat on soul friendship was cancelled,  its leader, Scott Brennan agreed to do it on-line with myself, and the number of bookings doubled!

I was due to fulfil a commitment made three years ago to travel to three Lands End parishes in Cornwall to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of the founding of one of them by Ireland's Saint Sennen.  He founded monastic communities in the mouths of rivers such as Scattery Island at the river Shannon.  One tradition believes that our Saint Aidan was in charge of this community a generation after Sennen, before going to Iona and Lindisfarne.  The locals on Scattery Island  follow this tradition. When it became clear that a ten hour train journey there and back was asking for trouble, I asked my hosts if they would bring my body back home if I died there.  They replied that they had a lovely orchard so it would not be necessary! However, when the Prime Minister asked all over seventies not to travel I cancelled the trip.

I thank all of you who came to or sent cards for my eightieth birthday celebration at The Open Gate on March 8, and I thank Jutta and team for the magnificent feast.  I was so grateful we could do this before the restrictions were imposed.

Ray Simpson

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

Dear friends,

Easter Sunday falls on April 12th this year, so normally this letter from the churches would be reflecting the most important Christian festival ; Holy Week and Easter Sunday bring a profound change to the number of services, and to the numbers attending.

This year the letter is being written the morning after the Prime Minister has sent the country into lockdown for a minimum period of three weeks.  None of us know what this will feel like and by the time you are reading this our landscape will probably have changed again.

I believe whole-heartedly that the message of Easter, with its themes of death and resurrection, is a message for all time and every situation, and speaks to us in every circumstance.  Equally whole-heartedly I believe that this is not a trite message along the lines of 'just pray and Jesus will make everything all right'.

The first followers of Jesus were thrust into a very frightening and heartbreaking situation.  The person they loved, trusted and believed in had died, and they were left vulnerable, confused and grieving.  On the evening of the first Easter Sunday they were locked away together feeling frightened of the world outside and that their lives were changed forever.  It was at this moment they encountered the risen Christ, not being able to believe what they saw.  The resurrected Jesus came to them,  not as a figure such as we see in some paintings, pure and unreachable, but as one who was scarred by life and by death. We are told that the marks of the nails of crucifixion were visible in his hands and feet, and that there was a gaping wound in his side from a soldier's spear.

This Christ, who had suffered and struggled, who had been despised and rejected, looked at his frightened friends and said 'Peace be with you'

That message 'Peace be with you' has been shared around the globe by Christians ever since, in places of great pain, in places of great joy, in ordinary days and on extraordinary days.  It speaks of hope, that we will move forward together, and that a new day will come.

Of course, Christians do not have a monopoly on sharing peace, and representatives of Christianity are just as capable as anyone else of promoting the opposite.  The message of Easter, that I hope is relevant beyond the church, is that when the way ahead is uncertain, or circumstances are frightening, peace and hope can be worked towards together. What we see now is not all there is in life, and a new time will come.

As a community no one here needs to be told to love their neighbour, people are looking out for each other, and hopefully everyone feels there is someone they can ask for help.  There is a proud heritage here of weathering storms and working together.  Our forbears have been through tough times and come through even though they've faced a battering.  And, with this perspective, we must not forget to look out for signs of joy, beauty and hope.

Peace be with you !

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

(coronavirus onset)
Mothering Sunday 2020


Help us to be with one another
...even if at a physical distance
Help us to build a kinder world

To reach out
To love and to care
To be sensible and not to panic

Help us to grieve
to be disappointed
to lament, to wait
and above all, to hope

Because together we can.

Sarah Hills


Worship Times

Sadly, all the churches have had to close their doors due to the government instructions.

But we are still praying.

if you would like prayer for anyone or a particular situation, please let Sarah Hills (St Mary's), Rachel Poolman (St Cuthbert's) or Steven Purnell (St Aidan's) know.

We know that there are needs beyond coronavirus, so please do let us know if you would like prayer for anything at all. These prayer requests will be held in confidence.

We are praying for everyone on the island regularly.