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

A BIT FROM ME Geoff Porter
Author: David O'Connor

Dear Subscriber,

Welcome to our May newsletter again coming to you in the midst of a pandemic. It seems unreal to be saying the entire UK remains locked-down to reduce cross-contamination.

Here on Holy Island, the majority of our tiny community are assessed in the highest risk Covid-19 category. In an effort to dissuade visitors from visiting the island the County Council have located large signs along the road side announcing that public car parks are closed (as are public toilets).

So, for the first time on record, may we offer huge thank you for NOT visiting us.

Since our last newsletter the post office has been shut, through illness, with the Holy Island Support Group shop compensating by replicating some food items. Thanks to Max who organised newspaper delivery and 'newspaper boys' Molly and Harry. We welcome Jill and Michael back. Much-talented Mikey is using his 3D printer to produce masks for the NHS. The Ship and Crown&Anchor continue to offer meal deliveries twice a week. Ed: unbelievable battered-Fish & Chips! And Kevin continues to do a great job HERE.

We feel for the millions of self-isolating individuals, families and pets (!). Bottled up together at home, like a powder-keg, except for emergencies, prevented from using their vehicles - freedom and relationships will be under tremendous strain.

Almost certainly, long before the availability of an anti-virus, there will be relaxation for the millions in self-isolation and use of vehicles.

If unchecked, this could mean 6,000 potentially Corvid-carriers visiting our island home, its facilities, narrow streets and footpaths daily.

An obviously huge threat to that miniscule high-risk group of residents...

Thank you to all our writers. We hope that you enjoy our May newsletter and look forward (Deo volente) to getting in touch in June.

God Bless and Stay Safe,

Geoff Porter
Editor (SitEzine)


Haven't we had some beautiful sunny days this month! When times are very different and hard for us all, a bit of sunshine certainly lifts our spirits. Our rainbow of hope message in our window at school has inspired lots of you to put rainbows in your own windows which are lovely to see.

School continues to be closed but we've still been busy getting on with learning through messages and online contact. There has been a really positive approach from parents to our home learning ideas and we are in touch through telephone and email.

Thank you for helping us with our magnificent bear hunt earlier this month. Sheila Lishman came up with the idea which is based on the book 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt' by Michael Rosen and after a request on our Holy Island Support Group page, the village had all sorts of bears popping up in windows, planters and porches! Thank you Sheila. Scarlett-Beau and Lily-Ella really enjoyed searching for the bears during their daily exercise with their parents and had a checklist to help them to count. Even though they couldn't do this together, it was still a great thing to do. The final count was 64 bears - what a result!

You may remember that Karen (our caretaker) and her husband Richard were keen to get our greenhouse built in the school garden. Those winds at the end of March died down and we were delighted when the greenhouse was eventually built and stood proud and ready in the garden. We were ready to get on and planted lots of seeds in trays and pots. Then what happened to the wind? Yes of course, the wind returned and some huge gusts from the west managed to remove some of the panes. Luckily, the panes are poly-carbonate so didn't break. We found most of the panes around the garden but one was completely gone! Luckily, we managed to save most of our seeds which was good news.

The greenhouse has now been repaired and strengthened by Karen and Richard and the missing pane has been replaced - thank you so much - and we are back in business. We have a good selection of vegetables and flowers under way. We have planted our seed potatoes and are excited to see that our blackcurrant bushes are flowering. We are following the crop rotation plan which was put in place by Scarlett-Beau and Lily-Ella last year, so we know what to plant in each bed when we are ready. We will continue to keep things going in the garden for the girls in readiness for our gardening club starting up again when we get back to normal.

These are unusual times and we are all being tested in various ways but here on the island there has been a wonderful supportive atmosphere for us all. Please take care, stay safe and well and I look forward to when we can all come back together again for another coffee morning in school, with cake and songs of course!

Heather Stiansen

Author: David O'Connor

Coronavirus or Covid 19, rampaged into our lives early in March 2020 and on Wednesday 4 March 2020, I had my first discussion with our insurance provider. Allied-Westminster. I indicated that we were meeting the requirements of the day. Subsequently, we received up graded advice that required, when the building was closed, the premises must be inspected weekly by a 'competent person' and if used for special meetings that appropriate cleaning materials would be available on demand.

On Monday 16 March HMG announced that people should avoid large gatherings and gatherings in small places. Additionally, listed premises had to close. This list did not include Village or Community Halls, nor have they been included to date.

Many halls provide for isolated communities and there can be a significant reason(s) for the facilities they provide to remain open, at the discretion of the Trustees.

Until such time that HMG decide that Halls must close. Crossman Hall will remained available to small groups providing users follow NHS advice and "wash hands and clean down hard surfaces". The hall will continue to remain available for 'emergency use'.

Maintenance Apart from day to day work, there is/was a problem with the ingress of water into the core of the building. That probably occurred during a period of SW gales and rain, when the run-off from the roof was blown under the slates into the roof void. I'll continue to monitor.

A second problem was noticed when the Gents loo began to smell of pee. Following observation it was noticed that the urinals were not flushing as programed. The instruction manual was found and studied. It took a significant amount of time to identify and resolve the problem. I'm happy to report that the smell has gone and the urinals are operating as programed.

Bookings The most significant impact of Corvid 19 was the need to cancel bookings that ranged from Weddings, an Anniversary Party, several Religious & other Group meetings, an Election and other Charity gatherings. All events up to 24 May 2020 are cancelled and this has had a significant impact on our annual income. It is probable that the Church Coffee Morning, Monday 25 May 2020, will be cancelled.

Although the Chancellor announced that funds are to be made available to Charities, I suspect they will be targeted at more high profile organisations.

Trustees meeting Wednesday 29 April 2020 - Cancelled

Micheal Vrieling van Tuijl: Most of us have known Mikey since birth and of his huge skill levels and achievements. Like picking up his pilot's licence before he was of an age to drive, and his well-known IT skills,

Well, he's now helping the NHS. In an e-mail he explained that since returning from University, he has decided to help by producing much needed Face Shields for local Nursing Homes, GP Practice's and soon local Hospitals.

We are all aware of the shortage of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment).

Currently Mikey working at home and running out of space, can produce up to 50 vital shields a day. How, by using a 3D printer he is able to fabricate and assemble masks. Don't ask me how he does it!

Longridge Towers, his old school, is providing a second printer. Consequentially, he will have the ability to make 100 masks a day for our local NHS.

But he needs space and I see this as a valuable service to the wider community and we are offering him a room in Crossman Hall in which he can produce, assemble and store the masks prior to distribution. He will work in Melville's Room and work will operate using NHS health & safety guidelines.

I met Mikey and we worked through a risk assessment and I am now in contact with our insurance provider to check and see if we require additional cover. I agreed Mikey can operate on a monthly basis, depending upon need for PPE by local NHS services his use of Mel's room could be extended.

David O'

Footnote: A Personal View
This note is, in particular, is for those who receive the well circulated E-zine, and provides a window on our fishing community that some residents have little interest in.
When Governments around Europe demanded the closure of hotels and restaurants, Corvid 19 substantially impacted on the Islands fishing community and their ability to work. Working the sea has been and continues to be the backbone of the Island. Generations of fisher folk and those who work the land have ensured that the village was fed and prospered.
Although the Island is renowned for its role in the establishment of Christianity in England, it is not a dedicated shrine like that of Santiago de Compostela or Lourdes. It is a quiet island community drawing a living from the land, sea and now visitors. In recent decades, many incomers with strong religious beliefs have arrived and sought to make capital from Holy Island's religious heritage often disregarding the Locals opinion.
As Coronavirus impacted on Europe and Borders closed, shellfish and whitefish markets crashed. Although many Buyers continued to take the crabs and lobsters for a while, with no bait available from whitefish boats, catches declined and soon the vivier tanks were filled. Local fishermen lost their best customers; the 'lockdown' in France, Spain, Belgium, Germany and the Nederland's knocked the bottom out of the market. Further compounded by the closure of Hotels and Restaurants in the UK; the impact on the Island economy is significant.
With markets closed, the men came ashore and will have to wait for better times to come after Corvid 19 has been controlled. But, isn't there always a but, what will happen to this vital Island resource as the Country negotiates terms for Bexit proper in 2021.
Will the fishermen once again become pawns in a political game as the North Sea and other waters are divvied-up and marketing tariffs imposed?
David O' (April 2020)

 Ian Kerr


Right through spring and until late summer one of the most fascinating birds to appear off the island is the Puffin, surely Britain's favourite seabird.

Feeding groups from their nesting colonies on the Farne Islands are regular off Castle Point, Emmanuel Head and Snipe Point. Other groups are often movingpast to and from feeding areas north of the island.

Sadly, this spring I'll be missing them being locked down in Newcastle because of the Corvid-18 emergency. But for those on the island and able to enjoy their permitted daily exercise they're certainly worth looking out for from now on.

Puffins really are remarkable looking birds. Give a small child colour pencils and ask it to draw a bright-beaked comical bird and I suspect they'd come up with something resembling a Puffin. With huge triangular beaks of red, yellow and blue, white clown faces and eyes where someone has gone mad with mascara, they waddle along on brilliant orange legs. They really are comic-book characters.

For all those reasons they're by far Britain's best-known and favourite seabird. They're certainly the most photographed, particularly when caught in that classic pose with that huge bill draped with glittering sand eels.


Their appearance has gained them some colourful folk names. These include Sea Parrot and Sea Clown, both obvious from their appearance to the more difficult to explain Tommy Noddy herein north Northumberland gradually morphs into Tammy Norie in Scotland.

Few birds arouse more public affection than the Puffin with many folk, without the slightest other interest in wildlife, eager to go out on boat excursions, cameras at the ready, just for the experience of getting close to them. Not for nothing was it chosen as the logo for the largest series of children's book in Britain and the English-speaking world in general.

We're very fortunate in Northumberland in being able to encounter these delightful members of the auk family at close quarters at two of Britain's most successful breeding colonies on the Farne Island and on Coquet Island. Between them, they hold around 75,000 breeding pairs, well over 10% percent of the national total.  The other 90% are around Scotland and its islands with smaller concentrations in Ireland and Wales.

Elsewhere, almost five million pairs nest around the North Atlantic with colonies stretching from Northern Russia and Norway to Iceland, Greenland, Newfoundland and Labrador and southwards down the American sea-board to Maine. Our Atlantic Puffin, as it's officially designated, is replaced by two related species, Horned Puffin and Tufted Puffin, in the North Pacific.

Puffin with Sand Eels
Puffin with Sand Eels - the picture everyone photographer wants to catch
Photos: Mike S Hodgson

Despite those seemingly colossal numbers, the Puffin in now on Britain's official Red List of species of major conservation concern as numbers have fallen sharply over the past quarter of a century. They're also considered very vulnerable because most of the breeding population is concentrated in just a few sites.  A natural or a man-made disaster, such as a really violent storm or a huge oil pollution incident, could be devastating.

The great news here is that Northumberland's Puffins are beating the international downward spiral.  National surveys are carried out every five years and the latest figures show that our numbers are going up, right again the national and international trend.

For example, almost 44,000 pairs were breeding on the Farne Islands in the latest census, up from 39,000 back in 2013. On Coquet Island the upward trend was even more dramatic with 32,000 pairs compared with the previous 12,000.

Puffins have bred on the Farnes since at least 1532 when a batch was sent for a religious banquet in Durham.  In contrast, they're recent arrivals on Coquet Island where breeding didn't start until the 1960s.

Puffins, like all the auks, are truly maritime birds. They spend most of their lives far out at sea, wintering in both the North Sea and the Atlantic, existing on a diet of small fish caught by diving from the surface. They only need to come ashore during the breeding season which is our only opportunity to see them at close quarters.

The Puffin season starts early. Thousands can arrive ashore on the Farnes and on Coquet Island on calm and sunny days in March and April. Any change in the weather sees them temporarily vanishing back out beyond the horizon. By May they are settling to breed in their nesting burrows, either taking over existing ones or using that sturdy axe-like beak and their feet to dig out new holes.

A single white egg is laid in the burrow, sometimes five or six feet from the entrance and safe from the attentions of gulls.  Incubation takes around a month before the chick, known rather endearingly as a Puffling, hatches and looks like a little black powder puff. They grown fast on a rich oily died of sand eels and other small fish.

That's the stage all visitors to Puffin colonies, particularly the photographers, really love. It's when the adults will fly in with rows of fish gripped in the beak and makes a dash for the burrow before big gulls, invariably hanging around, can swoop to try and rob them of the catch. Puffins don't always make it and must simply fly back out to sea to start all over again.

Living dangerously: Pufflings usually emerge during darkness, This bird out in daylight is at extreme risk from predatory gulls.
Photos: Mike S Hodgson

The Puffling grows rapidly and finally leaves the burrow under cover of darkness to avoid predators when it is around six weeks old. It will walk or fly to the sea. The young are then independent and won't need to return to land for several years until maturity.

Puffins face many threats, including global warming. Even a degree or two differences in water temperature can affect the availability of food and may be behind the total collapse of some previously huge colonies in Iceland and Norway. Industrial fishing has also reduced stocks in many breeding areas.

Despite that they are still being killed in Iceland where they are traditionally served as food, these days mainly to curious tourists.  There is also an increasing trend, Incredible as it seems, for so-called sportsmen to pay up to �3,000 a head to shoot 100 Icelandic Puffins and bring them home as sad little trophies.

The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting is urging the government to ban the importation into Britain of puffin and other threatened seabird trophies. Encouraging sounds have been made but unfortunately, at the time of writing and with Government totally preoccupied with the coronavirus emergency, no  action has followed.


It was exactly a month ago that the castle closed as part of the wider response to the coronavirus outbreak. Since the 20th March the world has changed immeasurably, and I feel slightly underqualified to be talking about the disease and the devastation it has wrought. Instead I can try to update you on what we are doing in all its triviality with our eyes on the other side of this, and how we recover.

When I last wrote for the HIT, we were just about to install this year's exhibition - Limelight - in the Ship Room. This work was carried out successfully by four people (myself included) nervously adopting these new-fangled social distancing protocols and wearing blue gloves. The installation is amazing, really amazing. I'll include a photo with this article, but it won't do it justice given the soundtrack, lighting, the overall ambience of being in the Ship Room with its magnificent acoustics. The screen the projection appears on is fitted to the shaped of the room, about two thirds down the space and we have blacked out the room, so it feels like a cinema. The beginning of the film is very clever and features one of the artists in what feels like hologram-form but isn't. The film then travels through the castle and lime kilns in an ethereal, almost surreal way based on the 3D scans carried out a few years ago for the restoration project. The accuracy needed for the building work is a huge advantage for the artists as it allows such intricate details to form part of their work. When we do reopen, it is pretty much a case of pressing a button and off it goes.  If you can, and when its safe to do so, I would urge you to see it for real.

Aside from that most of the staff are now on furlough leaving Daniel and I to keep an eye on the castle. We visit to carry out essential checks and tasks which keep the place ticking over during this closed period. I should point out that we wear gloves at all times and observe all government advice on social distancing - which is pretty easy at the castle to be honest. Lone working has its advantages, but it is also important to keep in touch with each other while on site; checking in when we arrive and making it known we are home safely. I should also thank Danny at Belvue for the excellent webcam which allows me to keep an eye on the castle from home!

It seems like the vast majority of people in the area are respecting the island's wishes and staying away. On my visits it feels like I am the only car on the road and there have been times when between leaving the house and getting back home, I haven't spoken to a soul! This was especially strange of course over Easter - surely the island hasn't seen an Easter like that before? It is though always nice to see familiar faces and have a quick chat from two metres or more away. It is reassuring to know that the community is staying strong and coming together in this crisis, particularly through the Holy Island Support Group.

I look forward to getting to the other side of this and will hopefully see you all there.

Take care and stay safe.

Nick Lewis, Lindisfarne Castle   @NTNorthd_Coast  01289 389903


With the Coronavirus still very much in our minds, changing the way we live our lives with many of us stuck at home more than we would like, it has been a strange month on the Reserve. As you will have noticed visitor numbers are significantly lower than what we would expect at this time of year and I'm sure it was one of the quietest Easter Bank Holidays on the island in living memory.

An annoying side note to being in lockdown is all the glorious weather we have been having with barely a drop of rain so far this month and wall to wall sunshine most days even if a chilly easterly breeze takes the edge of the temperature. Find a sheltered corner and you could be mistaken it's the middle of July.

All this fine weather has bought about an explosion of spring activity with Skylarks a plenty singing in the dunes and several species of flowers out in bloom. Migrant breeding birds have also been sighted this month with the arrival of Sandwich Terns forming pre-breeding roosts on the Reserve and using the rich waters around Lindisfarne to feed. The first Swallows have also been observed this week flying low of the dunes, scooping up flies and other insects as they go.


Looking for a silver lining that this horrific virus has caused is that pressure and disturbance on nature has been dramatically reduced across the Reserve, a unique circumstance that we are keen to investigate particularly as the breeding birds start nesting.

Eventually, life will return to some sense of normality as we transition out of lockdown but the rhythms of nature on the Reserve have continued, ignorant to the chaos that this crisis has brought to our lives.

Best Wishes,

Andy Denton
Reserve Manager
Lindisfarne &


Comets are interesting and unusual astronomical objects that occasionally make a temporary appearance in our sky.  Throughout human history they have often been seen as ominous portents of doom, harbingers of disaster and catastrophe.  Sure enough... at the very end of last year a new comet was discovered just as early cases of COVID-19 were occurring in China.  My own personal name for this apparition is therefore "The Plague Comet" and recently I have been pointing my telescope in its direction.

C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), to give this comet it correct designation, was first detected on 28th December 2019 by the alarmingly named Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System telescope on Mount Loa in Hawaii.  It is the initials of this NASA-funded automated system that gives the comet the last part of its name.  ATLAS is intended to provide the inhabitants of our planet with a few days warning of incoming lumps of rock that could potentially cause much greater harm even than COVID-19.  Fortunately it was quickly determined there is no danger of The Plague Comet colliding with Earth.  Instead astronomers around the world were excited that the comet might put on a spectacular show to entertain us in the early summer.


Image 1: Max's timelapse photograph of C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS)
composed of seven 120s sub-frames.

By the time I managed to take my first photographs in early April, the comet had already sprouted a tail and grown in brightness so that it was easy to pick out among the background stars (image 1).

Comets are generally very small objects by astronomical standards, typically about the same size as Holy Island, and it is something of a miracle that they are visible at great distances.  The reason for their brightness is that they are composed mainly of ice and other volatile substances.  As their eccentric orbits bring them towards the inner Solar System, they are warmed by the Sun so that their surface starts to sublime (ie turn from a solid directly into gas).  The clouds of vapour that are released spread out to form the comet's tail and are then energized by the solar wind so that they glow brightly.  The Plague Comet's exhalations are an attractive blue-green due to carbon compounds present in small amounts.

Taking a decent photograph of the comet is rather tricky.  Partly this is because, as discussed in a previous instalment of this column, the Earth is spinning on its axis so that the sky appears to slowly turn.  On a fixed tripod any exposure long enough to capture the comet would also be hopelessly blurred by this "sidereal" motion. To counteract this, my telescope and camera are attached to a special motorised mount that precisely moves to keep the stars perfectly steady in frame.  But in the case of the comet, this does not quite work.  The comet moves fast enough across the night sky so that it tracks at a different rate compared to the background stars.


Image 2: Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 4.3 by 4.1 km (2.7 by 2.5 mi) at its longest and widest dimensions, taken by:

In the first accompanying photograph I have combined seven sub-exposures each taken 20 minutes apart.  My telescope is tracking the background stars, so their positions are fixed in frame throughout.  But notice that the comet itself appears in seven slightly different locations in the sky, one for each sub-exposure.  The rapid motion of the comet is thus revealed: travelling at approximately 39 kps (25 mps) relative to the Sun.  Note that this speed is measured in kpS (and mpS)... kilometers (miles) per SECOND. At that rate it would take less than 15 seconds to travel from Holy Island to London!

Now I admit that although my picture demonstrates the motion of the comet well enough, it does not reveal much about its appearance.  For that you need to send a spacecraft to get much closer.  That is how the other photographs accompanying this column were taken... by the European Space Agency's spectacularly successful mission Rosetta (image 2). This spacecraft rendezvoused with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and actually landed a separate probe on its surface in 2014.  In the image on the right you can see how the comet is spewing out jets of material into space.

Alas as I write these words in mid-April, the news about The Plague Comet is disappointing.  A few days ago, it disintegrated!  In consequence, the comet has already started to dim and astronomers are no longer hopeful that it will become visible to the naked eye as it makes its closest approach to the Earth on 23rd May.


We had to cancel our retreats of course. However, Scott Brennan, the leader of our planned retreat on soul friendship,  turned this into a webinar on zoom.  The numbers booked in doubled and so we have had four weeks of sessions for both a morning group and an evening group, including two participants from USA.

After giving a talk this morning I recovered by watching Al Jazheera TV.  On this a spokesman for the Australian Privacy Association warned against using zoom.  He said both Chinese and American networks can easily hack into all private information on the computers of anyone who uses zoom, so we should expect to have our bank details etc etc stolen and viruses galore.

I thought we'd had enough with THE virus.  It's a hard world.  But as the Archbishop of Canterbury said from his kitchen broadcast on Easter Day, a rising tide of care for one another in the belief that life is stronger than death is something we can all be grateful for, not least on Holy Island.

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

Holy Island Churches Together

From Churches Together  Dear friends,

This has been the oddest Easter I have ever known. Not to be able to celebrate the great Easter feast in church, no chance for decorating by our wonderful flower ladies, no procession up from St Cuthbert's Beach on Saturday evening with the new light of Christ has been strange to say the least. And yet, and yet, it is still Easter. In fact, it is Easter now for another few weeks. The Easter joy we usually feel is just celebrated in different ways this year. On our island, the Easter joy is being celebrated as we chat at a 'proper distance' outside; it is being celebrated with our island children as they do the Easter picture hunt around the village; it is being celebrated in the giving and receiving of neighbourly support and help. It is being celebrated every Thursday evening as we go outside and clap the NHS and other key workers.

I have been reading more about St Aidan and St Cuthbert during the lockdown, as well as getting used to zoom meetings and producing services for live streaming and the like. On some days, like today, I have been sitting reading in glorious sunshine in the garden (aren't we fortunate to be locked down in such a beautiful place - what would it be like in a small overcrowded flat in the inner city?). I wonder what Aidan and Cuthbert and the other monks would have made of this time in lockdown? Maybe they would have embraced it as a type of retreat or hermitage. Maybe they would at times be a bit fed up as we sometimes are. Maybe some days they wouldn't have felt like doing anything, as can be the case for us. And that's all OK. We don't have to feel upbeat and positive all the time.

But it seems clear, that whatever else they felt, they would have been praying. To the God who loves them, who loves us all. To the risen Christ who works in and through us as we share our lockdown time together. As we feel joy or sadness; boredom or hyperactivity; grief or anger or worry or...

Christ has risen for us in our world today and forever. He is with us whatever is happening, however we feel, whatever we are able to do or not do. Our hope is in Christ - who does, who will, make all things well. So let's try to celebrate the good things, however small. Let's continue to look out for each other, and share for the best our life together on this beautiful island. And above all, let's try to give thanks - for each other, for this wonderful community, and for God's abiding love for us all.

With blessings
Sarah and Rachel

Sarah Hills
StMary's Church
01289 389216 

Rachel Poolman
St Cuthbert's Centre (UnitedReformed Church)


PS: And on a personal note from Sarah - thank you so much for your looking after me since my father died. I truly feel fortunate to be among such a community as you all at this time. Thank you.

Worship Times

Public worship on hold to help stem spread of coronavirus: Wednesday 18 March 2020

Following government guidance on coronavirus, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued advice that public worship is suspended until further notice. I am very sorry as this means that there will no services in St Mary's Church from today.

We will keep you updated as things progress.

Lord, 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, Lord, to hope. Because together we can. Amen.

Revd Dr Sarah Hills