Bamburgh

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Brian, our coach driver, had judged the tide tables well and we left Lindisfarne safely by the tidal road back to the mainland without incident. I think we all left Holy Island wishing that we could have stayed much longer and with a resolve to revisit the place very soon, perhaps to stay in one of the little guesthouses or small hotels and take everything in at a much more leisurely pace. All that breathtaking rugged scenery, the association of Wilfrid and the great Celtic saints, and the role the island played, and is still playing in our quest to get nearer to God, was just too much for such a short visit.

The thing that was also fascinating me was the physical proximity of Lindisfarne to the neighbouring Cuthbert's and Inner Farne islands and Bamburgh castle rising majestically from the nearby cliffs of the mainland - forming a triangle where the epicenter of Celtic Christianity in the North of England, Cuthbert in his hermitage and the Crown were very much in each other's view.

Oh how I wish I could write a play centred on the scene of the towering fortress of Bamburgh and the holy islands below - all the ingredients to make a great drama! When saintly king Oswold was installed at the fortress at Bamburgh and summoned Aidan to form a monastery at Lindisfarne, church and state set about the task of converting souls in perfect harmony. 

Relations were to take a different turn when Oswold was killed and succeeded by Oswiu who married Eanfled, of Roman tradition and practices. There is no doubt Eanfled, patron of Wilfrid, would look down from the battlements of the fortress towards Lindisfarne with growing irritation. 

This friction between Church and state no doubt manifested itself at court at the time of Easter when the Celtic method of calculating Easter differed from that arrived at by the Roman method. This could mean that under the Celtic rule Easter Sunday came a week earlier than the Roman method in which case King Oswiu, who like Oswold had been brought up in the Celtic faith at Iona, and his court would want to start the feasting associated with Easter whilst his wife and her retinue were still fasting in Lent! The enthusiasm for Roman practices was evidently also passed from Eanfled to her son Alhfrith who became sub-king of Deira and a great friend and supporter of Wilfrid. However when king Oswiu died, his son Ecgfrith, despite starting his reign as a supporter of Wilfrid, eventually grew hostile to Wilfrid's growing power and wealth. 

Through archbishop Theodore, Ecgfrith was instrumental in breaking up Wilfrid's vast Northumbrian see, and when Wilfrid made his successful appeal to Rome, Ecgfrith rejected the Papal mandate and had Wilfrid imprisoned, presumably at Bamburgh, and then banished. Ecgfrith's opposition to Wilfrid was no doubt spurred on when his first queen, Ethelthryth would not let the marriage be consummated and Wilfrid ignored Ecgfrith's pleas for his assistance to change the queen's mind and poured salt on the wound when he went on to consecrate her a nun at Coldingham where Ecgfrith's aunt Aebbe was abbot. 

Oh to be a fly on the walls of Bamburgh whilst all this gossip was floating around the corridors of the fortress! Ecgfrith's second wife, Iurminburg, was bitterly hostile to Wilfrid and delighted, whilst he was imprisoned, in taking possession of his casket of relics and holy oil and "wore it as an ornament both in her chamber at home and when riding abroad in her carriage". One can imagine the turmoil as time and again Wilfrid challenged the Anglo Saxon power of the throne over the church with his first allegiance to the Pope and the rifts at court that this would cause. Ecgfrith, consumed with all these problems, and shortly to die in a battle with the Picts, must have looked down longingly from his mighty fortress at the Inner Farne Island where Cuthbert had moved to as a hermit. 

How Ecgfrith must have wished he could spark again the chemistry that united his uncle Oswold and Aidan before him. If you can, do see the picture towards the back of the English heritage guide book on Lindisfarne - it is a mural by Sir William Bell Scott at Wallington Hall near Morpeth - and shows king Ecgfrith in all his regal splendour arriving on the shore of Inner Farne and imploring a reluctant, very weather beaten and humbly dressed Cuthbert to leave the seclusion he loves and return to be Bishop of Lindisfarne. Amazingly, despite Cuthbert's very modest apparel, the splendour of the king's robes are more than matched by the brilliant colours of the Eider and ducklings at Cuthbert's feet and a swarm of Artic Terns swarm over the saint's head to form a crown more vibrant than any jewel in the monarch's earthly crown - wonderful visions - a quite extraordinary place to visit and behold.

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Very shortly after leaving Lindisfarne we were entering the village of Bamburgh with the quite spectacular ramparts of the castle looking down on us. Although the current building owned by the Armstrong family is much later than the primitive wooden fortress in Bernician times, the impregnable strategic site must have been the same as when King Ida founded the kingdom in 547. Apparently the village was given by King Ida's grandson to his wife Bebba and became known as Bebbanburgh from which the modern name derives.

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Some of the party alighted to sample the local teashops and visit the local church whilst the rest of us stayed on the coach to be driven right up the volcanic hill to the castle entrance. Oh dear, another case of "if only we had more time to explore the castle". We only had a few minutes but that was enough to gaze at the magnificent red sandstone castle as it towers over the sea and the little village below and take in the breathtaking views of the sand dunes and the rugged Northumbrian coastline. 

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The Norman church with the sea as its backdrop, is dedicated to Saint Aidan who died here in 651 whilst Wilfrid was still at Lindisfarne. The church was well worth exploring, if for no other reason to see the tomb and other artefacts associated with Grace Darling. In 1838 the paddle steamer 'Forfarshire' was wrecked on the Farne Islands and Grace and her father rowed out is a small rowing boat and rescued nine men.

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The tomb is a wonderful Victorian stone affair with Grace steadfastly holding on to her oar as she waits  'till the day to break and the shadows flee away'.

Bamburgh is yet another 'must visit again' place with reputedly one of the finest sandy beaches in Northumbria and up the coast is Budle Bay a renowned ornithological paradise with a great variety of waders - and we did the whole thing in about an hour! Never mind something to look forward to visiting again soon.

 

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