Farne Islands

In addition to seeing Lindisfarne while staying in Seahouses, I also took a boat trip out to the Farne Islands. The Farne islands are a group of small islands (between 15 and 20 depending on the tide) located off the northeast coast of Northumbria.

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As with Lindisfarne, the islands recorded history goes back to the 6th century CE and were home to both Saint Aidan and Saint Cuthbert. A 14th century chapel dedicated to St. Cuthbert still exists on one of the islands.

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But, mostly, the islands are home to hundreds of species of birds. We saw cormorants, shags, various species of terns and puffins.

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I’m not much of a birder so I was very happy that the islands are also home to thousands of seals and they swam alongside the boat checking us out as we snapped photos of them in the water and lazing in the sun on the rocks.

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The Farne Islands are also famous for being the place where the shipwreck of the Forfarshire happened in 1838. Grace Darling, the 22 year-old daughter of the Longstone lighthouse-keeper spotted the few survivors who had managed to make it one of the islands. She and her father rescued 9 people in a strong gale and thick fog and she became a heroine who is well-known in British folklore.

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After returning to the dock, we enjoyed a large pile of fish and chips and then ended our day with a walk along the beach.

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Lindisfarne, the Holy Isle

Over the past few days, I have been hanging out in and around Seahouses, on the Northumbrian Coast in England. This gave me a chance to visit Lindisfarne, known as the Holy Isle.

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Lindisfarne, the Holy Island, is a tidal island. At low tide, it can be reached by a long causeway. At high tide, it’s an island. So, timing the visit was key! The island has a recorded history that dates back to the 6th century and it was a key location during Celtic Christianity. In 634 CE, Saint Aidan established a priory on the island and Lindisfarne became the base for Christian evangelising in the North of England. monks from the Irish community of Iona settled on the island and Northumberland’s patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk and later abbot of the monastery. The priory was re-established after the Norman Conquest (11th century).

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In 1550, a castle was built on the headland of the island. Originally built for defense, the Castle is fairly small (by castle standards) and has been used as a lookout and garrison over the years.

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In 1901, it became the property of Edward Hudson, a publishing magnate and the owner of Country Life magazine. He had it refurbished in the Arts and Crafts style by Sir Edwin Lutyens. It has been operated by the National Trust since 1944.

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I really liked the Castle and it looked like a great place to live! Lots of window seats with views over the oean. Indoor modern plumbing and a lovely garden. I was ready to move in!!

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Huisinis

On Tuesday July 22, we had our longest day of hiking (about 12 km) from the beach at Huisinis. Huisinis, pronounced hoosh-ih-noosh (or something like that!) is a word derived from Norse which means “house headland”. An apt description as the community consists of four houses at the end of a single track road.

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On the way to Huisinish we stopped at the workshop of Donald John Mackay, a weaver of Harris tweed. In order to be called Harris Tweed, the fabric must be woven on either Harris or Lewis. Donald has been weaving his whole life and learned the craft from his Father. The colours and patterns of the tweed are very much taken from the landscape around the island; the browns, greens and purples seen in the plants and rocks of the hills.

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After marveling over the beautiful tweed, we were off to the beach at Huisinis to start our trek. Given my panic-attack-vertigo-freak-out on the hike over the Quiraing, our guide made sure I knew that we were hiking over a mountain with a rocky, steep path and gave me the option of staying behind on the beach. Those of you who know me will know what I chose. After saying I wouldn’t willingly hike over a mountain again … yup, this time I did it willingly! Happy to report that while the trek was physically challenging, with the help of my amazing sister and a walking pole, I made it over the hill. It probably helped that we were headed for a beautiful looking beach so I was able to focus on that as my goal. In the first photo below, you can see the mountain on the right, with the beach off in the distance on the left.

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Having achieved the beach, we took a short lunch break and then went around the headland of the beach and climbed up to a loch. Truly a beautiful spot, with the freshwater loch butting up against the salt water of the sea. In addition to lots of sheep, we were lucky enough to spot a red deer.

The trek up the hill from the loch back to the mountain path was definitely the hardest part. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it but having no choice I just tried to quiet the voice in my head saying “I can’t believe you did this willingly” and keep on putting one foot in front of the other. It was hot, humid, boggy, muddy and buggy – flies, midges and ticks! Making it to the top was a very proud moment – a hot and sweaty, proud moment!!

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After the trek up the boggy hill from the loch, the hike back over the mountain seemed pretty easy! I truly realized how far I’d come (mentally and physically not geographically) when we reached a point in the path where we discovered that the people in the lead had gone off the hiking trail and we were, in fact, about 20 feet below the path following a sheep trail. In order to get back on the trail to get around the headland, we had to scramble straight up the hill. No path, just rocks. No problem!

Back at the van, we enjoyed the cake that our B&B hostess had packed for us and then headed back “home” for the best shower ever!!!!

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Circumnavigating Scalpay

On Wednesday, July 23rd we circumnavigated the island of Scalpay, just off the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. With a population of about 350, most of the islanders make their living from the sea, and the name scalpay comes from the gaelic word for scallops.

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Aside from the heat, this walk was lovely. We hiked up to the headland of the island, then circled around the southern coast with some amazing views out over the water.

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But, wow, was it hot!! Almost 30 degress Celcius with little wind. Our B&B host said that it hadn’t been this hot here in at least 20 years. But, at least it was too hot for the midges!! The sheep also looked very warm and were huddled as close to the cool peat as they could get.

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We did manage to catch some breeze while having our lunch break at the lighthouse. We watched the gannets fish for their lunch by diving into ocean and we even spotted a minke whale swimming by.

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After a cool shower, it was out for a dinner of Harris scallops over some famous Charles Macleod black pudding. Then, back to the B&B to watch the sun set over the tidal flats.

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Callanish Stones

Yesterday, I visited the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis. While it has been hot and sunny all week in the Outer Hebrides (I got a tan in Scotland?), it was mysteriously misty as a few of us walked amongst the 5,000 year old stones.

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The stones are laid out in a celtic cross formation, with a long avenue of double stones leading in from the noth and then a circular centre with shorter rows leading out in the other compass directions. The stones range from 1m to 5m in height and are made from the local rock, Lewisian gneiss, which is one of the oldest rocks on the planet at 3 billion years. It’s amazing to think of the passage of time since the stones were erected and since those stones were formed. We seem like a small blip on the landscape and yet our ability to change the earth upon which we live is immense.

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In the centre of the circle, a large stone marks where a burial cairn was found with human remains underneath. The meaning of the stones is unclear. Some people think they mark a lunar cycle, some solar, some speculate that they are a landmark that could be seen from far away at sea. Local legend says they are large giants who refused to convert to Christianity and were turned to stone as punishment.

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The Stones also form a relationship with the line of hills to the south, known as the Sleeping Beauty or Cailleach na Mointeach (the old lady of the moors). Once every 18.6 years, when the moon is at its southernmost extreme, the moon seems to rise out of the body of the Cailleach and then appears within the stones of the Callenish circle. And, if someone stands in the southern part of the circle, they appear to be reborn with the moon.

The site was truly spectacular. The lines and colours and striations of the rocks gave them added character and personality and the stones had both a presence and a power. I am so glad I got to visit this amazing place.

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