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

A BIT FROM ME Geoff Porter

Dear Subscriber,

As Saint Aidan's day draws to an end on 'Lindisfarne' may I welcome you to our September newsletter.

Firstly: sounding like an echo from the 1960s: how many students can you fit into a Morris Mini or a telephone box - how many visitors can you fit onto Holy Island?

Northumberland's easing out of a national lock down began on Holy Island with the opening of our main car park. Signs appeared cautioning social-distancing reminders and vehicles entering the village to display a 'residents only' permit. Thus, began the reality of CoVid summer for our island community.

What followed became our busiest summer ever: over-full car parks; pavements spilling out onto the roads; traffic backed up from the mainland with potential waiting times of 45 minutes including any vital emergency services. Routine shopping trips become a nightmare as villagers nervously ventured out onto the islands road amongst the en-masse bedlam of visitor traffic interspersed with: delivery vehicles, families cycling (some accompanied by the wobble of child-riders), hikers and some folk simply enjoying a pleasant stroll.

Recognising confliction between basic needs and social-distancing, thankfully, the county added a string of portable loos to augment toilet facilities - bringing in cleaners when tides permit.

The other day, as a trickle visitors announced the opening of the tide, I took a few snapshots to show readers our experience of social-distancing, our 'Co-Vid summer' and possible future summers until a vaccine is found, 

CoVid Toilet Block
The 'augmented' Toilet Block
Lindisfarne Hotel _ Oasis Cafe
Display Parking Permits
St Aidans _ Post Office
Towards the Coach Park and Toilet Block
Marygate Crossroads
Marygate Crossroads
Lindisfarne Priory
Village Square - Lindisfarne Priory Entrance

The island has a history of welcoming all its visitors and being patient to their needs. If you are one of those who has visited us this year, we do hope we have upheld this tradition regardless of the huge numbers.

Writing today, crops are failing in the field at the end of a wet and gloomy week with the consequential possibility of an increase in the cost of bread. Otherwise, we have had excellent weather, sadly, unlike our friends and allies across 'The Pond' whose west coast is coping with huge forest fires and whose east coast is under attack by a cat-4 hurricane - 150mph winds and 20foot tidal surge are threatened, possibly to affect some parts as far as 40miles inland! These are grim reminders of the power of nature. Our thoughts and wishes are with you.

In Scotland the children are already back and school for the autumn term - the rest of the UK normally follow later in September. Ian's article reminds us that nature has its own reminder of autumn. Thank you to him for his monthly rendition and of course, to all our authors this month.

We do hope you enjoy our newsletter and look forward to getting in touch again in October.

God Bless and Stay Safe,

Geoff Porter
Editor (SitEzine)

Stop Press: Reader Jeff P from Stanley, Co. Durham has just written about his August booking at the Manor House. He had been hoping for a good night sky for a photo shoot of the Milky Way. After dinner he headed down to the beach. Strong winds were blowing in the harbour. The clounds cleared around 11pm and he was able to complete the shoot. We include this lovely picture he sent for us to share. Thank you Jeff P.

Milky Way

As I write this in the middle of August, it seems that we will be back to school in September. Of course, we all know that things have changed quickly in some areas of the country but we are remaining positive in the hope that we will all return to school. As far as we know, both schools will be open and we will be classed as one bubble which means we can continue as we were before the pandemic arrived.

I'd like to tell you about a very interesting happening in July. We were sitting down to a cup of tea in the garden when the house martin's nest, which was built in the corner of our bedroom window, came crashing to the ground. There were three tiny chicks who, remarkably, survived the fall. We put them in a box with the remains of the nest and managed to get the box as close as possible to the nest site. We watched with great anticipation as the parents swooped around and past the box. They looked like they might feed their young but as the hours went on, it became clear that the chicks were in trouble.

We brought the chicks in and following advice from our neighbours, Pat and Mick, began to feed the chicks with mealworms. It took time but eventually they began to take the food. And so began two weeks of feeding by us every couple of hours! They absolutely thrived and it was wonderful to see them grow and become stronger as the days went on.

We were delighted when Ian Kerr offered to ring the chicks for us. It was good to have an expert telling us that the chicks were doing well and that they might fledge in a few days. Thank you Ian. So, we kept going with our feeding - with live waxworms - and started to take the chicks outside for a flutter every day. Then as one was perched on our hand, it just went - it flew away with a swoop and a flap and was gone! The other two went the next day and it was a magical sight to behold.

We've seen a few house martins flying around above the garden and we hope they are 'ours'. The parents went on to rebuild their nest and they now seem very busy popping in and out - I wonder if they have a new brood? Next year, we will be looking out for our little ones with rings on their legs. I hope they come back to us!

CAN YOU HELP? Over the last few weeks, I've started to research the history of our school. I've already spent some time in the reading room looking at some of the newspaper reports and have found some books with information too. If you have any memories, pictures or anecdotes about our school, please do get in touch.

Heather Stiansen

House Martin chicks
'unexpected house guests'
House Martin chicks
Author: David O'Connor

The Island has been heaving with visitors and very few have been observing Covid 19 'social distancing' and or mask wearing. Quite how, I don't know, but no cross infection has been reported.

Having to-date survived COVID 19, the Hall is not throwing the doors open and welcoming off-island users. Those we have accepted are self-contained groups with experience of managing health & safety policies and NHS guidelines.

Our Policy is to accept some bookings from Corporate Bodies, those that have a standalone 'risk assessment' that include a workable section on protecting against Covid 19 and appropriate social distancing. Not something we've seen a lot of when hoards of visitors trawl the Island streets.

Providing no virus outbreaks are recorded on the Island. Two bodies will use the Hall in September and during that period the exercise area and pool room will be closed. The Hall is be used as a rehearsal room early in September and then, after cleaning, by the Archaeologists from 5 to 25 September. Both Groups have agreed to work to NHS requirements.

Early Warning Some of you will remember the very successful evening held in the Hall to celebrate the New Year, organised by Ashleigh & Charlotte and how we would like them to do it all again this coming New Year.

I'm sure you will not be surprised! It's on hold for the moment as many locals are reluctant to attend. We wait and see how the threat from the virus develops.

Current use of the Hall The Hall is available for meetings. We can accommodate small groups, up to 20, with the appropriate social distancing and we provide hand and table sanitising materials.

The exercise space and Pool Room are also open. Appropriate cleaning stuffs available. However, those areas will be CLOSED from 1 to 26 September 2020 to avoid contact with other users who have booked the entire building.

Observant souls may have spotted our new neighbour, Ashleigh has acquired a cabin café and it's sited on Winery land near the Hall.

Good luck Ashleigh with your new business.

Stay safe and well

David O'

Crab Sandwiches
Author - Ian Kerr


There's a great difference in seasons between us humans and the natural world. We still regard it as late summer but to our plants, trees, birds and insects I'm afraid that it's already autumn.

There's an old saying in that the birdwatcher's autumn begins on August 1st and as far as the birds are concerned it's perfectly accurate.

Although the seemingly never-ending stream of human summer visitors just keep arriving whenever the tide is down, all around us are signs of the onset of autumn.

Prime examples are the village Rowan trees laden with their bunches of orange berries bringing down hordes of hungry Starlings, pushing aside the resident Blackbirds and Song Thrushes in the scramble to feed.

Swallow numbers are declining as birds move off towards their wintering grounds in South Africa and, if past years are a guide, by the time you're reading this the first Brent Geese will be back from their breeding grounds in the Arctic Ocean archipelago of Spitzbergen, usually referred to these days by its Nordic name of Svalbard.

Out in the dunes where the orchids are now brown and withered is another sure sign of the coming of autumn, thousands of silvery white cupped flowers of Grass of Parnassus. When I see them I know that I should be starting to look out for the first small migrant birds from Scandinavia, northern Europe and, if we're lucky, from Asia.

By mid-August with these little flowers studding the ground we'd already had rarities including Barred Warbler from central Europe and Greenish Warbler from Scandinavia as well as a host of more common species, including Pied Flycatchers, Willow Warblers and smart and colourful Whinchats flickering from walls and fence wires to take passing insects.

Also settled in were our smallest wintering falcons, dashing little Merlins, down from the hills. Over the village during the same period another much rarer falcon, a Hobby, made several appearances to cause panic among the Swallows and Starlings.

While all these species are the main attraction for birders, they're always heavily outnumbers at this stage of the year by the mass return southwards of waders back from their short and frenetic breeding season on the Arctic tundra and other wild habitats of Scandinavia Russia,, Iceland and Greenland.

One of the delights of September is that many of them are still in summering breeding plumage which is often very different from their appearance around the island and the flats in winter.

Anyone walking around the island recently has probably seen the huge flock of Golden Plover gathering regularly in the short grass of fields where the hay crop has been taken.  Their wonderful trilling calls as they fly in en masse and settle to rest is one of my favourite sounds of the season.

I came across one gathering of around 1,500 at Chare Ends the other day. Many of them were still in their golden and black breeding plumage, the extensive areas of black showing them to be birds of the Northern race rather than southern Golden Plovers which breed in Britain. These Northern birds have probably flown in from Iceland.

Similarly, their cousins, Grey Plovers, are also arriving back at this stage. During winter they live up to their description and really are a rather drab grey. But just for a short period now some are still in the breeding dress and in the sunlight have a wonderful silver and black appearance.

Also prominent with numbers seeming to increase daily are Bar-tailed Godwits from breeding zones in northern areas of Scandinavia and from Russia with some coming from as far away as Siberia.

Each summer small numbers of these long-billed waders remain around the island. These young non-breeders have no reason to migrate and sit out the summer months on the flats, often roosting on St Cuthbert's Island alongside our summer terns which also like to use the rocky outcrop as a safe resting area. These non-breeders remain in their rather dowdy brown plumage.

Grass of Parnassus
Grass of Parnassus: always a sign that autumn is here.
Photo: Ian Kerr

The first returning godwits really do stand out like proverbial sore thumbs among the dull summering birds as they are still resplendent in their vivid and rich dark red breeding dress.

Similarly, Knot which are also passing through are, depending on the light, in shades of red and orange, so  unlike the boring brown and grey we are accustomed to seeing them in winter. It's the one short time of year for us when they really live up to their North American name of Red Knot.

Anyone who walks our beaches in winter in places like Sandham Bay and the North Shore will have come across Sanderlings, the little grey and white waders which run up and down, a bit like mechanical toys, feeding on the very edge of the water.  Those now arriving, mainly from Greenland, look different. Most are still in their rich brown mottled breeding dress.

Again, we see them in this plumage for such short periods that I often find myself looking twice just to make sure they are Sanderling and not something else and potentially rarer.

Over the next few weeks the flow of waders through the area will go on increasing, some settling down to spend the winter with us but others merely resting and feeding before moving on. Some of these waders, including many Sanderlings, move down the west coast of Africa to winter in places very different from our island.

A few years ago a Sanderling recorded in spring on the island was seen to be carrying a coloured tag on one of its legs. It transpired that it had been fitted in West Africa during the previous winter by a team of researchers from Greenland.  A few weeks later it was reported again, this time back in Greenland, probably the place it was born.

Waders are always fascinating. Their appearance in huge numbers enlivens many a winter days around the island and for that reason they're one of my favourite groups of birds. Whether they're peacefully feeding or rising in panic when a hunting Peregrine passes overhead, they are the very spirit of the flats during autumn and winter.


It feels like a lot has happened since the last issue of this magazine, but at the same time very little has changed at the castle. We're still closed to the public unfortunately; the concept of social distancing wasn't something the Tudor builders nor Mr Lutyens were considering in their time (neither were we 6 months ago in fairness) so preparing such a building to cope with these restrictions is proving difficult. It is frustrating seeing so many visitors on the island and not being able to open the doors to them, especially when other places are getting open in one way or another. However we have to be realistic about this and the castle with its narrow passages, single point of entry/exit and complex layout just presents too many issues in a world where COVID-19 exists in its present form.

You may have seen reports in the papers about redundancies in the National Trust and while this has had a major impact on the organisation, on Holy Island things won't feel too different. We will know more once the consultation period ends later in September so I will give a fuller update in the next issue.

The shop on the Island remains closed at the moment but we by the time you read this we will have reopened the Seahouses store. Mel and her team are very keen to get the Island shop back open as you can imagine but we haven't got a date just yet - again something for the next issue perhaps (although it may well have opened by then).

From Cuthbert Cave

I was talking to someone the other day about the contrast between the Island now and that of the lockdown period back in the spring and early summer and it occurred to me that it was almost like a wider version of a half tide day in a normal summer; dead quiet in the morning and then almost unbearably busy in the afternoon. Lockdown felt like the tide never went out, whereas now it feels like it doesn't actually come in!  Someone in Seahouses told me it was currently like having had one Bank Holiday after another for 3 solid weeks. On my days at the Castle recently I have thought about those April Fools day newspaper articles when someone photoshops a bridge over the sands - maybe this is what the island would be like with one!

Incidentally the usual, historical thing I was going to talk in this issue (!) was the dogfight off the Farne Islands on 15th August 1940 during the Battle of Britain, 80 years ago this week. 65 Heinkel 111 bombers and 21 Messerschmitt 110s left Norway bound for attacks on Tynemouth but they were intercepted by 72 and 79 squadron from Acklington along with planes from Catterick. I was first told this story by ex-castle staff member Peter Colven - himself an RAF man - but I had never heard this bit about the reaction the Flight Lieutenant Edward 'Ted' Graham gave when he first saw them. According to the wonderful North East Aviation Research group, Graham was initially overwhelmed by the size of the Luftwaffe formation so one of his wingmen asked if he'd seen the enemy. With his habitual stutter he replied "Of course I've seen the b-b-b*****ds, I'm trying to w-w-w-work out what to do!". This reply swiftly became legendary in Fighter Command.

Best wishes,

Nick / 07918 335 471
Instagram @northumberlandcoastnt / Twitter @NTNorthd_Coast 


It's hard to believe that by the end of next week it will almost be meteorological autumn. These last couple of weeks in August are a time that there is a changing of the guard on the Reserve from the summer breeding birds, heading off to far flung southern destinations to the wintering wildfowl and waders fleeing the frigid north to Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve for promise of a milder climate and rich food source. It won't be long until dawns and dusks are filled with the incredible spectacle of thousands of Geese honking their way to and from the Reserve. It really is a full sensory experience!

With more 'staycations' in the UK this summer due to COVID-19, the Northumberland coast has been busier than ever before. This has been particularly noticeable since the middle of July with many of the campsites surrounding the Reserve full keen to enjoy the beautiful coastline and sights and sounds that the Reserve has to offer. By and large most people have been respectful of the byelaws but the uptick in people has resulted in more incidences of shorebird disturbance, littering and wild camping.

The Shorebird season is beginning to come to a close, with the last of the downy Tern chicks stretching their wings and making their first shaky flights. It is a steep learning curve as many of these fledglings will shortly be embarking on epic migrations to the tropical shores of Africa and beyond. The Ringed Plovers are at the same stage with the newly hatched chicks of a few weeks ago, dashing around like tiny wind-up toys have matured into independent competent flying juveniles that are almost adult-sized. For now the Reserve is a vital staging post, providing feeding opportunities and a safe refuge for not just birds that bred on the Reserve but for also for thousands of birds that are moving through the area on passage to their wintering grounds. It is for this reason that some of the site restrictions are still in place and reviewed on a week by week basis.

Due to the ongoing pandemic the hides at the Lough and Fenham-le-Moor are still closed and our events programme is still on hold but we hope to be able to run some modified socially distanced events soon

To keep up to date on the current situation please visit our blog website:

Best Wishes,
Andy Denton
Reserve Manager
Lindisfarne & Newham NNRs


Hooray.  Astronomical darkness has returned to Holy Island.  By good fortune the skies were clear on 7th and 8th August, so I wasted no time acquiring my first images of the autumn season in the fleeting hour of proper night available.

My subject matter was our very own galaxy: the Milky Way.  This is to be my primary target between now and Christmas.  And not only here in Northumberland, but also from my remote observatory in Chile (as described in this column in July).

You see I have commenced an ambitious campaign to photograph the entire Milky Way in small pieces like a cosmic jigsaw puzzle.  The Milky Way is far too big to fit into a single field of view.  Instead I need to capture no fewer than 63 different frames that must then be carefully stitched together like a patchwork quilt.

To complicate matters, the whole of the Milky Way is never visible in the sky all at once (at least not from anywhere on the surface of the Earth).  To see every part of it you need to take photographs from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.  Hence the need for my telescope in Chile as well as on Holy Island.

Furthermore, it is not enough simply to observe from these two geographic locations.  You also need to take photographs separated in time. Thus completing my cosmic jigsaw puzzle is even more complicated.  At both sites I will need to take photographs over a period of five or six months, allowing time for the Earth to orbit the Sun.  That way different part of the Milky Way will swing into view, allowing me gradually to assemble a comprehensive survey.

Milky Way Mosaic
A small part of the Milky Way Mosaic created by combining six separate images from my remote robotic telescope at Deep Sky Chile in the Andes. In total there will eventually be 63 panels when the "patchwork quilt" has been completed.

Astronomers have by definition to be patient souls.  Not only must we wait for the interminable clouds to pass.  It is also often necessary to wait for weeks or even months for a desired target to become visible at your location.

My Milky Way Mosaic calls for highly detailed planning.  I intend to acquire data in the normal LRGB (luminance, red, green and blue) channels so I can create a composite colour image like the one accompanying this column.  But in addition I plan to shoot everything in narrowband.  This requires special filters that allow through to the camera only the light generated by particular chemicals.  I have three main types of filter that respectively reveal hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur emissions.

So for each of the 63 panels in my patchwork quilt, I need to take not just one but seven separate pictures.  And each picture in turn requires a minimum of eight separate exposures (I'll explain the reason for this in next month's column).  And note that each individual exposure lasts for several minutes.  If you multiply 63 x 7 x 8 you will soon see why completing the whole mosaic is going to take me the rest of the year at least!

Having eventually gathered all this data, I will then need to "stitch" it together, hopefully with perfectly invisible seams.  Take a look at the partial mosaic that I took last night using my telescope in Chile.  You can see how it is composed of six separate panels and what a good job the computer software has done blending the different frames together.

To register the panels, clever software is used to analyse the position of the brightest stars and compare the positions of imaginary triangles in a pair of images. The result is perfectly invisible seams.

To accomplish this feat the software performs some impressive image analysis behind the scenes as it churns away.  The process involves first registering the six pictures and then integrating them into the new composite image.  Daunting geometrical calculations are applied to the triangles formed by connecting the positions of the brightest stars in the image.  The second picture accompanying this article gives a sense of the complex mathematics involved.

So as you will appreciate if you have managed to read this far, I have my work cut out over the coming autumn to finish this ambitious project.  I really look forward to seeing the end result.  The Milky Way Mosaic promises to reveal with unprecedented clarity the magnificent heavens hidden in the skies above us.


Winfield Bevins is director of church planting at Asbury Theological Seminary, Kentucky.

He has hopes of visiting Holy Island again once the lock-down ends.

He has gained an interest in our northern saints and is an iconographer. He has sent this ikon of Aidan which we are welcome to use as we wish.


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

Holy Island Churches Together

From Churches Together It feels like a lot has changed since the last edition of Holy Island Times appeared at the beginning of July.  Here on the Island, the relaxation of English lockdown measures arrived with a crashing of seasonal gears; next to no visitors for months, to the full-on summer experience (and some) overnight.  It has been great to see that our businesses have been able to reopen, and to witness the major efforts they have made to keep people safe - they really had to hit the ground running.

The transition hasn't been easy though, uncertainty is in the air globally about the continuing response to Covid 19; at least when we were in lockdown we all knew where we were.  The influx of visitors reflects a range of responses about what is now safe practice, and it is hard to balance the welcome we give to returning visitors, with the needs of those feeling vulnerable walking about in their own village.

The opportunities and challenges we face in this small corner of the UK are experienced in myriad different ways around the world - I think we all know that we are blessed in comparison to millions of others globally.

Uncertainty, and confronting different responses to it, can cause irritation, but it looks like we will all have to live with uncertainty for some time to come.  It would be a shame if, locally and globally, we lost sight of the appreciation of others we have experienced in recent months.  We came together in looking out for each other, in applauding the selflessness of those who put themselves at risk in the caring professions, and in recognising the hard graft of those who kept things going in food production, in supermarkets and elsewhere.  We rightly named many people as heroes and we need to hold on to the lessons learned, and the examples given.  As we continue to navigate our way through uncertain times perhaps we should all embrace the popular prayer attributed to Rienhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change...
courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

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



Current Worship Times

Due to the restrictions of Covid 19 we are sorry our Parish Church is not open daily but know that our prayers are with you.

Services for this month :

Sunday 10.45am - Parish Holy Communion
Sunday 8am BCP Communion. (1st Sunday of the month only)
Wednesday 5.30pm - Evening Prayer

The church will be open for 2 hours after these services for Prayer and reflection.

Please wear face Mask in church.

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

A Blessing - for this time and every time

Lift your hearts to heaven
and receive the eternal gift of peace

Keep your feet on the ground
and walk with those who need God's love

This day

you are loved by God
You are held by God
You are blessed by God

Now and for evermore

© Rachel Poolman