SITEZINE: Holy Island's E-Mail Newsletter: October 2021

October 2021

Max Whitby

Excuse me if I start this month's column by briefly addressing a subject not strictly connected with astronomy.  Litter.  This is a phenomenon I encounter without fail on my daily bicycle rides for exercise around Holy Island village.  I make a habit of collecting littler as I go, the necessary bending-down being a form of beneficial stretching or Tai Chi.

The most common species of litter are torn-off corners of sweet wrappers.  It is amazing how many are scattered like confetti by visiting tourists.  During the pandemic, less savoury offerings have included numerous discarded face masks.  I keep a tally of masks collected. At the time of writing I am up to Douglas Adams' magic number 42.  Maybe this means they will now stop appearing?

Top prize however must go to an unspeakable item that I encountered one afternoon resting on the pavement at Chare Ends.  It can be inspected - if you are curious - in the photograph accompanying this column.  Here I shall only say that it is associated with babies.

Two delightful items discarded along Chare Ends by visitors to Holy Island this summer. The object on the right is a gravid baby's nappy.

I am aware of just one celestial object with a connection to babies.  This is the Soul Nebula, 6,500 light years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia.  I am sure you will agree, if you examine the image I captured from Skylark Observatory last year, that this emission nebula does indeed resemble a very young child lying on his or her back next to the equally well-named Heart Nebula.

The Heart and Soul, as this pair is often called, is presently well-positioned for observation from our northerly latitude.  These nebulae rise together above the horizon at dusk and ascend steadily higher in the sky all night until they are almost directly overhead by dawn.  This makes them ideal astrophotography targets, as imaging is best when objects are high above us, with minimum intervening atmosphere.

The Soul Nebula on the left and the Heart Nebula on the right. This photograph was taken from Skylark Observatory in 2020.

The Soul Nebula glows a dim pink (appropriately for a baby I suppose) in normal colour photographs, essentially capturing what the human eye can see.  But with narrowband imaging, as shown in the accompanying photo, the Soul stands out brightly against the inky black background.  This is because the nebula is composed of clouds of ionised gas, emitting light in the characteristic wavelengths of hydrogen, oxygen and sulfur.  Note that I have spelled sulfur with an f and not the traditional ph, in accordance with official guidance these days.

The Soul Nebula is - appropriately given our baby theme - a stellar nursery.  The vast cavities that make up its "head" and "body" are thought to have been hollowed out by the pressure of radiation and energetic particles from ancient stars at their centre.  The spherical shock waves compresses interstellar gas, leading to the birth of innumerable new stars.

As I study the beautiful Soul Nebula, three thoughts take shape in my mind. The first is that in the vastness surrounding us are countless solar systems with planets capable of supporting life.  My second belief is that among these myriad planets, there must be many on which civilisations have arisen.  And the third is that whatever alien creatures have evolved there, they will almost certainly be dropping litter... 

Ian Jackson

Lindisfarne Geologys

Looks peaceful enough. Or Can't see the join?

I don't know about you but watching news stories or documentaries about earthquakes in places like the Himalayas or California always leaves me in awe of the sheer power of nature. The dynamism of the Earth around the Pacific rim and other edges of tectonic plates is astounding. At the same time it seems so far away and has very little relevance to the Northumberland landscapes we know and love.

Or does it. We haven't always been a quiet, stable, peaceful place. Want evidence for that statement? Take a walk out to Snipe Point. On the foreshore are layers of limestone bent into a series of troughs and elongated domes. 300 million years ago Lindisfarne, Northumberland, in fact the whole of Western Europe was far from the stable bit of Earths crust it is today. It was being pulled and squeezed hard and was about to be uplifted into a huge mountain chain. Those bent rocks are the proof.

A short drive north along the coast from Lindisfarne there are more spectacular examples of our time as a dynamic place on Earth. At Saltpan Rocks, near Scremerston, you can see rock - a limestone full of fossils of shells - bent into the tightest of folds. Just east of Berwick-upon-Tweed, there's Ladies Skerrs and Bucket Rocks where the rocky foreshore at low tide is a mesmerising pattern of whorls and swirls. It looks like a bit like a bomb crater, or as if someone has sliced through a stack of enormous pudding bowls. Yes you can bend solid rock if you do it slowly and steadily enough.

Saltpan Rocks
Jupiter NASA_Juno_pia23803

But go back a few more million years and there's an even better story to tell about our unstable past.  Lindisfarne is pretty much on the centre line of something called the Iapetus Suture; the Suture - more a linear zone, stretches across to Ireland and beyond. Around 420 million years ago two ancient continents collided here, finally closing an ocean called the Iapetus (after Iapetus father of Atlas, the eponymous Atlantic) and stitching together what are now the foundations of Scotland and England. There's not a lot of surface evidence but some deep geophysics (seriously deep - several kilometres - not the superficial stuff of Tony Robinson and Time Team) shows the join in the older rocks deeper in the Earth's crust.

There is some corroboration at surface though. A series of major faults - dislocations in the rocks with more than 150 metres vertical displacement - run from the Cumbrian to Northumbrian coast. These faults used to frustrate miners following coal seams and they christened one the 90 Fathom Dyke.  Another bit of evidence is the fundamental difference between the types and thicknesses of Carboniferous rocks in the North Pennines and the rest of Northumberland south of the Cheviots. The deep suture and these faults have basically been a hinge line for hundreds of millions of years. 

So next time you get home after a walk around Lindisfarne and your mates asked you what you did, tell them you stood on a place where two continents collided. They'll not look at you the same again.

Ray Simpson

A resident went down to the beach. He bumped into a holiday-maker who asked 'Why did you come to live here?' 'My life needed balance' the resident replied. 'How do you get that?' the visitor asked.

A conversation ensued.  It is a conversation that The Community of Aidan and Hilda continues in varied ways: in its books, prayer rhythms, mentoring and retreats in local centres.

In March we sponsor a retreat on 'The Contemplative Activist' led by David Cole and Scott Brennan.  A Celtic Library Management Group has been formed to make our library - which includes books on balance - a better facility.

During Covid we have missed our Norwegian friends' visits to the island at the end of St. Cuthbert's Way pilgrimages. To make up for this, as I write Graham Booth and I are due to fly to Worth Island in Norway when I hope to give talks on Balance and the Beatitudes.  This is high risk. I had a heart attack in May, and  recently, while with a group of locals walking the monks' trail at OId Melrose, the original site of the monastery and cell of Saint Cuthbert, I was rushed to Melrose hospital with another attack. Someone thought I was departing this life and sang over me.  So I hope this 'Bucket List' visit will mark a restoration of the Melrose-Lindisfarne fellowship.

Revd Canon Kate Tristram


These little articles deal with people who lived 'on the fringes of Lindisfarne' rather than on the Island itself.  Today we meet a man who unexpectantly became King of Northumbria in the last years of the 7th century. His English name was Aldfrith, but he had an Irish name also, Flann Fina.  He was the result of a connection between Oswiu, King Oswald's younger brother, and an Irish lady called Fina, from the highest class in Irish society.  English people thought he was illegitimate but Irish marriage laws were different.  It seems that he was brought up in Ireland at first and lived there from time to time, speaking Irish as his first language.  In Ireland he became noted for his learning, which he probably began at one of Ireland's excellent monastic schools, and eventually he was rewarded (in Ireland) with the very honourable title of 'sapiens'. There are some Irish writings which could have come from him, but we are not sure.  Probably he visited the Northumbrian court in his youth, but we don't know.  His father Oswiu was now King, and seems to have acknowledged his eldest (but bastard, in English eyes) son.  It was clearly not expected that he would be in line for the throne.

On the death Oswiu his half-brother Ecgfrith became king.  He was very warlike as kings were expected to be, and at first he was successful.  But he took on too much in deciding to invade the northern and mountainous territory of the PIcts.  They lured him into the mountains and annihilated the English king and army. There was no obvious successor only Aldfrith who had never been trained in the military arts.  He was found on the island of Iona where he was clearly more comfortable and was persuaded to leave.

But he turned into a surprisingly good King. As he was about 45 when he took the throne (and most people were dead by 40) he was not expected to lead the army in battle. His loyal nobles guarded the frontiers and Northumbria did not lose territory. He supported the church and peaceful actvities

Most kings and nobles could not even read and write (why should they when they kept scribes?) but Aldfrith was actually a scholar and perhaps his influence was behind  'the golden age of Northumbria'.  He married and had sons but unfortunately did not live till they grew up.  The years that followed his reign were confused and confusing.        

Editor: Revd Canon Kate Tristram MA (Oxford) MSC (Edinburgh) and honorary Canon of Newcastle (emerita)

Rev Canon Dr Sarah Hills


Dear friends

As I write, the September sun is shining as the leaves are just starting to turn. It is the end of another, and extremely busy summer season. It has been a joy to welcome the many visitors into St Mary's church over the summer, and we look forward to seeing them again next year.

But as autumn comes on Holy Island, we look forward to a new season of community get togethers to combat the nights drawing in. Our first event will be Harvest - on October 17th - with a celebration Harvest Festival in St Mary's at 1045am. This will be followed by a Harvest fish supper in the village hall. Everyone is very welcome and it will be lovely to see everyone there!

From October 19th every Tuesday morning we will be having a drop in coffee and chat in the hall. Just come along - again, everyone welcome! A way of getting out and reconnecting with each other after such a long time. Please see more information about both of these in the next few pages.

During October we will be welcoming some pilgrims on their way to the climate change summit, COP26 in Glasgow. An important issue which our Diocese has pledged to tackle. If you would like to know more, do let me know.

And a huge thank you to everyone who helped make the August coffee morning such a success!

It is a joy to look forward to Jake and Victoria's wedding in October. We wish them every blessing and prayers with them as they prepare for their wedding and life together.

Please do be in contact if there is anything you would like prayer for, or just a chat.

With love and blessings       

Sarah Hills

Current Worship Times

Worship Times
(Please wear face Mask in church)

1045am Sunday Parish Eucharist
8am BCP Sunday Eucharist - first Sunday of the month
5pm Evening prayer - Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday

(Updates or changes will be posted in the church porch and online)

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