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

November 2021

Max Whitby

At last! The rolling roof on my Observatory Greenhouse is operational.  It has been quite a battle, involving considerable trial and much error to get right.

The roof itself is constructed using steel scaffolding to support a timber frame with polycarbonate conservatory panels.  It runs along steel rails on six bearings suitable for Austrian cable cars.  The whole contraption measures 4m x 4m and is very heavy in anticipation of Holy Island winter gales.

On the left, Plan B the rejected “Narwhal Tusk” mechanism. On the right, Plan D going badly wrong.

Plan A was low-tech: two ropes, one at either end.  This worked fine – although hauling the roof requires some effort.  Plus it is an unpleasant nuisance to carry out in one’s pyjamas at midnight racing against an approaching shower.

Plan B was dreamed-up (probably after consuming too much cheese) during a long night tossing and turning.  A sceptical friend has dubbed it the “Narwhal Whale Tusk”.  It turned out to be better in theory than in practice.  Basically the concept is inspired by those handles you turn on certain dinner tables that wind a long screw to open and close the gap for an extra leaf.  I procured the necessary components and duly installed the tusk along with an electric motor to turn it.  This worked, but with two fatal shortcomings.  First, I scrimped on the specification of the 3m long screw.  At 16mm diameter it was too small and had an alarming tendency to flop about under high load, especially when pushing the roof open.  Secondly it was dreadfully slow… taking at least 10 minutes to open or close the roof.

Plan C was to use a left-over electric winch, once famously used to raise my intrepid mother into the attic to inspect Skylark Observatory Mark I.  This new deployment of the winch was a nerve-wracking failure.  I had not reckoned with its steel cable’s determined inclination to become tangled on the drum, especially when wound in a loop.  The winch worked, but only while making alarming scrunching noises suggestive of impending failure.

And so we come to Plan D… which of course is what I should have implemented in the first place.  I found a garage door opener from a Chinese manufacturer.  It was suspiciously cheap at £101 including delivery.  Nevertheless it arrived within a week and has turned out to be well-made.  I did have a nightmarish experience with its 6m long chain (see picture) which is a remarkably difficult to un-tangle should you be stupid enough to introduce any loops in the process of wrestling it into the mechanism.  YouTube – as is often the case – came to the rescue.

Skylark Observatory Greenhouse
Max in Skylark Observatory Greenhouse with the roof open. On the right is first light: wondrous M31 the Andromeda Galaxy.

George Moody and Rob Parker (Master Engineer from Goswick) have both provided stalwart assistance and moral support during this lengthy roof saga. Now thanks to their kind help I have a remote control fob that I can click from the conform of my warm bed.  Lo and behold the roof glides majestically open and (even better) closed.  Hooray!

Progress on other aspects of the Observatory Greenhouse has since been rapid.  The steel pier is bolted to the concrete floor and it is solid as a rock.  The mount and telescope are fitted on top.  And this week I managed to capture my first test image… good old M31 the Andromeda Galaxy.

There are still numerous refinements to make over the coming months.  Top priority is a rain sensor that will automatically close the roof on detecting any drops of rain.  Also I plan to install a camera to keep an eye both on the equipment and on the ever-changing night sky overhead.

Then it will be time to move on from a seemingly endless list of construction tasks and actually start taking fresh images from Skylark’s brand new Observatory Greenhouse.

As a postscript, for those of you who read October’s Heavens Above, the discarded Holy Island mask count is now up to 47.

Ian Jackson

Lindisfarne Geology


There’s a lot of things that connect us northern folk, and I’m talking north-north, north of Barnard Castle here, not the mid-north south of it. There’s the people – our pervading qualities of resilience and humour and short-vowelled accents. There’s our tolerance of weather, and the dislike of warm, flat beer and crowded Tube trains, of course. But I’m betting you’d never guess that one thing that connects an awful lot of us in the true north is a rock?

That dark grey rock that makes the Heugh and the Hermitage and which provides the foundation for the Castle, is physically connected to the dark grey rock on the coast at Bamburgh and Craster, and to the dark grey rock on which Hadrian built his Wall. On westward the rock extends; to Tindale in Cumbria and round the Pennine escarpment to Cross Fell and its still there at High Force in Durham. I’m talking about the Whin Sill of course – and on Lindisfarne its little offshoot, the Whin Dyke.

And all those places are literally just its exposed extremities, it intrudes over a much larger area – but that is underground beneath other rocks and we just can’t see it. It probably extends to well over 4000 square kilometres and at average of around 25 metres thick it’s got to be one of the largest igneous intrusions in Britain. But how did it get there and what precisely is it?

norrthumberland rocks

Well around 295 million years ago our part of the world was being pulled and stretched a bit. We were a dynamic bit of the planet, a lot nearer a tectonic plate boundary, not the stable craton we are now. Stresses and tensions in the Earth’s crust meant that molten magma, maybe at a temperature of 1200C was injected between existing (Carboniferous) rocks as a series of connected horizontal sheets. It cooled and crystallised into an igneous rock called a dolerite, or as quarrymen and everyone else knows it, the Whin Sill.  They called it Whin because it’s hard and Sill because its horizontal like a windowsill. It is hard, harder than all the rocks around it so even after millions of years of erosion it stands proud.

This dramatic, enduring, piece of bedrock, once the edge of an empire, and home of saints and barons, is justly famous amongst geologists the world over. It is the original sill and gave its name to the formal term “sill”. Definition “an igneous rock that is injected at a consistent horizon within other rocks and does not cut across other rocks”. But there’s an embarrassing problem for the Whin Sill and us geologists….. the Whin Sill doesn’t conform to its own definition; it does cut across other rocks and occurs at different levels. That’s why you will now hear geologists refer to it as the Whin Sill suite of rocks. Best keep this between us I think.

So not only is the Whin Sill a bit of bedrock that connects a lot of us northerners, it could be a metaphor for true northerners. We are tough, resilient, proud and useful. But maybe also we could be seen as grey, dour, unbending and non-conformist. I guess like most of us the Whin Sill can both at the same time.

Catherine Gray


Bamburgh Bones is thrilled to announce that they are hosting a special 'Two Talks, Two Authors’ event at St Aidan's Church, Bamburgh on Saturday 13th November at 3pm.

aonb authors

Authors Max Adams and John Connell will be speaking about Early Medieval Northumbria and St Aidan respectively.

Max is a renowned author, biographer, and archaeologist, His critically acclaimed books include The King of North, The First Kingdom, Aelfred's Britain and In the Land of Giants. Inspired by art, travel, heritage, literature, and landscape Max is a brilliant speaker and a joy to listen to.

John, heralding originally from Alnmouth, recently published 'The Man who Gave His Horse to a Beggar' a lavishly illustrated biography and travelogue of St Aidan, his times and his travels. John is a true champion of St. Aidan and his talk will focus on his life and works and reaffirming Aidan's position as one of, if not the most, important Northern Saints.

Books will be available purchase from the authors. Given the current and forecasted delivery crisis, this is an ideal opportunity to sort out many a Christmas present for loved ones!

The event is free to attend, but donations to Bamburgh Bones are most welcome. Registration for the event is via the Eventbrite website; it can be found by searching ‘Bamburgh Bones’.

The Bamburgh Bones project, telling the Anglo-Saxon story at Bamburgh in the crypt of St. Aidan’s Church, has been made possible by a grant of £355,600 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The grant enables a partnership of the Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership, St. Aidan’s Parochial Church Council, Bamburgh Heritage Trust and Northumberland County Council to work together to reopen the beautiful 12th century crypt to the public once again

For more information, visit the Bamburgh Bones website: or call 07774 943157

Catherine Gray
Phone: 01670 622644 or E-mail:

Ray Simpson

Many readers will know of Holy Island’s link with the Norwegian island of Flekkeroy. When Hitler invaded Norway five Flekkeroy students took a boat, stole petrol from the airport at night, and boated across the ocean. The airplane petrol was unsuited to boats. So in order not to seize up they had to clean their engine frequently and re-fill it with petrol.  They showed heroic courage and became ill. They were washed up five days later on Lindisfarne, and given beds in the Manor House Hotel. British Intelligence were informed and recruited three of them for intelligence work!

Some years back Flekkeroy residents sang and danced in Holy Island Village Hall to celebrate this event led by their former pastor Nils Nielson. The island’s oldest resident, Peggy Taego, shook hands with the oldest surviving student, and a public seat commemorating their names now greets visitors on their left before they reach Lindisfarne castle.

Five weeks ago Graham Booth and I circumnavigated incredibly complex Covid regulations and made a return visit following a retreat we led in Lillesand for church and youth workers. Before and after the retreat we stayed in a house on Flekkeroy owned by the parents of the retreat organizer.  His mother is a chiropodist and gave me  the best feet treatment in my life – I shall be proud to be lowered to my grave with those feet! They live near the present pastor of Flekkeroy, Haken Borgenvik, leader of The Community of Aidan and Hilda (Anamcara) in Norway, who is a seasoned sailor and leader of  Cuthbert’s Way groups. He cooked a delicious meal for us and various friends on our last night.  This revived memories of the link between Flekkeroy and Holy Island.

Haken told us that plaques commemorate these students at the place where they took the boats from Flekkeroy.  At the end of October he and one other plan to take life vows with the Community of Aidan and Hilda. In due course they will resume Cuthbert Way walks and sit on the seat that commemorates the five students.

Last month the renovation of our library was almost  completed and a book of yearly readings by Haken Borgenvik was added to its Norway section.

Revd Canon Kate Tristram


One day I was standing at the back of our church on Holy Island and visitors were flowing in and out. Among them in came a teacher with a group of schoolchildren, who looked about 10 years old and bright and eager. She was telling them the story of St. Cuthbert and the part that I heard, in her own words, went like this: ‘So you see, children, that St. Cuthbert was a busy man, a very busy man indeed. So he got very tired. He decided to go away for a good rest and he went to an island called Inner Farne. After a few years there he felt better, so he came back into real life again.

I stood there silently screaming. Nothing could have been more different from the idea of a hermit as St. Cuthbert and the rest of the Middle Ages would have seen it. St. Cuthbert would have thought that when he went to be a hermit on the Inner Farne he was going to the most demanding challenge of his life. Hermits were God’s frontline soldiers, engaged in the most important war of all, the spiritual conflict with the forces of evil. The malevolent figure of the Devil, intent on spoiling God’s creation, would have been very real to him, and also the activities of large numbers of lesser demons. He had to fight this evil, and do it alone. It was the hardest vocation , and in the Christian church it was the most respected .

After Cuthbert’s many years as a hermit, ending with his death there in 687, other hermits followed. We know the names of a few of these: Felgild, and (later) Bartholomew of Farne, who spent no fewer than 42 years there. But in 1155 the big and powerful monastery at Durham decided to build a hermitage on the little island They built it for two hermits.,We know the names of some of them, and specially one, John Whiterig, who wrote the only book known to have been written there. But he deserves a chapter to himself...

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

Rev Canon Dr Sarah Hills


Dear friends,

We have just celebrated Harvest Festival with a lovely service in church where we gave thanks to God for his goodness and all the gifts he gives us. The church looked beautiful – thanks to all who decorated it, and to the fishermen for their delicious contribution!

We were joined by pilgrims walking from Europe to Glasgow for the COP26 climate change meeting and their message of climate justice was very powerful. Some had been walking for 103 days and with more to go!

We enjoyed a Harvest fish and chip supper in the Crossman Hall in the evening – huge thanks to the chef and to our musicians! A lovely evening of friendship and fellowship and fun!

Our schools will be coming into church later this week to celebrate Harvest and we look forward to welcoming the children and staff.

Our ‘Warm Hub’ coffee mornings in the Crossman Hall started this week, and we will continue to meet every Tuesday from 11 – 1230pm. Do drop in for a free coffee and chat! Everyone is very welcome.

Looking ahead, we are entering the season of remembering. On Sunday 31st October at 5pm we will be holding a service in church for All Souls – the time we come together to give thanks for and remember those family and friends who have died in the past few years. This year we will also be remembering all those whose lives have been affected by the global covid pandemic, and giving thanks for all who have and are still working hard to care and support for those affected. If you would like a name of a loved one to be included in the service, do let me or Sam know.

Sunday November 14th brings our Remembrance Sunday service, in church and on the Heugh. Please do join us to give thanks for, honour and remember those from our community who lost their lives for our freedom.

A prayer if you would like to pray at this time:

The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,

Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

With every blessing        

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