SITEZINE: Holy Island's E-Mail Newsletter: December 2021 - January 2022

December-21 & January-22

Max Whitby

I can postpone no longer: the time has come to tell you all about Polar Alignment. 'PA' is guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any novice astronomer. But with help from some clever technology, I have eventually come around to enjoy it.

Polar Alignment is the process of precisely aligning your telescope with the Earth's axis of rotation. It needs to be done every time you install your system in a new location. It was an immediate priority in October as soon as I set up the equipment in my new Observatory Greenhouse on Chare Ends.

Loyal readers of Heavens Above will recall that the key to taking high-quality astro-photographs is to track the stars very accurately, so they appear sharp and round in the captured image' the Holy Grail of astrophotography. This is accomplished by placing your telescope on a motorised mount that turns at exactly the same speed as the Earth. For this to work, the mount must be carefully aligned with either the north or the south Celestial Pole.

Examine the first picture accompanying this column. It shows an eight-hour time-lapse exposure looking north at the Pole Star (aka Polaris) acquired using a 135mm camera lens from my observatory. This image was taken with tracking turned off so that the stars form long trails revealing the rotation of the Earth.

Believe it or not, this amazing spectacle can be photographed every clear night. Point your camera due north at an elevation of 55.7 degrees (our latitude on Holy Island) and take a very long exposure. The brightest line shows the track of the Pole Star Polaris.

The track of Polaris through the night sky is the brightest of the rings. You will see that the Pole Star is not precisely located at the Celestial Pole, but rather is positioned just under a degree away from it. That's sufficient for approximate navigation, but nothing like good enough for astrophotography. So you cannot simply point your mount at Polaris. Instead you must find the exact Celestial Pole, which is slightly up and to the left in the picture.

Finding this invisible point in the sky is challenging enough in the northern hemisphere. At least we have Polaris to get you reasonably close. Pity unfortunate astronomers in Australia and Chile. They have no bright star to guide them near their Celestial Pole.

PA can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Most of them sound straightforward in theory. But they can swiftly become a form of torture when carried out in the freezing dark of a December evening.

Polemaster - Polar Alignment
On the left is the marvellous Polemaster temporarily attached to my telescope for Polar Alignment. On the right are fine-tuning knobs to the tweak the azimuth adjustment.

I cheat and use a clever gizmo called a Polemaster that is shown in another of the pictures accompanying this article. It is essentially a small, sensitive camera that allows you to see Polaris and the surrounding dimmer stars. Critically the Polemaster attaches to your mount at its centre of rotation, so that the camera can be spun around its optical axis to measure the alignment with the Celestial Pole. You can think of it as way of taking a version of the concentric star trails image, but without having to wait eight hours.

To cut a very long story short, the Polemaster allows you to fine tune the alignment of your telescope so that the centre of the mount's rotation co-incides exactly with the centre of the concentric star trails. This is accomplished using several fine adjustment knobs on the mount, as shown in the third accompanying picture.

The degree of accuracy required is breath-taking. As little as a one-eight turn of an adjustment knob is enough to throw things out. When everything is perfectly aligned, you have to be extremely carefully locking the mechanism '" lest locking itself alters Polar Alignment. Many is the time I have accidentally brushed against the telescope while moving about the observatory. This is often sufficient disturbance to require a fresh PA.

I suppose nobody ever claimed that astrophotography is easy. Before signing-off let me update you on the discarded mask tally. 51.

Ian Jackson

Lindisfarne Geology


Indulge me, if you're sitting down, stand up. Raise one arm as far above your head as you can make it and extend your fingers. Ok, take the arm down and look at your longest finger. See that white rim on the edge of the fingernail? Well, if the whole of your outstretched body length represents the age of the Earth (4.54 billion, or 4,540,000,000 years), then that little white rim is the age of the Quaternary. That's our most recent geological era, the 2.6-million-year-old period of cycles of ice sheet expansion and shrinkage we live in today.

The Quaternary is what I'm planning to write about in this piece, but before I leave the fingernail metaphor, take a look at the last little edge of your fingernail, a bit a lot less thick than you filed off the other day. That sub-millimetric shaving is how long we humans have been on the planet, around 200,000 years. Puts into rational context the brief narrative and significance of humankind doesn't it?

Ok, enough philosophizing, back to the Quaternary, and an explanation of the title. Not so long ago, in fact when I started out on my career as a geologist in the 1970s, the Quaternary was sneered at by 'real' geologists, aka hardrock men. Who would want to spend their time looking at softy sediments that weren't even solidified when they could be wandering across the rock-hard granite of Cheviot, or the gabbros of Skye? Devoting time to insubstantial peat, sand and pebbles was no more than gardening.

But that was then. Through the 70s and 80s there was a dawning realization across most geologists that Quaternary deposits may not have been fertile ground for traditional academic research but understanding it is pretty crucial to society. After all it's Quaternary deposits most of us live on '" be that the ubiquitous stony glacial clay that makes digging the veg plot a pain, or the sands and gravels of coastal and flood plains. So we need to know all about the Quaternary, because we build on houses and roads on it, extract our building materials and often water from it, we sometimes pollute it in landfill, and as it's the stuff that slips down cliffs and road cuttings, it's critical we know how it behaves. And I haven't mentioned its role in understanding climate change, but I will.

Lindisfarne, has Quaternary deposits. On top of the 330-million-year-old Carboniferous rocks there's a layer of stony, sandy clay of glacial origin, you can see it capping the cliffs on the north and east side of the island. Geologists and many others used to call such clays 'boulder clay' , but it didn't always have boulders so it became 'till' ; but now the preferred term is 'diamicton' , because diamicton doesn't presume origin. It's an unsorted sediment, that may have boulders, clay and sand. Needless to say, the word diamicton rarely makes an appearance outside erudite research papers '" science sometimes makes communication with society hard.

Northumberland rocks

Like stony glacial clays across the rest of Northumberland, the ones on Lindisfarne were once sediment carried on, in and beneath an ice sheet that extended down to York and Wales only 20,000 years ago. When it melted around 15,000 years ago these sediments were left like a veneer of discontinuous icing on a cake. The glacial clays are topped by even more recent Quaternary deposits '" the sand of the dunes and beaches. The dunes are less than 6000 years old and are so recent they even cover over early human settlements and, in some places along the coast, ancient tree stumps. The trees were once part of an extensive forest and land area that went all the way across the North Sea to the Netherlands; you could have walked across from the continent and ancient humans did! The beaches are constantly moving and changing. Every day, with each tide, they have a different shape, profile and composition and so the sands, pebbles and cobbles are the youngest and most dynamic bits of geology on the island. (While we are talking pebbles and cobbles, and as you might expect of a geologist, I prefer my coastline naturally beautiful, not anthropogenically augmented by hundreds of little stone towers.)

Enough grumpy geologist, I'd like to finish with something that sounds philosophical but isn't. All this Quaternary stuff may sound a bit esoteric but it is ironclad scientific evidence that our planet is currently in a warm period '" an interglacial '" between glacial episodes and were it not for human impact on our climate, in a few tens of thousands of years the ice sheets would have certainly returned. We may have deferred the next ice age but there is a price to pay - very different and more immediate climate extremes.

Ray Simpson

On November 17 (Saint Hilda's Day) I received the vows of Bryan Knox of Cramlington at The Starbank Meeting Room, in the presence of locals and 'The gang' '" ten people who have been committed friends for forty years. This was followed by the renewal of vows of Northumberland members and lunch together on the island.

That evening I gave a lecture to Berwick Historical Society on 'The Influence of the 7th c Irish Mission on Northern Britain and Beyond.' The glimpses of this influence never cease to surprise me. The Vikings invaded in 793 yet within a decade a new Lindisfarne Bishop was consecrated. Although this could not yet be on the island, it took place at Byewell-on-Tyne in the presence of the Bishops of York, Hexham and Candida Casa.

During the same following period that monks carried Cuthbert's shrine through many inland places, recent archeological and DNA research suggests that western Norway adopted the gentle ways of Christ through young monk slaves and Christian women deported by Vikings. Now Mission Centres around Stavanger include Celtic studies in their syllabus.

Black Lives Matter supporters see in Aidan a model of Christianity they can embrace wholeheartedly since he set slaves free, and Australians see in the 7th c Mission a model of Christianity they can adopt of 'colonisation in reverse', where people are kind to all, and respect what reflects God in each person, including indigenous peoples.

My Christmas best wishes are inspired by a local performance of Handel's Messiah at the time of COP 26:

Comfort ye ,comfort ye my earthlings, amid the darkness of sinking islands, uninhabitable deserts and mass migrations.
The glory of the rejected Birther shall be revealed. Rejoice! The Source of Life shall be born again among us.


Revd Canon Kate Tristram


Today we write about a monk called John Whiterig. He lived much later than our Island saints, probably born about 1320 and died in 1371. He joined the Benedictines of Durham, the biggest and most powerful community of community of monks in the north of England. He had probably taken a degree at Oxford first, and then lived for a number of years at Durham, working as novice master. Then he began to feel a desire for a different life.

He visited Lindisfarne at least once, and then felt drawn to the little island called the Inner Farne, the site of Cuthbert's hermitage, where Durham had established a permanent centre for 2 hermits. Here John lived as a hermit for the rest of his life.

We know about him now because he wrote a book of meditations, which has survived and been translated from Latin into English. They are addressed to Biblical characters and show that he had a very good knowledge of the Bible, since he would hardly have had a copy of it on the Farne. There is also one directed to St. Cuthbert.

In his writings he stresses the virtue of cheerfulness, which is fairly unusual in such a book at that time. But on one occasion he seems to have been in doubt about his own salvation. But then he was given a most unusual vision of Jesus himself, in which he asked how he could be saved. Jesus' reply was spoken 'merrily'. He said to John 'Love, and thou shalt be saved'.Jesus spoke to him, says John 'as though laughing'. John then wrote 'Cheerfulness is a sign of a loving heart'.

The hermitage on the inner Farne of course came to an end when all monasteries were dissolved in the reign of Henry VIII.

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

Revd Sam Quilty


One of the many blessings of living here on Holy Island is the vast skies above us with no light pollution. On a clear night, the stars are so bright, and you cannot help but look up. And stand still, in the peace and the quiet and the awesomeness that is in front of you. God's creation in all its glory. It is in the gathering of these stars that make them shine so much brighter even millions of miles away.

The Christmas story calls us to look up and see one another as those who God entered into the world to embrace, to love and to save. With the birth of Jesus our Saviour into the world, we encounter God every day in the Christ among us, in our neighbours as well as the face of the stranger and how we respond, how we reflect the light of Christ through our acts of love and kindness, our compassion, our hospitality matters. It is often when we are at our most vulnerable that how we are shown love and kindness within the community we live in or unexpectedly find ourselves in makes a big difference through difficult and challenging times. This is a glimmer of light in what can be a time of darkness. These liminal places, places of transition where we did not expect to be, stuck on a threshold where we may feel abandoned, weary, and very tired, where emotions of loss, grief and lament can overwhelm us, we are held very much in God's love and we also hold this space for each other unconditionally, with love which is expressed not always in words and doing but in being, in the silent, the waiting, the hope.

God bless us all during this journey of Advent towards the light of Christmas, Emmanuel, God with us, as we journey around our village looking at Advent Windows and singing carols, as we gather in the hall for Christmas lunches and parties, as we gather in church for the lighting of Advent candles, Christingles and the first moments of Christmas morning, the first moment of a New Year, as we gather around dining tables, zoom cameras and the television. And in all this celebrating, festivities, the stories, the memories, the fun, the laughter, our tears as we miss our loved ones may we go outside in the dark even just for a moment and stand in the stillness and peace and look up at those dazzling stars, the light that shines in the darkness and know that Emmanuel, God is with us.

Revd. Sam Quilty

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

Christmas Poster

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