Northumbrian Golden Age

We went north for Easter with Toby’s family and the bank holiday weekend train from hell (aren’t they all?) karmically gave way to glorious blue skies and sharp spring sunshine.

By Good Friday afternoon, the grim hours stood in an East Coast (boo! hiss! extortion!) rail corridor, crammed in like central line commuters all the way to Darlington, were already forgotten. Toby’s mum’s gorgeous garden in Lesbury, just inland of the beautiful coastal hamlet of Alnmouth (look out for it on the stretch of train line between Newcastle and Edinburgh) was basked in sun. Herbs on the go. Robins and blackbirds swooping around the birdboxes.

Sparkling rosé. Squinting happily in the crisp Northumbrian light and shaking off the ring of London in our ears. Then another bottle of white before the 20 minute wander over to Alnmouth for tasty pizza in the  Hope and Anchor and a nightcap in the buzzing Sun Inn.

Saturday we headed out early for Holy Island and just beat the short-wearing bank holiday crowds. The causeway that kept the centre of 7th century northern Christianity pure and isolated still bests many an unthinking daytripper (‘Charge them for rescue!’ insist the locals) and at 10am still blinks with shallow waters. The castle perches on an outcrop, defying marauders by sea. Re-designed in the early 20th century by Edwin Lutyens for Country Life founder Edward Hudson as a society holiday home, it’s now run by the National Trust and I’d quite imagined myself installed there by the end of the visit. My every instinct sought to make off with half of the original Edwardian kitchen furniture and throw debauched absinthe-fuelled dinner parties in the crypt-like dining room.

The Priory itself, ruined for centuries, is hugely evocative despite its reduction to skeleton. I’m always really struck by images, as in the museum here, of how places of worship would have looked in their original colours. By what ends up stately and austere, as it was in its brightly painted heyday. It’s fascinating how alien it makes the familiar. You suddenly get a sense of the exoticism, the paganism of Christendom. Similarly, the arresting Northumbrian pipes carrying over the island make me hear piping – inherently familiar from my Scottish roots – in a slightly different way. I’d not quite noticed the differences between them before and you palpably feel the regionalism up here; where the early medieval Northumbrian ‘Golden Age’ is still living history. Hell, even my thoroughly southern-ised other half never fails to enter full ‘way-aye man, pure mint!‘ mode within minutes of our arrival each trip.

IMAG0472 (2)And the weekend also saw the Grand Launch of my spanking new rucksack, the Osprey Ariel 65. Rucksackless since the theft of my decade-old Berghaus from the back of a hire car in Turin, I finally got through my mourning period. But had been eyeing up the – much better – replacement slightly dubiously. Partly because I’m used to sober blacks and navy whereas this, being a women’s pack, comes in bright red only, the better to attract our tiny magpie brains (‘See girls! See how shiny and red! Come hither!’). And partly because Real Rucksack took me round India three times, to Peru, to Argentina, to countless European countries, to Thailand and Laos and China and all those others – and I feel like I’m cheating on it.

But it stands up fabulously of course. The straps! The compartments! The handy zips where you don’t expect them. By the time summer kicks in we’ll be soul mates.

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