The blood: the Life that flows through us, taken in as breath, fresh each second, flowing out to be renewed in the world of nature; natural, given.
The stone: the fixed structures we rely on to ensure persistence of that life-force made flesh. The riddle, the contradiction – the mystery… beginning with that most profound and persistent structure: the body…
There is no more beautiful a coastline in which to explore the mystery of our being than Northumberland. The beaches are wonderful, the climate is usually mild late into the Autumn. The mellowness of September will be perfect.
This former Kingdom in its own right is rich in history; ancient and modern. Yet, it remains unvisited by most. Look on a map and you’ll see how it’s lovely hills and coast form a separate realm between England and Scotland.
The castle or the fortified tower is capable of being used as working symbol of the way we guard against life; and Northumberland is full of such treasures. They mirror its history, from the ancient political and religious roots to its lawless centuries when gangs – land pirates – roamed, unchecked, in the times of the Border reivers.
Pilgrims have always come this way, drawn by the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. We, too, will be drawn towards its mysterious and ancient shores, the birthplace of English (Celtic) Christianity. But, before we make that last odyssey across the causeway (or sands, for the adventurous) to that final island of the soul, we will make other journeys along the edge of the land, journeys that use coast and castle to explore the seemingly contrasting nature of survival and spirituality.
Day One: Friday 14th September, 2018
To begin our journey as pilgrims of blood and stone, we will gather, in the late afternoon, of Friday 14th September, in the lovely village of Bamburgh – home to the world famous castle of the same name. The Victoria Hotel will host us for tea, coffee and cakes while we make introductions, meet old and new friends, and discuss the plans for the weekend ahead.
After this, we will do what pilgrims have always done; we will walk, in essence, beginning our symbolic journey to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. One of the finest beaches in Britain is a few minutes away from Bamburgh village, and we will continue to set the scene by strolling and considering the splendour of Bamburgh Castle, seen from the shore.
During the walk, we will share thoughts and readings on the themes generated by the idea of Castles of the Mind – our name for this Walk and Talk workshop. We will ask the first of several questions, questions designed to shape the weekend from an emotional and spiritual perspective. All our answers will be unique; there is no right or wrong, they simply reflect our experiences and our aspirations.
The geographic base for our weekend is the lovely fishing harbour of Seahouses. We will retire there after our beach walk at Bamburgh
A stroll around the harbour will help us work up an appetite for that most important ingredient of any trip to Seahouses: their world-famous fish and chips. Other dishes are available…
To finish our Friday, we will retire to one of several sea-facing pubs to relax. Tomorrow will be a busy day…
Day Two: Saturday 15th September, 2018To begin the Saturday, we will drive the short distance to Bamburgh Castle and tour this famous landmark, known as the King of Castles. Bamburgh is the royal seat of the kings of Northumbria and is still a family home–though no longer to kings… The admission price is £11.00 per person and, as with the entry fee for other locations, is not included in the Silent Eye’s booking fee.
The guided tour will tell the story of Bamburgh’s many incarnations over the centuries, from Anglo Saxon Royal palace to its reconstruction in the Victorian period by inventor and industrialist Lord Armstrong; to whom it was the vision of a perfect castle. From the guidebook:
“Our vast and imposing walls have witnessed dark tales of rebellion and bloodshed, spellbinding myths, millionaire benefactors and ghosts who love Bamburgh Castle so much, they never want to leave.”
After this, ghosts permitting, we will take refreshments in the cafe, then gather on the ramparts overlooking the sea and consider the second of our discussion questions:
We will then drive a few miles south, along the coast, to arrive at the beautiful fishing village of Craster.
Craster is very compact, and easily explored. A short walk up the hill is the Jolly Fisherman pub, famous for its seafood dinners and ‘light’ lunches.
This will be followed by a relaxed walk along the dramatic cliffs of the coastline between Craster and Embelton.
A twenty minute walk will take us to the haunting ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle, which stands on a remote headland. Dunstanburgh became a key stronghold during the early fourteenth century; a tumultuous period in English history. Relations between King Edward II and Earl Thomas of Lancaster had broken down. Earl Thomas had begun the construction of the castle in 1313, very possibly as a provocative symbol of his opposition to the King. The Earl mounted a rebellion, but, when it was defeated by King Edward’s forces, he was arrested before he could reach the safety of his intended fortress.
Earl Thomas was executed in 1322. Dunstanburgh Castle passed, eventually, to John of Gaunt, who used it to defend against the Scots, converting the twin-towered gatehouse into a keep. During the Wars of the Roses, it was the scene of two sieges and eventually fell into Yorkist hands. Today, it survives as an impressive ruin, but visitors speak of how its ‘presence’ lingers in the memory….
Dunstanburgh Castle is operated by English Heritage, with reciprocal honouring of National Trust memberships. Admission is £5.40. Concessions are available.
At Dunstanburgh, we will consider our third question, then, we will drive a few miles east, to visit one of Northumberland’s least-known historical gems: the Preston Pele Tower at Ellingham.
Northumberland, has a bloody history; largely because of its position as one of two border counties between England and Scotland. Few places convey the vivid fear and caution of the past as well as the Preston Pele Tower. The tower is owned by Major Tom Baker Cresswell and is privately managed. It was constructed in the 1390s when warfare between Scotland and England was at its height. At the time of the battle of Agincourt, there were 78 such pele towers in Northumberland. Among its owners was Sir Guiscard Harbottle, who was killed at the battle of Flodden in 1513 – the conflict that brought Mary, Queen of Scots to the Scottish throne.
By the 16th century, the rest of England was enjoying peace and prosperity. But, in the Borders of Northumberland, raiders, known as ‘reivers’, crossed freely though the area, ravaging and looting. This led to the continued use of ‘tower dwellings’ among the well-off families. The idea may sound attractive – and we could say reflects today’s ‘gated communities’, but the intact interior of the Preston Pele Tower, with its reconstructed rooms, shows how primitive such living had to be.
The Preston Pele Tower (and gardens) is privately owned, and admission is a very reasonable £2.00.
The extreme nature of this isolation illustrates the power of fear to drastically change lives. With this in mind, we will carry out a mystical and psychological exercise related to our coming arrival in Lindisfarne on Sunday.
There are no refreshments at the Preston Pele Tower, but an early dinner will be booked at the nearby Pack Horse Inn in Ellingham.
After the long day, and our early dinner, we will retire back to Seahouses for a possible nightcap before retiring for the night. A very special Sunday morning awaits…
Day Three: Sunday 16th September, 2018
Our final day is a physical and spiritual homecoming. Our pilgrimage is to end on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, which can be reached (subject to the tides) by car, over the causeway. Lindisfarne can also be reached on foot, across a three mile stretch of marked path over the sands. We will consult on the day, and if there are those who wish to make the final journey a true walking pilgrimage, then we will arrange for one or more cars to be left at Lindisfarne so that the walking is one-way only. Be prepared to be very sandy/muddy if you wish to walk! Having said that, to arrive at a place of pilgrimage after a degree of ‘hardship’ is an entirely appropriate thing.
Lindisfarne needs little introduction. The monastery there was founded by an Irish monk, St Aidan. Aidan had presided over the monastery at Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. He was sent to establish the Lindisfarne community in the year 634 AD, and remained there till his death in 651 AD.
The holy island of Lindisfarne has attracted pilgrims for hundreds of years. It is a fitting and beautiful place to end the Castles of the Mind weekend. The village comprises:
- a large car park; the first major feature you come to, having crossed the tidal causeway.
- Two main streets, one of which leads to the crossroads and, beyond, the excellent museum; the other involves a fifteen minute walk to the far end of the island where the castle is situated.
- There is also a meditation garden, which we may use if time permits.
For ease of finding, we will meet at the Oasis Cafe, which lies on the road from the car park.
The castle is currently undergoing work, but the visitor centre within it is open. The walk down from the village is well worth the views of the beaches and the headland on which the castle is built.
If we have worked our collective intentions well, we should each feel a certain ‘presence’ when we arrive on the island of Lindisfarne.
To conclude our weekend, we will remember the bravery of the early fathers of religion, such as St Aidan, who set sail into the complete unknown to establish their faith on distant shores. We can, perhaps, have little understanding of the depth of that faith; but we can, in our own ways, recreate that ‘setting off’ into the unknown – without fear.
Our final gathering will be a powerful and moving close to a wonderful weekend. Why not see out the end of the summer in style and join us…
Castles of the Mind workshop
Weekend of 14-16 September 2018.
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There is a charge of £50.00 per person. All other expenses, such as accommodation, food and entry charge for the sites visited, are the responsibility of those attending. Meals are usually taken together in a local pub, and the costs shared.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.
His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.
You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.