Real dedication, like an enduring friendship, is a quiet thing…
I was standing, in the early morning light, with Tess, our Collie, in hand, entering a compact garden which overlooks the headland at Alnmouth. We are on a week’s holiday; Bernie and myself, her sister and my mother. In some ways, it’s our annual ‘offering’ because my mother needs a lot of looking after. She has vascular dementia, and, year on year, the condition worsens and the change in the previous twelve months becomes apparent in the everyday events of holiday life repeating themselves – but differently.
I had taken Tess, our dog, for our early morning walk. These normally take place around 06:30, not long after the dawn . Doing this allows me to get a head-start on the day, and, quite literaly, calm myself. I return, about an hour later, charged with the morning’s dawn-kissed air, and set about the day with my ninety year old mother.
Each day, Tess and I walk a slightly different route. The small town where we are holidaying, for the fourth year in a row, is circular in its geography, though it takes a while for this orientation to establish itself in the mind. This being the case, one can criss-cross the beaches, estuary and streets in a variety of ways…
And so it was that we found ourselves, at the end of our hour, with a cup of take-away coffee from the enterprising post office cum general store in hand, in a memorial garden overlooking the estuary.
I couldn’t understand why I’d never seen it before. It was as though the time had to be right… The name on the dedication plaque was Dr Joy.
The plaque in Dr Joy’s Garden reads:
‘Dr Joy’s Garden. This fine viewing area in which you are standing was created following a generous gift to the community by respected cardiologist Dr Joy Edelman (1937-2004), a long-time visitor, resident and friend of Alnmouth’
The words on the plaque touched me deeply, particularly the last phrase, ‘friend of Alnmouth’. How simple and how meaningful to be a friend of somewhere in that sense. How treasured…
Before me was the half-circle of the River Aln in its final approach to the North Sea. The sandy curve is beautiful, and defines Alnmouth’s history as well as constraining it’s present..
There is no spare land in Alnmouth, so what there is has been in place for a very long time, and the only development possible is to replace what is already there… requiring permission not easily achieved. This town knows it is a hidden gem, and they like that status. Surprisingly few outside of the north-east even know of it’s existence.
We’re in the most northerly county in England: Northumberland, a place where, historically, the royaly-appointed wardens of the North defended England’s most vulnerable border from the ‘troublesome and warring Scots’, and centuries of border brigands – ‘Reivers’ as they were known.
The map on the park’s Information Board within the memorial garden, tells the story of this beautiful and largely-forgotten place. The town has only one major thoroughfare – Northumberland Street; but it’s full of beautiful and interesting buildings. We are, indeed ‘here’ on the map, facing out to the mysterious island with a tiny cross; an image that features in most visitors’ momentoes.
It was this scene, featured in an episode of the detective series ‘Vera’, that first brought Alnmouth to our attention, five years ago. We became avid watchers of the TV version of the books by Anne Cleaves, admiring how the production made clever use of the Northumberland landscape.
During one episode, we noticed an curving its estuary and an island with a small cross. Neither of us had any idea where it was. We ‘googled’ it and came here on our first holiday that summer. Every year we’ve been back. It’s poignant because these will become the memories of my mother that I will most treasure…
Northumberland street has just about everything you could want: general stores, several cafes, take-away coffee stops, and several gastro-pubs. There’s also an enterprising art gallery with modestly priced prints of local artworks and a cafe.
From the headland, where Dr Joy’s garden is located, you can walk in two directions. One takes you to the harbour, where a delightful hut announces itself as the Alnmouth Boat Club. I couldn’t help comparing it with the venerable ‘police box’ in the BBC’s Dr Who series; and idly mused if the club offered time-travel views of Alnmouth ‘through the ages’…
If you go the other way down from Dr Joy’s garden, you come to two of the main features of Alnmouth: the golf club, and the long, sandy beach – one of the best in Europe.
One of the most delightful aspects of Alnmouth’s buildings is the use of the local stone.
Northumberland County Council’s website says this:
“The predominant walling material is sandstone in shades of ochre, grey and pink, generally laid as coursed rubble, used both for buildings and boundary walls. The relatively large scale of the building stones, together with low window and door heights, enhances the small scale of the buildings.”
I hope this brief tour of Alnmouth has given you a flavour of this special place. Dr Joy Edelman was obviously moved by the delights of this remote haven. My mother loves it, too. In our own small way, we have become ‘friends of Alnmouth’, a quiet testimonial, like that of Dr Joy, to its tranquility and peace.
©️Stephen Tanham, 2020 text and images.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.