Reflecting on another busy year on the Northumberland coast

From left, Sam Isaac, Jessica Turner, Iain Robson, Catherine Gray and David Feige.
From left, Sam Isaac, Jessica Turner, Iain Robson, Catherine Gray and David Feige.

Tourism, nature, history and archaeology, as well as the RAF, were all discussed at the Northumberland Coast AONB annual forum last week.

The area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) partnership hosts the event each year, offering a chance for attendees from a range of sectors to hear updates from the AONB team as well as from a varied selection of guest speakers.

Puffin with his eyes closed, by Chris Orange.

Puffin with his eyes closed, by Chris Orange.

And last Friday’s event in Longhoughton was no different, with an interesting line-up of topics on the agenda.

As explained by chairman of the partnership, Coun John Woodman, in his welcome address, the forum has three main purposes.

“Many, many things make the AONB a special place and we try to shine a light on some of them,” he said.

“Second, it’s a chance to network. You represent a wide range of interests so even if you just eat, drink and talk, it will be worth it.

Year 4 pupils from St. Paul's RC Primary School, in Alnwick, get hands-on with the new educational loan boxes.

Year 4 pupils from St. Paul's RC Primary School, in Alnwick, get hands-on with the new educational loan boxes.

“Thirdly, it’s a chance to hear from our team; it’s a small team, but they do such valuable work.”

Prior to handing over to the team, Coun Woodman also reported on the photo competition to find the cover image for next year’s visitor guide, which, as previously reported, was won by Chris Orange’s photo of a puffin.

“The Farne Islands just incapsulate the AONB and the puffin just looks cute,” he said.

Given the large amount which is constantly going on along the Northumberland coast, it would be nigh on impossible to cover it all, but the AONB team members each reflected on some of the key achievements and issues during the previous 12 months.

Local walkers Rory Straker and Robert Turner are the first to claim their free half-pints from Curfew owner Gemma Cook

Local walkers Rory Straker and Robert Turner are the first to claim their free half-pints from Curfew owner Gemma Cook

David Feige focused on a study being carried out by Newcastle University – and supported by the AONB – to look at the impacts of walkers and dogs on wintering birds, specifically the turnstone and purple sandpiper.

The former lives in the high arctic, while the latter is from Scandinavia, but both come to Northumberland to escape the harsher winters and both are experiencing population declines.

It may be that the Farne Islands may play a crucial role for the birds, offering a sanctuary which is largely undisturbed by humans, unlike most of the shoreline.

Iain Robson referred to a number of different projects, but said his highlight of the year was the 10th anniversary of the Northumberland Coast Path during the summer.

On that front, a passport scheme for businesses along the route has also been launched with 39 recruited so far, while anyone arriving in Berwick having completed the trek can have a free half-pint at the Curfew micro-pub.

Iain did admit that he ‘borrowed’ this last idea from the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm, which offers a free pint to those finishing the Pennine Way.

Jessica Turner talked about the Peregrini Lindisfarne project, which is now entering its third year and which will be picking up the pace as it goes into its final year of the initial funding period; £1.8million was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

One of the guest speakers on the day was Richard Carlton, who is leading the scheme’s community archaeology project, while Peregrini also reared its head in the update from Catherine Gray, who is responsible for the AONB’s sustainable development fund.

Each year, £20,000 is allocated to relatively small-scale projects and Catherine chose to focus on two, the first being the Peregrini loan boxes, which can be used by schools to provide pupils with hands-on history.

Meanwhile, the Lindisfarne Inn at Beal received a grant to become cycle-friendly and there are now a wide range of facilities there with bike riders in mind, with good practice being shared at a special business event.

Ending the introduction on a slightly more negative note, even Brexit reared its head as David returned to point out that the team is beginning to look at the new AONB management plan, which will run from 2019.

“For the next few years, we are going to be struggling to know which funding and options are going to stay and which are going to go and over which period of time,” he said.

Richard Carlton, Peregrini Community Archaeology

Volunteers have been getting involved in a number of archaeological activities, thanks to Peregrini Lindisfarne’s community archaeology project.

Richard Carlton, from The Archaeological Practice, was chosen to run the project, which has or will involved guide walks, training workshops, walkover surveys, archaeological earthworks surveys, test-pitting, historic buildings and archaeological research excavations.

In terms of the buildings on Holy Island, a general overview of the village architecture has been completed, while a survey of the outlying buildings is under way as is a detailed record of St Mary’s Church.

There is a theory that the east wall of the nave, or some of it, could date back to before the Norman Conquest.

On the archaeological fieldwork front, projects have taken place on the island and the mainland; at the Kennedy limekiln cottages, Fenham Common Slap, Cocklawburn and The Heugh.

It is the latter on the Island which has proved most fruitful so far, with the discovery of a large wall indicating a tower – ‘it’s a tower, I’m not going to say any more about St Cuthbert’s Tower’, said Richard – and evidence of another building.

There was no other dating evidence found with the latter, but it is likely to be early medieval, according to Richard, who added that the plan is to return to both sites next summer.

Sam Isaac, Sustainable Tourism

Businesses in the Northumberland Coast AONB have been used as the basis of a PhD thesis on sustainable tourism.

Sam Isaac, who was previously an intern for the AONB partnership, returned to the forum to give a run-down of her PhD and its findings.

In terms of tourism businesses and visitors being more green, she looked at four different roles and used interviews with a small number of businesses and then a questionnaire to gather evidence; there were 191 responses to the survey. The four roles were actions within the business, for example, using energy-saving light bulbs; actions within the business, but with the visitors, for example, encouraging them to recycle; actions with visitors in the wider destination, such as encouraging them to have car-free days; and actions within the wider destination, without visitors, like using locally-sourced food.

The various actions are influenced by people’s attitudes, social norms and behaviour controls. An example of the latter could be a lack of buses to enable visitors to travel without cars.

Sam concluded that what makes a big difference is the complexity of the action, the level of involvement needed by visitors, whether it’s an extension of everyday behaviour and whether infrastructure or external resources are required. In terms of management, for a body like the AONB partnership, identifying the action and its complexity, as is defining the action, making business owners aware of their role, communicating the benefits and recognising the limiting factors.

Jessica Turner, The Bamburgh Ossuary

The final committal of 110 Anglo-Saxon skeletons into the crypt of a north Northumberland church – it’s not something which happens every day.

Jessica Turner, from the AONB partnership, provided a run-down of the event, which happened in June, emphasising the context and highlighting plans for the future.

The Bowl Hole is located at the base of Bamburgh Castle and, from 1998 to 2007, Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) excavated an Anglo-Saxon cemetery from the dunes there.

But this summer, after years of research by the BRP and Durham University in partnership with Bamburgh Castle Estate, it was time to commit the 110 skeletons to their final resting place in the crypt of the village’s St Aidan’s Church. Ten charnel boxes were moved from the Castle to St Aidan’s by horse-drawn hearse before a service at the church and then the boxes were shut into the specially-created ossuary, behind the grille designed by blacksmith Stephen Lunn. Jessica also highlighted why the Bowl Hole skeletons are so important historically.

Dating evidence suggests that it was in use around 650 to 700AD, meaning that these people were some of the earliest Christian converts in Northumberland and that they would have heard St Aidan preach.

The cemetery contained men, women and children, and analysis of their bones and isotopes reveals that they were robust and healthy, leading to speculation that the cemetery was associated with the Royal Court of King Oswald.

Plus, the backgrounds of the people buried there includes Italy, France, Scandinavia and Iona.

This fascinating story is not being told for visitors to Bamburgh at the moment, said Jessica, which is why plans are in the offing to use the crypt as a visitor centre. There is no desire to tamper with the crypt or the church so it would feature a video projected onto the walls.

Wing Commander Gareth Taylor, RAF Boulmer

Among the tourism businesses and the farms on the north Northumberland coast lies RAF Boulmer, which has a key role in protecting the UK’s skies.

Wing Commander Gareth Taylor spoke at the AONB forum to explain what the base does, its history and clear up a few misunderstandings, not least the fact that RAF Boulmer is very much still open despite the loss of the Search and Rescue helicopters.

Its origins are as a decoy airfield with fake Submarine Spitfires, which was designed to draw German bombers away from RAF Acklington during the Second World War.

The base was really born in 1953, with the onset of the Cold War and some two decades before the arrival of A Flight 202 Squadron and its yellow birds.

Essentially, the principles of UK air defence remain the same today as they were during the Battle of Britain; the total awareness of what is in our airspace, the identification of enemy aircraft and effective, timely interception – and this work is carried out by the Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS) Force, which is headquartered at RAF Boulmer.

The other key element of the base is the School of Aerospace Battle Management which trains the men and women who work to provide a complete picture of everything that is flying in and around UK airspace 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

And these days, this sometimes includes Russian aircraft, which don’t give off the squawk codes to identify themselves that all other aircraft do, as Wg Cdr Taylor explained.

They aren’t coming to attack, but ‘UK plc relies on its airspace for business’ so their impact is on the economy as much as anything.

Likewise, when their bombers head to Syria in a large loop out around Ireland and back through the Mediterranean, the goal is to prove that they still have long-range bombing capabilities within their air force.

Clive Hallam-Baker, Carham – The Start of the Border Story

Hot on the heels of the Flodden 500 celebrations, preparations are under way to mark the 1,000th anniversary of a key battle in the far north of Northumberland. In an entertaining talk with lively digressions, such as southerners thinking Hadrian’s Wall is the border and Cumbria becoming the name of the north-western English county despite originally being synonymous with Strathclyde, Clive Hallam-Baker admitted that when the research began, they didn’t know when the battle took place, where it took place or who took part. However, he added: “It’s not a history project, it’s a story project because so little is known about it; this is the Dark Ages.”

Having said that, significant efforts have been and are being made to track down the details, with 1018 the most likely date and plenty of evidence pointing to a battlefield at an old river crossing at Carham itself, not at nearby Wark as some have suggested. The protagonists were Mael Coulim II of Alba and Owain of Strathclyde/Cumbria from the north who teamed up to fight against either Uhtred of Bamburgh or his brother Eadwulf Cudel, from Northumbria.

The importance of the battle lies in the fact that it may have been the point at which the Anglo-Scottish border was set, as previously the Kingdom of Northumbria stretched all the way to the Firth of Forth.

“Looking at the landscape is vital because if the story doesn’t fit the landscape then it didn’t jolly well happen,” said Clive.

Answering his own question of whether the battle set the border as we know it, he added that Carham is a pivot point at which the border became set, not changing much since then.

“There can’t be many land boundaries in the world that have stayed pretty much static for 1,000 years so Carham is very significant.” Visit www.carham1018.org.uk
Nick Lewis, Lindisfarne Castle

One of the coast’s key landmarks, Lindisfarne Castle, closed its doors at the start of November and it will not open again until April 2018.

The reason for this is to allow a £3million restoration project to take place, with extensive issues with the building needing to be put right.

Nick Lewis provided an overview of what works will be taking place and why they are necessary, including the need to repoint windows through which rainwater currently leaks and the need to fill hollows in the walls, which undermine the integrity of the structure.

But it’s not all bad news: ‘The project is a huge opportunity to record the Castle building in great detail as it is and, indeed, any surprises that may be discovered along the way.’

An Edinburgh firm has been employed to use lasers and high-resolution cameras to create extremely useful and detailed 3D computer models of the building, while various techniques have been trialled since November 2015 to ensure that the repairs are carried out in the most appropriate and successful way.

One major task for Nick and the volunteers is out of the way though – packing up all of the Castle collections. There were 1,267 items removed, in a process which involved 200 green crates and 600 square metres of bubblewrap.