‘Peregrini has proved people’s passion and commitment’

Martin Lefevre's picture of Cheswick Sands won the Peregrini photo competition held in the summer of 2016.
Martin Lefevre's picture of Cheswick Sands won the Peregrini photo competition held in the summer of 2016.

The £1.8million Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership Scheme has now drawn to a close, but its legacy will live on.

The three-year project was launched at the start of 2015 after the success of its bid for a £1,3million Heritage Lottery Fund, announced late in 2014.

The project’s aim was to fund a wide variety of conservation and engagement projects on Holy Island and the adjacent mainland to preserve this area of distinctive landscape.

It has supported everything from a sculpture trail and a bird hide to school loan boxes about heritage, while discoveries relating to an Anglo-Saxon church made national headlines. What is even more remarkable is that these digs were carried out as part of the community archaeology project led by Richard Carlton, director of The Archaeological Practice.

It was one of three community projects, which were launched in March 2016, with the others being geology, led by Dr Ian Kille of Northumbrian Earth, and archives, headed up by Linda Bankier, the Berwick archivist.

These projects provided a wide range of opportunities from helping conduct the archaeological digs or geo-diversity surveys to researching the area’s history using local archives. Public engagement activities also included guided walks and talks across the scheme area.

And things like walks and talks were just as much part of the Peregrini scheme as large-scale projects, with pottery and other art workshops, gorse-bashing and other conservation activities, a photography competition and events such as festivals and the annual conference.

This year’s third and final conference, earlier this month, acted as a bookend for the three-year project, with around 60 people in attendance to hear writer Max Adams give a great keynote speech.

David Suggett, Peregrini’s community engagement and interpretation officer, said: “What Peregrini has proved is that people have a real passion and commitment to preserving the natural, cultural and built heritage of north Northumberland.

“Their contribution has surpassed anything I could ever have imagined and all of the staff team and partnership board thank them.”

And it is in the involvement of volunteers and what has been learned and passed on that Peregrini’s real legacy lies.

Overall, 513 volunteers have contributed more than 13,000 hours of their time, equivalent to more than £280,000, while 378 skilled volunteers have shared their knowledge and 49 professionals have contributed their expertise.

Radical rethink after new discoveries

Perhaps the most exciting, single story to come out of the Peregrini project, specially in terms of its importance away from north Northumberland, was the astonishing finds made by the community archaeology project.

While there is still work to do, this year’s discoveries on Holy Island could be internationally significant due to their links to the early Christian saints.

Until this summer, the assumption had been that the original Anglo-Saxon churches stood down in the shelter of a high rocky ridge known as the Heugh in the area now occupied by St Mary’s Parish Church and the Priory.

But excavations in June up on the Heugh suggest a very different configuration as they revealed the stone foundations of a small rectangular building with a chancel-type configuration at the east end.

The crude and unmortared walls, very simple window arches and positioning of a possible alter stone all suggest an early date which has led to speculation that this is a church building which could date from the seventh century.

Excavations last year further west on the Heugh revealed a massive foundation wall that archaeologists are now speculating is a foundation for a watch tower. The Venerable Bede, in his Life of St Cuthbert, made reference to a signal from Inner Farne being seen from the watch tower on Holy Island to mark the death of the saint.

In her talk at this year’s Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership Annual Forum, the AONB’s heritage officer, Jessica Turner, highlighted the number of different pieces of information which, based on historical knowledge and other discoveries, lend credence to the theory of this being one of the early churches, despite no dating evidence found so far.

Wildlife another key aspect of project

Teaming up with Natural England, one of the first large-scale projects to be completed was the Lough Hide on Holy Island.

Opened in October 2015 by Lady Rose Crossman, the building is in a key location on Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve’s nature trail, where visitors and the local community can rest, take shelter, watch a range of wildlife such as tufted duck and little grebe, and experience the wonderful environmental assets of this reserve.

Utilising locally-sourced materials and local tradesmen, the hide is particularly aesthetically fitting to the local environment.

Sue Harrison, team leader from Natural England, said: “The Lough Hide, with its elevated position, will enable visitors and the local community to experience and view this amazing bird life, as well as our magnificent Northumberland coast and marine environments.”

History of lifeboat rescues is preserved

One of the last projects to be completed this year saw the long history of lifeboat rescues on Holy Island being preserved.

The Old Lifeboat House, opposite St Cuthbert’s Isle, was restored and officially opened in November, complete with new interpretation boards telling the story of lifeboat rescues.

The community archive project helped volunteers research the topic, while the Island community was also heavily involved, telling stories of family members and contributing hundreds of hours in researching and writing up the information.