September 09, 2022  •  Leave a Comment


I would like to take the opportunity this week to take you on a photographic journey through a small portion of Northumberland, an English county on the edge of Scotland. This area serves as the model for "The North" in the "Game of Thrones", which Benjamin introduced to me as "The War of the Roses, with dragons." Benjamin, Fran, and I had the incredibly good fortune to visit there in the winter of 2008, which I cannot believe is now almost 14 years ago. We were traveling to Scotland on the wrong side of the road, and needed a base of operations on the way for a few days. I chose the coastal village of Bamburgh when I discovered it in Powell's while looking at a book on great English seaside villages. I hope these following images will reveal why I suddenly knew we had to stop at this small place on the map.


Bamburgh entered my thoughts this week for a number of reasons. One was all the renewed talk of dragons and such with the advent of the new series. Another was the completely depressing news from the UK, which seemed to mirror the mood of England and the world during our visit in the Winter of 2008-2009. In case you think that we are the only english speaking country that can so mess up it's own politics, I would recommend that you pay some attention to London. We were on holiday that winter in the midst of the economic crash, and most Brits we met seemed to think that we might be the last Yanks they would see for some time. The drumbeat of bad news got so bad that the mayor of London, Boris Johnson (!) went on the "tele" and said that while things were bad, Britain had obviously gotten through more trying times in the past, and everything would be alright. The next day the Archbishop of Canterbury responded by calling him a "cockeyed optimist." The third item that jolted my memories was an article in the New York Times that highlighted the Holy Island of Lindisfarne that is a short drive from Bamburgh and that we also got to visit on this trip.


Bamburgh is a small prosperous village of 400 or so souls on the Northeast coast of England, one of several in this area north of Newcastle. It really doesn't feel like a tourist mecca, especially in December. It resembles an exclusive town on the Oregon Coast like Gearhart, which only caters to people who can afford a beach house. But of course it is 1500 years old, and those uncouth tourists included real Vikings from time to time. December travel in England is certainly unusual unless you are visiting Grandma, so we had the Bed and Breakfast to ourselves, and got to sample the three pubs which were within walking distance for our entertainment and dinner after sunset at about 3:00 P.M. each night.

                            BAMBURGH SEASCAPE : FINAL B&W VERSION

These first few images are seascapes which could be really anywhere with an ocean view, though the beach was certainly very nice and fit into Fran's love of the "Winter Beach Experience" very well. I've done my usual bought of post-processing to make them my own, converted some to black and white, and I think they can stand in for a nice coastal image of a non-tropical beach. But then you turn your back to the North Sea, and realize why you came here, and that this is certainly not the Oregon Coast.


Bamburgh Castle is right on the beach above the dunes. Built in stages and occupied  at least since 500 A.D. it was saved and refurbished by a wealthy Victorian aristocrat into a private home (!) in the early 20th Century.  The castle served as the seat of the Kings of Northumbria, a northern kingdom that controlled the area way before the English did. Henry VIII seized the castle and the monastery when he "dissolved" the monateries in 1500. It is one of a series of castles on this coast that protected the North from the current marauders, who changed over the years from the Vikings to the Scots. They were placed so that fires could signal of trouble for the next castle down the coast - think of the pyres of Middle Earth.


My castle shot isn't bad, but of course it pales compared to those of photographers who live nearby and can come before dawn. What is funny and only occurred to me later is that these include most of the best photographer authors of "how to" books on my bookshelf. I swear it must be the water, but they all could gather in the local pub, and I am no longer surprised to turn the page of yet another book and once again find another spectacular shot of Bamburgh Castle.


                                                       A "FRIENDLY" AT A UNIQUE PITCH : FINAL VERSION

                                                       LOCAL PHONE BOX - IS IT STILL THERE? : FINAL VERSION

The castle dominates the beach as well as the central part of "downtown" Bamburgh, serving as an understated backdrop that only an Englishman could learn to just get used to. The local football pitch literally fronts the castle, so this might be the only place where you can score a goal in such an environment. Our B&B and those pubs and this phone box were a few blocks away.


Part of the charm, and tribulations, of touring through such a small place in pre-Google days was that map reading was required, and English addresses were sometimes "quaint." These two examples were actually pretty user-friendly, since most addresses and street names were set into unlit stonework so that our usual post sunset arrivals were always an adventure.

                                                       HOLY ISLAND, LOW TIDE : FINAL VERSION

Five miles up the road from Bamburgh is another incredible spot, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland's answer to France's Mont Saint-Michel. This monastery/castle stands on a very small island off the coast which is reachable by foot only at low tide. Several hundred people and a lot of sheep live on the island, and day-trippers have a penchant for, shall we say, pushing their luck. My photo of the warning signs still don't seem to work, and I wonder what you tell the agency when they find dead fish in your rental. Last week's Times article showed a recent innovation - seemingly random-spaced emergency stairs to decks above the twice daily waterline so that you don't have to wait on the roof of your car to get rescued.

                                                       DARWIN'S WORD TO THE WISE : FINAL VERSION

When you successfully arrive on the island you can view the low-lying landscape that will soon be underwater, and the local architecture that even include storage sheds that might be overturned fishing boats. Just be sure to check the tide tables - when we were there there were no overnight accommodations.

                                                       HOLY ISLAND CANALS : FINAL VERSION


                                                        PARTNERS IN CRIME : FINAL VERSION

I hope you have enjoyed this short trip to the Northeast Coast of England. And I hope that it might inspire you to include an "obscure" spot on your next road trip, for not every great spot can command the world's attention.