Tuesday, 31 March 2015


A sense of homecoming
Dunstanburgh Castle

Other than Yorkshire, there are a few places in the world that give me a sense of homecoming.
the Bay of Naples in Italy
the Acropolis in Athens
Wengen in Switzerland
all a result of formative holidays.  The former two, of course, have cultural resonances from reading, research and imaginative flights of fantasy.
Coast near Craster

In England the places I often think of as "home are:

  • the Cotswolds (Badby and Stratford-upon-Avon in particular) and
  • areas of London (the South Bank for example)
Places I have lived all have wedges of "home" cut into my soul:
Wakefield (for the first 18 years of my life)
Manchester (for four years of university experience)
Helsinki (for a vivid year of teaching English to adults in professional settings)
Sheffield (for my teacher training year)
Leek (in North Staffordshire where my first job was)
Bingley (where we lived when we returned to Yorkshire)
Saltaire, Shipley, Bradford (where I have lived since 1991)
Seascape in Craster, Northumberland

Home is where your loved ones are…?In an earlier blog (here) I reflected that “home is where the heart is and that is usually where your loved ones are.”  But maybe it’s more complicated than that – certain places do take a heart-hold and, for me, Northumbria is one such place.

Where is Northumbria?

In the Dark Ages it probably meant Bernicia and Deira taking in everything on the East Coast of England from the Humber to the Firth of Forth in Scotland.  Today I think it is a tourist board denotation of the combined counties of the northern part of North Yorkshire, the counties of Durham, Tyne and Wear, Cumbria and Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

Memories of Northumbria

During my university years I stayed in Whitley Bay with a friend to see the Royal Shakespeare Company season of plays at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, Newcastle Playhouse (now Northern Stage) and the  Gulbenkian Studio Theatre.  I visited Tynemouth Priory and parts of the coast around the city up there.  Since then I have visited Northumbria to moderate Drama in secondary schools, en route to and returning from Scotland and staying in different places for weeks at a time drinking in the sights and smells of this ancient-feeling world.
The walk between Craster and Embleton Bay

Places and topics I’ve visited up there in the past include: the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Alnwick Castle, Brinkburn Priory, Chillingham Castle, Cragside, Edlingham Castle, the Farne Islands, Hexham Abbey, Housesteads, Seaton Delaval Hall, Wallington Hall, Warkworth Castle.  They are places that conjure the ghosts of Saints Edwin, Oswald, Aiden and Cuthbert; the Picts, the Vikings, the Romans and the Border Reivers. All catnip for me.
The North Sea and Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall

First holiday in term time

So recently we spent a week – the first time in my whole 54 year life on holiday during a school term – staying at Craster with its monolithic mini-harbour mouth, its fish smokery and its excellent pub, the Jolly Fisherman.  We stayed in a cottage right by the pounding North Sea in a week that was often misty and breezy but was sometimes sunny and clear.  On the last day we got tremendous views of the near-total eclipse of the sun from the back garden of Seascape, our accommodation.
Belsay Castle, Hall and Gardens

The beaches in Northumberland stretch for miles, the castles perch precipitously on headlands, the cliff tops and dunes are atmospheric. Trips to the Chester Roman Fort, Belsay Hall and Gardens, the Grace Darling Museum, Barter Books and Dunstanburgh Castle were “events” in the week, along with Fish-n-chips in Seahouses and picnics with Prosecco amongst the dunes, but the abiding memory is of the massive northern horizons, the smell of the seaweed and smokery, the sound of the repetitive crashing waves and the Rest. Glorious Rest.
Barter Books in Alnwick and Sally's birthday on the beach at Bamburgh

All photos by Harriet
All photos by Harriet

Being Human

We listened to compilation CDs or Alan Bennett stories in the car, played Cards Against Humanity, watched Being Human and drank too much wine.  But those convivial evenings were well-deserved after every day hoisting on the backpack full of coffee, water, sarnies and snacks and setting off for another Northumbrian experience.  Being Human, indeed….
The final day - eclipse and the Angel of the North

All photos by Harriet
All photos by Harriet