By nightfall yesterday, glorious sunshine had given way to thick mists, encroaching deep inland from their watery origins. By morning, everywhere was swathed in wonderful white, visibility was down to a few yards, the islands had disappeared into a lost landscape and the beach had become a world of mystery and magic. How appropriate that this week ITV is filming for a 13-part adaptation of Beowulf on the very beach at Bamburgh where this time last year we greeted the fiendish Thane of Glamis in the person of Michael Fassbender. We never know whom will next encounter, particularly when running in and out of a haar. Young Nicholas is frightened lest we see Bear-Wolves for he is as yet a child in literary terms. From the sands beneath the castle we sniffed the fascinating smells of strangers human and equine, carried beneath the rolling white cloud. Reluctantly we drew away to get on with the struggle into the unknown; we then heard the echoing clomp-clomp of hooves coming from inside the massive horse transporter, signalling to the grooms that these warhorses were eager for their day’s work to begin. Slightly alarmed by the eeriness of it all, I wondered if we would be followed on to the beach, or whether the warriors would canter out of the clouds towards us, bearing another world into ours, which – today – we could hardly see, let alone recognise. Had Hrothgar be visible upon the battlements when the mists eventually dissipated, we wouldn’t have been surprised though we were concerned lest Grendel should be lumbering along the shoreline where the high tide wetted our paws, leaving no room to escape.
Today’s thoughts are therefore full of our favourite Anglo-Saxon hero, Redwald, King of the Wuffings, who is thought to be buried at the wondrous site of Sutton Hoo, above Woodbridge in Suffolk. Uncle Jonny loved his regular visits there: the circular wooded walk where beechnuts could be picked; the legendary slabs of home-made cake available in the National trust tea room; the burial mounds, like giant mole hills; the ghosts that whispered in the clear morning air. One day I should like to take young Nicholas there, with the big boys, so he too can gaze across the thin membrane which masks the past. Like Bamburgh, Sutton Hoo is a thin place, where past and present stare at each other just as Redwald’s meadhall is tangible still at nearby Rendlesham,and Botolph’s presence remains at Iken’s anchorage. It is good to have our English hero Beowulf riding among us for a day or two, blazing through the mists of time in heroic reality. That is what drama’s for.
To learn more about the exceptional importance of and wonders to be found at Sutton Hoo, look at these webpages: