A simple sight to record today: nothing more. A bevy of beautiful castles greeted us on Bamburgh beach this sunny morning at six. Untouched by the tide, so high and so difficult to negotiate for the last few days, these lovely creations are a credit to a particularly British habit of holiday competitiveness. King Oswald’s fortress smiled above them, benignly.
It is one of those days when the best came early. Bright sunshine, an empty beach – only two ‘people’ and Jackie seen on our run – no dogs; fantastic fun. We even saw our first curlew – though failed to capture it clearly on this photo – newly returned from the high ground inland, ready to reclaim the beach for the winter months. August is indeed weary. When we spotted him, he was silhouetted against the sea, at the edge of the rocks and he is still there – somewhere, like Oswald, whose feast day we recently celebrated.
It is with something like delirious joy that we can report the return of the sand martins to our dunes. Forerunners – we hope – to the house martins we’re just longing to welcome back to our part of the world, the first sand martins suddenly turned up last Thursday, resuming their domestic duties in their perfectly preserved and previously abandoned little nest holes which pock-mark the dunes above our sandy morning trail. Increasing in number every day since then, the sand martins’ aerial dances are becoming more hysterical and expressive as families are reunited and old friendships renewed: how relieved they must be to have completed such a marathon safely, having made it back to the land of Oswald and Aidan once again, all the way from the other end of Africa. Unfortunately, the wind turned northerly today, so sand martins still on the wing – and there must be thousands of them – will find it tough to push north, if our little kingdom is their desired destination.
At the end of our run along the beach, the sky blackened with impending rain and, by mid-morning there was a tiny blizzard, which we thought was cherry blossom blown upon the wind. How fond we are! Despite the gales, the sun has supervened and it’s been a cheery day. Christopher Wren checked out his nest box and was dismayed to find the blue tits well ensconced therein; he helped himself to a consolation prize of dried meal worms and then disappeared into the hedge, probably to check out another favourite site. Above us, on our chimney stack, the jackdaws are content and busy, much more relaxed since last year’s gulls have found another nest site and stopped staring down into the jackdaws’ nest. You can see how intimidating these intelligent creatures find the herring gulls, staring with their beady eyes and daring them to move towards the entrance.
It is remarkable how much pleasure the birds give to us all. We watch the bulky wood pigeons, so patient and so ungainly, yet so capable of stillness, and chase them into flight when we get the chance. We wish that the starlings, so numerous, so noisy, wouldn’t eat all the fat balls, put out for the sparrows, our loyal little friends. We long, one day, to see a raven for real – the magic corvid who found St Oswald’s severed arm. Every day we notice more and more of the wonderful in the entirely ordinary. Every morning, winter and summer, the sands below the massive fortress of Bamburgh are our palette, on which the imagination works its colours and, on the anniversary of his birth and death, the words of the most famous of all famous poets come, once again, to mind: The blessed gods, Purge all infection from our air whilst you Do climate here!
This morning, as is our custom, we trundled along the beach once again, hearing the waves gently kissing the shore and greeting the few folk who were about with a gentle word. We are lucky. Ours is a peaceful, quiet life, cushioned by routines. A lovely run on which I found a perfectly formed tennis ball to add to my collection – always a treat – was followed by a lovely breakfast, with jellies and pate. Everything was as it always is: I am loved, cared for and safe in the home I love. Now we are full and resting, and I ponder further on what was running through our minds as we were trundling across the sands which have seen so much conflict in the distant past; we only have to gaze across at Lindisfarne to remember what havoc the Vikings perpetrated there and we do indeed just that, often. You do not have to look far to find a fight.
Today, the 4th of August 2014, is the feast day of St Oswald, the warrior-king of Northumberland. This seventh century leader, known for his prayerfulness and generosity, defended Christian values and the independence of the north when he led his polyglot army under a Christian banner against the ambitious British leader, Cadwallon, defeating him in battle at Heavenfield, near Hexham. He fought and it was ugly, no doubt. Thus was established the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, its capital being Bamburgh, under the ramparts of which great castle we enjoy Oswald’s peace each day. Peace, care for the poor, the ministry of St Aidan and the monks of Lindisfarne – all flourished because of Oswald and the fight he’d undertaken. No saint, they say, without a past.
Today is also the day on which we commemorate the United Kingdom’s declaration of war on Germany a hundred years ago, when Belgium was invaded. It is a day of enormous solemnity and thought. So many people were affected by that conflagration – a total of 36 million, either killed or wounded – and the lives of countless others touched by the loss of those they knew and loved. In Kemo Sabe’s own little family, great uncles on both sides brought down in their youth. Names on memorials we will never see; a grandmother’s losing her only younger brother she will have a hundred-year lifetime to mourn.
Today we all can hear the prayers said and hymns being sung. As light falls, to commemorate the lamps going out a hundred years ago, households in this country have been asked to light a single flame. There are no words a humble soul can utter which would adequately express the overwhelming emotion of this terrible day, when the dogs of war (so alien to my simple self) were unleashed. No sinner, they say, without a future.