Beowulf on the beach

June 2010 180By 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.

June 2010 178Today’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:

Glamis thou art!

IMG00362-20140222-0743An unexpected and rather disturbing sight greeted us this morning as we approached the inlet in the dunes where once, many many moons ago, the tiny port of Bamburgh  – and access to the castle’s original entrance – used to be. For there, towering over the beach was a platform of punishment, immediately putting us in mind of some medieval horror.  And that is exactly what it is intended to do;  for it, and others planned like it, have been erected by the location joiners working on a new film of Macbeth, scenes from which they are shooting in and beneath Bamburgh Castle this week. A massive marquee fit for a dog show has taken over the village’s car park, halving its capacity, and these wooden instruments of torture and display are being deployed to settle seamlessly alongside the telegraph poles they do remarkably resemble.

As we bound along at daybreak, it is not infrequently that we evade capture on camera, whether in the background to something ecological or ornithological. Only a fortnight ago there were delightful discarded breakfast baps to be had as we burst through a crush of trailers, parked for a good couple of days in order to capture in ‘the can’ precisely three minutes of action for  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Pieter Breughel the Elder, from 'The Triumph of Death'
Pieter Breughel the Elder, from ‘The Triumph of Death’

Encouraging the villagers to embrace the arrival of the butcher and his fiend-like queen this coming week – for whom our little family, as enthusiastic Shakespeareans, have always had a lot of time anyway (there but for the grace of God, and all that) – the production team begged indulgence for any inconvenience caused, commending the fact that they’d be using Shakespeare’s original text: much mirth indeed! Let’s hope it’s as powerful a film version as good old Polanski’s, in which a friend of ours as a sixth former decades ago enjoyed an exciting week’s work as an extra. A play it’s incredibly easy to do badly, on stage or film, let’s hope the glories of the castle and its outlook over the North Sea lend the director and players a hand, as they did when we gathered within the precincts of the keep for a touring version with a very small cast. That night the rooks stood in for ravens but the temple-haunting martlets played themselves, transforming a theatrical challenge on a chill late August night with moments of pure and emotive theatre, darting around and about us, punctuating and endorsing dear old Duncan’s reflection upon arrival that:

This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.

And both he, and Banquo – who agrees – are right:  for the horrors that unfold are of mankind’s making, like the scaffolds now springing up around and about an ancient capital, where Oswald ruled and Aidan served, and to which folk increasingly turn when wanting to evoke another world, another place.