|Woods near Fenwick, Northumberland|
If we do not know about some administrative or political division of territory, will we feel the difference, apart from the landscape, the changes in topography, as we move from one region to another? A long time ago different areas were divided according to influence and allegiance to one king/prince/baron or another such as Bretagne, Normandie, Anjou, Aquitaine, Ile de France, Languedoc etc in what is now France. These regions or kingdoms were not set in some harmonious unalterable pattern, but their borders shifted constantly as one area of dominion pushed and stretched its influence and control. Some areas joined together, others separated, split off. Territorial claims and the wars that accompanied them, continued through history and of course are still going on today.
Today, the peaceable border between Scotland and England is marked by simple signposts on roads. St Cuthbert, walking from Melrose to Lindisfarne, would hardly have been thinking about borders for in those days the kingdom of Northumberland stretched as far north as the Firth of Forth. After leaving the shelter of the magnificent natural cave now named after him, and climbing through the wood of Scots pines to the top of the hill, he would have looked out across the intervening land to the sea, and that tiny strip of a sandbar, Lindisfarne, that became his home. Though it was hardly a settled home for he was a wanderer an itinerant a missionary and performer of miracles, a visionary and ultimately a hermit on one of the Farne islands off the Northumbrian coast. An account of his life strongly resembles that of the 11th and 12th century Cathar parfaits of the Languedoc, known as Bonhommes who were also itinerant preachers, who lived simple austere lives, who travelled around the country ministering to the poor and the sick. St Cuthbert's cross interestingly enough is also equal armed, like that of the Cathars.
|Saint Cuthbert's cross and the Cathar cross on my keyring|
I like to imagine that St Cuthbert first saw Lindisfarne from that rise of ground one sunny day when the sea was deep blue. And that he saw the way the coastline seems to shudder a little and spill over into the water, neither sea nor land, that amphibious quality which appealed to the saint who loved animals, birds at home in flight and on the surface of sea and land, and the wingless ones, seals and other sea creatures who inhabited edges and shorelines and felt no need to limit themselves to one element only.
That rise of ground is topped by several rocks some flattened, some curiously shaped.
If he were to look back, he would have seen the ground falling away scooped out in a hollow, with hills on the distant horizon.
After my first failed attempt to reach St Cuthbert's Cave, I studied the weather forecast and planned it for a day when it would not be raining. I took the bus from Berwick to Fenwick road end, not far from the turnoff to Holy Island, armed with an Ordnance Survey map. Clear signposts began in Fenwick village. Surely I could not get lost this time? And, astonishingly, I did not. There were a couple of times when I was faced with decisions about which route to take and started thinking of Dorothy and the yellow brick road. Why is it marked St Oswald's Way and not St Cuthbert's Way, when the last sign clearly said St Cuthbert's Way? Has St Cuthbert changed his mind? Did he wander off into the woods at this point? Should I take another trail marked public bridleway? Why does my map not seem to correspond with the landscape here? I try to banish these nagging doubts and continue, now on St Oswald's Way. And lo and behold, at the next signpost it has miraculously become St Cuthbert's Way again. And remains so.
I'm heading south west, away from Lindisfarne so that after the rocky – and windy – top of the knoll the path leads steeply downhill into a grove of pines. Their trunks are long, red-brown and almost bare of branches until the top, a flurry of waving dark green needles. That's when I see St Cuthbert's cave to the right, with a big rock just in front of me.
I take a picture from the rock then walk in front of it, to find a line of people sitting by the cave entrance. They'd been screened from view by the rock so I was surprised to see them. One reads a paper, another a book, a third has earphones in and is gazing at a mobile phone. They seem to be quite oblivious to my presence as if we were in a park in the middle of a bustling city instead of in remote countryside far away from any road or human habitation. But when I walk past to take more photographs, I'm relieved that the woman reading a book looks up and says hallo.
The path continues downhill, through the pine-bordered passageway. The sun began to emerge from behind the thin covering of cloud as soon as I came out of the wood that shrouds the cave.
I leave St Cuthbert's Way behind and take the path that curves left round the forest, heading south east.
My plan is to meet up with the path I took the other day, starting from Belford, and follow it in the opposite direction, to end up in Belford. At Swinhoe farm I find the path I should have taken, which passes the farm buildings and along the edge of the riding school. A piebald pony munches hay in its field.
Following the signs from this direction I then discover where I got lost. I missed a turning through a small unmarked gate which I don't remember noticing the first time, with the result that I made a long detour in the wrong direction.
How different it all looks in sunshine!
By the time I reach Belford, almost all the clouds have disappeared. Sunshine all the way back on the bus to Berwick.