A while back, I took a visit up to Northumberland for a few days painting. We booked a small cottage in the quiet and isolated fishing village of Craster, which is the home of the kipper, so the locals told me.
To plan my painting trip, I decided to set up shop in the local pub ‘Jolly fisherman’. I got myself a local beer and a large packet of pork scratchings to munch on while I fussed over the maps and leaflets for locations.
Naturally, when the pub dog caught the scent of the pork, he lumped over and sat his chin on my knee. I was his new and dedicated lifelong companion as long of course as I had pork scratchings in tow.
I asked the landlady what the name of the dog was. ‘Glenn’ she replied. What an odd name for a dog. ‘Why is he called Glenn?’ I could see she found this question annoying. ‘Because [obviously] the pub dog before him was called ‘Glenn!’ I didn’t ask how far these ‘Glenns’ went back, to the dark ages I expect.
Glenn didn’t care what his name was so long as the snacks kept coming. He drooled amiably as I slid another piece of hairy, fired pork flesh into his lazy mouth.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne
While in Northumberland, I produced a number of drawings in Lindisfarne although this picture was for a later commission. That said, it contains all I enjoyed about my visit there.
The island was one of the earliest sites for Christianity in the UK and it has been a place of worship from at least the 6th century. Things settled down quickly and it seemed to be a bit of a Saint factory for a 100 years or so culminating in the famous Lindisfarne Gospels in about 700. They are copies of the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John and the illustration style is a combination of Celtic, Germanic and Roman elements. A wonderful piece of work.
All went well until 793 when the dreaded Vikings turned up and raided the place and all fell into disrepair until a few hundred years later following the Norman Conquests when a priory was re-established. Until of course Henry VIII disestablished it again. From then on it was used as a fortification for various warring factions over time. On it goes!
Well today it’s a fine place for visitors and is in a state of blissful peace just as the first saints had intended.
On the shore opposite Holy Island are old fisherman’s sheds made from old upturned herring boats. Fishermen use them to store nets and the various other paraphernalia of plying the seas for fish.
The National Trust also owns a few, and you can rent them out to stay in on your holiday. It’s a great spot too. Just you the puffins and the seals to keep you company.
This was an easy choice, as you can see this castle ruin popping up over the hills from Craster. It was a bright, sunny and almost windless day, so I grabbed my gear, walked along the coast path, and found a spot in amongst the heather and sheep to begin the initial drawing and to paint.
The castle was built in 1313 by Earl Thomas of Lancaster in response to an argument with the rather hapless King Edward II. The King, however, wasn’t quite as hapless as Thomas would have hoped and his rebellion was crushed in 1322 along with the now executed Thomas of Lancaster. The new landlord was now John of Gaunt who used it as a base to aggravate the Scots.
I could go on here for another few hundred years but suffice to say Dunstanburgh Castle was used by one bunch of power crazed villains to beat up another bunch of power crazed villains. This went on until warfare changed and it fell into ruin. It has since been targeted by visitors and painters like me. I sat there for a good few hours working on the painting and it was good to see peace break out at Dunstanburgh Castle. As long as the weather is fine, it is a lovely few miles walk from Craster, passing by Dunstanburgh Castle and finally though the dunes to Embleton.
Firstly Alnwick is pronounced ‘ANNIK’. You need to know this as the locals correct you with a raised finger with a ‘BE TOLD!’ look in their eye if you get it wrong. Just so you know.
The second thing to note here is Alnwick Castle. Since 1309, it used to be mostly known as the home of the Percy family and Dukes of Northumberland, however, nowadays, it is referred to as the home of Harry Potter. This is because it was the chosen location for Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter movies.
Another fine thing about Alnwick is that it is the home of Barter Books which is one of the largest antiquarian bookstores in the UK. It is situated in an old factory and railway station. The interior of the store is wonderful too with roaring fires and old waiting rooms to read in. You can also pop in and swap books. Another great use of an old building for a new purpose. You don’t have to demolish to create!
Just up the road from Barter books, I discovered this building. It sits at the bottom of a hill where two roads meet at a descending peak. I loved its design and its odd triangular shape. I also liked the fact that the position I chose to draw and paint was right next to a tea room and deli. Lunch was sorted.
As I worked, locals came by and told me a bit about it. Apparently in the 1920s it was a perfumery for the local ‘well to do’. In those days the very rare bear bile was used as an ingredient for perfume and the owner kept a bear in the cellar and drained the poor creature’s bile for the delectation of his customers. How the world has changed. Today it’s a clock shop, and all the better for it.
I worked most of the day on the painting
and it admired this oddity more and more. Like many buildings in Alnwick, it is made of local sandstone which gives it a rough and hardy look. It also gathers a light dusting of green from moss that lives on the walls. The two combined are brimming with character.
As mentioned, Northumberland is now happliy at peace, there is plenty more to see other than what i have illustrated here. Do visit if you can.