Because it’s Mother’s Day, I thought I’d write about the first place I travelled to, the place that ignited my love for the beach and the ocean, a place that holds my family in it’s roots and the place my Mum took us to every summer of our childhood.
Bamburgh, on the Northumberland coast, was our summer escape. It is a place that my family returns to again and again; my Grandparents met here, one summer when my Grandpa worked in an ice cream van down by the cricket green. My Mum lived here the summers of 1978 and 79, working in the tiny Copper Kettle tea room on the main street.
My Great Uncle Jim, whose quiet life we invaded each summer with our sandy footprints and shrieking excitement, lived his whole life in the village. His thick walled stone cottage, with it’s open fire and singing clock, was our home for a few days each year. He had a huge leather high backed chair that no-else was allowed to sit in, and a wood paneled bathroom with a water jug to wash your hair with. The tiny garden at the back of the house was dominated by a huge rhubarb plant with leaves big enough to shade your face when you lay on your back amongst the daisy studded grass, and roots that formed a home for hundreds of coral shelled snails. His house was full of laughter and memories and the lingering smell of the smoked kippers he cooked for breakfast. We visit him in Bamburgh still; he lies buried behind the church there on a wind swept hill overlooking the sea.
Bamburgh’s main draw is it’s famous coastal castle, which sits on an outcrop overlooking the beach. The Norman keep that stands there today dates to c.1120. It was bought in 1704 by Lord Crewe and was, at various times, a school,a hospital and accommodation for ship wrecked sailors. The Victorian industrialist Sir William Armstrong purchased the castle in the 1800’s, and undertook the modern ‘fairytale castle’ renovation that exists today.
Me and Mum on Bamburgh beach
Our days in Bamburgh typically centered around the beach. The walk took us across the green at the foot of the castle and down a sandy track through the dunes, which whispered with long grasses in the warm breeze. The castle dominates the skyline, towering above the sand and silhouetted against the bright sky. We had a rainbow striped windbreak and all four of us would squash onto a red and white patterned picnic blanket behind it for sandwiches or ice cream.
We would clamber barefoot over the black scarred rocks, jumping the cracks and looking for crabs in the crystalline rock pools. The beach is scattered with oddities; the ocean guarded by block concrete tank defences left over from the Second World War, now painted to resemble huge dice. High on the rock wall at one end of the beach is painted a white stag, watching over a sheltered cove.
As the sun began to dip, casting the long shadow of the castle turrets over the sand, we would pack up and head home through the dunes, the crashing of the waves becoming muffled and distant and the warmth that comes from being suddenly out of the wind spreading across our salty skin.
In the evenings we would play cricket on the green in the fading light, and eat crispy salty fish and chips from greasy newspaper bundles. We fell asleep still swaying with the motion of the waves, licking salt from our lips and feeling the sunburn tighten across our cheeks. School felt a million miles away, like a different world – I always wanted to stay and we never stayed long enough.