Thursday, 20 October 2011


On a wild, stormy night in 1838 a paddle steamer called SS Forfarshire was making its way from Hull to Dundee when it struck rocks off the Farne Islands, killing all but a handful of survivors who were forced to spend the night clinging desperately to rocks. As dawn broke, a local lighthouse keeper went to their aid using just a rowing boat and succeeded in getting all of them on board. But it was his 23-year-old daughter who really saved the day by steadying the boat and keeping it from dashing onto the rocks in the awful weather while her father tended to the survivors. Her name was Grace Darling, and she became a heroine as a result of her part in the rescue. Tragically, she died just three years later from tuberculosis, but her memory lives on thanks to her elaborate shrine-like tomb which can be found in the churchyard of St Aidan’s in Bamburgh. Opposite the church is the Grace Darling Museum, which includes the original rescue craft used by Grace and her father.

Walking around the village of Bamburgh, with its old stone cottages and pubs flanked by an expanse of green, it seems strangely detached from the nearby sea. The reason for this is the mighty Bamburgh Castle, which towers over everything, separating the village from its lovely sandy beach. The castle can be seen from miles around, in fact the first time I saw it, years ago, was when we were hurtling along the A1 towards Edinburgh. We were in a hurry to get to our destination, but I vowed that one day I would come back to see this amazing sight close up. The castle keep dates from the 12th century and was built by the Normans, but much of the present castle is relatively modern, having been renovated from the late 19th century by Lord Armstrong the inventor. Much further back in time, King Oswald of Northumbria made Bamburgh his capital. The village church is dedicated to St Aidan, who died at Bamburgh in AD651.

Map of the area.

'Bamburgh Castle' photo (c) 2010, James West - license:

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