Bamburgh is a beguilingly beautiful village on the Northumberland coast some 16 miles south east of Berwick-upon-Tweed. To its north the coast is deeply indented by the broad Budle Bay, while offshore to the north east are the Farne Islands, normally reached from Seahouses, three miles down the coast. No reference to the wider seascape would be complete without noting that views to the north include the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, whose largely flat landscape is interrupted by the rock on which its castle is built.
But for most visitors, the distant views are only of secondary interest when arriving in Bamburgh. Without doubt the village's most outstanding feature is the magnificent Bamburgh Castle, covering eight acres of the top of a 180ft high rocky outcrop that lies between the village and the dunes and beach beyond. Bamburgh Castle is justifiably very popular with visitors, and when combined with the beauty of the village itself and its other attractions, this means that Bamburgh can become a very busy place indeed. To see it as relatively empty as it appears in the images on this page, you need to visit on a weekday outside the school holidays.
Bamburgh Castle has its own visitors' car park, and there is another large car park provided almost opposite the castle on the south west side of the road leaving the village towards Seahouses, for those wishing to explore the village and the coast. This sadly doesn't stop people parking along one side of the main road running through Bamburgh, which at times can give the village a slightly overrun feel.
At the heart of Bamburgh is a triangular wooded area known as The Grove. It is difficult to believe today, but this was the site of a sandstone quarry used to provide the stone for the rebuilding of Bamburgh Castle in the closing years of the 1800s. Today it proves an interesting variant on the idea of a village green. One long side of The Grove is formed by Front Street, and the other by Church Street. Most of the village's visitor services can be found on Front Street, including the imposing Victoria Hotel at the uphill end, and the Lord Crewe Hotel opposite the foot of The Grove.
Between them are a number of shops, including The Pantry, which is a combined cafe and shop. Easily overlooked above the door onto Front Street is a small plaque noting that "Grace Horsley Darling died here on the 20th October 1842". Grace Darling is someone whose memory you encounter frequently on a visit to Bamburgh. She was born in the village on 24 November 1815. Her names lives on because of an event which took place when she was 22 years old. Grace's father, William Darling, was the keeper of the Longstone Lighthouse on one of the Farne Islands. Grace was staying in the lighthouse when, in the early hours of 7 September 1838, she saw that a ship had been driven by a storm onto one of the nearby islands, Big Harcar, and broken in two. The stern had sunk, but the bow section was still above water and was being pounded by the waves.
The ship was the paddle steamer Forfarshire, and there were some 60 people on board. Grace Darling and her father rowed 1,700 yards through the stormy seas in their 21ft coble and rescued four men and a woman, who they returned to the lighthouse. William Darling and two of the crew of the Forfarshire then returned to the wreck, and retrieved the last four survivors. Nine other survivors had managed to escape in a lifeboat and were picked up by a passing ship. 42 of the crew and passengers perished. Grace and William Darling's rescue was recognised with a number of medals and other awards, and in an era when death at sea was an ever present risk, their fame spread widely. Grace died of tuberculosis at the age of 26, in the building now occupied by The Pantry.
Church Street forms the start of the road heading west towards Belford. On one side of this is the fascinating St Aidan's Church. Externally, the church looks a little out of proportion, with a chancel that seems to dominate the nave, but in some ways this simply serves to emphasise the great antiquity of this site as a place of Christian worship for over 1400 years. It is still possible to see, within the church, the place where St Aidan died in 651.
Also within the church is a reclining statue of Grace Darling. This was originally located on top of a memorial placed in the churchyard that was blown over in a great storm in 1885. A new memorial was commissioned for the churchyard, complete with a replacement statue of Grace, while the original statue found a more sheltered home within the church. Not far from the memorial in the churchyard is the gravestone marking the burial place of Grace and her family. Overlooking the church on the opposite side of Church Road is the Grace Darling Museum, operated by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. This tells the story of the life of Grace Darling, and the events of 7 September 1838. It also houses the boat in which she and her father effected the rescue.
If you head back down the slope on which the village is built, you reach a road heading north from near the foot of The Grove. This is The Wynding, home to some of the village's most impressive houses, most with superb views of Bamburgh Castle. It also leads to Bamburgh Castle Golf Club, Bamburgh Lighthouse, and parking that gives access to the dunes and beach to the north of the village.
This can be the start, or finish, of an excellent walk that encircles Bamburgh Castle using paths through the dunes and the beach itself. If you start at the northern end, you can return past the entrance to the castle, before descending via a path leading to the Castle Green, home to a cricket pitch and pavilion. This path gives some excellent views across the village of Bamburgh itself, and a glimpse of The Duckett, a dovecote located on the south side of the village. At the foot of the path from the castle entrance is the village war memorial, on a site cut into the base of the rock on which the castle stands.
Bamburgh has ancient origins. The rock here was used as a defensive site by the Votadini tribe as far back as 800BC, and later as the location of a Roman signal station. The story really kicks off, however, with the arrival of the Ida the Flamebearer, first Anglo Saxon King of Bernicia in 547. Bamburgh subsequently became the capital of the Kingdom of Northumbria, which at its greatest extent controlled everything from the River Forth to the River Humber.
Christianity had briefly gained a foothold in Northumbria in the 620s, but it really flourished after the accession to the crown of Northumbria of King Oswald in 634. He had spent much of his youth in exile in what is now Argyll and had converted to the distinctive brand of Celtic Christianity which had taken root there after initial development in Ireland. His early church stood on the site of the chancel of today's St Aidan's Church, and the fortunes of the village of Bamburgh over the millennium and a half since have very much followed those of the church and the castle which lie at either end of it.
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