My Favourite Place – Holy Island

Lindisfarne CastleDespite being a Southerner I am lucky enough to have family in the North and, as a result, have spent many a happy holiday in the beautiful county of Northumberland. It’s an often underrated place that many people miss out on their way up to Scotland, and populated by warm and friendly folk who have always made me feel at home there. But I am not going to attempt to describe the entire county, my absolute favourite spot of all is a magical little place called the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.

Gertrude Jekyll Castle Garden

It’s a tidal island, just 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, and cut off from the mainland twice a day. It boasts a rich history dating back to the 6th century; the ancient ruins of a monastery; a castle (a Tudor fort refurbished by Sir Edwin Lutyens); a Gertrude Jekyll garden; a working harbour; a former coastguard station; a small village; several churches; sandy beaches and a wealth of natural wildlife to enjoy.

Traditionally a quiet place of Christian pilgrimage, over the years Lindisfarne has become increasingly popular with tourists of all beliefs and backgrounds, especially in the summer months. In daytime throughout August, between low tides, the car parks, gift shops and tea shops fill up with holidaymakers, nature enthusiasts, children and dogs, and the village bustles with life. The local businesses rely on these waves of tourism and the income they bring. But for me, it is when the tide has come in and the day-trippers have gone home, that the island is really at its best.Holy Island wild-flowersPart of me is tempted to keep silent about this place – to hide my passion rather than share it; as if the island is some treasured secret all of my own. But of course I’m not alone in my love for Lindisfarne. Many an artist, poet, film-maker, musician and author have been inspired by it – Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Sir Walter Scott, Roman Polanski, James Blake and LJ Ross, to name but a few.Mist in the sand dunesDescribing the innate tranquillity of this small pocket of the world, and the effect it has on me, is a challenge. It can be cold and bleak in winter, exposed as it is to the winds off the north sea – I thoroughly admire the islanders who live there year-round – but even when it’s under snow and ice and it feels like you might lose your fingers to frostbite, Holy Island has a quiet, raw intensity that inspires and allures. And when I am nestled in the sand dunes of the north shore on an early autumn morning, watching mist creep in over an almost-still sea; or lying on a sun-drenched hillside among summer wild-flowers, listening to the ghostly calling of seals on the wind and waves crashing below; with my notebook in hand … I feel happy.
Holy Island harbourI have never been religious, but I feel Holy Island is my spiritual home. I urge you to visit if you can.

Where is your favourite place?

 

Where to Write?

I am lucky enough to have a dedicated space in which to write – a desk by a window where I can gaze out at the sky and idly watch the birds in the trees while I juggle (or wrestle) with words in my mind. Inspiring objects and images clutter the windowsill; I have a laptop-stand to raise my screen to an appropriate height; and my chair, although not fancy or ergonomic, is relatively comfortable. When time is short, as it usually is, my desk is a suitable, convenient and efficient place to write.

Girl WritingAnd yet, some days, the urge to sit there is oddly lacking.

On these occasions a change of scenery is called for, and even a small one can make all the difference. In colder months I might only stumble as far as the living room sofa, and on really dark, wet days you’ll find me snuggled up in bed in a nest of cushions and blankets with my laptop propped on my knees. But when the sun is shining my favourite place to write is my back door step. Leaving modern technology behind I will take a notebook, a pen and a hot cup of coffee and perch in a patch of sunshine – scribbling down notes to the ambient sound of birds, trains and lawn mowers.

Writing in Bed

If this doesn’t work and the ideas are still not flowing, it’s time to go for a walk. It may only be a quick zip to the postbox and back, or a stroll through the park, but if time allows I really enjoy a wander through my local nature reserve; absorbing the green tranquillity of the woods and the calm of the water, while fictional characters hold conversations in my head. Before long I have to find somewhere to sit – a bench or log – and get pen onto paper, while the words are fresh in my mind. Many planned, extended walks have been curtailed by the urge to write.

Al Fresco Writing

In general I prefer quiet in which to work – to better hear the inner voices – but if it’s fresh human inspiration I need; coffee shops, libraries, art galleries and train stations are great places to people watch. I tend to get too distracted to achieve much actual writing, but I know many writers who thrive on the buzz of such social spaces.

Art Gallery

One of the perks of writing fiction is that I can pick a setting that I’ve always wanted to go to, and actually go there – write in situ, as it were. It’s a real kick, if a little weird, going somewhere and imagining my characters right there with me. I’m able to incorporate the details of the place – the way it smells, sounds, tastes – directly into my story, which hopefully lends some authenticity. So far I haven’t used my writing as an excuse to visit an exotic, far-flung country, but I fully intend to one day.

Girl on Swing

Writing’s often a solitary practice and if you’re anywhere near as introverted as me, I’d recommend using your writer status to get yourself out and about in the world. You don’t necessarily have to start conversations with strangers, but write anywhere you can and don’t forget to enjoy it.

Where do you write? Where would you recommend? I’d love to know.

Amsterdam in June

I recently spent a week in Amsterdam…Sketched scene AmsterdamIt was my first visit to the city, and indeed the Netherlands as a whole, and I’m delighted to say that it exceeded my expectations in the very best of ways. So much so in fact, that it has taken me a fortnight of mental digesting to be able to put my experience into words.
Forgive my general ignorance and naivety, but before this trip my impressions of Amsterdam were, to a large extent, from tales of rowdy stag parties visiting strip clubs and getting stoned. Yes, an array of scantily clad women line the streets of the red light district of an evening and yes, marijuana is readily available in the coffeeshops, but there is so much more to the city than that.

Amsterdam in June

Rijksmuseum Research Library
Rijksmuseum Research Library

First let me explain that I took this holiday with my mother, and though she is young-at-heart, open-minded and at ease in a city with a studenty vibe, visiting a brothel was never going to be top of her to-do list. For us it was the lure of museums, art galleries, a diverse range of restaurants, and the antique, flea and flower markets.
The hotel we were lucky enough to stay in, was extravagantly-decorated, welcoming and a joy to return to each evening, and every person we spoke to was kind, friendly and helpful – even after the shock news of Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
For the most part we enjoyed sunshine, missed the worst rain, and, having hastily got to grips with the rules of the cycle lane network, successfully managed to avoid causing any accidents. But this isn’t a holiday review where I recount our itinerary and rate each place – I’m not a travel writer and I’d rather leave that sort of thing to those who are – I simply have an urge to express my love for some of the beautiful places I discovered.
Canal houseIt seems much of Amsterdam’s aesthetic charm can be enjoyed by simply wandering about:
the canals which loop and lace their way through an endless network of curvy cobbled bridges, lending an air of casual serenity to an otherwise bustling city; the rows of narrow houses leaning into each other with regal grace; the intricate brick pavements where parking spaces nestle between flowering potted plants, beneath tall trees; the alfresco corner cafés by the water, which invite you to sit and relax and stay all day; and the bicycles, the endless tangles of bicycles, everywhere, in a kaleidoscope of colours and decorated with fake blooms.

Amsterdam places1And then there are the places you can actively seek out: the tiny courtyard gardens tucked between the buildings and crammed with hydrangeas; the rooms of the Rijksmuseum containing seventeenth century treasures, such as Artus Quellinus’ model of Atlas, Petronella Dunois’ dolls’ house and delicate hand-cut collages by persons unknown; the tranquil parks with their live music, fountains and ponds; and the wonderful array of restaurants providing everything from traditional Dutch home-cooking to Parisian art nouveau ambience.

Amsterdam places2

But as with any holiday, it is perhaps those little, unexpected moments that will stay with me the most: being moved to tears in Anne Frank’s house upon hearing a recording of her father speaking; watching a heron gracefully alight right next to a girl practising yoga in a park; listening to a talented accordionist play Vivaldi in a busy tunnel; stumbling upon an intimate wedding ceremony in the garden of the Museum Van Loon; and the lively street festival that sprang up around our hotel on our penultimate day.
I thoroughly enjoyed Amsterdam and I am keen to return one day, but even if I don’t hopefully I can use my experiences in a book; rediscover it through my characters. For me that’s half the fun of being a writer. Does anyone else feel the same?
Do you have any special memories from Amsterdam you’d care to share? I’d love to hear them.

Evening sunlit canal houses