A RECENT trip to Northumberland reminded me how a few hours' drive can, in terms of nature, take you into an entirely different world.

Our week was spent in a holiday cottage overlooking Budle Bay, part of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve. On our first afternoon we walked south from our holiday cottage along a deserted beach, towards the famous castle of Bamburgh - one of England's most dramatically situated fortifications.

As we skirted the bay thousands of wading birds were teasing out tasty morsels from the mudflats, fuel for long journeys ahead. Excited parties of Arctic terns darted about above them, plunging into the water to claim larger prizes.

The beach welcomed us with special plants, adapted to life in the sand with little fresh water. These included the pleasingly named prickly saltwort and the lavender-flowered sea rocket, which smelled of honey.

Just offshore groups of eider ducks - known locally as 'Cuddy's chickens' - were loafing on the water's surface, their gentle coos soothing us to approach closer.

Beyond the surf two seals bobbed about in the turquoise water, revelling in their buoyancy and their finely honed fishing skills. They looked so relaxed, and pups will soon be on their way.

As we looked back towards the tiny hamlet where we were staying an extraordinary sky revealed itself. Dramatic, yet delicately coloured; brash, yet beautiful.

Although most of us feel the lunar influence mainly through its nocturnal moonshine, in Northumberland our satellite's presence is more keenly felt through the great tidal ranges of the bays and estuaries which drain into the North Sea.

Our cottage overlooking Budle Bay afforded special privileges to those who wish to appreciate the multitude of habitats that are uncovered as the sea recedes - as the moon permits.

Deep water accommodating ducks and geese become shallow pools for fishing terns, and then expansive mudflats for the wading birds which seek invertebrates among the sediments. There is great diversity in the gradation of feeding opportunities presented by water on the move.

We slept with our windows open, allowing the sounds of the bay to lull us to sleep. One night the moon shone brightly in the east for much of the night. It cast light on moving water below that was itself propelled by lunar forces, creating variety and change for nature.

Illuminated by natural floodlights, a thousand pairs of tiny feet began the search for a late dinner, sure in the knowledge that their time was limited.


Wharfedale Naturalists' Society

[Photo by Amanda Best]