A popular tradition on Holy Island is the search for what are known as “Cuddy’s beads” on the small beach opposite St Cuthbert’s Isle. These are tiny (some very tiny) fossils, portions of the "stems" of carboniferous crinoids (a marine animal). They do indeed look a little like beads, and legend has it that St Cuthbert (“Cuddy”) used them to make his rosary when a hermit on the island opposite. It was even said that his spirit created them on stormy nights so they could be found on the beach the next morning. More prosaically, it is likely that many were released from the limestone that encrusted them when it was quarried and lime burned on Holy Island in the 19th century.
To find yours you will have to look very carefully. Look among the stones and shells for the giveaway circular shape, and remember – some are little bigger than a pin-head! And if you find some, please don’t bring away more than one or two, leaving the rest for others to find and enjoy.
The spur of higher land overlooking this beach and St Cuthbert’s Isle is known as the Heugh, subject of my next tip.
One of the characteristic sights of Holy Island are these sheds, made from the traditional local herring-fishing boats, or keels, inverted and cut in half. There are quite a few around the Ouse, and the National Trust has also preserved an old 19th century one (and added two new ones) to use as storage for visitors to the castle.
This custom is not unique to Holy Island (Charles Dickens describes a similar boat-house in David Copperfield, set in Yarmouth) but I don’t know of anywhere else where so many have been preserved, not where they are still so prevalently used. They make a really photogenic feature of the Holy Island landscape.
Having detoured to explore the Ouse, let’s now continue to the castle, subject of my next tip.
- Historical Travel