History

St Mary’s Island: Snapshot of a very small island

St Mary's Island

St Mary’s Island

Today’s weather has been very odd with three seasons in one day.

A blast of Arctic winds brought snows, sleet and wintery weather. By lunchtime it had brightened up and an autumnal glow descended on North East England.

When the sun emerged and the temperatures warmed up, it felt almost like spring again.

So we drove over to St Mary’s Island at Whitley Bay for a bracing walk by the seaside.

This small rocky lump is linked to the mainland by a short causeway which is covered at high tide.

Today the waves were breaking furiously, splashing over the narrow path to the lighthouse.

When I took the main photo on this blog post, I was soaked through by a particularly wild wave hitting the sea wall!

The island  has a fascinating history. It was once a burial ground for the monks of Lindisfarne who lived further up the coast on another small island.

During the 18th Century St Mary’s Island was important for brandy smuggling – the north channel above the island was called Smugglers’ Creek and was the scene of numerous illicit forays.

Gory stories also feature in its history. Curry’s Point on the mainland end of the causeway was the scene of the hanging of a notorious murderer on a gibbet in 1739.

The tumultuous swell of the waves and the dangerous rocks around this coastline claimed over 300 shipwrecks so in 1898 the lighthouse was built.

Although now closed, the lighthouse is still a beacon on this smallest of islands.

St Mary's Island

St Mary’s Island – view from the mainland

Today’s walk took us to the small nature reserve on the mainland where we saw a rusty-coloured fox stalking its prey in the bushes whilst the ducks swam blissfully unaware of the predator near the ponds.

Then it was down to the coast to look for interesting birds that might have blown in on the Arctic winds. A couple of years ago we saw thousands of little auks bobbing on the waters, blown south by the blustery weather.

Sadly there were none today but there was a great view of shoreline birds with dozens of redshanks, sanderlings and turnstones running along the small strip of beach left exposed at high tide.

No seals were seen playing in the foamy waves today – even they had the sense to lumber onto a secluded beach away from the roar of the sea.

But eider ducks were close to land bobbing on the lively seas whilst in the distance a large group of black and white oystercatchers, with their characteristic carrot-like orange beaks, huddled for cover on St Mary’s Island.

The autumn light was glorious even though the weather was biting cold… but the word ‘bracing’ hardly conveys how raw it felt in the wind.

It’s days like these that make autumn a brilliant time to go for a seaside walk at high tide.

I’ll be back soon – but on a still day when the weather warms up a few degrees!

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