News from Holy Island hikes

What can I say about 2020

It's time to look back at 2020, reflect on it and learn for the future. I always do this for Holy Island Hikes and strive for continuous improvement. But this past year? It has been devastating for some individuals and families and my heart goes out to them. Tourism and hospitality businesses have been especially hard hit but as Holy Island Hikes is my part time business I haven't been badly affected and will live to fight another day.

I led some walks in January and February but lockdown in March stopped everything until July. Spring and early summer is the time I see lots of organised groups especially Americans. They were all cancelled but most have rebooked for 2021 and one for 2022. July started slowly but August was manic! These were all small family groups which is very pleasant. September dropped off then nothing until a walk just before christmas.

The quiet island certainly suited the wildlife including the local residents. In recent years there are sometimes so many visitors at peak times that it spoils the experience for both visitors and the island. One of my aims is to take my walkers "far from the madding crowd" so they get the true island experience. Birdwatchers were delighted at the record number of rarities in both the spring and autumn migrations. I got to see the brown shrike through a true birder's top of the range, fantastic telescope!

What will 2021 bring? We'll wait and see.

Mary Gunn, 2nd January 2021.

Triumph over Adversity

I led a pilgrims way walk this morning. There were gale force winds with a weather warning out over much of the country. There were squalls of snow showers. It was a recipe for disaster - the pilgrims way is windy even in fine weather!

My walkers wanted to go. They were well equipped with waterproofs and welly boots. I altered my management of the walk to limit my talking/information to safe havens at the beginning and end of the walk. And we set off! The wind on our backs blew us in making us quick, light footed and toasty. In the bridge pool a common seal (not so common here) was stranded over low water and we watched it stalking three smart male eider ducks in breeding plumage. It must be hungry at this time of year. The photo taken after the walk from the bridge and poor quality with wind shudder shows the seal on the right, the eider drakes on the left and a distant Bamburgh castle in the middle.

So what we thought might be a grueling experience turned into a delight. A good time was had by all.

Mary Gunn, 11th February 2020.

A look back at the 2019 season

With my last booked walk of the year over its time to reflect on the season. Of course if I get a booking I'll go out in the winter. Some of the best walks are in the cold, crisp days of winter.

Walks started early this year in January and so did cars trapped on the causeway by the tide! After the first car caught in January, cars continued to drive into the North Sea every few weeks for the rest of the season requiring emergency services to be called out. When will they ever learn?

We had some hot weather in early summer - great! The orchids gave a colourful show in the sand dunes in June and July. One of the rarer orchids, the frog orchid, appeared in a few new sites and I was able to show it to my walkers on a sand dune and shore walk.

The wildlife highlight of the summer was definitely the large influx of painted lady butterflies from Africa via Europe. Walking along the heugh with the painted ladies fluttering all around you was like being in the tropics. It's only rarely that we get so many.

The anglo saxon church remains on the heugh were dug out once again and this time stabilized and left open on permanent display. The archaeologists took sub soil samples for luminescence testing to try to confirm the date given by the historians. We await the results.

The pilgrims way was once again my most popular walk. But the pilgrims way made the news this year for a darker reason. This was the first time emergency services were called out to walkers on the pilgrims way. They were on the walk well outside the safe times and were unaware of the tide moving through the poles behind as well as in front of them. When these two bodies of water joined above them they would move from being on dry sand to waist deep in water in minutes. The coastguard found them waist deep clinging onto the poles in the strong current. There's a reason the authorities tell you to use a guide if you're at all uncertain! And Holy Island Hikes is here for just that - to make your holiday safe and enjoyable.

Its been a good year meeting lots of interesting people.

Mary Gunn, 15th Nov. 2019

The first walk of 2019

I've led my first pilgrims way walk of the 2019 season today. This is a very popular walk in the summer and occasionally I'm asked to guide people in the winter. With winter storms and big tides you never know what is going to change or pop up from the sand. There were no major changes today but there was one surprise which made me smile.

There's a very muddy patch on the pilgrims way where you can sink knee deep. It's at least a metre wide so a bit too much to leap. I always guide my walkers around it. I have seen people turn back at this point or try to leap it invariably sinking in the mud. Today we saw the tops of a pair of boots sticking out of the mud! What happened to the walker?

It just goes to show - to walk the pilgrims way easily and safely and learn so much about the island en route use Holy Island Hikes.

Mary Gunn, 26/01/2019

Birds on the move

It's that time of year when birds are on the move in large flocks and singly. Holy Island is a migration hotspot and this year has certainly not disappointed. Some birds just drop by for a rest before making their way inland. Others make their winter home with us.

On a pilgrims way walk across the sands two days ago we saw large flocks of brent geese, small dunlin, knots and mixed flocks of bartailed godwits and oyster catchers. The golden plovers which had been their previously seemed to have moved on. Of course the seals were singing to us as they do most of the year. I do this walk a lot but I never tire of it because there's always something different to see.

Passing through the farmland on a sand dune and shore walk there was a huge influx of thrushes from Scandinavia - redwings and fieldfares. There's also solitary birds, short eared owls quartering the fields and a solitary tame snow bunting working the paths.

We also see an influx of bird watchers at this time carrying thousands of pounds worth of optics. They'll stand for hours round a sycamore tree in the village or a hawthorn bush in the lonnen because there's a small brown bird hiding in it. I don't have the patience but I recently joined a group for a few minutes. A frisson of excitement ran through them, their scopes and cameras pointed to a certain spot and as I moved my bins to the same place I saw a yellow browed warbler. This is a lovely little bird with creamy white brow and wing stripes and I was delighted to see it but the real birders had done all the preparatory work!

Mary Gunn, 26th October 2018

Review of the 2018 Season

With dull November days and my last booked walk of the year behind me it seems an appropriate time to draw a line in the sand under the 2018 season.

We've experienced the coldest and hottest weather this year. The Beast from the East struck hard in March cutting us off from the mainland for four days. I saw some pretty sorry birds then, notably some song thrushes and a cormorant. My walk was cancelled that week not because the walkers couldn't get over - they were stuck on the island for longer than they expected - but because the snow was too deep to walk easily and the wind too biting. We got the summer heatwave though not for as long as the south - I certainly didn't get sick of it!

Two archaeological digs in the summer looking for St. Aidens priory found some promising walls and skeletons. We await news of their analysis and testing.

Walking the pilgrims way remains ever popular as more long distance walks pass through or close to Holy Island. My walkers are a truly international lot and its a pleasure to meet so many different people. The sand dune flowers burst into bloom as usual not being affected by the earlier cold weather. The same could not be said of the insects whose numbers remained low.

October and early November proved a good time for migrating birds and the accompanying birdwatchers. Big flocks of Brent geese were a delightful feature of my walks at this time.

With bookings coming in for next year its time to look ahead to the 2019 season. Please can we have another heatwave.

Mary Gunn, 19/11/2018