The Lyndesfarne Bridge Novels by Trevor Hopkins

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne: Chapter 20

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On his various trips to Lyndesfarne, while inspecting the old bridge and surveying the shores on either side, Kevin had often caught sight of the castle. It was the only man-made feature on the Island that was ever visible from the Mainland. Even so, the weather had to be unusually clear and fine; in the frequent foggy and overcast weather conditions, the castle was all but invisible.

From the Mainland side, the castle appeared completely ruined, with just the suggestion of crumbling walls and the stumps of towers visible. Even that much detail was difficult to make out, and Kevin had initially assumed that there was little of interest there.

From the Island side, however, a very different impression was to be had. The castle had been built on a vast outcropping of rock at the end of a long narrow promontory, with the fortifications themselves appearing to have been extruded from the stone underneath. The walls seemed tall and solid, pierced with arrow-slits and topped with crenulations. Kevin had repeatedly resolved to visit the site of the castle, but it had never quite reached the top of his personal priority stack.

At various times in the past, Kevin had done a fair amount of rambling and hill-walking. He rather enjoyed the sensation of pitting himself against the elements and, in his younger days, it was an excellent precursor to a steak and chips dinner in a country pub, of course washed down with a few pints of beer. Mostly, however, he relished the sense of peace and tranquillity he found when he was out in the countryside and miles from anywhere.

One morning in that first summer, while he was wandering about and surveying candidate sites for the new bridge, Kevin found himself standing on a rocky outcrop looking out over the straights. On his left, the old bridge was visible, with its usual traffic and attendant bustle. On the right, the castle on its headland, apparently completely deserted. There appeared to be a clear path all the way along the shore to the headland, which was no more than a couple of miles from the point where he now stood. The promontory itself was grassy, and populated by a small flock of sheep.

Lyndesfarne castle on a sunny day

Mentally using a short, pithy, Anglo-Saxon derived four-letter word, and following it with some expression about entertainment activities for military servicemen, Kevin came to a decision. He turned and waved at Ricard, who was as usual hanging around not far away. Predictably, Ricard smiled widely in response. Kevin beckoned him over.

"The castle's just over there. It's just too nice a day to pass up this opportunity. Is there any reason why I can't take a couple of hours off, and walk up to the headland for lunch?"

Ricard looked startled for a moment and looked around wildly, but his perennial wide smile barely wavered.

"Yes, of course - I mean no, no reason at all. Let me guide you."

"Fair enough. Just let me get my stuff together."

Kevin picked up his rucksack, slipping his notebook into the front pocket. Glancing up at the sky, he shrugged out of his oiled leather jacket, and stuffed it into the rucksack as well.

As was his habit, the rucksack already contained a packed lunch, supplied by the hostel where he had stayed overnight. This consisted of his usual fare: sandwiches, made with a rather unusual and slightly sweet brown bread, filled with cheese and pickle. The sandwich wrapping had baffled Kevin on first acquaintance. It consisted of a transparent layer with no visible join, which resisted any attempt to rip or tear it. On using a simple gesture, the wrapping would rapidly unravel, then crumple up by itself and disappear. Kevin had learned the "open" gesture very rapidly, probably, he thought wryly, encouraged by hunger.

Lyndesfarne sandwich

Kevin had learnt very quickly from personal experience that it was a bad idea to bring packaged food across the bridge. The plastic sandwich wrappings from his world would rapidly decay, forming a translucent sludge that stuck to the food which looked unappetising and tasted worse. Aluminium drinks cans were even less successful; parts of the metal would disintegrate into a grey powder, allowing the liquid to leak out and leaving the inside of his bag wet and sticky.

Ricard was waiting expectantly, with his own bag already slung over his shoulder. Kevin had remarked, in the privacy of his own head, that Ricard bore a striking resemblance to a well-trained but slightly over-enthusiastic puppy on occasions like this. They clambered down the outcrop, and set off, quickly joining the well-maintained pathway that Kevin had spotted earlier.

The path was surfaced with grey gravel, and was easily wide enough for Kevin and Ricard to walk abreast. It seemed to be quite heavily used, Kevin thought, judging by the footprints and worn grass on either side. Today, however, there was no-one else visible. The view over the straights was superb, the sea was blue, and the waves crashing on the rocky shoreline a little way below added to the sense of isolation.

Ricard, as always, seemed content to walk in silence, and this suited Kevin while he was taking in the scenery. After a little time, and attempting to make conversation, Kevin asked Ricard about the castle.

"Well, I don't know very much about it," Ricard replied. "It's been there for hundreds of years, obviously."

"Obviously," repeated Kevin, "Does anyone live there now?"

"No. It is looked after by, well, a translation would be the Cultural History Maintenance Board. Many ancient monuments and buildings are administered by the Cultural Board."

"So anyone can visit?"

"Oh, yes. It is open to all."

Kevin considered the similar roles of organisations at home like English Heritage and the National Trust. Enthusiasts and do-gooders, he thought, but better than letting these old places just rot away.

Seagull in Lyndesfarne

Before getting to the castle, the two men stopped for a short while for lunch, sitting on some convenient rocks sheltered by a couple of trees shaped into streamlines by the prevailing winds. Kevin pleased himself by managing to remove what he thought of as the "magic Clingfilm" at the first attempt. He ate his food quickly, watching the seagulls floating around on the light breeze and occasionally diving to grab the remnants of his sandwiches.

After lunch, the remaining distance seemed to pass in no time at all, and the two men found themselves standing at the top of the sloping path outside the castle. Kevin was struck again by the difference between its appearance when seen from the Mainland side and from Lyndesfarne. The high walls and towers were plainly intended to maintain the important distinction between the inside and outside of the fortifications. They had been carefully positioned to take advantage of a naturally easily-defensible location, which was difficult to approach from any direction save that taken by the rough road he had just traversed.

The walls were built from grey stones identical to those used in the construction of the old bridge. Here, the stones were etched by lichen and the weather, and seemed more worn than those forming the bridge. But the walls seemed largely intact, with no evidence of damage from overt military action. Kevin guessed that the castle and causeway had been built around the same era, although it was unclear whether this was before or after the construction of the bridge. Probably overlapping, he thought, since projects of this scale would have taken decades, even centuries, to complete.

Kevin, who was no military strategist, wondered about the importance of this place. Why was the castle built, just here? He looked around, trying to understand the strengths of this considerable vantage-point.

His first reaction was that the castle was positioned as a stronghold to protect against invasion from the Mainland. Surely the site was chosen to protect against enemy forces crossing the causeway, using either the ferry or the bridge. After all, Bret had mentioned that the old bridge had itself been mined in the past, and that there had been failed attempts to invade in both directions. He also knew that there were castles on the Mainland, too; presumably they were built for the same reasons.

As he stood there, another and more insidious reason why the fortifications were needed occurred to him. They were there to prevent access to his home world by other powers in the world of Lyndesfarne. It was clear that there had always had been trade between the worlds, which must have been profitable to both sides. If not, there would never have been the money or political will to build the crossing. So, access to the other world, via the ferry or, in later years, by the bridge, was an asset to be guarded jealously. The castles on both sides were positioned to protect against invading armies and navies from other nations in their own worlds, and there must have been a formidable military presence in this region at various times in the past.

Lyndesfarne castle gatehouse

Kevin turned back to the castle, facing the gatehouse. Nodding to Ricard, he strode forward through the broad archway. The stonework here was in good condition, and any gates had evidently been removed many years ago. Inside the walls, the castle was mostly open space, with pathways alternately laid with gravel or flagged with stone slabs, separated by neatly-trimmed grass. In several places, steps allowed access to the ramparts. Kevin took a certain childish delight in trotting up and down these stairs trailed by Ricard, who seemed to be filling the role of indulgent parent.

In a few places, the stones were lit from within by the tell-tale sparkles of orange light that Kevin had learnt to recognise as the side-effect of magical reinforcements. The flecks were concentrated around a few of the larger archways and some of the foundations. He supposed that these were the places that the builders considered needing additional support.

Kevin was slightly annoyed that he was not able to go inside the castle. There were several closed doors that appeared to lead inside the towers, but were locked, or at least would not open with any of the gestures that he knew.

"Why can't I go in?" he asked Ricard, sounding slightly peevish even to himself.

Ricard grinned widely, as always.

"I don't know. Perhaps the towers are unsafe? I'm sure there must be some good reason."

Kevin looked up. The towers seemed in particularly good condition to him, at least from the outside. He shrugged, and set off towards a low opening, not far from the gatehouse. Ricard caught up with him just as he got to the steps that lead down to an open doorway.

"Please be careful here," Ricard said, now sounding like an over-protective father, "It's very slippery on those steps."

Kevin looked again at the steps. They did not look particularly treacherous, but he decided that it was not worth worrying Ricard unnecessarily. Ricard seemed to be acting like an old woman, and Kevin was getting the distinct impression that Ricard did not want him to spend too much longer here. Fine, he thought, I'll come back and explore on my own another time.

"OK," he replied, "Let's stay out in the sunshine."

Something had been nagging at Kevin's subconscious for a little time, and two thoughts now emerged. Firstly, he was struck by the absence of any kind of signs or notices. If he had been visiting a similar historical site in his homeland, he felt sure that the place would be enthusiastically decorated with instructions, descriptions and pictures, all intended to direct the visitor or convey historical points of interest.

Secondly, there were no attendants or guides, no "gift shoppe", nowhere to buy crisps and ice-cream, or guidebooks and maps. There was no-one else inside the castle and no sign that there ever was anyone stationed here to assist the visitor. I see so few people here, thought Kevin, it's almost as if I was being kept away from the residents of Lyndesfarne.

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