To the Island of Tides, by Alistair Moffat
I bought this book on a visit to a bookshop, where I also bought tickets to hear the author talk about his latest book, which is not this one. I chose instead his book about St Cuthbert and Lindisfarne because I too have walked from Melrose and crossed the causeway to the island, following the footsteps of St Cuthbert, although having read it, I realise that the St Cuthbert’s Way has little relation to the Saint’s actual route!
I’m a big fan of maps of all kinds, from Ordnance Survey to historical (the National Library of Scotland has an amazing collection) and I loved being able to follow the journey step by step, including the places where Alistair Moffat found himself slightly off track. I could really visualise the route, both in St Cuthbert’s time and now, with an occasional foray into different periods.
I learnt things I did not know including why Trimontium was called Trimontium. I can’t believe I hadn’t worked it out, it’s so obvious. There are three Eildon hills above Melrose; of course they would have been a major landmark, you can see them for miles around. All I know is that when I walked to Lindisfarne it felt as though I could not leave them behind!
To the Island of Tides is a book of two halves, and of two journeys, one step-by-step pragmatic movement, the other arrival and spiritual acceptance. Both made for a thoughtful and rather beautiful read. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and, unusually for me I will probably read it again. If there is time. After all, life is short.
When I crossed the causeway to Lindisfarne ten years ago, I walked over the pilgrim’s sands in bare feet. The sand of course is not the same that the monks walked on, but there is some sense of continuity there, and Lindisfarne is indeed a magical place.
Postscript: the things I looked up and some things that I did.
1. What the flour mill at Etal was called
2. Annas in the River Tweed
3. Lots of map overlays in the NLS and OS mapping online
4. St Cuthbert’s timeline, I got a bit confused with the numbers!
5. I visited Old Melrose – I’ve been past so many times
6. Alistair Moffat’s talk was my first event in two years, it was in St Boswell Village Hall, and it was brilliant.