We had spent most of the morning waiting in an Edinburgh queue for our rental car. Then Milo had to go to the bathroom so we stopped in Dunbar on the Scottish coast, where we enjoyed the self-proclaimed "Best Loo of 2010" facilities. In addition to the loo (which really was pretty fantastic), Dunbar boasts the ruins of a "slighted" castle, one deliberately destroyed in 1568 to prevent it falling into enemy hands. The castle is set on a promontory in Victoria Harbor, the day was fresh and beautiful, and we lingered. The children rolled down the steep grassy embankment to the harbor again and again.
So by the time we got to Lindisfarne Castle, our destination for the day, it was early afternoon. I had plucked this site from the British Heritage Pass list in haste, thinking it had literary associations. A Scott novel? (It turned out to be where the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of England's finest surviving illuminated manuscripts, was created in the eighth century. Oh well.) The castle is on Holy Island off the coast of Northumberland, and can only be reached by a causeway. The causeway, in turn, is accessible only at low tide. And the tide comes back in at 3:45 p.m. in August.
We raced across the causeway and skidded into the parking lot just in time to catch the last shuttle bus up to the castle. Our first acquaintance with the truly impenetrable Northumberland accent was when the driver told us, not once but several times, that we would not get to the castle in time for the last entry at 2:30. We just kept saying we wanted to try.
We hustled the children up the steep stone path to the castle entrance. As we were showing our pass to get in, I noticed a pamphlet about the Gertrude Jekyll garden at Lindisfarne. Which I had not known. Anything. About.
I pretty much lost my mind, abandoned Madge and the kids, and raced across the meadow to the small walled garden Jekyll created with her collaborator, the architect Edwin Lutyens, who renovated the castle in the Arts and Crafts style starting in 1901. The two worked together on some famous commissions, but this one, for publishing magnate Edward Hudson, is one of the few that remains. Hudson featured the work of Lutyens and Jekyll, as well as their writings on home and garden design, in his iconic magazine Country Life, confirming their status as households names of the English domestic arts.
Although the garden had fallen into disrepair by mid-century, it was restored according to Jekyll's original plan when the property was acquired by the National Trust in 1944. It's one of only four Jekyll gardens left in the world. I had stumbled upon a jewel.
Jekyll's designs are known for their untouched sweeps of lawn and naturalistic planting. Hudson had originally envisaged a vast landscaped area stretching from the original 16th-century walled garden all the way up to the castle walls, creating a unified work of art from house and garden as was typical of Lutyens-Jekyll collaborations. But he ran out of money by the time Jekyll began work in 1911, so she was constrained to this rather boxy design. Needless to say, she rocked it.
I had only about fifteen minutes in this treasure-box before the tide rolled in. I snapped pictures so quickly I actually broke my camera and had to use my iPhone for the rest of our trip. Madge and the kids almost had to drive off the island without me.